Australia votes against same-sex marriage

But despite the defeat of legislation that would have allowed homosexual couples to marry, campaigners are confident this is no dead end.

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Fact File
  • 64% Proportion of Australians who supported same-sex marriage in a major poll

Supporters of same-sex marriage in Australia had to swallow the bitter pill of defeat this morning when federal MPs crushed the legislation to change the marriage act. 42 MPs voted in favour of the bill, 98, including the Prime Minister Julia Gillard, voted against.

But despite the manner of the defeat, supporters can take some positives from the campaign. The 42-vote bloc was a significant improvement on the last bill, which got only 6 votes for.

The momentum is with the campaigners and so, it would seem, is public opinion. Earlier this year the House of Representatives conducted a public survey which got over 270,000 responses. Just over 64% of respondents said they supported same-sex marriage. “Maintain your rage,” Stephen Jones, the Labor backbencher who introduced the bill, urged his supporters after the decision came through.

Campaigners can also take solace in the fact that a number of states are moving to legalise same-sex marriage; a bill has already been passed in Tasmania and efforts are underway in South Australia, the ACT and New South Wales.

They can take comfort, but the cold reality is they have lost a hard fought, and not particularly pretty, battle. As is to be expected, ignorance has been unveiled and prejudices revealed along the way.

The Liberal Senator, Cory Bernardi gained notoriety and lost a lot of respect last night when, during a bill on the debate, he implied that legalising same-sex marriage would open the door to polygamy and bestiality. “The next step… is having three people that love each other be able to enter into a permanent union endorsed by society he said. “There are even some creepy people out there, who say it’s OK to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals. Will that be a future step?”

These outdated and repugnant views on homosexuality will strike a familiar chord with campaigners around the world who are locked in a battle against ignorance to get legal and societal recognition for their love. Bernardi today unceremoniously fell on his sword, citing “one mistake too many” but neglected to apologise for his comments.

The bill has, of course, produced much more nuanced debate. The gay Senator, Dean Smith, spoke against the bill and said his vote was, “an honest acknowledgement of the special and unique characteristics of the union described as marriage.” He said the bill divided opinion in the gay Australian community.  

But the most poignant remarks probably came from Finance Minister Penny Wong, whose partner Sophie Allouache gave birth to their daughter last year. She has had to deflect attacks claiming the children of same-sex couples had it worse than those raised in traditional families. “I do not regret that our daughter has Sophie and I as parents,” she said. “I want for her, for all of us, an Australia which is inclusive and respectful, and this is why the campaign will not end here.”

She wants marriage equality and, next time around, it’s likely she may get it.

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