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Arthur Cheeseman and John Challis plan to marry in January (Daily Global Mail Limited/screengrab)

Lydia Smith

'It gives us a new dignity, a new status, a new place in society'

An Australian couple have announced plans to marry after spending five decades together, following the country’s historic vote to legalise same-sex marriage.

Arthur Cheeseman, 85, and John Challis, 89, believed to be the oldest same-sex couple in the country, said they plan to marry next January but “not with any fuss”.

“Just very quietly - very simple. That’s it. I have got a 90th birthday coming up next year.

“We might combine it with that,” Mr Cheeseman, a retired pharmacist, told ABC radio.

Australians voted overwhelming in favour of legalising same-sex marriage in a poll, with 61.6% of people in support of allowing same-sex couples to wed.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said his government would aim to pass legislation in parliament by Christmas.

Mr Cheeseman said the move was a historic step forward for LGBTQ Australians.

“It is not just endorsing gay marriage – it is endorsing gay and lesbian people,” he said

“It gives us a new dignity, a new status, a new place in society. We are the same as everyone else.”

The couple, who live in Sydney, met as they were both leaving an art gallery in 1967 and “just happened to smile at each other”.

When asked about those who voted against legalising same-sex marriage, Mr Cheeseman said he hoped “they get used to us”.

“They will soon find out that it is not the end of civilisation,” he added.

A majority in every state and territory voted in favour of change, with a voter turnout of 79.5%.

The announcement of the vote results was met with cheers, tears and rainbow-coloured celebrations across the country.

There are still some political hurdles following the vote, however, with some MPs in favour of allowing people and businesses who oppose same-sex marriage to refuse to provide services to weddings.

The current marriage equality bill allows people opposed to same-sex marriage to refuse to offer services to weddings on religious grounds.

Senator Dean Smith, who is gay, introduced the bill to the Australian parliament a day after the vote result.
“Yesterday we saw a glimpse of the country we all yearn for, a country that is fair-minded, generous and accepting,” he told the Senate on Thursday.

“I never believed the day would come when my relationship would be judged by my country to be as meaningful and valued as any other. The Australian people have proven me wrong.”

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