Attorney-General George Brandis has delivered an emotional speech in support of marriage equality on Tuesday, saying the passing of a proposed bill for same-sex marriage will show gay Australians that "there is nothing wrong with you. You are not unusual. You are not abnormal. You are just you."
In a Senate debate on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, Brandis spoke about how Australian politicians voted in 1972 to no longer consider homosexual acts between consenting males as an offence under the law and now -- 45 years later -- the country has voted to remove the "last significant bastion of legal discrimination against people on the grounds of their sexuality".
"Profoundly important though the acceptance of same-sex marriage may be as a social change, its symbolic significance is even greater still," he said.
"At last, Australia will no longer be insulting gay people by saying: different rules apply to you. So this Bill is important not merely because it will enable gay people to marry, just as everybody else is able to marry. It is more important than that.
"After centuries of prejudice, discrimination, rejection and ridicule, it is both an expiation for past wrongs and a final act of acceptance and embrace."
Brandis went on to address young gay Australians who have struggled in their upbringing to come to terms with their sexuality, saying the passing of the proposed bill through the Senate will serve as a sign of acceptance.
"I want to reflect for a moment on the message this will send, in particular, to young gay people -- to the boy or girl who senses a difference from their friends, which they find difficult to understand and impossible to deal with," he said.
"By passing this bill, we are saying to those vulnerable young people -- there is nothing wrong with you. You are not unusual. You are not abnormal. You are just you. There is nothing to be embarrassed about.
"There is nothing to be ashamed of. There is nothing to hide. You are a normal person and, like every other normal person, you have a need to love. How you love is how God made you. Whom you love is for you to decide and others to respect."
The Senate has devoted this entire week to debating the bill, which would allow same-sex couples to marry. Senators won't be allowed to leave Parliament this week until the legislation has passed and can go to the House of Representatives for further debate and final voting.
In his contribution to the debate the Attorney-General went on to compare the significance of the a marriage equality bill to the 1967 referendum for the constitutional inclusion of Indigenous Australians, saying it "will come to be seen as one of those occasional shining moments which stand out in our nation's history".
"People do remember the 1967 referendum, that great act of inclusion of Indigenous Australians. As the years and decades pass, its significance only grows," he said.
"And I predict that, like the 1967 referendum, this decision by the Australian people, enabled by their government and enacted by their Parliament, will come to be seen as one of those occasional shining moments which stand out in our nation's history.
"About which people will still speak with admiration in decades, indeed in centuries to come -- one of those breakthroughs which have, as the wheel of history turns, defined us as a people."
Brandis's speech comes two weeks after Australians voted resoundingly in support of same-sex marriage after the nationwide postal survey returned a majority 'yes' result comprising more than 60 percent of the response.
In delivering the result, ABS chief statistician David Kalisch said 12,727,920 Australians had returned the survey and the 'Yes' vote received 7,817,247 responses, making up 61.6 percent of the responses cast. Thirty-eight percent of respondents voted 'No', a total of 4,873,987.
The decision is one that has spurred an emotional response from more than one Federal MP, with Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young struggling to hold back tears while delivering a speech in support of marriage equality on Monday.
"Millions of Australians have fought for this reform to happen. Inquiries after inquiries, protesting on the street, meeting with members of parliament, lobbying in their workplaces and voting yes. It is now time for the Senate to do our job, to get this done. And without the muddying of the waters from those who have always been opposed to equal love," she said.
"But why is this so important? It's because discrimination to some demeans us all. Because equality is a symbol of a fair, caring and progressive society."