SYDNEY

Australians are expected to debate marriage equality at the state level after the federal parliament defeated legislation on Sept. 19 that would have allowed gay couples to marry.

Although marriage equality is Labor policy, Prime Minister Julia Gillard permitted Labor’s MPs a free vote. But the Liberal/National coalition, who opposed the bill, did not. All but six of Australia’s 150 parliamentarians are from Labor and the coalition.

As 65 percent of MPs ― including Gillard and most of the Labor party ― voted against the bill, it was defeated.

However, since three of five Australian state parliaments have given in-principle legislative support for gay marriage, the issue is expected to be decided at a local level.

Last month Tasmania’s lower house passed gay marriage legislation, but it must pass the Legislative Council to become law. In New South Wales (NSW), the location of Australia’s largest city, Sydney, each party leader will allow free votes on marriage equality later this year, and the legislation is expected to pass.

“We could have same-sex couples being married in Sydney before Christmas,” the Rev. Ross Clifford, President of the NSW Council of Churches said after the federal bill’s defeat.

The council opposes marriage equality, considering marriage to be a lifelong and faithful union between one man and one woman. Clifford said most Australians did not want a radical redefinition of marriage to suit a small minority with loud voices.

However, Labor Catholic MP Graham Perrett, who has two gay brothers, has said he strongly supports marriage equality, while appreciating the religious significance of marriage.

Sid Sidebottom, a Labor MP who trained as a Catholic priest and taught religious studies prior to entering politics, has said he also respects religious views but acknowledged discrimination.

“The individual human rights of a person should not be discriminated against on the basis of their religious belief, their gender, their ethnicity or their sexual preference,” Sidebottom told Parliament during the debate.

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), a vocal opponent of the legislation, welcomed the bill’s defeat.

“I would like to thank the opposition for keeping its election promise and for all those members of Labor who, as a matter of conscience, voted to ensure that marriage remained between a man and a woman,” Managing Director Jim Wallace said in statement.

Earlier this month Gillard cancelled a scheduled address to the ACL after Wallace suggested being gay was a bigger health hazard than smoking.

At a diocesan level, the Rev. Chris Bedding, at 23, the youngest Australian to be ordained as a priest, hopes to bless all couples equally and will present a motion to the Perth Anglican diocese’s annual synod next month, affirming legal recognition of same sex relationships.

Bedding expects support, and if passed, Perth would be the first Australian diocese to affirm same sex relationships.