World

Australia makes same-sex marriage legal

Lawmakers in Australia’s House of Representatives celebrated the bill’s passage Thursday.
Lawmakers in Australia’s House of Representatives celebrated the bill’s passage Thursday. (LUKAS COCH/EPA/Shutterstock)

SYDNEY — Australia’s Parliament voted overwhelmingly Thursday to legalize same-sex marriage, 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 same-sex 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 Thursday. “This is Australia: fair, diverse, loving and filled with respect. For every one of us this is a great day.”

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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.

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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.

“This is a big victory,” said Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry, which led the US campaign for marriage equality.

A handful of lawmakers tried to add amendments they said were meant to safeguard religious freedoms for opponents of same-sex marriage, but their efforts failed. 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.

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Passage came just weeks after 61 percent of voters in a nonbinding national referendum, conducted by mail, expressed support for same-sex marriage.