New South Wales (NSW) has backed away from becoming the first Australian state to legalize same-sex marriage with Members of the state Legislative Council (MLCs) voting narrowly to defeat the measure.
MLCs voted 21 to 19 against the measure which had been put forward by a cross parliamentary working group on same-sex marriage which included both Government and Opposition lawmakers.
Even if the bill had passed in the Legislative Council it would likely have had a tougher time in the state House of Representatives where the ruling conservative Liberal National Coalition have a large majority.
The news comes on the heels of new polling that shows a majority of those in the state are supporters of reform, with only 35% agreeing that only opposite sex couples should be allowed to marry in an ABC Vote Compass online poll that involved 570,000 people nation wide - making it the largest sample size to date.
52.7% of NSW voters were in favor of same-sex marriage while 12.4% were neutral on the issue.
The results for NSW were roughly in line with the national average.
The polling data was welcomed by the Australian campaign for same-sex marriage.
‘Even though the question was about keeping marriage in its current form rather than about allowing same-sex couples to marry, the result still showed majority support for reform,’ Australian Marriage Equality national director Rodney Croome said.
‘This indicates a high level of awareness among ordinary Australians about the discrimination inherent in current Australian marriage law.
‘Particularly pleasing is that 40% of Australians, including almost 60% of young Australians, strongly disagree that marriage should be restricted to heterosexual couples.’
However Croome said the narrow defeat of the bill showed the potential for what could be done with a bipartisan approach to reform.
'The fact the NSW vote was so close and that it had unprecedented support from Coalition members is due to cross-party cooperation and a Coalition conscience vote,' Croome said.
'NSW has shown what the path forward at a national level should be.'
Croome also welcomed the news that a bill aiming to legalize same-sex marriage at a national level will be reintroduced into the Australian Parliament by the Greens party. 'We welcome today's announcement by Senator Sarah Hanson-Young that she intends to introduce a federal marriage equality bill and is seeking cross-party support,' Croome said.
'Our priority is to foster cross-party cooperation at a federal level through the establishment of a cross-party working group and a co-sponsored bill.
'We are also working towards a Coalition conscience vote to ensure the Bill has the best chance of success.'
The Australian Capital Territory became the first Australian jurisdiction to pass a law allowing same-sex couples to marry in October but that law will soon be the subject of a High Court challenge.
Croome said NSW was likely to revisit the issue following the High Court's decision.