THE bill to legalise same-sex marriage has passed the Senate today without any major changes.
Applause filled the chamber after the Senate passed the bill with 43 members in favour and 12 against. The decision means it will go to the House of Representatives next week for a final vote.
Sixteen senators were either missing from the chamber during the vote or decided to abstain.
Those who voted against the bill were Liberal senators Eric Abetz, Slade Brockman and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells; National senators Matt Canavan, Barry O’Sullivan and John Williams; and Labor’s Chris Ketter and Helen Polley as well as One Nation’s Brian Burston and independents Cory Bernardi, Fraser Anning and Lucy Gichuhi.
There were 72 senators able to vote today but only 55 did so. At least one senator, Gavin Marshall, is overseas so 16 other senators were either granted leave or abstained from the vote.
Senators who have confirmed they abstained include Employment Minister Michaelia Cash, Assistant Minister for Social Services Zed Seselja, Liberal senator James McGrath, National’s Bridget McKenzie, and One Nation’s Pauline Hanson.
Other senators who were missing include Labor’s Sam Dastyari, Don Farrell, Alex Gallacher, Katy Gallagher, Deb O’Neill, Glenn Sterle and Jacinta Collins (who was given a pair and so did not have to vote) as well as One Nation’s Peter Georgiou and Liberal’s David Fawcett.
Liberal’s Arthur Sinodinos and Labor’s Pat Dodson may have been on leave.
In a speech before the vote Liberal Senator Dean Smith revealed the death of Tori Johnson in the Sydney Siege had influenced his support for same-sex marriage.
“Tori lost his life in the Lindt terrorist siege. He was brave, he was courageous and he had a partner named Thomas,” Mr Smith said.
“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.”
Mr Smith said the debate had brought out the intellect, wisdom, judgment and compassion of the Senate.
“The real question out of this debate is why isn’t our Parliament like this more often?”
Earlier amendments from conservative Liberal MPs, Liberal Democrats senator David Leyonhjelm, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the Greens were all defeated.
Labor refused to accept any major amendments and said it wanted to pass the bill unaltered, arguing it already had cross-party support. Moderate government senators also voted with Labor and the Greens to block changes.
The bill introduced by Mr Smith was co-sponsored by eight other senators from Labor, Greens, NXT and Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party.
“I am so proud of Australian democracy today, more proud than I have ever been,” Attorney-General George Brandis said.
“Nobody owns this result but the Australian people themselves.”
While Mr Brandis said he did not support holding a plebiscite initially he was happy about what it had achieved.
“I am so glad it happened this way. I am so glad we involved every man and woman in Australia in this historic decision. I am delighted the result was an overwhelming Yes.
“We should rejoice in what the Australian people have achieved this year.”
But not everyone was happy. One Nation senator Pauline Hanson said she would abstain from the vote because the Senate should have considered some of the amendments put forward and allowed civil celebrants to decide if they wanted to marry same-sex couples.
“I do not believe there has been enough tolerance in this chamber to accept the near five million people that did not vote for this,” Ms Hanson said.
“They were not forewarned what impact this will have on them and I believe that should have been taken into consideration.
“I am torn because I do agree with marriage of same-sex couples, but, on the other hand, what the legislation will impact, I do not agree with,” Ms Hanson said.
After supporting technical tweaks proposed by the government, Labor and the Greens held to their promise to oppose other amendments.
Today One Nation and Liberal Democrats senator David Leyonhjelm wanted amendments that covered celebrants. Mr Leyonhjelm also wanted to give businesses the right to refuse to service same-sex weddings but these were not supported.
Changes from the Greens were also rejected. It wanted to include a provision to ensure state and territory anti-discrimination laws would be limited, as well as make it harder for civil celebrants to refuse to marry same-sex couples.
The vote today followed the rejection of other changes proposed yesterday.
Liberal senators James Paterson and David Fawcett proposed changes to create two definitions of marriage for people to chose from: one between a “man and a woman” and the other between “two people”.
They also wanted to allow parents to remove their children from schools that taught material inconsistent with their views of marriage, and provide protections for doctors and teachers so they could not be deregistered for their beliefs.
Other failed amendments were those suggested by Senator Brandis and co-author Senator Matt Canavan to protect religious freedoms and allow marriage celebrants to refuse to marry gay couples on religious grounds.
The bill already includes the creation of a new class of “religious marriage celebrants” who will be able to refuse to conduct same-sex marriages, along with other religious organisations and ministers.
Senator Brandis’ attempt to expand these protections to “civil celebrants” was not supported.
He also wanted to include a line in the bill saying: “Nothing in this Act limits or derogates from the right of any person, in a lawful manner, to manifest his or her religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching”. But this was also rejected.
The initial debate wrapped up earlier on Tuesday, making it the first time either house of federal parliament had cast a vote in favour of same-sex marriage.
“At last, Australia will no longer be insulting gay people by saying different rules apply to you,” Senator Brandis told his upper house colleagues in an emotional speech.
“After centuries of prejudice, discrimination, rejection and ridicule, it is both an expiation for past wrongs and a final act of acceptance and embrace.
“By passing this bill, we are saying to those vulnerable young people there is nothing wrong with you. You are not unusual. You are not abnormal. You are just you,” he said.
RELIGIOUS FREEDOMS TO BE DEALT WITH SEPARATELY
The protection of religious freedoms will be dealt with separately next year after former immigration minister Philip Ruddock and a panel reviews whether Australian law adequately protects the human right to religious freedom.
Mr Turnbull has said he would like the findings delivered by the end of March.
Treasurer Scott Morrison has previously welcomed the review and wants to see parental rights protected for teaching of children in schools, and no organisation or person who supports traditional marriage penalised for their views.
“I don’t think any of those things open up the door to sharia law (or) religious extremism,” Mr Morrison said.
“I think they’re sensible things that I would be encouraging my colleagues in the parliament to support.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor would look into the details of the inquiry, but he warned against any efforts to delay marriage equality.
‘FAILURE OF LEADERSHIP’
Pressure continues to mount on Malcolm Turnbull, with a second Nationals MP accusing the prime minister of failing to lead by ignoring conservatives in the same-sex marriage debate.
Nationals MP Andrew Broad has accused Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of a failure of leadership by ignoring conservatives in the same-sex marriage debate, after amendments were slapped down.
“I think, in my view, there’s been a complete lack of leadership,” Mr Broad told ABC radio on Wednesday.
“All assurances both by the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader that religious freedoms would be protected — that they believed in those — seemed to be walked away from in what I think is a rather sneaky way,” Mr Broad.
Queensland backbencher George Christensen concurred with his Nationals colleague.
“A true leader would have sought to capture the will of the people and protect freedoms, not this hands-off approach,” he posted on social media.
One Nation senator Pauline Hanson brought up the 1967 referendum to recognise indigenous people, using it as an example of how unintended consequences could stem from major change.
She claimed laws now gave indigenous people more rights than other Australians.
“My concern is that, in time to come, the parliament and its members could at any time change this (definition) to include multiple marriages or marriages of people under a certain age,” she said.