Australia has passed a law legalizing same sex marriage following the precedent set by several states in the US and several countries in Western Europe, including most recently Austria. Not only did politicians pass a law, they did so almost unanimously. The cross-party bill marked a convergence of the Greens, Labor and the ruling Liberal-National coalition. Only five MPs voted against the measure, four of which were coalition members. In addition to the overwhelming political majority, the bill also enjoyed the support of most Australian citizens, who responded to a postal survey sent to residents asking for their input. That survey was the cause of some controversy and was seen by some as an attempt to undermine the bill.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbul celebrated, saying, “We’ve voted today for equality, for love, it’s time for more marriages, more commitment, more love, more respect.” He added, “This is Australia: fair, diverse, loving and filled with respect.” The vote marks a turning point in a long journey. In 2004, the government changed the statute to define marriage as being between men and women. This change was in response to a number of couples who petitioned to have their overseas marriages recognized.
Jacqui Tomlins, one of the petitioners, put it this way: “This is the end of a journey that has been bookended with two pieces of legislation: one that put discrimination in and one that will take the discrimination out.” Couples who have been legally married overseas will now be recognized by the Australian government.
The Equality Campaign has been working for years to legalize gay marriage, and for three months leading up to the vote, they ran a community campaign to gather support for the measure. That campaign was largely meant to win-over conservative-leaning Australians who thought same-sex marriage would ultimately limit religious freedom and negatively impact children. Arguing that the vote was more about equality, activists broke through to the general public. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, over 60 percent of survey takers voted in favor of the marriage equality law.
With this historic vote, Australia now joins the chorus of 26 countries that allow same-sex marriage. According to the Pew Research Center, a vast majority (17) of those countries are in Western Europe. However, even in that region, there are a few hold-outs, including Switzerland and Italy. Austria is expected to legalize gay marriage at the beginning of 2019, as mandated by the country’s high court.
As far as the South Pacific is concerned, Australia is only the second country to institute a same-sex marriage law, following New Zealand. Taiwan’s high court delivered a favorable ruling and requested that parliament pass a law within two years.
Perhaps the writing was on the wall in Australia. According to another Pew Study, Australia is one of the most “gay-friendly” countries in the world. Seventy-nine percent of survey participants said society should accept homosexuality – that’s much higher than the United States, where only 60 percent of participants said homosexuality should be accepted.
Bermuda and the UK
The drama has been playing out throughout the world. In Bermuda, a high court issued a ruling declaring same-sex unions legal. Six months later, both chambers of parliament mitigated that ruling, relegating same-sex unions to the status of “domestic partnerships.” Bermuda is a British territory with a mostly autonomous government. In the UK, England, Wales and Scotland have passed same-sex marriage statues. Northern Ireland, a more conservative region, has not passed such a law. Strangely, in England and Wales, adultery must occur between a man and a woman – a definition that applies to annulments and divorces.
Slowly but surely, the world is beginning to accept homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Only time will tell how conservative movements throughout the globe will react to this emergent phenomenon.