For the past two months, Australians have been casting votes by mail on the question of marriage equality. The specific wording asked, “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” Ballots, mailed out on September 12, were due to be turned in by November 7. That’s today here in the US, but in 16-hours-ahead Australia, it’s already tomorrow and the voting is now closed.
While final results from the voting are not expected to be available for another week, initial impressions indicate that “Yes” answers will far outnumber “No” answers. The survey, which is voluntary and non-binding (more about that in a minute), received 78.5 percent participation by the Australian public. A mid-October poll saw 59 percent of Australians having voted yes to 38 percent in the no column. At the time, Australia’s Skynews reported that three out of four remaining citizens would have to vote no for the proposition to fail.
As the voting wrapped up, polling still seemed to support this conclusion, with a Guardian poll on Tuesday finding that out of 1792 voters polled, 64 percent voted Yes, 31 percent voted No, and 5 percent declined to answer. If this balance tracks across the full spectrum of votes, Australia can expect a two-thirds majority to have voted in favor of allowing same-sex couples to marry.
Speaking to News.com.au, City of Sydney Councillor Christine Foster, a firm “Yes” advocate, expressed positive feelings about the outcome. “All the signs are really positive,” she said. “That would really be a seminal national moment for Australia; it will be a unifying moment.”
However, as previously mentioned, it will also be a non-binding one. At the moment, Australia’s Marriage Act includes the line, “Marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others,” and that will not change as a result of this vote. The country’s Parliament must still vote on whether to change the law.
Previous Prime Minister Tony Abbott refused in 2015 to allow a free vote within Parliament to determine the question, instead proposing a plebiscite–which is a compulsory vote by all Australian citizens–on whether to change the law. After current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was elected in 2016, he decided to continue with the plebiscite rather than calling for a Parliamentary vote in defiance of Abbott’s original decision. The whole thing went postal because LGBTQ advocates pointed out the unjust aspects of having a popular vote on their civil rights, and the sort of hateful campaigning this would unleash. Turnbull’s proposal of a voluntary postal vote was an attempt at compromise.
Of course, plenty of hate was dished out as a result; one memorable poster, produced by fascist hate group Ironmarch and widely circulated in Melbourne, read “Stop the fags.” However, on the whole it appears that Australians do stand in favor of joining the 21st century (which has seen 23 countries make marriage equality the law of the land since the year 2000) and making same-sex marriage legal.
All that can result from the postal vote, though, is the possibility of Parliament voting on a private member’s bill to decide the issue. It is thought that such a bill, in the event of a “Yes” victory, will be considered before the end of the year. Two bills of this type are currently before the assembly right now, and either could be voted on. According to Prime Minister Turnbull, such legislation “will absolutely sail through.” But whether all of this is true remains to be seen.
However, with the initial results we’re seeing as the polling closes, it looks like Australians will get a chance to find out, and soon. The rest of the world will certainly be watching.
Top image via LOTL