An historic legislation by the Australian Parliament was passed on 7 December 2017 to allow same-sex marriage also known as the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017. The law that came into effect on 9 December immediately recognised overseas same-sex marriages. On 15 December 2017, the first same-sex wedding was held in Australia. The passage of the law was a result of a voluntary postal survey of all Australians that was initiated by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. In the said survey, 61.6% of respondents supported same-sex marriage.

All’s fair in love and marriage

There was actually a time in history when being a homosexual was a desirable trait, especially in war. The ancient militaries of Greece, for example, value the emotional bond between same-sex couples as a cohesive and morale-boosting force in battle.

The issue of same-sex marriage (SSM) faced what appeared to be a Herculean task of passing through several challenges before it got on the Parliament floor. With both the Government and the Church (both Catholics and Muslims) adamant at squashing the idea of SSM, it was the people who have spoken to uphold what they believe is right.

And it appears Australians had a clear idea of what is right. Even at the start when the first survey forms were being sent out, there was an indication that 70% of responders intended to vote “YES”. This was an encouraging outlook, as it showed that society is, on its own, recognising and fostering gay rights.

The long journey

Same-sex marriage presented a unique issue in Australia. First, this was the very first time the country did a nationwide survey of this magnitude. On the political front, this was the first time the issue served as a definite contrast between two political parties. On the civil side, it gave Australians an opportunity to rise up against the institutions in the fight to give their countrymen equal rights.

But the mere fact that it was an issue at all meant that there was a long way to go on the issue of gender equality. That the issue was fundamentally divisive, with tempers flaring and jobs being lost over it, did not bode well. The fact that not everyone accepted a gay union as a right presented a huge stumbling block we all had to work against if we wish to establish true social equality.

Two sides of the fence

Efforts to swing voters had been mounted by both yes and no campaigners across Australia. Both sides, according to SBS (sbs.com.au) had resorted to door-to-door campaigns, rallies and SMS messaging. The “yes” supporters advocated for the affirmative for a fair Australia. This was the same message put across by PM Malcolm Turnbull as he and his wife Lucy turned in a “yes” in the postal survey.

Background

Marriage equality has long been a debate in Australian society. In 2004, PM John Howard changed the Marriage Act to clearly state that “marriage is the union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of others.” In 2013, another conservative PM Tony Abbott did not advance marriage equality.

In 2015, mounting pressures from other Ministers forced PM Abbott to announce the holding of a plebiscite to decide the fate of marriage equality. But there was no budget. The opposition Labour Party and the Green Party opposed the passing of legislation in 2015 and 2016.

It was only this year when the High Court decided that a national postal poll be held to get the people’s voice on this issue. The vote was voluntary, and the result had no bearing on the final decision.

However, the resounding yes vote resulted in legislation that made marriage equality legal.

(The original version of this article was written in October 2017 what was published in the Philippine Times, October 2017 Print Edition)

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