Australian Senate passes gay marriage bill in key step

Sydney (AFP) –


Australia's upper house senate on Wednesday passed a bill paving the way for the legalisation of gay marriage, rejecting a conservative push to broaden religious freedom protections.

The law is expected to pass through the lower house of parliament comfortably before Christmas after most lawmakers agreed to honour "the will of Australians" who voted in favour of same-sex marriage in a recent nationwide postal vote.

"We are a part of an act of acceptance, an act of inclusion, an act of respect, an act of celebration, a day when this Senate declares our acceptance of our LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bi, trans, intersex, queer) brothers and our sisters," said Australia's highest-profile gay politician, Labor's Penny Wong.

"(The bill) says to so many Australians, this parliament, this country, accepts you for who you are. Your love is not lesser, and nor are you," she added.

Senators voted 43-12 in favour of the bill after rejecting calls to extend protections that allow religious ministers to refuse to conduct gay weddings to other services providers, such as bakers and florists.

After more than a decade of divisive debate, Australians have emphatically endorsed same-sex marriage with 62 percent of the 12.7 million people who participated in the nationwide postal poll voting "yes" this month to gay unions.

"This victory is the culmination of more than a decade's work by supporters of equality," said Anna Brown of the Equality Campaign.

"Each and every person who has campaigned for equality, each Australian who stood up and voted yes, and, today, every senator from every political party who voted in favour of equality and fairness."

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a moderate conservative who backed the "yes" camp, has hailed the result of the non-binding postal vote, vowing to pass the bill legalising marriage equality "before Christmas".