The Senate has passed same-sex marriage legislation for the first time this afternoon in an historic vote.
Cheers and applause erupted as Liberal senator Dean Smith’s same-sex marriage bill passed 43 votes to 12, two weeks to the day after the announcement a majority of Australians had voted “yes” in the postal survey.
The bill will now proceed to the Lower House where it will face a vote – and is expected to easily pass – next week, paving the way for the reform to be legalised by Christmas and the first weddings from early next year.
In the final speech before the vote, Senator Smith, who is gay, said the bill was “a fulfilment of the people’s will to extend equality to all citizens and it takes away no religious or civil right from anyone.”
“To those who have opposed this bill, I say there is enormous goodwill to ensure this is not a triumph of one group over another,” he said.
“Like much of what we do here, most of the real winners we will never meet. We will never truly know what it means for the young Australian boy or girl who is working out that they are gay or lesbian or intersex or transgender.
“They will quickly realise they have nothing to fear. We will never meet the thousands of families that will bless their children at marriage ceremonies that will occur because of this bill.
“Those parents don’t think of their children as LGBTI. They think of them by their name. To their parents, they have no rainbow initial because they only see them as flesh and blood. They are kin and that is what matters most.”
Here's the moment the Australian Senate voted to legalise same-sex marriage. pic.twitter.com/4B4MIhKZh1
— Alice Workman (@workmanalice) November 29, 2017
Smith recalled how his attitude to same-sex marriage was changed after reflecting on the story of Tori Johnson, who died in the Lindt Cafe siege in 2014.
“Tori lost his life in the Lindt terrorist siege. He was brave, he was courageous and he had a partner named Thomas,” he said.
“I thought of their love, I thought of their loss and it changed me. I realised that people with real lives deserve their love to be blessed and affirmed by the institution of marriage if they so choose.”
The historic passage of the Senator Smith’s bill is the furthest any same-sex marriage legislation has progressed in the federal parliament and follows more than 20 unsuccessful bills in the last decade.
Smith said the vote “doesn’t erase the pain and hurt” that LGBTI Australians and their friends and family had endured over the last few months.
“When we celebrate, let us just remember that hidden in that celebration is still a little bit of pain and hurt,” he said.
Labor Senator Penny Wong said ahead of the vote that it was an historic day for the whole country.
“It wasn’t that long ago it was legal to discriminate against us simply for who we are,” Senator Wong said.
“But equality is a remarkably persistent principle.
“Today we stand on the cusp of a remarkable achievement and an historic event, and we pause briefly to reflect, just for a moment, on what we are a part of.
“We are part of an act of acceptance, an act of inclusion, an act of respect, an act of celebration — a day when this Senate declares our acceptance of our LGBTIQ brothers and sisters.”
Greens Senator Janet Rice paid tribute to the many activists that had fought for the reform over decades, including former Greens leader Bob Brown.
“[He] fought so hard, and raised the issue of equality and ending discrimination against LGBTI people for so long,” she said.
She added that during the same-sex marriage debate transgender and gender diverse people had “suffered incredible vilification and hatred”.
“Trans people deserve to be loved as well. They are equal and they are part of our wonderful family,” she said.
— Rashida Yosufzai (@Rashidajourno) November 29, 2017
The passage followed fierce debate over proposed changes to the bill, which began in the Senate yesterday and continued on Wednesday morning ahead of the vote.
Senator Smith’s bill allows religious leaders and other religious marriage celebrants to refuse to wed same-sex couples on the basis of their faith.
Amendments put forward by Liberal senators would have allowed civil celebrants to refuse same-sex couples on the grounds of “conscientious objection” and amendments by the Greens would have dumped a provision allowing a short period for civil celebrants to register as a religious celebrant to allow them to refuse to marry same-sex couples.
These amendments and others were all defeated, with Labor voting as a bloc against them.
Labor Senator Louise Pratt earlier told the Senate the civil celebrant amendments would have undermined “the important principle that civil celebrants, as secular representatives of the state, should be bound by antidiscrimination legislation.”
The Smith bill emerged from a cross-party Senate committee ahead of the postal survey campaign, but Nationals MP and staunch same-sex marriage opponent Andrew Broad told ABC Radio more religious exemptions should have been included in the bill from the start.
But Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham disagreed and said the bill provides “very clearly that for people of faith, for churches, for ministers of religion.”
“They will be able to continue to lead their lives tomorrow as they do today,” he said.
A separate review, headed by former immigration minister Philip Ruddock and due to report by next March, will review whether Australian law adequately protects religious freedom.