A bill passed Thursday in Australia changed the legal definition of marriage from being between “a man and a women” to “between two people.”
The parliamentary vote comes after a two-month postal survey which concluded on Nov. 7, with nearly 80 percent of Australia’s voting eligible population in participation. Of the 12.7 million people who voted, 61 percent voted in favor of same-sex marriage.
The poll was legally non-binding, but it did initiate the introduction of a bill in parliament. Last week the piece of legislation was passed through the upper house Senate, 43-12.
On Thursday, it passed the 150-seat lower House of Representatives, with only four members opposed.
Saturday will be the first day homosexual couples may lodge a notice of intended marriage, but they must wait until early January until they can make it official. The legislation will automatically recognize civil marriages of same-sex couples from other countries.
According to the New York Times, a handful of conservative lawmakers pushed to include amendments that would protect religious freedom, but their efforts failed during the final debate, which lasted four days.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a longtime supporter of same-sex marriage, said the bill did not force marriage celebrants to perform homosexual weddings, nor did it threaten the legal status of religious groups who hold that marriage is only between a man and a woman.
Opponents of the bill, however, have voiced concerns about religious freedom in recent months, pointing to examples in other countries of Christian vendors who have been heavily fined for declining to participate in same-sex wedding ceremonies.
Following the conclusion of the mail-in poll on marriage, Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, issued a statement urging that religious freedom be prioritized as the new legislation was drafted.
“Parliamentarians must recognize and respect the concerns of the more than 4.8 million Australians who opposed a change to the definition of marriage by putting in place strong conscience and religious freedom protections,” he said Nov. 15.
The bishops have also pushed for explicit protections covering the curricula of Catholic schools.
“These protections must ensure that Australians can continue to express their views on marriage, that faith-based schools can continue to teach the traditional understandings of marriage and that organizations can continue to operate in a manner that is consistent with those values,” said Archbishop Hart.
The archbishop affirmed that the Church respects the human dignity of the members of Australian LGBT community, but emphasized that the Catholic tradition is clear in its definition of marriage.
“The Catholic Church, and many others who sought to retain the definition of marriage as it has been understood for centuries, continues to view marriage as a special union between a woman and a man, which allows for the creation and nurture of children,” he said.