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Australia Marks 1-Year Anniversary of Landmark Gay Marriage Vote


FILE - Participants hold banners of same-sex marriage during the 40th anniversary of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade in central Sydney, Australia, March 3, 2018.

It has been a year since Australians voted to legalize gay marriage in a historic postal ballot. Almost 5,500 same-sex weddings have taken place in the past year since marriage in Australia was redefined as "a union of two people," despite fierce opposition from religious and conservative groups.

Sixty-two percent of Australians supported same-sex marriage in a nonbinding postal vote.

Ban-Foo Leong marched with his partner in Sydney to celebrate the historic result a year ago.

"It felt good that there was such huge support not from just the gay community but from wider communities. Time to scream and shout, you know. This is what we have been waiting for 21 years and that we could finally do it and be on equal terms with everyone else," he said.

The law in Australia allowed Heather Richards and Sass Willows to marry just two weeks before Sass would die of cancer.

"I am so thankful and grateful and blessed — all of those things — that we were able to make it by just a few days rather than miss out by just a few days. So, yes, now I can still say that Sass was my wife. I feel equal to other people who have lost their spouse," said Richards.

One of Australia's most high-profile same-sex weddings was that of James Brechney and Stuart Henshall, who hope their ceremony at this year's Sydney gay and lesbian Mardi Gras will help younger people feel comfortable with their sexuality.

"If we had a public wedding and it helped one kid be more accepting of who they are, and look at it and go 'Oh, I am OK, and I will be OK one day,' then it is all worth it," said Henshall.

The law, though, divided Australia. While almost 8 million people voted in support of same-sex marriage, about 5 million opposed the reform. Paul Kennedy from the Coalition For Marriage said it was morally wrong.

"There is no other institution that is as important as marriage anthropologically, biologically, historically that defines the relationship that best nurtures a man and a woman and their capacity to raise children," he said.

But the reform has been embraced by the gay community. It's estimated that 10 percent of same-sex couples in Australia have married since the law was changed.

The bill passed federal parliament on December 7, 2017, and became law the following day. Campaigners say it has been one of the most significant social changes in recent Australian history.

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