IT’S A YES: Australia has voted for marriage equality. So, what now?

Video by SBS Viceland

It’s happened. On Wednesday morning at 10am, the Australian Bureau of Statistics announced that the majority of almost 13 million votes in the heavily maligned postal survey were in favour of marriage equality.

Australia has said ‘yes’.

Of those who voted, 61.6 per cent of Australians voted Yes for marriage equality, while 38.4 per cent voted No. An additional 0.2 per cent of the vote was unclear.

More than 12.7 million Australians voted in the survey, making up 79.6 per cent of the population.

In announcing the news, ABS chief statistician David Kalisch commended the “outstanding” number of people who came out to vote.

“This is outstanding for a voluntary survey and well above other voluntary surveys conducted around the world,” Kalisch said.

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“It is worth noting our youngest on the electoral roll, the 18- and 19 -year-olds, responded strongly with around 78 per cent participation.” 

Of the votes, a Yes majority was recorded for 133 electorates, while a No majority was only recorded for 17 electorates. In New South Wales, 57.8 per cent of people voted Yes in the lowest Yes vote percentage of any state. Meanwhile, ACT had the highest proportion of Yes votes, with 74 per cent. Behind the ACT came Victoria (64.9 per cent), WA (63.7 per cent), Tasmania (63.6 per cent), SA (62.5 per cent), QLD (60.7 per cent) and NT (60.6 per cent).

The Equality Campaign described the result as historic.

“This happened because millions of Australians reached out to our own families, neighbourhoods, organisations – to stand up for equality, stand by our loved ones and share why YES was so important,” spokesman Alex Greenwich said in a statement.

“Parliament still has to pass Australia’s unequivocal mandate for equality into law. And you can be sure we’ll hold them to that – we expect a timely vote on a fair and simple bill, this year.

“But for now we celebrate YES.”

Crowds erupt at a Melbourne rally. Image: Getty.

The Prime Minister told reporters in Canberra he now wants federal parliament to approve same-sex marriage laws before Christmas .

"It is our job now to get on with it, and get this done," he said.

"I say to all Australians, whatever your views on this issue may be, we must respect the voice of the people.

"We asked them for their opinion and they have given it to us. It is unequivocal, it is overwhelming."

It's a truly brilliant result.

But as we know, the result doesn't mean same-sex couples will be frantically booking wedding venues for this weekend. The survey was non-compulsory, and non-binding, which means there's another hill to climb on the road to marriage equality: making it law.

Malcolm Turnbull previously promised that: "If the nation votes 'yes' then we will facilitate a private member's bill to make same-sex marriage legal before the end of the year."

That will involve a bill to change the Marriage Act, which currently specifies that marriage is "the union of a man and a woman".

Liberal Senator Dean Smith has had one waiting in the wings for months, and is expected to introduce it to Parliament as early as Wednesday afternoon.

What does Senator Smith's bill look like?

Senator Smith's Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 would change the legal definition of marriage to be "the union of two people”. It also contains exemptions that will allow marriage celebrants to "refuse to solemnise marriages" that conflict with their religious beliefs.

It's also been formally backed by Labor, the Yes campaign, and a number of moderate coalition MPs.

But challengers have emerged.

Please explain.

In the lead up to the result announcement this week, Liberal Senator James Paterson peddled an alternative marriage equality bill, with more comprehensive exemptions. It stipulates that those with “relevant marriage beliefs” — in other words, those who support the existing laws restricting marriage to between a man and a woman - may refuse to participate in a same-sex wedding. The objections can be on religious or conscientious grounds.

Senator Paterson's bill also seeks to protect freedom of speech and to allow parents to have their children removed from school classes that don't reflect their views on marriage.

Mia Freedman talks to Janine Middleton, the CEO of Australian Marriage Equality. (Post continues below.)

He says the bill “preserves the freedoms of all Australians”. But critics, including The Law Council of Australia, argue that it will effectively wind back anti-discrimination laws.

"You could potentially see a situation where a hire car company could leave their customers stranded on the way to a marriage ceremony simply because the driver held a thought or belief against it. This is even if the belief had nothing to do with religion," Law Council chief Fiona McLeod said.

Senator Paterson reportedly hopes to put his bill to a coalition partyroom meeting, the next of which is not scheduled until November 28.

So, which bill will they choose?

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters in Manila it will be up to senators to work out which bill they wanted to deal with first.
But at this stage, it's looking good for Senator Smith's bill.

According to Buzzfeed News, the Smith bill has the backing of a powerful cross-party group of senators, that should ensure it passes through the Upper House.

Among those to have signed a motion to introduce the bill are Liberals Linda Reynolds and Jane Hume, Labor's Penny Wong and Louise Pratt, the Greens' Richard Di Natale and Janet Rice, the Nick Xenophon Team's Skye Kakoschke-Moore and Derryn Hinch.

When could we expect it to become law?

According to Buzzfeed News, the motion on the Smith bill requires it to be passed by November 30.

While the Senate would consider the bill this week, the House of Representatives doesn't sit again until November 27 - leaving a one week window for passage through the lower house.

If you ask Prime Minister Turnbull, that shouldn't be a problem. He previously said he expected the bill to "sail through the Parliament".

Minister Cormann echoed that optimism, telling The Australian he expects a bill to pass by the end of the year.

Once again, it's a waiting game.

What can you do in the meantime?

Find out where your Federal member stands on the issue (ABC has collated that here), and if they're opposed and especially if they're undecided CONTACT THEM. Write, email, call, Tweet, or all of the above.

And here's hoping that by Christmas, same-sex couples will be able to, finally, marry.

You can find there details here.

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