So, What Happens Now?

Okay. So Australia has done the right thing and overwhelmingly voted in favour of marriage equality. But that doesn’t mean we’re entirely through the woods yet – you can’t stroll on down to your local BirthsDeaths & Marriages and get gay married to heck and back. So what happens next?

Well, the good news is that the solid double majority scored by the Yes camp, in conjunction with a general mood in favour of getting this shit over and done with, basically means that everyone is onboard with sorting this out quickly. Malcolm Turnbull says that he wants it done before Christmas.

Australians voted for marriage equality. They voted Yes for fairness, they voted Yes for commitment, they voted Yes for love. And now it is up to us, here in the Parliament of Australia to get on with it, to get on with the job the Australian people have tasked us to do and get this done, this year, before Christmas — that must be our commitment.

As we reported this morning, Liberal senator Dean Smith is keen to get the ball rolling by introducing his bill to the Senate for debate as early as tomorrow.

It’s increasingly looking like Smith’s bill will be the basis for Australia’s marriage equality legislation, though there’s a question of exactly what amendments conservatives will push for in the name of protecting religious freedom. A rival bill pushed by Victorian senator James Paterson, which was roundly slammed for seeking to enshrine discrimination in law, looks increasingly unlikely to be the basis of new legislation.

Even Tony Abbott – who, by the way, got absolutely owned by his own electorate on this – doesn’t seem too crash hot on the Paterson bill. He made a carefully worded statement on Facebook which more or less confirmed that he’s focusing on amending the Smith bill:

Both the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader have pledged their support for freedom of religion.

I look forward to a parliamentary process that improves on the Dean Smith bill to implement same sex marriage with freedom of conscience for all, not just the churches.

So what’s the difficulty? Surely we can just dive into the Marriage Act and strike out that pesky little “man and a woman” part? Well, it’s unlikely that conservatives will let that fly. They’re seeking quite broad protections for those who oppose marriage equality and want to take various actions to express that belief.

The Smith bill protects religious ministers and celebrants from being forced to preside over same-sex relationships – which few people are particularly committed to opposing. Nobody particularly wants to get married by someone who fundamentally doesn’t agree with their union. But many conservatives are keen to for much more wide-ranging ‘protections’, more or less allowing anyone even tangentially connected to wedding planning to discriminate against gay couples.

It’s looking pretty likely that at least some amendments are going to be added to the Smith bill along these lines – it’ll be a matter of exactly what they look like.

There are only two sitting parliamentary weeks left for the year. That could be a thorny problem – it means that Parliament will have to agree on precisely how to legislate marriage equality at some point between Monday November 27 to Thursday December 7. That’s not a lot of time, though the overwhelming support of the Australian electorate might light a fire under their collective asses.

A few MPs have made clear that they intend to vote against any marriage equality bill regardless of the postal vote result, but thankfully there aren’t many of them. So they’re free to wage their petty little culture war in the saddest corner of Parliament.

At the end of the day, the No camp lost, and pretty conclusively at that. That’s not being petty – it’s just fact. Their right to dictate the terms of same-sex marriage legislation is ultimately pretty minimal. We’ll just have to see how the next few weeks plays out.