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(Image via @AMEquality)

Deputy editor Michelle Pini reports on the same-sex marriage survey "Yes" vote and the way forward for marriage equality.

TODAY, Australia has voted "Yes" on whether the law should be changed to allow same-sex marriage.

That this is an important moment for the LGBTQI+ community is probably the only uncontested part of a “debate” that has raged in the media for months.

The news was delivered by Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Chief Statistician David Kalisch at a press conference this morning, after a much drawn out moment in the spotlight, in which he stressed how much this process (at a cost of only $100 million) had "saved" the taxpayer. Whether he was still talking about the survey nobody wanted to confirm what we already knew is anyone's guess.

Some of the survey figures finally provided included the following:

  • 12 million people (79.5% of eligible voters) completed the survey;
  • all age groups had more than 70% participation;
  • 78% of 18 and 19-year-olds completed the survey;
  • 7 million people (61.6%) voted "Yes"; 4 million (38.4%) voted "No" and 2% were unclear;
  • all age groups had more than a 70% participation rate;
  • every State and Territory recorded a majority "Yes" vote; and
  • of the 150 electorates, 133 voted "Yes".

Kalisch said:

"This is outstanding for a voluntary survey and well above other voluntary surveys conducted around the world. It shows how important this issue is to many Australians."

He also stressed that Australians can trust these statistics — which is also a welcome change from many recent statistical exercises.

Former PM and self-appointed moral adjudicator Tony Abbott had preempted a "Yes" win and declared that a 40% negative vote would constitute a “moral” victory — if not an “actual” victory. Guess he lucked out today.

The issue of the LGBTQI+ community being given the right to marry – a right already afforded to everyone else regardless of sexual pastimes, criminal activity, religious affiliations or level of sanity – has somehow morphed into a discussion about “religion”, “freedom” and whether such a basic human right being extended to all would lead to the breakdown of everyone else’s marriage and the degeneration of society as we know it.

The crowd erupts when Yes to same-sex marriage is announced in Melbourne (source: @brandilmelb).

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in his own inimitable way, emerged after Kalisch's announcement and, kind of, promised to legalise same-sex marriage:

"The Australian people have spoken in their millions ... They have voted overwhelmingly 'yes' ... for marriage equality ... 'yes' for fairness."

Turnbull described the voluntary survey as an "unprecedented exercise in democracy" and he ended with: 

"We need to get on with the job that Australian people have tasked us to do." 

So this survey trumps normal elections, apparently. All good so far and Australians could be forgiven for assuming that all that is left – finally – is for Parliament to deal with what it should have done long ago and just pass legislation to allow same-sex marriage. Not so fast, people!

What does this mean for marriage law?

The PM continued:

"I know a minority voted 'No'."

And then he said something about not agreeing that the right wing nut-jobs (otherwise known as "colleagues") would try and filibuster the legislation but that he would "talk with all colleagues" and ensure "appropriate levels of protections ... such as religious freedom and freedom of speech" are respected.

What?!

So Turnbull just opened the door to exactly such filibustering and for Parliament to consider bills such as Senator James Paterson's alternate bill. This alternate bill includes provisions allowing venues and suppliers to say no to same-sex marriage weddings and anti-discrimination "free speech" measures that are in themselves discriminatory.

The path to marriage equality, it seems, will be a torturous and tortuous one, and we already know that Turnbull's backbone is overruled by his need to avoid a leadership spill, so it is unlikely that Senator Dean Smith's original marriage equality bill will just get passed.

Though it did receive Turnbull's glowing endorsement of having the

"virtue of being well-read and understood as it's been around for some months." 

Then Turnbull tried the fail-safe "Labor's fault" defence and declared:

"Bill Shorten didn’t want Australians to have their say!"

What?!

The Coalition's new golden boy Senator Mathias Cormann also threw his two bobs worth in, with something about "the partisan part of the Smith bill goes too far" and "it's a good starting point", before the final blow:

"We need to accommodate the appropriate concerns of many people regarding religious freedoms."

Again, what?!

It is not hard to imagine that there would be people opposed to sharing the rights they already enjoy with everyone else. What is absurd is that in Australia, in 2017, we are not only still debating whether “we” – those who get our rocks off with people of the opposite sex – should share our right to marry whomever we choose, with “them” – the people who prefer to get their rocks off with people of the same sex – but that we are giving all the nut jobs a megaphone.

“Freedom of speech” is a term that has been hijacked by the likes of Senators Eric Abetz and James Paterson, and they have masterfully created an alternate universe in which not being given the “right” to decide what happens in the bedrooms of others is somehow an impingement of freedom of speech. This, in essence, is the basis of the "No" campaign and its slogan of "It’s OK to say No", which looks like hanging around for some time.

Indeed, the ABC's coverage of the news moved straight to Abetz who launched into a well-rehearsed speech about parental rights, conscientious objection, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, marriage between a man and a woman as fundamental, and something about caterpillars and bulldozers. He also emphasised that 30% of Tasmanians voted "No" and their views need to be taken into account.

So much for democracy.

Do we then have the right to decide on whether George Christensen takes his whip into the bedroom, whether Cory Bernardi should indulge a fondness for animals, or whether James Paterson is mature enough to engage in sexual activity at all? No matter how tempting it is to pass judgment (particularly on this last threesome), it is not our business.

It is not okay for one group to decide how another should live. Unless the equal marriage bill makes it compulsory to marry within the same sex, it is no else’s business. 

In Magda Szubanski's words:

"This is for all of us, no matter what way we want to live our lives."

You can follow deputy editor Michelle Pini on Twitter @vmp9

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