PM Turnbull: Australia aims to legalise same-sex marriage by Chirstmas

David Gray  Reuters                       A marcher holds aloft a sign while participating in a marriage equality march in central Sydney Australia

Liberal Dean Smith's private senator's bill hit parliament on Wednesday after the Australian Bureau of Statistics announced a 61.6 per cent "yes" vote in support of changing the Marriage Act.

The prime minister said Dean Smith's bill could "serve the objective as being the first draft", while Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said it was "a good starting point" in need of changes to boost religious protections.

"I look forward to a ... bill to implement same sex marriage with freedom of conscience for all, not just the churches", Mr Abbott said.

Marriage equality advocates won the first round of an impending legislative fight, after Senator James Paterson withdrew his rival conservative bill on Wednesday afternoon.

The coming debate on the law change is already being compared to the 2006 debate over abortion drug RU486, on which MPs were also granted a conscience vote.

Labor and the Greens will push to get same-sex marriage laws drafted by Liberal senator Dean Smith onto the Senate floor next week.

Mr Turnbull has strongly opposed the legislation proposed by conservative MPs and instead supports a Bill that only allows religious figures to choose not to participate in same-sex marriages.

"What the government has always said is if there's a "yes" vote then we will facilitate debate in the parliament before the end of the year, on a private member's bill or private senator's bill, and that we would respect and accommodate and allow for religious exemptions", he said.

Paterson, who is a supporter of same-sex marriage, said he thinks "religious freedom and speech are important rights".

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While the proposed bill, sponsored by Liberal senator James Paterson, would legalise same-sex marriage, a number of attached exemptions would give wedding service providers, such as bakers and florists, the right to refuse gay couples.

He also called for a provision to state that "nothing in the bill makes it unlawful for people to hold and to express the views of their own religion on marriage".

Today, following the result, Malcolm Turnbull made a plea for unity.

"The people are being asked if we should treat LGBTI people equally". It is unequivocal, it is overwhelming. "That's the reason we have the parliamentary debate". It is our job now to get on with it, get on with it and get this done, it's fair.

Tiernan Brady, the director of Australian Marriage Equality, told HuffPost Australia last week the religious freedoms argument ran counter-intuitive to the idea of having a vote for marriage equality.

Standing alongside Turnbull at the press conference after the survey announcement, Cormann said he agreed the Smith bill was "a good starting point" but warned that it needed "additional religious protections".

And his political opponents know all too well the damage breaking a promise can do to a leader.

"Extending marriage to same-sex couples will strengthen and not diminish marriage in Australia".

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