Australian parliament rejects same-sex marriage

Australia's parliament voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to reject gay marriage, after days of heated debate that saw one senator resign from a key role after linking same-sex unions to bestiality.

The House of Representatives voted down the bill to legalise marriage between same sex couples by 98 to 42, with Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard and opposition conservative leader Tony Abbott both voting against it.

Gillard had allowed Labor MPs a conscience vote on the issue -- meaning they were free to vote how they wanted rather than along party lines -- while the opposition had opposed it.

Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese, who voted for the reform, said despite the bill's failure the figures were encouraging.

"Just a few years ago there wouldn't have been the support of anything like 42 votes on the floor of the national parliament for a marriage equality bill," he told reporters.

"All the figures show that there is majority community support on this issue... and I think at some future time, parliament will catch up with the community opinion."

The vote ends several days of debate on the bill, during which one senator sparked outrage by linking same-sex marriage to sex with animals. The furore surrounding the comments forced him to resign from his parliamentary role.

Speaking on the bill late Tuesday, outspoken Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi said he questioned what the next step would be if the government redefined marriage so that two people could wed regardless of their gender.

"The next step, quite frankly, is having three people or four people that love each other being able to enter into a permanent union endorsed by society," he told the Senate.

"There are even some creepy people out there... (who) say it is okay to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals. Will that be a future step?"

Elements within the Liberal Party slammed the comments, including high-profile former leader Malcolm Turnbull who described them as "hysterical, alarmist, offensive".

Liberal leader Abbott said Bernardi had offered Wednesday to resign his position as his parliamentary secretary as a result, and he had accepted this.

Staunch Catholic Abbott, who opinion polls suggest could become prime minister when an election is held next year, described Bernardi as "a decent bloke with strong opinions" but said his comments had been ill-judged.

"They are views that I don't share," Abbott told reporters. "They are views which I think many people will find repugnant."

Advocates of marriage equality say gay marriage has broad support in Australia, where same-sex unions are recognised in five states.

However, because marriage is covered by federal legislation, which defines it as only between a man and a woman, couples joined in civil unions are not seen by the national government as married.

Labor Senator Penny Wong, who has a baby with her female partner, said despite the defeat the cause for marriage equality would continue.

"Social change in this country often isn't won the first time round, sometimes not even the second time round," she told the Australian Broadcasting corporation.

"But I think the aspiration for equality and what same sex couples in this country are saying -- which is that we want to be treated equally -- is a very persistent campaign... and not one that will end with this vote."

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