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In Tasmania, lower house approves marriage for gay and lesbian couples

HOBART, Tasmania, Australia – After hours of civilized but emotional debate on same-sex marriage, broadcast to a global audience watching via the Internet, the Tasmania House of Assembly voted 13-11 on Thursday to approve marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

A third reading and passage is required for the bill to go into law.

The Assembly has 10 Liberal, 10 Labour and five Green party members. With the exception of Labour Speaker Michael Polley, all the Labour and Green MPs voted in favor of marriage equality. Polley joined the 10 Liberals and voted against the bill.

The MPs in support of the bill emphasized how marriage equality would be good for the island state, strengthen families, help end discrimination and bullying, and show that Tasmania embraces diversity. They praised American President Barack Obama for showing the guts to lead the way on marriage equality. At least one MP cited the bullying suicide of American college student Tyler Clementi as one of the reasons that she was voting to end discrimination and to support love and equality.

Tasmania Premier Lara Giddings opened the debate with an impassioned speech in favor of marriage equality and listed all the ways that the new law would impact the lives of Tasmanians. She stressed that churches would not be forced to conduct ceremonies if their denomination opposes marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

After the vote, Giddings was giddy and told ABC News:

"And I too look forward to being able to celebrate engagement parties, weddings, attending receptions," she said.

"I think there's a couple of people who are actually thinking of becoming celebrants. We're good talkers, us politicians."

Many of the MPs in support of the bill noted the historical moment and how they expected the world to be watching the vote via the Internet broadcast of the proceedings. Many expressed great pride that Tasmania, the last Australian state to decriminalize homosexuality, would likely become the first state to approve marriage equality.

Although the debate was largely civilized, several MPs from both Labour and the Greens scolded the Liberals for remaining silent during the debate, except for their party leader, Will Hodgman. He told the Assembly that his party was unified against the bill, and explained that just because the Liberals believed that marriage was exclusively for opposite-sex couples, that his party was not homophobic nor anti-gay.

MP Kim Booth of the Greens, however, slammed Hodgman and accused him to preventing his party members from casting a conscience vote. Hodgman vehemently disagreed, saying he never did so. Still, many of the 10 Liberals did not even sit through the debate and returned only when ordered so by the Speaker to cast the vote.

The bill now goes to the upper house, the Legislative Council, where it faces an uncertain future because its members for the most part have not declared their support for marriage equality.