November 16, 2017 / 6:40 AM / a month ago

Same-sex marriage may be law in Australia by early December

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australian lawmakers on Thursday vowed to push through laws legalizing same-sex marriage by early December, after a national survey found the majority of Australians favored the move.

Both Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s Liberal-National coalition government and the main opposition Labor Party said they were aiming to pass the law through parliament by Dec. 7.

That timeline was even earlier than the Christmas deadline named by Turnbull on Wednesday after the country’s statistics agency reported that 61.6 percent of voters surveyed favored marriage equality, with 38.4 percent against.

Legislation was rushed into the national parliament’s upper house Senate late on Wednesday, even as colorful celebrations in the major cities continued and congratulations rolled in from international supporters.

If the legislation passes as expected, Australia will become the 26th nation to legalize same-sex marriage, a watershed for a country where it was still illegal in some states to engage in homosexual activity until 1997.

Supporters of the 'Yes' vote for marriage equality celebrate after it was announced the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage in a national survey, paving the way for legislation to make the country the 26th nation to formalise the unions by the end of the year, at a rally in central Sydney, Australia, November 15, 2017. REUTERS/David Gray

The legislation faces some opposition from conservative lawmakers in the coalition, who have pledged to introduce amendments to protect religious freedom that would allow discrimination against same-sex couples.

Attorney-General George Brandis moved two amendments on Wednesday, seeking to extend protection to civil celebrants to refuse to officiate same-sex weddings.

“They’ll move amendments and some of them will be accepted,” Turnbull told a radio station on Thursday. “We’re cracking (getting) on with it.”

A rival bill proposed by the conservative faction that would have included widespread protections for religious objectors, including florists, bakers and musicians, to refuse service to same-sex couples was withdrawn after being widely condemned.

Full debate on the bill, which was introduced by Senator Dean Smith, a member of the coalition and the country’s first openly gay lawmaker, is scheduled to begin on Nov. 27.

Almost 80 percent of the country’s eligible voters took part in the voluntary public survey - a higher voter turnout than Britain’s Brexit vote and Ireland’s same-sex marriage referendum.

Reporting by Alana Schetzer; Editing by Jane Wardell and Michael Perry

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