- (Reuters/Tim Wimborne)
Australia has overwhelmingly chosen to preserve the traditional definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman by voting against a bill that sought to amend the definition to include same-sex couples.
The House of Representatives voted 98-42 against the legislation on Wednesday, although a separate bill on gay marriage was also to be debated in the Senate, The Associated Press reported.
"As Christian leaders representing different denominations or churches, we join together and affirm our shared commitment to promote and protect marriage," a statement by Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, along with other notable Christian leaders of Australia, said ahead of the vote.
Those in support of same-sex marriage, however, have said that support among Australians for gay marriage is strong, and shared their hope that eventually the laws will reflect that sentiment.
"I think at some future time our Parliament will catch up with community opinion, just as it has on other issues," commented senior government minister Anthony Albanese after the vote. "When marriage equality occurs, people will wonder what the fuss was about."
"If you subscribe to the principal of equality, as I'm sure most in the chamber would, then substitute 'same sex' for 'race' in this debate and see if it changes your view," added Finance Minister Penny Wong, who is a lesbian. "Just imagine if we told Australians today that they could not marry the person they love because of the color of their skin."
The vote that struck down same-sex marriage came despite Prime Minister Julia Gillard allowing Labor members to make a "conscience vote" on the bill, which gave them the right to vote based on their personal beliefs without having to vote based on the party line's official position.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott, however, did not offer his members the same option.
"We honor the unique love between husbands and wives; the vital place of fathers and mothers in the life of children; and the corresponding ideal for all children to know the love and role modeling of a father and mother," the statement made last week by Christian leaders continued.
The next vote on same-sex marriage in the Senate is expected to be held next week.