BY JOHN MOYLE
Last Wednesday Sydney’s Prince Alfred Park made a spectacular backdrop as the focal point for the announcement of the Same-Sex Marriage plebiscite.
Stars Magda Szubanski, John Paul Young, Rickee-Lee, Alfie Arcuri, Peking Duk and thousands of marriage equality supporters were gathered on the bright morning not knowing what to expect.
Across the nation millions held their breath as David Kalisch, the Australian Bureau of Statistics chief statistician direct from Central Casting, announced that 61.6 per cent of Australians had voted ‘yes’ to allow same-sex couples to marry.
“Thank you Sydney.” Alex Greenwich, Independent Member for Sydney, said. “Inner Sydney is where LGBTI activism in Australia began and it has always been a welcoming place for LGBTI people.”
As the television cameras panned across the thousands of supporters gathered around Australia, the looks of joy, celebration and relief on their faces told of the pain of a long a drawn out nine week long campaign that at various times seemed to swing towards a ‘no’ majority or at least a close call.
“Though disappointed that it wasn’t a ‘no’ majority, I accept that the will of the Australian people is clear, and I expect parliament to implement this is due course,” Michael Stead, Anglican Bishop of South Sydney and Coalition for Marriage campaigner, said.
Reverend Bill Crewes of the Ashfield Uniting Church replied that, “the coalition is only speaking for one segment of Christians”.
Overall, despite the strong national ‘yes’ returns, the results across Sydney showed that it is a tale of two cities, and not least in Labor’s heartland of western Sydney, where seats held by Tony Burke, Chris Bowen and Jason Clare all returned resounding ‘no’ votes, attributed to the diverse religious and cultural demographics across the electorates.
Conversely, in Warringah, where Tony ‘In Touch” Abbott’s campaigned for ‘no’, the people threw a curved ball, resulting in the state’s fourth largest ‘yes’ vote at 75 per cent.
As expected, inner city Sydney and its surrounds produced some of the highest ‘yes’ votes recorded across the country, with Sydney at 83.7 per cent, Malcolm Turnbull’s seat of Wentworth on 80.8 per cent, Grayndler at 79.9 per cent and Randwick with 64.1 per cent.
The national return rate of 79.5 per cent is one of the highest ever for a non-compulsory national plebiscite, of which there have only been three previously and two were defeated.
“It is unfortunate that the federal government forced us to go through an unnecessary survey on a straight forward matter,” Alex Greenwich said.
Last Saturday, the ‘no’ lobby fired another salvo at Sydney’s Wesley Centre during the Australian Christian Lobby’s Embolden 2017 National Conference when they threatened to continue the campaign.
The conference brought together 700 devotees from the religious right to hear Matthew Canavan, Cory Bernardi and Lyle Shelton, in his double act for the ACL and the Coalition for Marriage, speak about issues affecting the Christian right and the dust up of their losing campaign.
Shelton said in a media release that it could take years or even decades to “win this back over time”, all the while claiming the ‘no’ campaign an “extraordinary success”, despite the results.
“I will continue to promote a same sex marriage bill that also creates space for people to hold a different view,” Bishop Stead said.
It’s going to be a robust couple of weeks as the openly gay Liberal Senator Dean Smith’s bill currently before the Senate is debated for amendments that could see the mythical butcher, baker and candlestick maker all exempted from servicing same-sex customers should they hold a conscientious objection.
Why any same-sex couple would ever engage the services of a person holding these beliefs when there are perfectly good gay-friendly bakers out there is an extraordinary proposition.
The debate, currently being led by Senators Cory Bernadi, Matt Canavan and Eric Abetz and supported by Scott Morrison in the lower house, could see the bill’s passing being delayed past the Christmas date desired by Prime Minister Turnbull.
The present plan by the recalcitrant senators is to include Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, of which Australia is a signatory.
Article 18 states that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and the Christian right along with a hard core of right wing senators see this as the foil to protect the heavily embattled mythical baker.
Even if the bill is passed by Christmas, no same-sex couples will be getting married under the mistletoe, as the law requires a one month ‘Notice of Intended Marriage’ form to be lodged before the nuptials can be legally carried out.
“Our main objective is to get parliament to settle the Dean Smith bill and we have indicated that this is something that should be discussed as soon as possible,” Shirleene Robinson, spokesperson, Equality Campaign says.
The Equality Campaign collected 15,600 volunteers, door-knocked 102,0 000 residences and made a million calls, while this is the first time that the Christian right have entered into a major national campaign and were off their game.
Cory Bernardi, Lyle Shelton, Karina Okotel and Marriage Alliance’s Sophie York were all contacted for this article but did not reply.