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Everything that happened in 2017 for marriage equality. And a final cheers to Australia.

January 9 is going to be special day for many Australians. It’s the first official day that LGBTI couples will be legally allowed to marry in our country. It’s also my birthday, and I couldn’t think of a better present.

And to think it all came from the big, sour lemon that was the marriage equality postal survey. But, like Beyonce with her Lemonade, we knew what to do: SQUEEZE. We did, and the victory was so sweet.

LISTEN: Holly Wainwright and Mia Freedman look back on the instrumental players who got marriage equality over the line this year, with Christine Forster. Post continues after audio.

Looking back on 2017, this year more than ever, my personal life became very political. Not because I felt a burning desire to marry, but because my very ability to make that choice was under fierce attack. Sometimes it was laughable – shout-out to Kevin Andrews and his close relationship with his “cycling mates” – but most of it was downright hurtful, like the lies we had to put up with about “radical” children’s education and the legitimacy of rainbow families.

And yet, the flipside of going through it all is that I’ve never felt prouder to be gay. In fact, I’ve never felt prouder to be Australian.

It was November 15, 2017. I was standing among a crowd of hundreds of hopeful faces. Couples in love. Children with their parents. Families with dogs. Friends holding each other tightly. People of all sides of the fence – gay, straight and everything in between. My boss and her 11-year-old daughter, swathed in “equality” badges. Me in my “YES” shirt. My partner in his suit, because, yes, it was still a work day. We bit our nails nervously as we waited for that thrilling Australian Bureau of Statistics guy (he has a name, David Kalisch) to announce the news that was about to change so many Australians’ lives.

It was quite a road to get here. Ever since John Howard threw in those words “to the exclusion of all others” into the Marriage Act in 2004, the LGBTI community has watched country after country do the opposite. Instead of excluding them, more than 25 countries opted to include LGBTI citizens in the institution of marriage if they so wished.

In 2017, Australia had enough of the political football the major parties had been playing on the issue for years. Every step of the way was a struggle. This year, Malcolm Turnbull kept on pushing for the compulsory plebiscite no-one wanted, which was blocked by the Senate so we had to settle for that other lemon: the non-compulsory, non-binding postal survey that ended up costing $80m (*slow clap that it ended up under the $122m estimate…very. slow. clap*).

Things got sour. The survey gave a platform for opinions that openly disparaged, vilified and discriminated against LGBTI people and their families. Australians who felt uncomfortable with LGBTI people were given a free pass to say anything they wanted, under the guise of “respectful debate”.

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It was a mentally challenging time for me and so many other people I know. We felt we’d moved beyond the shame society had tried to imprint on us for being different. It was tough.

But when it came to the crunch, Australia knew what to do. Nearly 62 per cent of us voted “yes”. As I stood in that crowd to hear the result, I felt an unusual feeling of being both a part of a moment in history, but also in a deeply personal space as I cried into the arms of my partner of 10 years. It was like I was in a bubble, a big warm bubble with thousands of other hearts overflowing with joy.

They were also tears of a hard-won fight. For me, it was years of anguish at being told I wasn’t as equal as my fellow citizens. That gay love is not worthy of being “real” love. Of course, you don’t need to be married to have this concept of “real” love. But being able to choose how you want to celebrate that love, well, that’s called freedom.

Faces of equality: Ian Thorpe, Magda Szubanski, Alex Greenwich, Dr Keryn Phelps, Jackie Stricker-Phelps, Virginia Edwards, Christine Forster and Daniel Kowalski. Image: Getty

As I celebrated, I also felt reverence for everyone who paved the way to get here. From the '78ers who bravely fought for the right for the LGBTI community to exist in a time when homosexuality was still illegal. One of those activists was Peter de Waal, who lost his partner Peter this year to cancer aged 78. They'd been together for 50 years, and wanted more than anything to have their relationship recognised on home soil. While Peter never got to see the day, his partner did. He would be so proud.

We've had inspiring, articulate figures like Dr Keryn Phelps and her wife Jackie Stricker-Phelps. Magda Szubanski. Tiernan Brady. And of course, the many politicians who have fought for marriage equality before there was even such a thing as a YES campaign. People like Alex Greenwich, Jenny Leong, Warren Entsch, Sarah Hanson-Young, Tanya Plibersek, and many, many more.

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This victory wasn't won by any political party, despite occurring under Malcolm Turnbull's watch. It was a victory of the people. We spoke and Canberra listened.

On December 7, the Liberal-National Coalition, Labor, the Greens and crossbench MPs held a free vote and only four members voted against Dean Smith's bill (yes, Dean Smith deserves a big round of applause too). And just like that, it was done.

Iconic moment: Liberal MP Warren Entsch and Labor MP Linda Burney after parliament's vote. Image: AAP Image/Lukas Coch

Just weeks later, Australia hosted its first legal same-sex weddings, with a handful of couples granted early exemptions to the 30-day waiting period for the law to become official. One of them was West Australian couple Anne Sedgwick and Lyn Hawkins, who have been together for 40 years. They were given special dispensation as Lyn, 85, battles ovarian cancer.

It's moments like this that we remember that the marriage equality debate has always been about dignity. Not how to raise children. Not how to take away from religious tradition. And it was certainly never about bakers or florists. Well, now they too can celebrate, because business is about to boom.

As we go into 2018, the weddings will come. The celebrations will be big and beautiful. But, without wanting to rain on the parade, it's important to think about how we will protect marriage equality now that we have it.

There is still a large portion of Australia that isn't convinced of the LGBTI community’s right to equality. More than 1 in 3 Australians voted "no". And certain electorates were overwhelmingly against equality, for a mélange of complex reasons including cultural and socioeconomic factors. Attitudes will take time to change, and we need to be on the forefront of that.

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More concerning is that a "religious freedoms" inquiry is on the horizon, and some members of parliament want religious freedoms to be made superior human rights. That could erode the progress we've made, so we need to watch this with an eagle eye.

And let's not forget that there is still work to be done to protect trans rights, LGBTI inclusivity in education, discrimination in the workplace and discrimination within religious institutions. There’s also the need for justice for the families of hundreds of the gay men murdered in the '80s and '90s (an estimated 500, as revealed in the recent Scott Johnson inquest).

Internationally, there are still a dozen countries that hold the death penalty for homosexuality, and too many countries where being gay results in other kinds of punishment (such as the "gay purge" torture camps in Chechnya).

So we have many reasons to keep that fighting spirit alive. But right now, as we look back on 2017 and welcome 2018 with fresh eyes, I look forward to celebrating what we've achieved as a nation.

Marriage is not the final frontier, but as Macklemore sings in Same Love, it's a damn good place to start.

Cheers to love. Have a safe and happy new year.

CHEERS! Sip that champers...or lemonade...or whatever you're having this New Year. Adam Bub

Adam Bub is the Commercial Editor of Mamamia. Follow his Facebook page, or find him on Instagram at @adambub or Twitter at @TheAdamBub.

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