(Update: Australia voted by 61.6 percent in favor of legalizing marriage between couples of the same sex, according to results released Wednesday morning local time.)
(CNSNews.com) – Australia looks set to become the latest country to legalize same-sex marriage, after the results of a three-month-long postal survey on changing the country’s one man-one woman marriage law are announced on Wednesday.
Eight out of ten Australians are believed to have responded by mail to the question – “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” – and media polling suggests the “Yes” camp will win by well over 60 percent.
More than a decade ago, Australia’s federal parliament defined marriage explicitly as a union between a man and a woman, after citizens who had solemnized unions in Canada sought to get Australian courts to validate them.
That law change set off a battle that has continued to this day. In 2013, the parliament defeated by 98-42 votes a bill that would have legalized same-sex marriage.
Also in 2013 the legislature of the Australian Capital Territory, which comprises Canberra and surrounding areas, passed the nation’s first same-sex marriage legislation. But the federal government challenged the move and within days of it taking effect the High Court overturned the law, declaring it “a matter for the federal parliament.”
In 2013 both the Labor prime minister and center-right opposition leader opposed the bill in the federal parliament.
Four years later, both major parties’ leaders -- Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Labor leader Bill Shorten – support same-sex marriage, although Turnbull’s center-right Liberal Party is divided on the issue, and two former Liberal prime ministers, Tony Abbott and John Howard, both endorsed the “No” camp.
Most church denominations, meanwhile, are opposed to the proposed law change.
While Wednesday’s result is not binding on the government it has committed, in the event of a “Yes” vote, to facilitate passage of a private member’s bill legalizing same-sex marriage.
With a “Yes” victory widely predicted, attention has turned onto two likely rival bills that could be presented within days of the result announcement.
One draft bill would exempt objecting ministers of religion and celebrants from conducting same-sex weddings.
The other, supported by many conservatives, would broaden that exemption to cover business owners – such as hoteliers, florists or bakers – who hold strong views on traditional marriage.
“Yes” campaigners have already labeled that a license to discriminate, and Turnbull said Tuesday he doubted whether it would get through parliament..
“This debate has never been about equality,” countered Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) managing director Lyle Shelton on Tuesday. “Same-sex couples already have equality under the law. It is about punishing those of us who will dare to dissent from their new orthodoxy.”
“If Yes wins tomorrow, Christians and other people of good-will will have to make some hard decisions about how they live their lives,” Shelton said. “Will it be in silence and fear? Or will we be prepared to continue to speak the truth in love regardless of the consequences?”
Since the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court 5-4 ruling declaring that same-sex marriage is a right, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) advocacy group has provided support and “strategic advice” to the main Australian campaigners pushing for a law change.
“HRC supports the efforts of Australian LGBTQ advocates and allies to achieve marriage equality in their country,” the U.S. organization said earlier this year. “HRC Global staff visited Australia in July 2015 and in February 2016 to share strategic advice from the successful campaign for marriage equality in the U.S.”
Writing in The Australian on Tuesday Abbott, the former prime minister who has been an outspoken advocate for traditional marriage, urged supporters whatever the outcome to “keep the faith and stay the course for the even more important struggles ahead.”
If Australia does legalize marriage between couples of the same sex it will join around 25 other countries around the world where it is permitted, most of them in Europe and the Americas.
Australia would also become the last major English-speaking country to do so.
(A number of countries with multiple national, regional and local languages and dialects use English as an official language (Nigeria, India, Pakistan, the Philippines etc) due mostly to their colonial histories. The reference above was to countries in which the majority of people speak English as a first language.)