Australian Government Votes Against Gay Marriage Bill and For Inequality

This Wednesday the Australian Senate rejected a marriage equality bill with a vote of 41 to 26 against same-sex marriage. This happened less than a day after the House of Representatives also overwhelmingly voted down the legislation with a vote of 98-42.

Both Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbott voted against the bill. Gillard allowed her MPs to vote according to conscience, and not along party lines, on the issues. And despite the bill’s failure to make it through parliament, the numbers are encouraging. Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese, who voted in favour of the reform, spoke to reporters saying that “Just a few years ago there wouldn’t have been the support of anything like 42 votes on the floor of the national parliament for a marriage equality bill.”

Loren Cowley and Michelle Ricketts are still waiting for a legal marriage

Then there are the statistics showing that the majority of the Australian public is in favour of same-sex marriage. Earlier this year the House of Representatives conducted a survey of over 270, 000 participants and found that 64% of them supported same-sex marriage. Albanese thinks it’s only a matter of time before Parliament catches up with public opinion. Meanwhile, same-sex unions are already recognized in five states, and next week Tasmania might just go ahead and legalize gay marriage. If the bill passes next Wednesday, it will offer state-sanctioned marriage to any Australian gay or lesbian couple who wishes to tie the knot. Tasmania is hoping all the happy newlyweds-to-be will help boost its tourism industry.

Not surprisingly, Australia’s marriage debate caused a bit of a soap opera in Parliament: there were many well-dressed people with a lot of feelings. When Liberal senator Sue Boyce read the riot act to her colleaguesThere are good gays and bad gays; rich gays and poor gays; gays who want to get married and gays who don’t; gays who like footy and gays who don’t; gays who want children and those who don’t – poor Senator John Madigan felt like he was being bullied. He said:

Under the guise of compassion for the desire of same-sex couples, we have endured a non-stop campaign of denigration against those who have refused to buckle under the weight of an attack designed to pour scorn and guilt on those who have the temerity to refuse to deny their principles.

Madigan went on to say that getting angry at politicians who don’t support same-sex marriage just isn’t very loving, and marriage equality proponents ought to practice what they preach.

As Finance Minister Penny Wong, who’s raising a child with her partner, put it:

I do not regret that our daughter has Sophie and I as parents. I do regret that she lives in a world where some will tell her that her family is not normal. I regret that even in this chamber, elected representatives denigrate the worth of her family. I will not rest in the face of such prejudice. I want for her, for all of us, an Australia which is inclusive and respectful, and this is why this campaign will not end here.

Senator Cory Bernardi, the parliamentary secretary for Tony Abbott is very afraid that an inclusive and respectful Australia will lead to people marrying their dogs, among other things. In a comment made last week that later forced him to resign, he predicted, “The next step, quite frankly, is having three people or four people that love each other being able to enter into a permanent union endorsed by society,” he said during the parliamentary debate. There are even some creepy people out there… [who] say it is okay to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals. Will that be a future step?”

Bernardi needs to educate himself on non-monogamy; but it’s even more crucial that he read up on consent because he obviously has no idea what it means. If he thinks an animal is capable of consent, maybe he also thinks a woman can consent when she’s sleeping or that no actually means yes.


His knowledge of international news is also sorely lacking because though same-sex marriage has been legal here in Canada since 2005, I have yet to develop any sort of sexual attraction towards the elk I see in Jasper. Nor are my fellow Canucks up in Churcill, Manitoba rushing to hook up with the nearest polar bear.

Australia’s decision on same-sex marriage is certainly disappointing, and it’s deeply unfair to same-sex Australian couples that the obvious bigotry and willful misinformed-ness of some of their legislators is preventing them from accessing the same level of stability that their straight counterparts have. But it’s heartening that there’s still so much passionate support for marriage equality, both in and out of the legislature. And there’s hope that the next time this vote comes up, it might go differently. Which isn’t enough, but is going to have to be for now, because the Australian legislature is still putting its irrational fears about what gay equality would mean ahead of Australian families.

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Malaika likes books, drinking tea, long conversations, dinner parties, making funny faces, bike rides, and dogs. Originally from Edmonton, she now lives in Montreal where she edits, runs, and writes about the Alberta Tar Sands for The Media Co-op. You can follow her on twitter @Malaika_Aleba.

Malaika has written 84 articles for us.


  1. Oh thank Goodness Albanese supports equal marriage I live in his electorate and was scared he wouldn’t support it I can like him a bit more now after he voted for KRudd in that leadership spill

  2. I am so disappointed in this. I am an Australian living in Canada and it makes me so sad to think that my beautiful girlfriend and I could get married here with our friends and her family, but not in my home with my friends and family.

  3. I’m so disappointed in this, but I do want to say, Fuck yeah, Penny Wong. What a seriously classy and admirable woman. She just continues to impress me.

  4. From the article you linked to in Brisbane Times re. Penny Wong’s BAMF comments; I’m more confused by this quote:

    ‘Openly gay Liberal Senator Dean Smith spoke against the bill, saying opinion in the gay community was divided on the issue. “By not agreeing to same sex marriage, I’m not choosing to endorse discrimination against my fellow gay and lesbian Australians, or to be disrespectful to their domestic relationships… instead for me, it’s an honest acknowledgement of the special and unique characteristics of the union described as marriage,” he said.’

    Maybe it would be a mistake to think of the gay community as monolithically in support of gay marriage, but I’m just puzzled by the fact that one can believe in the equality of an opposite-sex couple and a same-sex couple while saying that marriage is only for one and not for the other.

    • Personally, I see same-sex marriage as really heteronormative — why are we privileging marriage so much when we can work towards de-stigmatising ‘negative’ things like polyamory, promiscuity, etc.? We talk about couples who aren’t allowed into the hospital room of their same-sex partner — and same-sex marriage may fix that for them, but will it fix it for those in long-term polyamorous relationships?

      That being said, I’m not against discrimination. As long as the marriage institution exists, I’m not going to say that we shouldn’t be allowed to get married.

      • I’m with you. I definitely have mixed feelings with regard to the institution of marriage and it’s history of misogyny. But, I’d still prefer it to be my choice whether to marry or not.

      • Just as an aside, I live in Sydney, and I recently had to go to hospital (broken rib leading to collapsed lung – funtimes!). My girlfriend was allowed in through emergency and on the ward, filled out forms for me and all that sort of stuff with no resistance or problems.
        So woo, go Royal Prince Alfred Hospital :)

  5. This is really surprising and saddening. Maddening too actually. For some reason I have this impression that Australians are saner than us Americans. But then, they did follow along into Iraq and there’s the history with the Aborigines, so I guess governments are shit everywhere and that shouldn’t surprise anyone.

    • I think there’s slightly that impression here too- at least, our conservatives don’t seem quite as loopy as yours (although still definitely on the scale) and we don’t have such a climate of religious fervour that pockets of your country seem to have. Still, stuff like this happening reminds me that we don’t have to have as many millions of evangelical Christians so visibly in our midst to still find ourselves at the sad/still disadvantaged end of a vote for our rights.

  6. Perhaps this isn’t the time to throw this in, but New Zealand is currently having this same debate – except the bill went through its first reading in parliament last month with an 80-40 vote FOR marriage equality. As Australia’s tiny little neighbour we often take their lead on political and economic issues … I’m simultaneously disappointed for Australians and grateful we’re not being sheep (New Zealand pun!) on this issue.

  7. This is actually a really positive step in the right direction. I think I read somewhere that support was 5 or something times what it was last time the debate happened in parliament. So I reckon we’ll get marriage equality after the next election.

  8. Non-monogamy/polyamoury has been a major dogwhistle in Australian politics with the gay marriage rights issue. recently the Greens made a statement against it, which pissed off a lot of my poly-community friends that are also active Greens members. (Paging Rae!!)

    • That’s very interesting. How did gay marriage get equated with non-monogamy/polyamoury in the first place?

      • I think I read something somewhere it actually may have come from the conservatives trotting it out as a slippery slope argument. It’s possible that people who were campaigning for marriage equality who were also thinking further ahead may have thought that it’s the next step, but I don’t think it really reached public consciousness until the conservatives tried to drag it through the mud. The Greens probably said they’re against it to distance themselves from the conservative argument, which I don’t really think is the right approach.

  9. Worth noting that Gillard allowing a conscience vote wasn’t to free up her fellow members, but to allow her to avoid following her own party’s platform which now supports marriage equality. Gah.

    • I actually wonder sometimes if Gillard is truly against same-sex marriage or if her pushing this personal viewpoint is part of a greater political plan to pander to the values of more conservative Labor-leaning voters whilst still allowing her party a conscience vote in pandering to the rest of the public (because the true conservative conservatives would usually vote Libs or for Jim Wallace and his clowns (retch) anyway).

      • This is my opinion as well. I don’t think opposing gay marriage will lose her too many votes among the majority who support equality in an academic way (rather than an ‘it affects me personally’ way), but supporting it would definitely damage her standing among conservative-leaning voters and she really can’t afford to do worse than she is now!

        I will not be surprised at all if her public opinions change once her prime-ministership has ended.

  10. Fuck off, Tony Abbott. By not allowing a conscience vote and therefore keeping those like Malcolm Turnbull (ily Turnbull)from voting for the bill, he absolutely ensured it would not pass.

    But honestly, rage at Abbott aside, what stings the most about this is that my local MP voted against the bill. All the other times that assholes in the US have voted down this kind of thing, it’s seemed pretty distant. This feels like a slap in the face, knowing that my MP doesn’t consider me worthy of the same rights as straight people.

      • ouch, that is very disappointing. pretty much the one thing my electorate has going for it is that it’s called ‘batman’. because melbourne was founded by batman. i’m not even kidding. our city was briefly called batmania.

        • Batman sounds like a cool name for an electorate! also explains Batman Avenue in the city……i always wondered about that.

          My electorate was proud when we voted in the first female Prime Minister for this great country, now we just feel a little embarrassed.

  11. Ladies, how do you respond to the ‘if the gays get marriage, then so will polygamists and then family members!!’ I can argue about pretty much anything until my tongue goes blue, but this always leaves me a little bit stumped.
    (obviously in this argument it refers to relatives who cannot / will not have children that are biologically both of theirs)
    Because when they pull the “paedophiles! beastiality! inbreeding! gays!” things, you respond with, all those things have victims / non-concent, except for homosexuality, which has no victims.

    • The polygamy one really pisses me off, if its between consenting adults who want to get married then its irrelevant to me how many of them are involved. Its not hurting anyone else if people of the same sex or multiple people want to marry one another, it is hurting someone else if people harm children and animals.

  12. The bit that really gets me in all this is the fact that the public clearly supports marriage equality and somehow the fact that the politicians don’t actually match up with the views of Australians is okay. The notion of the politicians catching up is total bullshit. We voted them in, either people need to start thinking much fucking harder at the polls or the politicians need to pull their heads out of their arses.

  13. I’m kind of sad I wasn’t surprised by this at all. It’s been all backwards slides in Queensland so I hadn’t expected any great big leaps at Federal level. At least we’re gaining ground there. It’s kind of infuriating though, my local member doesn’t support marriage equality and it feels like there isn’t much I can do about it, emails seem to fall on deaf ears. Maybe snail mail might be more effective? Waiting for the politicians to “catch up” feels a lot like being ignored.

  14. Fingers crossed for Tasmania! It’s coming up for the vote in South Oz shortly after Tassie too. I have a lot of hope for the states.

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