As It Happens

'The country is saying yes to me': Australians celebrate vote in support of same-sex marriage

Australian activist Sally Rugg tells As It Happens what it was like to learn that her country had voted in favour of same-sex marriage this week.
Supporters of the same-sex marriage gather to celebrate the announcement in a Sydney park on November 15, 2017. (William West/AFP/Getty Images)

Story transcript

It was a day of celebration for many in Australia on Wednesday local time after the results of their postal survey on same-sex marriage were released. Around 60 per cent of Australians voted in favour of marriage equality. 

It's been a long-time coming for those in support — and those against — as the ballots were first sent out in September.

The non-binding, postal survey was controversial. Advocates of same-sex marriage worried little would come of the plebiscite. But Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has urged parliament to pass a bill legalizing same-sex marriage by Christmas.

Sally Rugg is the marriage equality director for the group GetUp. As It Happens host Carol Off spoke with her moments before she boarded a flight to Canberra, Australia's capital.

Ms. Rugg, how are you feeling about the vote?
Sally Rugg is campaign director with the social activist group GetUp! (Sally Rugg/Facebook)

I am so, so happy and so, so proud. As a campaigner, I'm so proud of what we pulled off as a nation and the incredible results we got.

But as a queer woman, I feel like the country is behind me and I feel like for the first time in 15 years, the country is saying 'yes' to me.

Tell us about that moment after the announcement was made.

It's funny. I've been working on this campaign for so long that I thought when the results came through I would be able to treat it as a normal work moment. But as soon as the announcement came through and it said 'yes', I honestly felt like the air had been knocked out of me. I burst into tears. 

The crowd around me erupted in cheering and more tears. It's astonishing. 

And not just that you won by a good margin of 60 per cent, but that so many people in Australia voted. 80 per cent of eligible voters sent in their ballots. When we spoke with you last time, you were worried that they might not do that; they might not bother. What do you think made the difference?

As soon as this postal survey was announced, I mean, first of all it was non-compulsory. It was also non-binding. We were frightened that people might not want to participate. Also, it was done through the postal system so that was another barrier.

To see that 80 per cent of Australians participated is completely mind-blowing. I honestly think that it's because this reform is so long overdue in Australia. We have long standing public support for marriage equality as well.

We also discussed last time how the vote was very expensive. Many said it was unnecessary. The politicians should have just had the courage to lead and this looked, to some, like it was a delay tactic. Now with this mandate — with this vote — and it's a non-binding vote, what do you think Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will do?

There's never been a greater mandate for Parliament to pass marriage equality and to do so as soon as possible. We're hoping to see it pass as soon as possible so couples can start get marrying before the end of the year.

How do you think the Prime Minister himself voted in this plebiscite?

The prime minister voted 'yes'. Another reason why this whole exercise has been pretty bizarre. We've got majority support not only in general public but also in both houses of parliament and from the leader of every major political party in Australia — including the prime minister. So I think there is absolutely no reason why there should be any further delays to marriage equality.

Members of Sydney's gay community react as they celebrate at a pub located on Sydney's Oxford street, Australia, November 15, 2017. (REUTERS)

The greater question is: what was the delay? Given that what you're saying, in these past days and during this plebiscite, just how overwhelming the support seems to be in Australia for gay marriage, what about the opposition? Where might there be snags still with those who are saying there is not enough protection for peoples' rights within this plan for same-sex marriage in Australia?

Already earlier in the week before we had the 'yes' result, opponents of marriage equality — people who have been very vocal on the 'no' side — began talking about a new piece of legislation that not only wouldn't really deliver marriage equality, but would also be a trojan horse for all these new laws that would grant permission to discriminate against LGBTI people. At the shop counter. In the workplace. In our education systems.

Parliament has pretty swiftly condemned most of it and the bill that's being put forward to Parliament today is very strong; it's very thorough. It has very good religious freedom protections while not extending or duplicating any anti-discrimination law.

This interview transcript has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, please listen to our full interview with Sally Rugg.