Australians Vote 'Yes' on Legalizing Gay Marriage; Churches Say Free Speech Rights Must Be Preserved

(Photo: Reuters)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, at a rally in Sydney on November 14, 2017.

A majority of Australians, 61.6 percent, voted in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, according to results from a national postal survey. Opponents and major churches are, meanwhile, calling on free speech and parental rights on education to be respected.

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference President Archbishop Denis Hart said that even if politicians now move forward with legalizing gay marriage, as expected following the postal vote, this will not change Catholic understanding of the nature of marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

"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," Hart stated, referring to the 38.4 percent of respondents who voted against the proposed change.

"These protections must ensure that Australians can continue to express their views on marriage, that faith-based schools can continue to teach the traditional understanding of marriage and that organisations can continue to operate in a manner that is consistent with those values."

Anglican Archbishop Glenn Davies similarly warned that there must be respect for freedom of speech, conscience and belief for Christians and others who disagree with changing the definition of marriage.

"The consequences then are — what happens to people who want to hold to that truth. It is one thing to say, for example, we don't have laws against adultery in this country, but I still want to say adultery is wrong — it is immoral. I want to be able to uphold that teaching without the law saying to me — no, it is not illegal, so you can't say that," Davies wrote in a statement.

"At the moment that's not the case, but the way in which we have seen in other Western Democracies, the coercive effect of changing the definition of marriage has been to restrict people's ability to hold a different point of view," he continued.

"And one of the outstanding points of democracy and human dignity — is the freedom of speech, the freedom of faith and the freedom of conscience."

Australia's ABC News reported that the "Yes" movement celebrated the result on Tuesday with confetti and rainbow flags.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called it a great moment for the nation.

"This is just a great day, such a joyful day," Turnbull declared.

"The overwhelming majority of Australians have reached out and put their arms around same-sex couples and said, 'We love you, we respect you, your relationships are equal to everyone else.'"

The Coalition for Marriage, which led the campaign against gay marriage, admitted that it is "naturally disappointed" with the results, but accepted the decision of the people.

"We will now do what we can to guard against restrictions on freedom of speech and freedom of religion, to defend parents' rights, and to protect Australian kids from being exposed to radical LGBTIQ sex and gender education in the classrooms," Coalition for Marriage spokesman Lyle Shelton said.

"In their push for same-sex marriage, the 'yes' campaign assured Australians that a change in the law would have no consequences for them; it is now time for them to make good on that promise and ensure that proper protections for parental rights, freedom of speech and belief are in place," Shelton noted.

The conservative group also insisted that its efforts have not been wasted, stating that "millions of Australians" have now had the opportunity to speak up for their freedoms.

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