Australia Makes Same-Sex Marriage Legal


Spectators in the public gallery began singing “I Am Australian,” a well-known anthem, after Australian lawmakers voted to legalize same-sex marriage on Thursday.

By PARLIAMENT OF AUSTRALIA VIA STORYFUL on Publish DateDecember 7, 2017. Photo by Michael Masters/Getty Images. Watch in Times Video »

Australia’s Parliament voted overwhelmingly to legalize same-sex marriage on Thursday, overcoming years of conservative resistance to enact change that the public had made clear that it wanted.

The final approval in the House of Representatives, with just four votes against the bill, came three weeks after a national referendum showed strong public support for gay marriage. The Senate passed the legislation last week.

“This belongs to us all,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a longtime supporter of same-sex marriage who had previously failed to get it legalized, said on Thursday. “This is Australia: fair, diverse, loving and filled with respect. For every one of us this is a great day.”

After the vote, spectators in the public gallery began singing “I Am Australian,” a well-known anthem. Lawmakers stood and looked up at the gallery, some wiping tears from their eyes.

The new law expands on earlier legislation that provided equality to same-sex couples in areas like government benefits, employment and taxes, and it changes the definition of marriage from “the union of a man and a woman” to “the union of two people.” It automatically recognizes same-sex marriages from other countries.

Gay rights advocates praised the landmark vote even as they said it was long overdue. In a country where there had been 22 unsuccessful attempts in Parliament to legalize same-sex marriage since 2004, they said, the law should be seen as the triumph of a democracy learning to live up to its values.

Celebration at a bar in Sydney after the bill passed. The Australian public voted decisively for legalizing gay marriage in a nonbinding referendum last month. CreditDaniel Munoz/Getty Images

“This is a big victory,” said Evan Wolfson, the founder of Freedom to Marry, which led the campaign for marriage equality in the United States. “It is a huge affirmation of the dignity of gay people in yet another country, and that will reverberate in the lives of people across Australia and the world.”

A handful of lawmakers tried to add amendments that they said were meant to safeguard religious freedoms for opponents of same-sex marriage, but their efforts failed. Mr. Turnbull noted that nothing in the legislation requires ministers or other celebrants to oversee weddings of gay couples or threatens the charity status of religious groups that oppose same-sex marriage, two concerns the lawmakers had raised.

The final debate in the House of Representatives, which lasted four days, featured more than 100 speakers.

On the first day, there was a marriage proposal: Tim Wilson, a gay member of Parliament with the center-right Liberal Party, spoke of the struggles he and his partner, Ryan Bolger, had encountered as a couple, before choking up, finding him in the public gallery and asking: “Ryan Patrick Bolger, will you marry me?”

The answer came loud and clear — “yes” — as did public congratulations from the deputy speaker, Rob Mitchell.

That was followed by hours of emotional speeches, as politicians on the left and right fell into a rare moment of relative consensus and moving closer to public sentiment, which has favored same-sex marriage for years, according to polls.

Even former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a staunch critic of same-sex marriage, seemed to have softened.

“When it comes to same-sex marriage, some countries have introduced it via the courts, some via Parliament, and others — Ireland and now Australia — by vote of the people,” Mr. Abbott said. “And that is the best way because it resolves this matter beyond doubt or quibble.”

For many lawmakers and gay-rights advocates working behind the scenes, the debate took on the feel of a communal reckoning with Australia’s long history of homophobia.

At one point, Adam Bandt, a Greens Party lawmaker from Melbourne, paused for a moment of silence after referring to the “innocent blood” of gay Australians who were hurt during the long battle for marriage equality.

Bill Shorten, leader of the opposition Labor Party, asked for forgiveness “for the long delay, for the injustices and the indignities both great and small.”

He also paid tribute to a Labor Party colleague, Senator Penny Wong, a gay politician who he said had walked “a lonely road and a hard road” to help change Australia.

Passage came just weeks after 61 percent of voters in a nonbinding national referendum, conducted by mail, expressed support for same-sex marriage. Advocates for gay marriage assailed the Turnbull government’s decision to hold the referendum, calling it a delaying tactic intended to appease his party’s far-right faction.

“Our very identity has been the subject of public scrutiny and public debate,” Senator Wong said after the referendum results were announced. “Through this campaign, we have seen the best of our country and also the worst.”