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Editorials Globe editorial: Australia welcomes gay marriage, but much of the world lags behind

Holland was first off the mark in December of 2000, and in the intervening years 25 other countries have approved same-sex marriage.

Actually, make that 26. If all goes as expected, Australia will legalize same-sex marriage by Christmas.

Best of all, the all-party legislative measure introduced last week by the Australian Parliament, and whose passage is thought to be certain, has unprecedented public support.

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A postal survey sent to 16-million homes had a nearly 80-per-cent participation rate and returned the largest majority – 61.6 per cent in favour – of any similar direct democracy initiative in the nation's history.

The referendum isn't binding. And it generally isn't wise to consult a population about the recognition of a minority's rights. But in this case the exercise has sent a strong message of inclusiveness. Tolerance is one thing; a large-scale public expression of acceptance is better.

It probably needn't have come to this. Legislators in Canberra have been criticized for not acting sooner. However, the route matters less than the destination.

And, unlike Canada, where gay marriage was enshrined in 2005, or the United States, where it happened a decade later, they didn't wait for the courts to do the heavy lifting.

In fact, Australia slots into the broader global trend of countries formalizing same-sex unions via their parliaments.

Germany and Malta held legislative votes earlier this year; others are expected shortly, including in Taiwan, which would become the first Asian country to take the step.

It would be an important landmark. The reality is there are regions of the world where it is still difficult, and even dangerous, to be gay.

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For the most part, same-sex marriage remains a primarily Western phenomenon. Homosexuality is considered a crime in much of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, and is punishable by death in some places.

It's an intolerable situation that cannot and will not last. The advance of LGBTQ rights is inexorable. The latest evidence is the vote in Australia, a country where the political middle is generally situated to the right, but which still embraced tolerance and equality.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this editorial on same-sex marriage said a vote on the issue is expected shortly in Thailand. In fact, the upcoming vote is in Taiwan. This is a corrected version.
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