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How has Australia voted?

9News.com.au logo 9News.com.au 14/11/2017 Kate Kachor

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Video provided by AAP

In just a few hours’ time history will be made in Australia.

At 10am the head of the Australian Bureau of Statistics will deliver the results of the contentious same-sex marriage postal survey as hundreds of thousands watch on at events across Australia.

The outcome will determine whether, as a nation, Australia joins countries such as Canada and the UK in legalising gay marriage or remain in opposition alongside nations such as Iraq and Yemen.

Nearly eight in 10 Australians who received the costly ABS same-sex marriage survey form have already had their say.

The results of a Newspoll published yesterday points to a clear victory for the ‘yes’ campaign, with 63 percent saying they voted in favour of changes to Australia’s marriage law, while 37 percent said they voted ‘no’.

Malcolm Turnbull © AAP Image/Michael Wade Malcolm Turnbull If the result is yes

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has steadfastly claimed that if the majority of Australians vote ‘yes’, the legalisation of same-sex marriage could be passed by the end of the year.

Turnbull, whose leadership has come under intense scrutiny in the wake of the citizenship debacle, has carefully chosen his words when speaking about the vote, happily putting the decision back on the Australian public.

“We said if the result is ‘yes’ - everyone seems to assume it is, I hope they’re right – if it is ‘yes’, we said we’ll facilitate a Private Members Bill. It is a free vote,” he said on Tuesday.

“It is not a Coalition policy issue on the same-sex marriage issue now. We’re going to have a free vote and the Senate, if it’s going to be moved in the Senate, the senators will work out which bill they want to deal with first.”

Two MPs have stepped forward armed with proposed bills they say will carry marriage amendments through parliament while preserving the freedoms of all Australians. They join Attorney-General George Brandis’ exposure draft of a bill that he tabled last year.

These are West Australian senator Dean Smith and Victorian senator James Paterson.

While news of the bills appears proactive in theory, ‘Yes’ campaign advocates have raised serious questions about the motives of at least one of the bills over discrimination fears.

James Paterson © AAP Image/Lukas Coch James Paterson Paterson’s bill

While Senator Paterson has been very vocal in his support to legalise same-sex marriage in Australia, some claim his bill paves the way for greater discrimination against gay couples if passed. Others have questioned whether the bill is a tactic to stall any reform to Australia’s marriage law.

The bill ensures exemptions for ministers of religion and celebrants with genuine belief and allows a limited form of conscientious objection.

It also seeks to protect freedom of speech and enacts a narrow anti-detriment clause, which would prevent governments and agencies taking adverse action against someone with a traditional view of marriage.

The bill would also guarantee the right of parents to opt their children out of school classes that conflicted with their values.

Anna Brown of the Equality Campaign says the campaign has rejected Paterson’s proposed bill as it would take Australia “back decades”.

“Australians have voted for equality, not more discrimination. Australians believe in a fair go for all – this Bill goes completely against what people have voted for,” she said.

“We are confident the majority of parliamentarians are sensible and will see this for what it is and not wind Australia back decades.”

In an interview with Sky News, Paterson shot down suggestions his bill fostered both discrimination and racism.

“I think it’s a bit unfair to compare people who have a sincere belief in traditional marriage to racists. I don’t think they are direct equivalents,” he said.

“The version of marriage which we have has been the case for many many years and is reflected in the law today and if it were to be different tomorrow I don’t think all of a sudden the people who hold that belief should be treated as these outrageous racists.”

Dean Smith has presented his private member's bill to parliament. © AAP Image/Mick Tsikas Dean Smith has presented his private member's bill to parliament. Smith’s bill

Senator Smith, who is openly gay, attempted to present his private member’s bill to parliament in August.

The bill proposes to allow civil celebrants to preside over the union of two people to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. It also allows ministers of religion to perform a marriage while respecting the beliefs of their own religion and allow equal access to marriage while protecting religious freedom in relation to marriage.

Smith put forward the bill as a means to “end the embarrassment” of the nation and legalise gay marriage through a conscience vote. This fell flat and gave birth to the $122 million plebiscite.

During a press conference today, Mr Turnbull said he believed Senator Paterson’s bill “would have virtually no prospect of getting through the parliament”.

He said the government is likely to debate Senator Smith’s bill instead.

The debate around religious freedoms

Lyle Shelton of the Coalition for Marriage told nine.com.au in the event of a ‘yes’ result, the ‘no campaign’ would push to “ensure freedom of speech, freedom of conscious and parents’ rights are protected”.

“When we raised these concerns in the campaign, the yes side said they were red herrings,” he said.

“If they are red herrings then I’m sure the yes side will ensure they are protected.”

In an interview with Sky News, Brandis yesterday touched on the importance of a debate to ensure parliament gets the issue of religious freedoms correct.

“We’re certainly not going to remove one form of discrimination and at the same time instate a new form of discrimination. But you can protect religious freedoms, as our law does, without creating a new form of discrimination,” he said.

He offered the Catholic Church not allowing divorced couples to remarry as an example before adding that other businesses “have to serve everyone”. He went on to further explain.

“I don’t want to get into the weeds before the parliamentary debate, but when we talk about the protection of religious freedom, we’re talking about religious freedom, not other interests,” he said.

If the result is no

Given the confidence of the ‘yes’ vote, little focus appears to have been placed on the next steps if the ‘no’ vote triumphs or if the result is too close to call.

Mr Shelton, who is in Sydney for the result, said if the ‘no’ vote is victorious it would be a “great win for common sense”.

He was quick to note that the vote was an issue of “public policy” that related to the definition of marriage and not about hatred.

How do I follow the result?

Result events are being held across Australia, with The Equality Campaign holding a main event in Sydney from 9am at Prince Alfred Park, near Surry Hills. High profile 'yes' advocates including Magda Szubanski, Ian Thorpe and Dr Kerryn Phelps are expected to attend.

Those in Melbourne wanting to head to a Yes party at the State Library at 9am while the Queens Garden in Brisbane is holding an event from 8am. If you are in Adelaide the Hindmarsh Square is holding an event at 8am while Northbridge Piazza in Perth will run an event from 6.30am.

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