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By a margin of 62% – 38% Australians have backed the government passing legislation which would allow same-sex couples to marry.
The historic result of the non-binding postal survey was announced last night to a rapturous response at ‘Yes’ campaign events across the country, the largest of which took place at Sydney’s Alfred Park. The result now paves the way for the government to introduce legislation legalising Same-Sex Marriage (SSM), and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has suggested that the law could be passed before Christmas.
The turnout for the survey was at 79%, an astounding result when considering that only 60% of voters turned out for Ireland’s constitutional referendum on SSM, and the last UK General Election to see such a turnout was in February 1974. Every state and territory voted in favour of SSM, and when the result was broken down by federal district, just 17 of Australia’s 150 constituencies had a ‘No’ vote higher than 50%.
Interestingly, 12 of the 17 ‘No’ electorates were in the Western Suburbs of Sydney, a stronghold of the opposition Labor Party. These are largely considered the most economically deprived area of Sydney, and generally have quite significant migrant populations. Two of the three seats with the strongest ‘No’ votes are held by senior opposition figures, Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen’s seat of McMahon and leader of Opposition Business Tony Burke’s electorate of Watson. The highest ‘No’ vote was reported in Blaxland, held by the former Justice Minister Jason Clare, who is now the Shadow Minister for Trade and Investment.
But if that might cause some awkwardness at the next constituency surgeries of Labor MPs in favour of SSM, for prominent ‘No’ campaigners the damage is even more severe. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott had been probably the leading voice in the campaign, especially with Turnbull refusing to campaign for the Yes side, and yesterday discovered that, despite his encouraging a ‘No’ vote to stop ‘political correctness’, the people of his Warringah constituency quite liked political correctness, to the tune of a 75% vote in favour of SSM. Senator Eric Abetz, another leading ‘No’ campaigner, saw his state of Tasmania vote overwhelmingly in favour of changing the law and Kevin Andrews, who quite memorably compared gay relationships to the friendship of his cycling buddies, will no doubt be delighted to learn that 57% of the people of Menzies think that he and his cycling buddies should, in fact, be allowed to get married.
A final interesting result came in the seat of New England, where embattled former Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce is fighting a by-election to reclaim the seat he was kicked out of for accidentally being a New Zealander. Joyce had been opposed (though not particularly vocally) to a change in the law, which might provide a bit of spice given the New England electorate voted 52.5% in favour of SSM (although Joyce remains the overwhelming favourite to return to parliament next month).
The next stage in Australia’s SSM odyssey comes in parliament, where there will be a fight over the legislation which will enshrine the change in law. Senator Dean Smith had proposed a bill last year to change the law and been defeated in the Liberal Party Room, but that bill (which has crossbench support) has now been put before the Senate for debate. Senator James Paterson, a ‘Yes’ supporter, earlier this week unveiled a separate bill, which would have gone far further in the Smith bill in enshrining religious exemptions, but has now withdrawn his bill (which had been criticised by Turnbull and Education Minister Simon Birmingham) in favour of Smith’s proposal.
There is the potential for hundreds of amendments to be tabled during debate of the bill in both the Senate this week and the House when it returns to sitting next week. With only a few sitting weeks left until the end of the year (and Turnbull’s self-imposed Christmas deadline) there may be some long nights ahead for the denizens of Canberra. Turnbull must also perform something of a balancing act in ensuring that suitable legislation is passed, whilst also satisfying the desire in his party’s conservative wing to enshrine religious protections in law. With the Coalition having lost its 23rd straight Newspoll the pressure is on the embattled PM, and though conservatives like Abbott have been defeated in the national arena, their power in the Liberal Party Room is far more significant, and with that clout comes influence.
The eventual shape of the SSM bill may decide not just to what extent religious beliefs are protected in the face of this historic change, but also if another historic change will come in the new year; a change in Prime Minister.