[WATCH] Australia: same-sex marriage legalised as parliament passes historic law

Australia, which changed the law in 2004 to say that marriage is only between a man and a woman, now joins 24 countries which recognise same-sex marriage

Advocates celebrate outside Parliament House on Thursday (Photo: Buzzfeed)
Advocates celebrate outside Parliament House on Thursday (Photo: Buzzfeed)


Australia’s parliament legislated for marriage equality, passing a bill almost unanimously to allow two people, regardless of sex, to marry.

On Thursday the House of Representatives passed a cross-party bill after a national postal survey inspired the legislation of the historical social reform.

Australia, which changed the law in 2004 to say that marriage is only between a man and a woman, now joins 24 countries which recognise same-sex marriage.

The lower house passed marriage equality with almost all members of the governing Liberal-National Coalition joining Labor, the Greens, and crossbench MPs in a free vote to pass the bill which cleared the Senate last week, without amendment.

The only “no” votes were Coalition MPs Russell Broadbent, Keith Pitt, David Littleproud and independent MP Bob Katter.

Tony Smith declared the vote carried, since fewer than five MPs opposed it.

Prominent LGBTI Australians including the swimming stars Ian Thorpe and Daniel Kowalski, the actor Magda Szubanski and the campaigner Kerry Phelps descended on the nation’s capital, Canberra, to celebrate the final legislative victory that has followed years of activism and a three-month community campaign by the Equality Campaign.

For thousands of same-sex couples who have already married in countries including New Zealand, Canada, Britain and the Netherlands, their marriages will be recognised automatically when the bill gets royal assent from the governor general in mid-December.

Couples hoping to marry in Australia will have to wait until the new year for the commencement of the bill and the 28-day notice period to marry.

A Rainbow Families spokeswoman, Jacqui Tomlins, and her wife, Sarah, are one couple who will have their marriage recognised immediately, after they wed in Canada more than 12 years ago.

The author of the cross-party bill, the Liberal senator Dean Smith, said on Thursday that the passage of marriage equality was “a measure of what can be done when people put some of their partisan politics behind”.

Smith – the first openly gay federal parliamentarian in the Liberal party – said the historic social reform was “owned by everyone, it is owned by the Australian people”.

He credited advocates for the “great struggle for many, many years” and said despite the public attention on his role he was conscious that he was “called upon in the final few steps to make this happen”.

The achievement of the 45th parliament may also be claimed in part by the Labour opposition, which has campaigned for a free vote on same-sex marriage and brought its numbers to bear, with almost all its members voting in favour.

When Turnbull became prime minister in September 2015, he retained the Coalition’s commitment to hold a national plebiscite on same-sex marriage before changing the law.

The move was controversial, with LGBTI groups objecting to a human rights question – equality before the law – being decided by popular vote.

In a bruising three-month campaign, opponents of marriage equality claimed same-sex marriage would have negative effects on gender education and claimed that it would harm religious freedom and freedom of speech.

The yes camp’s Equality Campaign combined with moderate Liberals, Labor, the Greens, unions and the progressive campaign organisation Get Up to argue that same-sex marriage was a matter of equality and fairness.

Tuazon-McCheyne said he would “cry with relief” when the result was sealed.

“I’m embarrassed how much I’ve been crying,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been working on for 18 years.”

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