Australia same-sex marriage: Senators rise to applaud speech

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Media caption'Gay people are going to have the best weddings'

Australian lawmakers have begun debating a historic bill to legalise same-sex marriage, a day after the result of a decisive national vote.

More than 60% of Australians who voted in the non-binding poll supported changing the law.

The bill's co-sponsors gave speeches in the Senate on Thursday - one drawing a standing ovation - following a night of celebrations by supporters of reform.

PM Malcolm Turnbull has said he hopes the bill will pass before Christmas.

The bill, introduced by government Senator Dean Smith, has broad cross-party support. However, some conservative MPs have indicated they will seek amendments concerning personal freedoms.

Mr Smith, who is gay, received a standing ovation at the end of his speech on Thursday.

"Yesterday we saw a glimpse of the country we all yearn for, a country that is fair-minded, generous and accepting," he told the Senate.

"I never believed the day would come when my relationship would be judged by my country to be as meaningful and valued as any other. The Australian people have proven me wrong."

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Image caption Senator Dean Smith introducing the bill on Wednesday, a day before the Senate debate began

The bill proposes to amend Australia's Marriage Act to include same-sex couples, and allow exemptions for people who do not want to perform ceremonies on religious grounds.

Some politicians have indicated they will raise amendments. Earlier this week, some conservative MPs argued that businesses should be able to refuse goods and services for same-sex weddings.

In his speech, Mr Smith said any attempts to deny LGBT people rights would face strong opposition.

"Nothing in this bill takes away an existing right, nor does any of it diminish an existing civil freedom," he said.

MPs and senators will given a free vote on the bill. Mr Turnbull has urged them to vote in line with the public, but they are not bound to do so.

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Image caption Celebrations take place in Melbourne on Wednesday

More than 12.7 million people - about 79.5% of eligible voters - took part in the poll, an eight-week campaign that attracted heated debate.

The issue only went to a voluntary postal vote after a long and bitter discussion about amending the law.

Supporters celebrated late into the night on Wednesday following what Mr Turnbull described as an "overwhelming" result.

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