Australians voted for gay marriage – but most eligible voters did not vote or rejected the proposal

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney has said he is “deeply disappointed” after Australia voted for same-sex marriage.

In a postal vote, the Yes side won by a margin of 62 to 38 per cent, gaining 7,817,247 votes against the No campaign’s 4,873,987. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said that he hopes to pass a new law by Christmas to open marriage to same-sex couples.

In a press release, Archbishop Fisher said: “While I do not deny the good will of many who voted Yes, I am deeply disappointed that the likely result will be legislation to further deconstruct marriage and family in Australia”.

The campaign had, he said, been a “David and Goliath struggle with politicians, corporates, celebrities, journalists, professional and sporting organisations drowning out the voices of ordinary Australians and pressuring everyone to vote Yes.”

Noting that only 48 per cent of eligible voters had actually voted Yes – most of the electorate voted No or did not vote – the archbishop said he was “heartened that millions of Australians still stand by the conviction that marriage is a unique relationship between a man and woman.”

He also called for unity after a divisive public debate, and made a special plea for religious freedom, saying: “It is imperative that our political leaders enact laws that protect the rights of all, religious believers included.”

Australia’s parliament is likely to pass new religious freedom protections into law – but these may only protect clergy from celebrating gay marriages, rather than establishing the freedoms of caterers, musicians and others. The United States has seen legal disputes over Christian bakers who refuse to make cakes for same-sex weddings.

“Lame proposals to protect ministers of religion and places of worship offer no protection to the 99.9 per cent of religious believers who are not clergy,” Archbishop Fisher said. “It is imperative that our political leaders enact laws that protect the rights of all, religious believers included.”

Lyle Shelton, the leader of the Coalition for Marriage, who led the “No” campaign, warned that, unless parliament considers stronger legislation to protect marriage – such as the bill put forward by Senator James Paterson – “we will see basic freedoms eroded”. Paterson has withdrawn his bill, but says he will seek amendments to the bill currently being considered.