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Australian Senate passes marriage equality bill

The Christmas deadline to legalise marriage for same-sex couples could be met, following the historic passage of cross-party legislation in the Australian Senate yesterday.

user iconMelissa Coade 30 November 2017 The Bar
Australian Senate
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A historic bill to amend the Marriage Act and legalise same-sex marriage in Australia has passed through the Senate, with 43 votes to 12. Yesterday's outcome was met by cheers and applause, with politicians who supported the legislation rising to their feet to embrace and congratulate one another.

The Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 proposes changes to the definition of marriage in the act and also acknowledgement of same-sex unions that have been solemnised in other jurisdictions.

Liberal senator Dean Smith, who introduced the private member’s bill, said the amendments achieved the correct balance. As the last speaker of the third reading of the bill, he said that the reform expressed a faith in Australia’s existing framework for religious protections.


“This debate has been good for the soul of the country. It has been good for the soul of this chamber and it will be good for the souls of LGBTI children throughout our great country. It has been good for us all,” Senator Smith said.

After five days of debate in the senate, the bill passed without amendment. The bill will now be debated in the lower house when Parliament sits next week.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the government was committed to seeing that legalising same-sex marriage was a reality before 25 December. Should the law be reformed by the year’s end, Australia is looking to be the 26th country or region in the world to permit marriage equality.

The minority of senators who voted ‘no’ included Eric Abetz, Fraser Anning, Cory Bernardi, Slade Brockman, Brian Burston, Matt Canavan, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Lucy Gichuhi, Chris Ketter, Barry O’Sullivan, Helen Polley and John Williams.

A total of 17 senators, including One Nation leader Pauline Hanson, abstained from the vote.

At a joint press conference after yesterday’s outcome was announced, Labor Senate leader Penny Wong described the passing of the bill as a day of celebration for many Australians.

“I’m a bit lost for words. That doesn’t happen very often,” Senator Wong said.

“I said in the chamber […] that it is always a privilege to stand in the chamber but there are days when you feel like you are part of changing the nation,” she said.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale said that steps to progress marriage equality, specifically the national same-sex marriage survey, had been cause for “so much grief and despair” in recent months.

“But today we have filled Australia with love,” Senator Di Natale said.

“Love has made its way through the Senate.”

“What we’ve seen today is the Parliament at its finest, working together, working together with a common cause and that common cause was equality and love.”

A majority of Australians who participated in the voluntary plebiscite on same-sex marriage voted ‘yes’ in favour of changing marriage laws, with 61.6 per cent calling for change.

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