by Matt Goss
CANBERRA, Dec. 7 (Xinhua) -- Australia has legalized same-sex marriage after hundreds of hours of debate in the nation's parliament.
The House of Representatives, the lower house of Australia's parliament, overwhelmingly voted to legalize same-sex marriage on Thursday evening with only four Members of Parliament (MPs) opposing the bill.
It came after 61.6 percent of the 12.7 million respondents Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey voted "yes" to changing the law to allow same-sex marriage couples to marry.
Upon the result of the vote being read out, MPs and members of the public gallery, many of whom arrived on Thursday morning to ensure they would witness the historic moment firsthand, broke out into applause.
"What a day. What a day for love, for equality, for respect," Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said.
"Australia has done it. Every Australian had their say and they said it is fair, get on with it," Turnbull said.
"This is Australia: fair diverse, loving and filled with respect. This is a great day."
Bill Shorten, leader of the Opposition Australian Labor Party (ALP), echoed Turnbull's sentiment moments before the final vote, calling on all Australians to celebrate the historic achievement regardless of whether they voted yes or no in the survey.
"Australia we are going to make marriage equality a reality in minutes," Shorten said.
"When this bill is passed we should declare we are no longer a nation who voted no or yes, we are simply Australians all," Shorten said.
Due to the postal survey being non-binding, legislation still had to be passed through both houses of parliaments to legalize the practice.
Earlier on Thursday, a series of conservative MPs tried to make amendments to the bill which would allow employees and businesses in the wedding service sector to refuse to supply same-sex weddings on religious grounds but all amendments were easily defeated in both houses of parliament.
Government MP Trent Zimmerman was the first-ever openly gay member of the lower house and on Thursday told the house that all of Australia had been touched by a three-word slogan.
"Love is love, Mr. Speaker, and I am sure that's something we can all agree on," he said.
Addressing the public gallery, sat in which were notable gay Australians such as Olympian Ian Thorpe, Deputy ALP leader Tanya Plibersek said, "By the end of today, Australia will be a better, kinder, fairer place for all of us."
"Love will prevail. It will be your victory, and I hope you enjoy it," she said.
Under the bill that was passed, although celebrants such as priests will be able to refuse to marry same-sex couples due to their religion, civil celebrants will not be able to do so.
Queensland MPs Bob Katter, Keith Pitt and David Littleproud alongside Victoria's Russell Broadbent were the only MPs to vote against the bill.
A number of other MPs, including former PM Tony Abbott, who were opposed to same-sex marriage but whose electorates voted in favor in the postal survey abstained from the vote.
A month's notice of intent to marry must be given in Australia meaning same-sex marriages will be allowed to take place from mid-January onward.