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Australia gay marriage referendum: Public votes 'Yes'

Results of a two-month nationwide survey show a majority of the public supports lifting a ban on same-sex marriage. The result is set to intensify a divisive debate about how to enshrine marriage equality into law.

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Tears, glitter and rainbows: Australians celebrate 'Yes' vote

Australians voted "Yes" to a controversial national survey on whether to allow same-sex marriage, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) announced late on Tuesday.

The results, which showed 61.6 percent of voters are in favor of a change in the law versus 38.4 percent opposed, were released at 10.00 a.m. local time (23.00 UTC), and came after more than a decade of wrangling over whether to follow almost every developed country in overturning a ban on gay marriage. 

All states agreed

The ABS said every state and territory overall voted "Yes." Only 17 constituencies, known as electorates, in the whole country voted "No."

Henry Belot, Federal Politics Reporter for Australia's public broadcaster ABC, tweeted the results breakdown, showing the largest "Yes" majority was seen in the Australian Capital Territory, the federal district in which Canberra lies, and the state of Victoria — home to the city of Melbourne.

The two-month postal vote was called by Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull, who vowed to quickly introduce parliamentary legislation to equalize the country's marriage laws, if a majority of the public approved of the move.

Speaking after the results were announced, Turnbull said Australians had "spoken in their millions" and had "voted overwhelmingly yes for marriage equality." He said it was up to parliament to "get on with the job" and pass the new legislation.

New law by end of year

Australian media said the result means that same-sex couples may now be able to marry by Christmas.

Rallies attended by thousands of marriage equality supporters in several Australian cities roared with cheers when the result was announced.

"This means everything, this means everything," said one man, Chris, who fought back tears and hugged his partner Victor at a huge rally in Sydney. 

Read more: Former PM Tony Abbott head-butted during Australia's same-sex marriage campaign

Liberal Senator Eric Abetz, a leading campaigner against the law change, said in a statement that the result "is a decision that I regret but respect."

The nationwide survey caused accusations of misleading on both sides of the debate. One defender of the status quo accused the Australian Medical Association of taking sides by suggesting that same-sex marriage is a public health issue.

The "No" campaign focused on traditional family values, religious reasons for maintaining the ban and the wider question of how gender should be taught in schools.

Massive response

Almost 80 percent of the population — some 12.6 million people — responded to the non-binding postal survey which asked whether the ban on same-sex marriage should be lifted. 

But even before the results were released, a row erupted over whether any new law would downgrade the country's anti-discrimination laws.

Turnbull has backed a bill that would allow churches to refuse to officiate same-sex marriage, which is likely to attract broad parliamentary support. But several MPs in his conservative coalition want the legislation to extend the exemption to businesses and individuals with a "religious or conscientious belief."

Equality campaigners have insisted the government proceed with a "fair" law that supports true equality.

mm/aw (AFP, AP)

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