International desk, November 15: Australians have overwhelmingly voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriage in a historic poll.The non-binding postal vote showed 61.6% of people favour allowing same-sex couples to wed, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said.
Jubilant supporters have been celebrating in public spaces, waving rainbow flags and singing and dancing.
The issue only went to a voluntary postal vote after a long and bitter debate about changing the law.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said his government would now aim to pass legislation in parliament by Christmas.
“[Australians] have spoken in their millions and they have voted overwhelmingly yes for marriage equality,” Mr Turnbull said after the result was announced.
“They voted yes for fairness, yes for commitment, yes for love.”
The result on Wednesday brings an end to what was at times a heated campaign. The vote itself had been criticised by same-sex marriage supporters, many of whom said it was unnecessary when parliament could debate the issue directly.
The survey was voluntary, unlike Australia’s compulsory elections.
More than 12.7 million people – about 79.5% of eligible voters – took part in the eight-week poll, which asked one question: “Should the marriage law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”
The postal survey followed two failed attempts by the government to hold a compulsory national vote that was twice voted down by the Senate.
Senators who opposed the compulsory vote did not necessarily oppose legalisation, but said the vote would be costly and fuel hate campaigns. They argued the matter should be put to a parliamentary vote.
Many same-sex marriage advocates levelled the same criticism at the voluntary vote, which did not require legislative approval.
During the campaign, each side has accused the other of bullying and misleading discussion, while the debate was even linked to violent incidents.