Be welcome

Australia is a land of superlatives. It is the world's largest island, the sixth largest country and the only country that's also a continent. Its Great Barrier Reef, visible from outer space, is the world's largest coral reef. It is also the flattest continent, most of it - the vast Outback - desert or semi-arid land that has inspired novels, art and mysticism. Kangaroos, koala and the wallaby are native nowhere else. It is the only continent where poisonous snakes outnumber non-poisonous.

Ranked seventh on a World Economic Forum index on tourism development, Australia is a big spender when it comes to vying for international tourists. Most come from its next-door neighborhood New Zealand, but China is rapidly taking over the number one spot, followed neck and neck by the UK and the US/Canada. Cheeky advertising slogans help, but mostly people come for the vibrant urban centers, great sporting events, unbeatable beaches and natural wonders like the Great Barrier Reef and the Australian Outback.

It also turns up high on gay-friendly lists. Sydney's Gay-Lesbian Mardi Gras attracts hundreds of thousands from around the country and the world. Other LGBT festivals and events are held in most other states and territories, and displays of public affection don't raise eyebrows in many urban areas. A growing number of openly gay politicians are winning elections at various levels, including Parliament.

Legally, members of the LGBT community enjoyed mostly the same rights and protections as all other citizens, but reforms stopped short of same-sex marriage even though poll after poll indicated most Australians were in favor. In a November 2017, another non-binding plebiscite showed 61.6 percent supported marriage equality. This time Parliament listened to the people. Three weeks later - with only four votes against - it passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriages, recognizing same-sex marriages performed abroad and expanding earlier protections. Marriage is now defined as "the union of two people."