Australia has voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriage in a nationwide postal survey.

61.6% of Australians voted yes to marriage equality, with turnout in the voluntary poll, which took place over two month, put at just under 80%.

Every state and territory in Australia reported a Yes vote of over 55%, with over 60% reported in all states other than New South Wales and 133 of 150 electorates voting in favour of marriage equality.

Responding to the result Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who supported the Yes campaign, said: “The people have voted for marriage equality. Now it’s our job to deliver it”.

He also praised the level of turnout for a voluntary survey as an “unprecedented exercise in democracy” and added that he intends to pass a bill allowing same-sex couples to marry by Christmas.

Although the survey result is non-binding, the government has said it will help support a Private Members Bill supporting the legalisation of same-sex marriage. The debate on a bill to legalise same-sex marriage could start as early as this afternoon. However, the process may not be easy, with divisions amongst the ruling Coalition over protection of religious freedom.

Although the government has been working on a bill to allow same-sex marriage, a rival bill proposed by conservative Liberal MP James Paterson had been proposed which would have allowed companies and services to discriminate against gay people and allow parents to take children out of classes if they disagree over their views on marriage. However, since the announcement of the result and criticism by Prime Minister Turnbull, Paterson has dropped his plans to introduce the bill to Parliament.

Labor leader Bill Shorten praised the result and said: “Today we celebrate, tomorrow we legislate.”

The campaign was mired by abuse and attacks on both sides of the debate, and criticised for costing $122 million – with opposition members saying that marriage equality should have been passed in parliament without a public vote.

No campaigner and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott congratulated the Yes campaign on their victory and said “I look forward to a parliamentary process that improves on the bill to implement same-sex marriage with freedom of conscience for all, not just the churches.”

His constituency of Warringah voted overwhelmingly in favour of same-sex marriage, with 75% of his constituents supporting marriage equality.

More to follow