(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Marriage equality has for many years been the centrepiece of Australia's Mardi Gras - the world's largest gay and lesbian parade that each year draws hundreds of thousands of people to the streets of Sydney.
Despite seemingly strong support, same-sex marriage has always remained elusive. That may change soon, however, as Australians begin voting on September 12th on whether to legalise same-sex marriage in a non-compulsory postal ballot.
The vote is not just a watershed moment for the lives of the country's LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Questioning) population, but it also marks a stark turnaround for gay rights in the traditionally progressive Australia. On June 24, 1978 at the country's first Mardi Gras, dozens of men and woman were arrested, charged by police and publicly outted in newspapers, which Robyn Kennedy, a protester at that original parade, said had a devastating impact.
"The impact of publishing of the names, addresses, ages, occupations of people that were arrested was devastating. People were kicked out of their homes. They lost their jobs. They lost their tenancies and in some cases, people actually committed suicide," Kennedy told Reuters.
The country has come a long way in its attitudes towards the LGBTIQ community, with polls indicating two-thirds of Australian support same-sex marriage.
For Peter Cunningham and Anthony Ikin - a Sydney same-sex couple that plan to travel to New Zealand, where they can legally marry - a "yes" vote would improve the lives of vulnerable Australians struggling with their sexuality.
"So, I hope that happens, I know that will happen and it will change it will change the head space of so many young affected people in the country for the good and we never have to have this discussion, debate or this toxic bloody conversation ever again," said Ikin.
Opponents to same-sex marriage insist they are not homophobic but a "yes" vote would have significant implications on Australian law, including the right to free speech.
"The law will be used to silence freedom of speech about marriage that doesn't conform with the rainbow political movements vision for marriage," said Lyle Shelton, Chief of Staff, Australian Christian Lobby.
For same-sex couples, the question of marriage equality is a personal one.
"The only people that get impacted by us getting married is us two. It literally affects no one else," said Peter Cunningham.
The campaign has been plagued by an often spiteful dialogue, paining the LGBTIQ community, who feel their worth in society is being debated. Although the vitriol may remain, campaigners say it has energised supporters as ballots are set to be delivered from September 12.
All voting papers must be returned by November 7, to be counted in the plebiscite, with a decision expected to be announced on November 15.