The past few years have seen a global revolution when it comes to marriage; specifically, old laws that forbade marriage between two people of the same sex have been overturned and enabled these couples to have the same rights and legal recognition of heterosexual couples. Following the example of countries like the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany, the people of Australia have now voted by referendum to legalize gay marriage.
On September 15, 2017, the country’s government revealed that 61.6 % of Australians had voted in favor of legalizing gay marriage, with 38.4 % voting no. The voter turnout was rather high: around 12.7 million Australians had their say, which is about half of the population of the entire country. In other words, the outcome was decisive. This result was not entirely unexpected – many earlier polls showed that most people were for legalizing gay marriage.
What about those who weren’t, however? The “Vote No” camp was populated largely by those who objected to gay marriage on religious grounds, as well as people concerned with “traditional values” and those with conservative views on homosexual relationships. A leader of the “Vote No” movement, Lyle Shelton, felt that legalizing gay marriage would expose children to “radical LGBTIQ teachings” in classrooms, for example. People in his camp also worried that gay marriage would infringe upon their freedom of speech, feeling that stating their views could be penalized as hate speech. One prominent opponent of gay marriage was former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who campaigned against his sister’s right to marry.
Overall, however, the country is jubilant. The happiness over the results of the referendum has been tempered slightly by criticism of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal Party. Detractors say that the Parliament should have taken heed of earlier polls that showed the country was largely in favor of legalizing gay marriage. That way, they say, the country could have saved the $122 million dollars expended in organizing the vote. It seems likely that the Prime Minister did not want to be personally responsible for legalizing gay marriage (probably to avoid controversy), instead deciding to put it to the people.
Of course, the law still needs to be put into place to allow weddings to occur – a referendum of this type is not binding and, as Lyle Shelton has said, the whole thing is a “two-step process.” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says he hopes the law is on the books by Christmastime. There’s no guarantee this will happen, but it seems to be safe bet that a law will be passed by Australia’s Parliament sometime in the next couple of months. Things could be complicated, however, due to the time needed to hammer out the fine details of the law with regards to things like “religious liberty,” the provision that people who are religiously opposed to gay marriage will not be forced to perform homosexual wedding ceremonies.