Australians back same-sex marriage at polls; Parliament plans December vote

Australians have voted in support of legalizing same-sex marriage in a postal survey, paving the way for Parliament to take up the matter next month. If the propsal passes, Australia would be the 26th nation to formalize same-sex marriage.

Around 62 percent of registered voters in Australia expressed support for same-sex marriage, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said Wednesday.

The country’s Conservative government said that in the event of a successful non-binding voluntary postal survey, a bill legislating marriage equality would be considered in the final two-week session of the Parliament – set to end its current session Dec. 7.

Had voters rejected the plan, the issue would have been kept off Parliament’s agenda, possibly for years to come.

Conservative Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who supported the proposal, called upon lawmakers to do the same, citing the public’s “overwhelming” support.

“They voted ‘yes’ for fairness, they voted ‘yes’ for commitment, they voted ‘yes’ for love,” Turnbull told reporters. “Now it is up to us here in the Parliament of Australia to get on with it, to get on with the job the Australian people have tasked us to do and get this done this year before Christmas — that must be our commitment.”

Some lawmakers have promised to try to stop the gay marriage bill despite the survey’s results, saying they would vote down the bill once it reaches Parliament’s floor.

Amid talks of potential boycotts and refusals to provide services to gay couples trying to get married, a group of Conservative lawmakers proposed a bill Monday that would strengthen religious freedoms.

FILE - In this Sept. 19, 2014, file photo, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks during a press conference, in Sydney. Australia's Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed Friday, Aug. 25, 2017, that his predecessor and intra-party rival Abbott had once been too drunk to vote in Parliament, an incident that's been a poorly kept secret in political circles for eight years.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft, File)

Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was among the most vocal proponents of the no vote on same-sex marriage.  (Associated Press)

“I don’t think anyone who voted in this postal survey wants to see their fellow Australians put up on hate-speech charges,” said Lyle Shelton, a spokesman for Coalition for Marriage. “We need to protect freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and also freedom of religion.”

Most lawmakers, however, were expected to back the legalization. One senator, Dean Smith, has proposed a bill – favored by the prime minister – that would rule out any compromise that could result in anti-LGBT discrimination.

“If there are amendments, let’s see them. But let’s be clear about this: Australians did not participate in a survey to have one discrimination plank removed, to have other planks of discrimination piled upon them,” the senator told reporters.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.