Australians have spoken on marriage equality, and they're overwhelmingly for it.
The voluntary mail-in survey on marriage equality found 61.6 percent of respondents, or 7.8 million citizens, voting yes, the Australian Bureau of Statistics announced today (Wednesday morning in Canberra, the national capital). There were about 4.9 million no votes, or 38.4 percent of respondents.
The survey is nonbinding, so now it’s up to Parliament to legalize same-sex marriage — or not. Some lawmakers are supporting a bill that would establish marriage equality but add broad religious exemptions, allowing businesses to deny goods and services for same-sex weddings and letting students opt out of classes that conflict with their values.
The mail-in survey had a 79.5 percent participation rate, showing how important the issue is to Australians, according to the Bureau of Statistics. Citizens had from September 12 to November 7 to send in their votes.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who had at one point called for a binding public referendum on marriage equality, tweeted, "The people of Australia have spoken and I intend to make their wish the law of the land by Christmas. This is an overwhelming call for marriage equality." Earlier, he had denounced the move for sweeping religious exemptions, saying such a bill would have no chance of being passed by Parliament.
Addressing reporters in Canberra, he added, “We asked the Australian public for their view. This was an unprecedented exercise in democracy. A voluntary survey in which 80 percent participated and 61.6 percent have said yes. That is an overwhelming participation rate and an overwhelming yes vote. I know many people — a minority obviously — voted no. But we are a fair nation. There is nothing more Australian than a fair go ... equality and mutual respect, and everyone has had their say.”
Bill Shorten, leader of the opposition Labor Party (which is more liberal than Turnbull's Liberal Party), also promised to move quickly on legislation. “Today we celebrate, tomorrow we legislate,” he told a crowd in Melbourne, according to The Guardian. “What this shows is unconditional love always has the last word. It may have been 61 percent who voted yes, but you are 100 percent loved and valued, and as of the next few weeks in Parliament 100 percent able to marry the people you love.”
Sen. Penny Wong, a lesbian who has long fought for marriage equality, broke down in tears of joy at the news of the "yes" campaign's victory. She also made this statement, The Guardian reports: “Thank you, Australia. Thank you for standing up for fairness, thank you for standing up for equality, thank you for standing up for the LGBTIQ community everywhere and for standing up for our families. I hope everyone in this parliament has heard the resounding voice of the Australian people today. A mandate for change, for fairness for equality, because it is time. It’s time to change to marriage law, it’s time to remove discrimination, for equality.”
Alex Greenwich of the Equality Campaign issued a jubilant statement. “This happened because millions of Australians reached out to our own families, neighbourhoods, organisations — to stand up for equality, stand by our loved ones and share why YES was so important,” he said, according to The Guardian.
“You’ve done it. It’s YES,” he continued. “Now, because of you, ours will be the last generation in which LGBTI relationships are not equal under the law. For the young person growing up in a small town, for the couple who have been together 40 years, and the person who’s been longing to propose: you belong here, your love is celebrated and honoured here, and never again will you be made to feel otherwise by our country’s laws.
“So pick up the phone right now. “Call your son or daughter. Text your best friend. Hug your grandma. High-five the coffee guy. Pump the music in your office. Put a shiny new badge on your profile pic. Give your child a great big cuddle. Because today in Australia, fairness and equality triumphed, and we can all be proud.”
U.S. activists joined in the celebration. “We congratulate Australia’s LGBTQ advocates and allies who worked so hard to ensure a victory in this postal survey,” said Ty Cobb, director of Human Rights Campaign Global, in a press release. “It’s crucial that loving, committed same-sex couples in Australia have the same rights and protections that come with marriage. We urge the Australian Parliament to take swift action ensuring marriage equality becomes the law of the land.”
“With the rising tide of anti-LGBTQ laws and crackdowns around the world, citizens of Australia stood up for fairness and equality by supporting the right for everyone to marry the person they love,” added Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD president and CEO, also in a press release. “Now it is on the Australian government to heed the will of its people and pass fully equal marriage without exemptions.”
The opposition has been heard from as well. Member of Parliament Eric Abetz, a leading campaigner against marriage equality, congratulated the "yes" campaign on its victory, but said he would work for a bill with strong religious exemptions, The Guardian reports. “I will use my vote to seek to ensure the best possible protections for those classical liberal values of which I spoke,” he said.
Lyle Shelton of the Australian Christian Lobby said his side had insufficient time to rally opponents of same-sex marriage. “Three months wasn’t long enough to overturn 10 years or more [of yes campaigning],” he said, according to The Guardian.
Story developing. Check back for updates.