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Marriage equality bill passes first hurdle in Tasmania’s Parliament

Marriage equality bill passes first hurdle in Tasmania’s Parliament

HOBART, Tasmania, Australia — After more than four hours of debate on Thursday, Tasmania’s House of Assembly passed a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in the Australian island state.

The Same-Sex Marriage Bill 2012, co-sponsored by Labor Premier Lara Giddings and Greens leader Nick McKim, passed by a vote of 13-11. The Liberal Opposition opposed the reform.

Earlier this month, Giddings announced that she would move to legislate same-sex marriage equality by the end of the year, a move that appeared to catch the Australian federal government and the six other states by surprise.

The bill has sparked debate on whether marriage rights were a federal matter, but Giddings said she had obtained legal advice from the solicitor-general that there was no obstacle to stop legislation.

She expressed the hope that the state would be Australia’s first to provide for same-sex marriage.

While the bill has passed the Lower House, its passage through the state’s upper house is far from certain. Of its 15 members, 13 are independent. The upper house will consider the bill when Parliament returns in three weeks.

Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesperson, Rodney Crome called the vote an historic moment for the state, “as we advance a reform that will strengthen relationships and families, foster a more inclusive society, and banish Tasmania’s former reputation for homophobia forever.”

Tasmania was the last Australian state to decriminalize homosexuality. Until 1997, it was a criminal offense punishable by up to 25 years’ jail.

The vote in Tasmania comes just one day after neighboring New Zealand also voted in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, the first of three votes which lawmakers must hold before the bill can become law.

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