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Rainbow celebrations as Australians vote for same-sex marriage

Reuters logo Reuters 3 days ago By Colin Packham and Tom Westbrook

By Colin Packham and Tom Westbrook

Members of the Sydney's gay community react as they celebrate after it was announced the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage in a national survey, at a pub located on Sydney's Oxford street © REUTERS/Steven Saphore Members of the Sydney's gay community react as they celebrate after it was announced the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage in a national survey, at a pub located on Sydney's Oxford street a group of people posing for the camera: Ian Thorpe, former Olympic gold medalist swimmer, stands with other supporters of the 'Yes' vote for marriage equality after it was announced the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage in a national survey, at a rally in Sydney © REUTERS/David Gray Ian Thorpe, former Olympic gold medalist swimmer, stands with other supporters of the 'Yes' vote for marriage equality after it was announced the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage in a national survey, at a rally in Sydney

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".

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Supporters of the 'Yes' vote for marriage equality celebrate after it was announced the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage in a national survey, at a rally in Sydney © REUTERS/David Gray Supporters of the 'Yes' vote for marriage equality celebrate after it was announced the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage in a national survey, at a rally in Sydney

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.

a group of people holding a sign: Supporters of the 'Yes' vote react as they celebrate after it was announced the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage in a national survey, at a rally in Sydney © REUTERS/Melanie Burton Supporters of the 'Yes' vote react as they celebrate after it was announced the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage in a national survey, at a rally in Sydney

Thousands of people in a 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.

a group of people holding wine glasses: Supporters of the 'Yes' vote for marriage equality celebrate after it was announced the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage in a national survey, at a rally in Sydney © REUTERS/David Gray Supporters of the 'Yes' vote for marriage equality celebrate after it was announced the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage in a national survey, at a rally in Sydney

Australian Olympic swimmer Ian Thorpe, who came out as gay three years ago, said the result was a huge relief.

A supporter of the 'Yes' vote for marriage equality wears a shirt as he celebrates after it was announced the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage in a national survey, at a rally in Sydney © REUTERS/David Gray A supporter of the 'Yes' vote for marriage equality wears a shirt as he celebrates after it was announced the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage in a national survey, at a rally in Sydney

"It means that the way you feel for another person, whoever that may be, is equal," Thorpe told reporters at the Sydney celebrations.

a group of people jumping in the air: Supporters of the 'Yes' vote for marriage equality celebrate after it was announced the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage in a national survey, at a rally in Sydney © REUTERS/David Gray Supporters of the 'Yes' vote for marriage equality celebrate after it was announced the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage in a national survey, at a rally in Sydney

The voluntary poll is non-binding but Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull immediately said he would fulfil a pledge to raise a bill in parliament with the aim of passing laws by Christmas.

Turnbull played down concern 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."

a group of people flying kites in front of a crowd: Supporters of the 'Yes' vote for marriage equality celebrate after it was announced the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage in a national survey, at a rally in Sydney © REUTERS/David Gray Supporters of the 'Yes' vote for marriage equality celebrate after it was announced the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage in a national survey, at a rally in Sydney a man holding a kite: Supporters of the 'Yes' vote for marriage equality celebrate after it was announced the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage in a national survey, at a rally in Sydney © REUTERS/David Gray Supporters of the 'Yes' vote for marriage equality celebrate after it was announced the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage in a national survey, at a rally in Sydney

A marriage equality bill was introduced into parliament later on Wednesday.

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.

Almost 80 percent of eligible voters took part in the survey - a higher turnout than Britain's Brexit vote and Ireland's same-sex marriage referendum.

Mark Barry, 59, wiped away tears as he took in the result with his partner of 35 years, Gerrard Boller.

a man holding a kite: People celebrate after it was announced the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage in a national survey, at a rally in Sydney © REUTERS/David Gray People celebrate after it was announced the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage in a national survey, at a rally in Sydney

"I know a celebrant who is going to be very happy about this," Barry told Reuters.

TURNBULL TROUBLES

Irish-born Qantas Airways Chief Executive Alan Joyce, one of the few openly gay business leaders in Australia, told the Sydney crowd, many of whom sheltered from the sun under rainbow umbrellas, that the result was "an amazing outcome" and urged Turnbull to move quickly on legislation.

Turnbull has been under pressure amid a citizenship crisis that has cost him his deputy and the government's majority in parliament and political analysts said the resounding "yes" vote presented him with his first opportunity in months to exert decisive control.

Nick Economou, a political scientist at Monash University, said Turnbull "should feel emboldened by the result and this is the sort of thing he has been looking for to show some assertive leadership".

The 'no' campaign had sought to leverage powerful religious organisations in a survey campaign that was criticised by some in the 'yes' camp as divisive and aggressive.

Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher said he was "deeply disappointed that the likely result will be legislation to further deconstruct marriage and family in Australia".

a group of people posing for the camera: Members of the Sydney's gay community react as they celebrate after it was announced the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage in a national survey, at a pub located on Sydney's Oxford street © REUTERS/Steven Saphore Members of the Sydney's gay community react as they celebrate after it was announced the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage in a national survey, at a pub located on Sydney's Oxford street

On the strength of the "yes" vote, conservatives dropped a plan for a competing bill that would have allowed private businesses to refuse services like wedding cakes for same-sex weddings by objecting on religious grounds.

(Reporting By Colin Packham and Tom Westbrook. Writing by Jane Wardell. Additional reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

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