Supporters of the ‘yes’ campaign are gathering in large numbers for events across the country as they anxiously await the result of the same-sex marriage survey.
Nearly 80 per cent of eligible Australians took part in the voluntary poll and the outcome will be announced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics at 10am on Wednesday.
The result is expected to mirror myriad opinion polls pointing to a win for the ‘yes’ campaign in the vicinity of 60 per cent.
If so, and all goes to plan in federal parliament, same-sex couples may be able to marry by Christmas.
“That’s the goal,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said before leaving Manila overnight.
Mr Turnbull, who touched down in Canberra on Wednesday after five days in southeast Asia, has rejected a late push by conservative colleagues to water down anti-discrimination laws if the ‘yes’ vote prevails.
Nevertheless, discussions are well under underway as to how same-sex marriage might be legislated.
A private bill, proposed by West Australian Liberal senator Dean Smith, has been labelled the “starting point” by senior government ministers.
It will be supported by Labor and the Greens even though the minor party plans to present amendments.
Conservative Liberal senator Eric Abetz, who predicts two-thirds of Australians will vote in favour of marriage equality, believes the Smith is “highly deficient”.
A second private bill, containing wide-ranging provisions for religious protections and conscientious objection, is being pushed by conservative coalition MPs, many of whom campaigned for a ‘no’ vote.
“It is a masterful piece of legislative drafting that incorporates the aspirations of the ‘yes’ voter and ameliorates a lot of the concerns of the ‘no’ voter,” Senator Abetz told Sky News of the latter piece of legislation.
However, Liberal MP and same-sex marriage supporter Trent Zimmerman described the second bill as bizarre.
“It really is giving with one hand and grabbing back a whole lot with the other, and I don’t think it’s in the spirit of what Australians will be voting for today,” he told ABC radio.
Mr Zimmerman said he had not heard from a single baker or florist who wanted the right to refuse service to gay couples for their weddings.
It would be “a mockery of the process” if parliament delayed, obfuscated or used political games to delay an outcome on same-sex marriage.
“It is a process that we have to conclude by Christmas if we’re going to keep faith with the Australian people,” Mr Zimmerman said.
“Just as importantly from the government’s perspective, it’s important we finalise this issue so 2018 is a year where we can focus on other things on our agenda.”
Cabinet minister Matt Canavan argues the survey result, whichever way it goes, should not be seen as affirmation or rejection of the Smith bill.
“There are going to be millions of Australians who have voted ‘no’ and their views deserve to be respected and reflected as well,” he told ABC radio.
“We don’t live in a situation where there is a tyranny of the majority here.”
Labor frontbencher Penny Wong said everything Senator Canavan said needed to be judged against his intention to “loudly and aggressively” campaign against marriage equality.
Senator Wong said it was hard to listen to a bloke who had long argued against the views held by the majority of the community to turn around and talk about the tyranny of the majority.