CANBERRA – The Australian Senate approved on Wednesday a proposal to legalize same-sex marriages, two weeks after it was approved in a non-binding referendum.
The bill, presented by Sen. Dean Smith, was approved without amendments in a 43-12 vote, which included several abstentions and absences.
Before the vote, Smith had said the initiative reflected how the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender community had passed “from rejection to tolerance, tolerance to acceptance and now acceptance to embrace.”
The proposal has now been sent to the lower house, which will resume its sessions on Monday, and which is expected to ratify the bill before Christmas.
Under the proposal, religious ministers can still refuse to solemnize same-sex marriages, in line with the demand of several conservative lawmakers, but not civil officials.
The parliamentary debate had began after over 61 percent of Australians supported same-sex marriages in a non-binding postal vote convened by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
This allowed the Conservative coalition government to present a bill to reform the Marriage Act 1961, which was amended in 2004 to clarify that marriage was exclusively a union between a man and a woman.
In December 2013, the High Court had overturned a law allowing same-sex weddings in the Australian Capital Territory on the grounds that it was in breach of the 1961 Federal Marriage Act.
Similar legislative proposals have also failed in the states of Tasmania and New South Wales.