Australians have voted overwhelmingly in favour of legalising marriage equality, sparking off celebration rallies of thousands around the country.
The resounding Yes vote of 61.6 percent reflects the very strong public opinion in favour of marriage equality as a result of years of campaigning.
The vote was conducted through a voluntary postal survey rather than a referendum. This meant there was uncertainty about how many people would vote. But the turnout of 79.5 percent was enormous, much higher than general elections in most countries.
Legislation that would enshrine the result still has to be debated in parliament and passed before there is any change. And the first order of business for MPs is providing loopholes for those who don’t want to officiate at same-sex marriages.
This debate will divide the Tory government. The hard right is pushing to expand exemptions to anti-discrimination law that will allow homophobia to continue under the cover of religious freedom.
The fight for marriage equality in Australia must be one of the most long-running anywhere. It is 13 years since the conservative government of John Howard, with support from the Labor Party, first made same-sex marriage illegal in 2004.
The major parties have stalled on the issue for years. Labor governments between 2007 and 2013 refused to introduce equal marriage. If Labor had whipped its MPs to vote in favour, there would have been a parliamentary majority.
The Tory government could have held a vote in parliament that would have delivered marriage equality immediately. Its decision to hold the postal vote instead was a concession to the homophobes in the government.
It was another delay tactic designed to legitimise homophobia and opposition to equal marriage. But it was also an effort to save face in the context of growing pressure on the government to act.
Tens of thousands of people came out in vibrant rallies across the country for the Yes campaign—the biggest LGBT+ rights demonstrations in many years.
While most of the official campaigning had a more narrow focus of getting out the vote, there were some attempts at tackling the broader homophobia.
Construction trade union the CFMEU organised workplace meetings where the issue was discussed and made an explicit attempt to challenge homophobia in the workplace.
The survey process unleashed a torrent of homophobic and transphobic propaganda from the conservative right.
The No campaign sought to link marriage equality to wider issues of gender and sexuality, and scaremongering about “radical gender theory” in schools. This continued an earlier campaign that had been successful in scrapping a government anti-bullying program for LGBT+ schoolkids.
Socialists in the Yes campaign called for the programme to be restored and for the mainstream Yes campaign to take on these broader issues head on. Taking up these issues now will be vital, as will fighting to prevent any watering down of anti-discrimination laws.
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