Australia will allow civil marriage to be legalised in 2018, as long as it is not for “political reasons”, the government announced on Thursday.
The Coalition announced the changes to the laws of Australia’s marriage laws earlier this week after being challenged by conservative Christians in the state of Queensland.
It said the new legislation would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships, with the same benefits and obligations as heterosexual couples.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the changes would allow Australians to get married and have a civil union.
“We are not the only country that has changed the laws, and this will not be the last,” he said in a statement.
Australia’s marriage law has been widely criticised for its rigid gender roles and a lack of flexibility for women and gays.
Labor leader Bill Shorten called on the government to scrap the changes.
“The Liberal party believes the laws need to be reformed, and the Prime Minister is standing up to the Coalition,” he tweeted.
However, the coalition has rejected the changes and the Opposition leader has criticised the move as “an example of a government that wants to punish its own people”.
The changes, which will come into force in April 2018, will also require all state and territory governments to make sure they are following federal guidelines on same-gender marriage.
Australian Marriage Equality, which campaigns for equal marriage, welcomed the announcement.
“This is a huge victory for the thousands of couples who have fought for years for marriage equality, and we are now finally seeing that marriage equality is finally coming to Australia,” the group said.
Read more:Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says she’s ‘totally confident’ marriage equality will pass in her state, but it remains to be seen if the Coalition will follow through.
Queenslanders are among the most conservative states in Australia, with only 14 per cent of people voting for same-sexual marriage, according to a poll last year.
Liberal MP Kate Jones told ABC News that she would not be swayed by the government’s announcement.
Ms Jones said she would work with the state and local governments to ensure marriage equality in Queensland, but she said the change would be “difficult”.
“I’m absolutely confident that the new laws will be rolled out this year and we will be in line with the rest of the country,” she said.