Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told parliament yesterday the legalisation of same-sex marriage was a “momentous social reform” as debate began in the lower house on a private bill passed by the Senate last week.
“It’s time for us to get on with it,” Mr Turnbull said. “The Australian people have said yes to marriage equality, yes to fairness, yes to commitment, yes to love.”
Former prime minister Tony Abbott, a long-time ‘No’ proponent, still has some reservations but told parliament he would be supporting the bill.
“I admire the commitment they (Yes campaigners) have brought to this long campaign and I accept that what they have fought for, for so long, should now come about,” Mr Abbott said.
But he said he would make sure the voices of four million Australians who voted ‘No’ in the postal survey were heard.
“They are not bigots, they are simply people respectful of traditions handed down immemorial and slow to change them,” Mr Abbott said.
“It’s no secret that I haven’t been a supporter of same-sex marriage. I won’t be opposing this bill though as I respect the verdict of the Australian people as expressed in the postal plebiscite.”
Mr Turnbull rejected claims that allowing same-sex couples to marry was a threat to traditional marriage, including his own.
Australia would be a stronger society if more people were legally married and fewer were divorced, he said.
“If we believe two gay people are better off together than living alone comforted only by their respective cats, then why should we deprive that relationship of equal recognition?”
While Mr Turnbull doesn’t believe the bill before parliament – drafted by Liberal senator Dean Smith – threatens religious freedoms, he expressed support for amendments which will reassure and “respect these fundamental rights”.
Labor leader Bill Shorten agreed a vote on the issue was “long overdue” and asked gay and lesbian Australians to forgive politicians for years of disappointment and delays.
“Today belongs to all the LGBTQI Australians who have borne the burden of a long battle for equality,” he told parliament.
“We seek your forgiveness, we salute your courage and we thank you for including us in your historic moment.”