When same-sex marriage finally passed Parliament, gravity no longer had meaning

Vote on the Marriage Amendment Bill at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 7 December 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Vote on the Marriage Amendment Bill at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 7 December 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Never had a larger, more expectant crowd sat so intently and for so long in the public galleries of the House of Representatives.

Barely a seat lay empty all the long day, the morning creeping into the afternoon, the afternoon edging towards evening, anticipation intensifying.

Not an occupant of a pew was willing to drift away until all the words, thousands and thousands of them, had been uttered on the floor below.

They knew what it was to wait, all these visitors to the Parliament, more than 600 of them.

They had waited so long - lifetimes, a lot of them. And so, up there in the green bleachers and even higher, crammed into the glassed-off enclosures usually set aside for schoolchildren, patience was observed, the sun outside moving across a big Canberra sky.

Marriage Amendment Bill in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 7 December 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Marriage Amendment Bill in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 7 December 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Expectation and hope, however, cannot be contained forever.

At precisely 5:58pm, the whole place felt and sounded as if it had exploded.

Bodies rose from the seats, those on the floor of the House and those up there in the pews, as if gravity no longer had meaning.

Arms flew around shoulders, hands fluttered to mouths and brushed at tears, and everyone, politicians below and those above for whom this day was suddenly so perfect seemed to be hugging. A rainbow flag popped open as if from the air itself and suddenly, up there in the public gallery, voices were raised in song.

"We share a dream/And sing with one voice/I am, you are/We are Australian", the voices floated through all the applause.

It was done. Almost every member of the House of Representatives had voted 'Yes' to changing the Marriage Act.

From that moment forth, the nation's laws would no longer restrict marriage to that between a man and a woman. It would, simply, be for two people.

All the anxiety and harsh words and hatefulness were gone. All the days' numerous attempts by MPs to amend the new bill with protections - or the right to discrimination - for ministers of religion and army chaplains and whole religious organisations and marriage celebrants both civil and God-fearing - all had come to nothing.

Marriage Amendment Bill in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 7 December 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Marriage Amendment Bill in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 7 December 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in his excitement to hail the end of this days' rivers of words, cried "What a day, what a day for love, for equality, for respect. It is a time for more marriages, more equality, more love!"

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten wanted the world to know that "we are no longer a nation who voted yes or no; we are Australians."

As the applause finally died away - it took four-and-a-half minutes - the pews emptied and in the Parliament's vast mural hall next door, the corks of champagne bottles were flying.

This story When same-sex marriage finally passed Parliament, gravity no longer had meaning first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.