Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has congratulated the almost five million Australians who “stuck to their guns” in the face of overwhelming pressure to vote Yes in the marriage plebiscite, and has signalled that the challenge will now move to protecting existing freedoms.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed that 61.6 per cent of people who voted in the survey – some 79 per cent of all eligible voters – voted YES to changing the legal definition of marriage.
“While I do not deny the good will of many who voted Yes, I am deeply disappointed that the likely result will be legislation to further deconstruct marriage and family in Australia,” Archbishop Fisher said in a statement.
“But I am heartened that millions of Australians still stand by the conviction that marriage is a unique relationship between a man and a woman.
“To the many already-married couples and those contemplating it I say: Don’t let this decision dishearten you or undermine your appreciation of the sanctity of real marriage.”
The Archbishop said it was now time to “come together as a nation” and to ensure that respect for different beliefs was clearly enshrined in Australian customs and laws.
“As we create a legal ‘right’ to marry a person of the same sex, we must not trade off existing rights to religious belief and expression, and other freedoms,” he said.
“Lame proposals to protect ministers of religion and places of worship offer no protection to the 99.9 per cent of religious believers who are not clergy.”
The proposition to extend the legal definition of marriage to people of the same-sex received a majority in every State and Territory, with NSW recording the lowest Yes vote at 57.8 per cent, and the ACT the highest at 74 per cent.
But the results were far from being an out-and-out routing of opposition to the move, with the Yes vote reflecting only 48 per cent of all Australian voters, and the measure receiving a resounding No in the electorally significant region of Western Sydney.
The Labor-held electorates of Barton, Blaxland, Chifley, Fowler, Greenway, McMahon, Parramatta, Watson and Werriwa all returned majority No votes, with Blaxland receiving the highest No vote in the country at 73.9 per cent.
Coalition for Marriage spokeswoman Monica Doumit said that while she was disappointed with the result, she was happy to have played a role in bringing together a new coalition of communities and individuals, most of whom had previously been politically dormant.
“This event has permanently changed the face of conservative activism in this country,” Ms Doumit said.
“There was an army of volunteers, most of them first time campaigners who took to the streets in the face of intimidation and abuse.
“Speaking to many of them, they are ready to keep fighting for our freedoms.”
The campaign, she said, had also been successful in alerting parents to the realities of programs such as Safe Schools.
“Parents have been awakened, and Australia will be on guard against impositions on freedom of speech. They will call them out when they see them.”
Chris Gordon, the director of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney’s Life Marriage and Family Centre, agreed with Ms Doumit, that “we’ve activated a lot of people who were sitting on the sidelines”.
“The big challenge now is to continue this momentum. We’ve got these foot soldiers, these activists – a lot of young people in their 20s and early 30s – who can see what is happening in our society and they want to push back, to fight against it,” Mr Gordon said.
“The legislation that will be put forward is crucial. The Yes side has always stated that the consequences that we talked about would not eventuate.
“We have to try and make sure that the promises made to us during the campaign are kept.”
He said he remained worried about what a change to the legal definition of marriage would mean for children and what they were exposed to in schools.
“One of my big worries is the Safe Schools type education; I think that will come flooding back,” he said.
“Are we going to see people fined – possible jail terms – under anti-discrimination law? Labor has promised an LGBTI (anti-discrimination) Commissioner under a Labor Government.
“You won’t really be able to oppose it once same-sex couples can get married; anyone who opposes it becomes an outlaw.”
Grassroots No campaigner and Sydney father-of-six David Jee said he felt a mix of emotions at the success of the Yes vote.
“I’m quite disappointed, but you know what, there’s life after this. It’s only made me stronger in wanting to do more,” he said.
“We can’t be sour. We have to be humble.”
Mr Jee spent eight weeks out of the workforce to volunteer for the No campaign.
“My face is everywhere, I just have to trust in God,” he said about the possibility of repercussions.
“I have no regrets whatsoever. This has given me the greatest satisfaction of all the things I’ve done in my public life.
“I want to do more of this.”