First there was nerves, anxiety and a sick feeling in the stomach as the clock ticked towards 10am. Then as Australian statistician David Kalisch started his press conference, broadcast on a TV screen and over loud speakers, there was frustration on the steps of the State Library in Melbourne. The audio dropped in and out, and as Kalisch used his chance in the spotlight to promote the work of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, tension ratcheted up to 11.
Then finally there a number — 61.6%. But most of us wouldn’t hear that properly until later, all we knew was that it was a resounding YES. Every state, almost every electorate — YES. Rainbow coloured powder, confetti and sequins were catapulted into the air, with those in the front rows wearing most of the powder.
The celebration was about love. Not just the love between two people, whether they be two women, two men or a man and a woman, but the love between a community. Victoria’s Sexuality and Gender Commissioner Rowena Allen encouraged everyone to hold hands with the person next to them as they waited in the final moments — it didn’t matter if you knew them or not. And as the sounds of Kool and the Gang’s Celebration rang out over the crowd, it was all about embracing the person next to you, with tears of relief and joy.
A crowd had gathered since the early morning, with more than a thousand people there by the time the results were announced. The rainbow flag was everywhere, showing Australians can wear a flag as a cape in a non-offensive way. There were “bride to be” sashes and wedding dresses, union t-shirts and people in officewear, with a few punters telling Crikey they had ducked out of work to be at the historic announcement with their friends.
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Before the announcement, the crowd heard from Australian Marriage Equality Director Tim Peppard, who said there had been more than a million calls made by volunteers in the Yes campaign, 250,000 posters printed, 150,000 badges made and one million Yes stickers plastered around the country.
After the announcement, Trades Hall campaigner Wil Stracke acknowledged the LGBTI people who came before, who had “paved the way” for today’s result. “You are loved, you are accepted, you are heard and you are seen. It gets better and our future is brighter. Our country has changed and we are all the better for it. So now we celebrate and tonight we party!”
Opposition leader Bill Shorten took to the stage as PM Malcolm Turnbull and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann spoke on the television screen behind him.
“Yes! Yes! Yes!” he opened.
“It may have been 61% who voted yes in the survey but I want to say to all LGBTIQ Australians you are 100% loved, 100% valued and after the next two weeks of parliament 100% able to marry the person you love.”
“Today we celebrate, tomorrow we legislate,” he closed.
Then it was time for dancing. First, on the footpath on Swanston Street, before the crowd dissipated and many moved to Smith Street in Collingwood, before a party at the historic Trades Hall building tonight.