Australians have voted overwhelmingly for same-sex marriage, paving the way for legislation by the end of 2017 and sparking rainbow celebrations on Wednesday, with people wearing wedding dresses and sequined suits and declaring “our love is real”.
Australia will become the 26th nation to formalise the unions if the legislation is passed by parliament, which is expected despite some vocal opposition within the government’s conservative right wing.
Thousands of people in a central Sydney park broke into a loud cheer, hugged and cried as Australia’s chief statistician revealed live over a big screen that 61.6 percent of voters surveyed favoured marriage equality, with 38.4 percent against.
Australian Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe, who came out as gay three years ago, said the result was a huge relief.
“It means that the way you feel for another person, whoever that may be, is equal,” Thorpe told reporters at the Sydney celebrations.
The voluntary poll is non-binding but Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull immediately said he would fulfill a pledge to raise a bill in parliament with the aim of passing laws by Christmas.
Turnbull played down concerns of a split in his coalition government over the policy as the conservative faction presses for amendments to protect religious freedoms that discriminate against same-sex couples.
“It is unequivocal, it is overwhelming. They have spoken in their millions and they have voted overwhelmingly yes for marriage equality,” Turnbull told reporters in Canberra after the survey results were announced. “They voted yes for fairness, yes for commitment, yes for love.”
The result marks a watershed moment for gay rights in Australia, where it was illegal in some states to engage in homosexual activity until 1997.
“It’s a g’day. Way to go Australia,” tweeted U.S. TV host Ellen DeGeneres, who is married to Australian actress Portia de Rossi in the United States.