WELLINGTON Shire’s residents rejoiced after months of campaigning at a ‘yes’ party in Sale on Wednesday night, as the nation-wide survey revealed an overwhelming vote in favour of same-sex marriage.
In Gippsland, 60.2 per cent voted yes, and 39.8 per cent voted no, which was similar to the national response (61.6 per cent yes and 38.4 per cent no).
Sale and district gay social club and I Do Support Marriage Equality in Gippsland hosted a party at Mister Raymond, with patrons spilling onto the street in celebration.
Gippsland’s ‘yes’ campaign, with Sale locals PollyannaR and Corey Alexander at the helm, had been running well before the survey was in action, beginning two and half years ago.
During that time, PollyannaR photographed almost 1000 marriage equality supporters in six Gippsland towns, Mr Alexander operated a drop-in marriage equality education centre, and the pair also ran an information night, an exhibition, workshops and more.
The night was the culmination of thousands of hours of work.
For PolyannaR, the announcement of the survey result was an historic moment.
“The fact that we’re in the middle of the main street celebrating pride, I don’t think would have been possible 50 years ago, 30 years ago, even 20 years ago ... would we feel safe?” she said.
“This is just a really pivotal moment for our town to say that not only did we win, but we’re not going anywhere and our voices now have got a platform — this is going to the first of many changes to come to this town.”
Mr Alexander was equally enthusiastic.
“We’ve been happy, we’ve been sad, and we’ve fought,” Mr Alexander said.
“.... in the future, we’ll have a much happier generation.”
PollyannaR said the outcome of the survey would have other ramifications.
“I think it will draw attention to a lot of outdated policies and gender equality, transgender rights and all these things — this is really just taking the lid off a can of worms that were made by old white men 100 years ago that aren’t relevant anymore,” she said.
She thanked the town and those that supported them, and called on Sale’s ‘no’ campaign leaders, Heidi McIvor and Pat O’Brien, to sit down with her to talk directly about the issue.
“They are leaders in the community, and their words do have value and weight, and there are ramifications — whether you are yes or no, every word that comes out of your mouth matters, people are listening, people react and respond.
“We’ve seen violence in the last week,” she said.
“I would encourage them to really think it’s okay to have your belief structures, but make sure they’re factual, make sure they’re from the heart and from a good space.”
Gippsland Marriage Equality founder Eleanor Venables said the outcome was “just wonderful”, given “the whole thing was a mess from the start”.
“It was a plebiscite nobody wanted, which told us nothing we didn’t already really know, but at least now we have a conclusive result that parliament simply cannot ignore.
“It also calls into question the contention from the ‘no’ voters, that they represented the ‘silent majority’... as we saw [Wednesday], this simply wasn’t true.
“Their campaign was built around half truths and whole lies, but Australians didn’t believe it.”
Ms Venables said she was tremendously proud of everyone who soldiered on through the campaign, in particular, Mr Alexander.
“We all really had to come together throughout this campaign, and it really wasn’t easy for a lot of people.
“It should never have happened, but it did, and at least now we’ve got it out of the way.”
However, Ms Venables warned “the fight isn’t yet over”.
“ ‘No’ voters will now turn their attention to ensuring they still get the right to discriminate against LGBTQIA people,” she said.
“This isn’t a freedom of speech issue, it’s homophobes still trying to drive a wedge into queer rights.
“It’s a desperate, irrational, and last ditch ploy.
“Make no mistake, we’ll still work just as hard against any last minute caveats.”
Coalition for Marriage spokesperson Heidi McIvor said she respected the democratic process and the decision of the Australian people.
“I went into this campaign to fight against restrictions on freedom of speech and freedom of religion, to defend parents’ rights and protect kids from being exposed to radical LGBTIQ sex and gender education,” she said.
“All along we were told by the ‘yes’ campaign that these rights and freedoms were not under threat.
“It’s now time for them to make good on that promise.”
Ms McIvor said Senator James Paterson recently drafted a bill that would deliver same-sex marriage and “the protection of basic rights and freedoms”, adding that to her surprise, it had been largely rejected by same-sex marriage supporters.
“The alternative bill from Senator Dean Smith is woefully inadequate and only provides limited protection to paid clergy for universal rights that should be afforded to all people,” she said.
Ms McIvor called on Gippsland MHR Darren Chester to support protections for the millions of Australians who believed in the traditional definition of marriage.
“None of us want an Australia where people are coerced into violating their own conscience under the threat of legal action, or where parents don’t get a say over what their children are taught on sex or sexuality at school.
“Even though the ‘yes’ side won today, Australia does not want same-sex marriage to steamroll other people’s rights.”
Mr Chester said he welcomed the ‘yes’ announcement.
“This is an historic day and I welcome the vote of Gippslanders and the majority of Australians to change the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry,” he said.
“The high voter turnout is a good indication that Gippslanders and Australians across the board were keen to express their views on the issue of same-sex marriage.”
Mr Chester said now that the clear majority of Australians supported change, it was up to the parliament to legislate “in a way which respects the community’s view”.
“Interestingly, across Australia, the overwhelming majority of regional seats voted ‘yes’, which is a positive reflection on how our communities are much more inclusive than political commentators often suggest.
“I believe there needs to be reasonable protection for religious freedoms, but at the same time we have to acknowledge a clear majority of Australians have voted in favour of reform.”
The Turnbull government has indicated it wants the changes to the Marriage Act to allow same-sex marriage to be made before Christmas.
Those affected by the process or debate are urged to phone mental health professionals at the beyondblue support service on 1300 22 4636 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or via www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support for online chat between 3pm and 12am.
On November 17, 2017, the Gippsland Times and Maffra Spectator published an article headlined 'Gippsland says yes'.
The article contained references to Coalition for Marriage spokesperson Heidi McIvor, which may have been construed as accusing her of being untruthful and inciting violence.
The comments were not the opinion of the Gippsland Times and Maffra Spectator, and Ms McIvor was not given the opportunity to provide a response to those statements in that article.
We apologise to Ms McIvor for any harm, embarrassment and distress this may have caused.