Australian Parliament allows same-sex marriages

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said 62 per cent of registered voters favoured reform.

Australia’s Parliament voted Thursday to allow same-sex marriage across the nation, following a bitter debate settled by a much-criticized government survey of voters that strongly endorsed change.

The public gallery in the House of Representatives erupted with applause when the bill passed. It changes the definition of marriage from solely between a man and a woman to “a union of two people” excluding all others. The legislation passed with a majority that wasn’t challenged, although four lawmakers registered their opposition.

“What a day. What a day for love, for equality, for respect. Australia has done it,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told Parliament.

The Senate passed the same legislation last week 43 votes to 12. The government later announced that same-sex couples will be able to apply to marry starting Saturday, with the first weddings potentially from Jan. 6.

Champagne and tears flowed in the halls of Parliament House as gay celebrities including Olympic champion swimmer Ian Thorpe and actress Magda Szubanski hugged lawmakers and ordinary folk in a party atmosphere.

“What an amazing day, I’m a little bit delirious, it’s extraordinary,” said Szubanski, who sat in the public gallery during Thursday’s daylong debate.

Thorpe thanked “our straight brothers and sisters” for strongly backing marriage equality in the two-month postal survey.

“Quite literally without them voting for us, this would never have happened,” Thorpe said.

“It means that we’ve created an Australia that is more equitable, it’s more fair, it’s more just,” he added.

Janet Rice, a minor Greens party senator, hugged and kissed her transgender wife of 31 years, Penny Whetton, after the decision. They have been allowed to remain married because Whetton is listed as male on her birth certificate.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Rice said. “It’ been such a huge thing that we’ve been living with for so, so long and we’ve finally achieved equality.”

Related: Australians vote Yes to endorse gay marriage

Amendments meant to safeguard freedoms of speech and religion for gay-marriage opponents were all rejected, though those issues may be considered later. The government has appointed a panel to examine how to safeguard religious freedoms once gay marriage is a reality in Australia.

Lawmakers advocating marriage equality had argued that the national postal survey in November mandated a change of the marriage definition alone, so changing the law should not be delayed by other considerations.

Gay marriage was endorsed by 62 per cent of voters who responded to the postal ballot.

“It is now our job as members of Parliament to pass a fair bill that does not extend or create any new discriminations,” an emotional government lawmaker Warren Entsch, who helped draft the bill, told Parliament. “It is a strong bill that already strikes the right balance between equality and freedom of religion.”

Most gay rights advocates believed the government should have allowed marriages years ago and saw various ideas for a public survey as a delaying tactic. The U.N. Human Rights Committee had called the ballot survey “an unnecessary and divisive public opinion poll.”

The current bill allows churches and religious organizations to boycott gay weddings without violating Australian anti-discrimination laws.

Existing civil celebrants can also refuse to officiate at gay weddings, but celebrants registered after gay marriage becomes law would not be exempt from anti-discrimination laws.

One of the rejected amendments would have ensured Australians could speak freely about their traditional views of marriage without fear of legal action. It was proposed by Attorney-General George Brandis and supported by Turnbull, both gay marriage supporters.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who was a high-profile advocate of traditional marriage, told Parliament that Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten had failed to deliver detailed protections for freedoms of speech, conscience and religion in the bill.

“A promise was made by the leaders of this Parliament and the promise has not adequately been delivered on,” Abbott said.

Abbott pointed to an Australian teenager who lost her job for advocating against gay marriage on social media and an Australian Catholic bishop who was taken before a state anti-discrimination tribunal over a pamphlet he published extolling traditional marriage. The complaint against the bishop was dropped.

“The last thing we should want to do is to subject Australians to new forms of discrimination in place of old ones that are rightly gone,” he said.

Government lawmaker Trevor Evans ruled out an Australian equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court case in which a baker who refused to provide a wedding cake for a gay couple argued he was exercising artistic freedom and was exempt from Colorado anti-discrimination laws.

“Let’s be honest here, for a case like that to arise in Australia, it would require a gay couple who care more about activism than about the success of their own wedding, to find a business operator who cares more about religious doctrine than the commercial success of their own small business, and for both of them to commit to having a fight,” Evans told Parliament.

“Typical Australians would genuinely question the bona fides of the players in a case like that and the slim prospect of that occurring doesn’t warrant the pages and pages of commentary and debate that have been dedicated to it,” he added.

Several gay marriage opponents in Turnbull’s conservative coalition have regarded marriage equality as inevitable and have welcomed an end to an issue that has long divided the government ranks.

The result is a political win for Turnbull, who became prime minister after deposing Abbott in 2015 in an internal government leadership ballot.

Abbott was head-butted by a gay rights advocate during the postal survey campaign in September. Kevin Rudd, a centre-left Labor Party prime minister whom Abbott defeated in elections in 2013, blamed the postal ballot for an assault on his 19-year-old godson as he campaigned for marriage equality a week earlier.

___

Rod McGuirk, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

UPDATE: Kelowna man given 4 year sentence after creating pimp operation on dating site

In court the details of how Simon Rypiak lured 4 women into prostitution revealed

Recovering Kelowna addict rises above her past

Victimized by systems suppose to help, a woman tries to fix her life

Plugged in: Kelowna teen thriving with professional eSports U.S. team

Russel Van Dulken turned his love and skills of gaming into a career

Okanagan College names new fundraising director

Helen Jackman will join the college as executive director of the Okanagan College Foundation and director of advancement

Olympian Andi Naude retires from freestyle skiing

Penticton native skied in 62 World Cup single and dual moguls events in her career

VIDEO: Driver in bizarre hit-and-run at B.C. car dealership turns herself in

Police believe alcohol was a factor in incident causing estimated $15,000 in damages

‘B.C. cannot wait for action’: Top doctor urges province to decriminalize illicit drugs

Dr. Bonnie Henry says current approach in ‘war on drugs’ has criminalized and stigmatized drug users

B.C. woman, 76, challenges alcohol-screening laws after failing to give breath sample

Norma McLeod was unable to provide a sample because of her medical conditions

New report on 2017 wildfires calls for better coordination with B.C. First Nations

Tsilhqot’in National Government documents 2017 disaster and lists 33 calls to action

Okanagan experience for the Blue Man Group

The world tour of the Blue Man Group came to Penticton this week for two shows.

B.C. youth coach banned amid sexual harassment, bullying scandal: Water Polo Canada

Justin Mitchell can’t take part in Water Polo Canada events or clubs

Wilson-Raybould: Feds want to just ‘manage the problem’ of Indigenous Peoples

Former federal justice minister speaks at First Nations Justice Council meeting in B.C.

Okangan author shorlisted in B.C. historical writing competition

The BC Lieutenant-Governor’s Medal for Historical Writing will be awarded together with $2,500 to the author whose book makes the most significant contribution to the historical literature of British Columbia.

Most Read