CAROOL, Australia – Sharing a kiss as fireworks lit up the night sky, two Australian athletes tied the knot just after midnight Tuesday, January 9, in one of the first gay unions in the country following historic marriage equality laws.
Commonwealth Games hopefuls Luke Sullivan, 23, and Craig Burns, 29, said "I do" shortly after the clock struck 12:00 am in rural New South Wales state – heralding a new chapter for same-sex couples in Australia.
While the historic reforms were given royal assent on December 8, the final step in a process that began with a national postal vote in September, most couples have had to wait 30 days before exchanging vows.
A handful wed last month after seeking exemptions due to their circumstances, including Lauren Price, 31, and Amy Laker, 29, who solemnized their vows in Sydney on December 16.
"We feel very lucky that we get to be one of the first same-sex couples married in Australia," Craig Burns told AFP at the wedding reception in Carool, a picturesque country town close to the popular Gold Coast tourist spot.
"In the past... people couldn't vote, women couldn't vote, so it's like a progression of equality and people wanting acceptance across different backgrounds."
The happy couple were joined by others across the country after parliamentarians in December voted in favour on changing the Marriage Act.
The shift came after decades of political wrangling, and followed an emphatic nationwide voluntary postal vote in support of legalizing same-sex marriage.
Andrew Chatterton and James Hemphill will also marry Tuesday in Adelaide, arranging their wedding in barely a month after becoming engaged on the day the law was passed.
"We've found that some retailers are not quite ready yet for same-sex marriages – for starters, it was difficult to explain to a jeweller that I was looking for an engagement ring for a man," Chatterton told the Adelaide Advertiser.
"But on the flip side, we have also found that despite some initial confusion, many places have been really enthusiastic about helping us."
Venues and vendors are preparing for a rush of weddings, with the pink dollar tipped to generate Aus$650 million (US$510 million) in the first year if some of the nearly 50,000 same-sex couples tie the knot.
Burns' and Sullivan's Aus$50,000 wedding on the border with NSW and Queensland states was gifted to them by local businesses.
Australia had been seen to be lagging on marriage reform as a growing number of its international peers including the United States and Ireland legalized such unions.
Rob Burns, who was at the Carool wedding reception with his wife Robyn to support their son Craig, said he was not surprised at the time it took for a "conservative country" such as Australia to embrace change.
"It was a real learning curve for us after Craig let us know that he was in fact gay, and now that we know, we wouldn't have him any other way," he told AFP.
"But at that time, it took a little while for us to get used to it because you didn't know, you didn't think about it... It's not going to be easy for everybody else to do it, so that's why it's taken Australia so long."
Gay marriage is now recognized in more than 20 countries, of which 16 are in Europe. – Rappler.com