Same-sex marriage survey result - Cowper responds

Bellingen residents in a celebratory mood. The 'yes' vote in Cowper was 60%.
Bellingen residents in a celebratory mood. The 'yes' vote in Cowper was 60%.

After two months of rigorous campaigning from both sides and $122 million later, the majority of participating Australians have voted ‘yes’ to legalise same-sex marriage. 

Announced this morning at 10 o’clock, the same-sex marriage survey results showed that the ‘yes’ vote won by 61.6 percent (7,817,247 people) while the ‘no’ vote accounted for 38.4 per cent (4,873,987).

The local Federal electorate, Cowper, saw the ‘yes’ voters win at 60 per cent (57,493) versus the ‘no’ vote at 40 per cent (38,317). The participation rate for the Cowper electorate was high at 79 per cent.

In NSW, the vote was a little tighter with 57.8 per cent (2,374,362) voting ‘yes’, while 42.2 per cent (1,736,838) voted ‘no’.

A total of 79.5 per cent of eligible Australians participated. Those aged 70 to 74 were the most likely to respond to the survey, with 89.6 per cent of eligible Australians in this age group participating. The participation rate was lowest in those aged 25 to 29 at 71.9 per cent. The youngest age group of eligible Australians (those aged 18-19 years) were more likely (78.2 per cent) to participate than any other age group under the age of 45 years.

Andrew Woodward, President of the Bellinger River Labor branch, expressed disappointment about the relatively poor youth response rate in Cowper for the same-sex marriage survey.

At 66 per cent for 18-24 year olds and 67 per cent for 25-34 year olds, it was significantly below the Cowper average of 79 per cent and in marked contrast to the 89 per cent among the 65+ age group.

“The low turnout of voters in Cowper below 34 years of age is a concern and one we as a community need to discuss,” Mr Woodward said.

Mr Woodward said that now the majority of Australians had said ‘yes’ to marriage equality, it was incumbent on all parliamentarians to expedite the vote in parliament on approving changes to the marriage act allowing same sex couples to legally marry in Australia.

“It has cost taxpayers $120 million to be told what we already knew and that was that the majority of Australians support marriage equality,” Mr Woodward said.

“That money could have been better spent on, for example, programs combatting domestic violence; helping people deal with depression and anxiety or, addressing disadvantage in rural and regional areas.

“Instead, we spent $120 million answering a question the Liberal and National parties couldn’t answer for themselves. All the survey did was reinforce just how out-of-touch the Liberal and National parties really are. 

“It is time to move on from the farce of the survey. Now that we have an unambiguous result and a draft bill, there should be no blocking, no delaying and no further detailed debate about making a very simple change to the marriage act.”

Founder of local support organisation Baylin’s Gift, Hayley Hoskins told Fairfax Media the result is a “step forward” for a country that is “so far behind the times” on the acceptance of gay marriage.

“This is an absolutely wonderful and expected outcome. While the sad part of this day is that there are people who aren’t here today to witness the result – hopefully those members of the LGBTIQ community who don’t value themselves can give themselves a boost and look at themselves differently after today’s result,” Ms Hoskins said.

“It can be the beginning of real acceptance, it’s a long process but hopefully in the near future it isn’t a shock to see gay people getting married but instead it’s just two people getting married,” she said.

On the other hand, minister at the Kempsey Presbyterian Church, Bryan Kim, said the survey results were “disappointing” yet “unsurprising”.

“We feel at once both disappointed and unsurprised. Disappointed, because, while we will always welcome and care for same-sex attracted people in our congregations, we believe that marriage is at the centre of God's design for families,” minister Kim said.

“We worry what kind of impact a change of laws will have for our society: for our children in particular, who deserve a mum and dad. We also worry what kind of impact it will have on religious freedoms. Will this also be the door to radical gender theory?” he said.

While the survey results are a win for pro-same-sex marriage voters, many LGBTQI individuals remain anxious about the Parliamentary debate which will now commence. 

Western Australian Senator Dean Smith will introduce his Bill, titled Marriage Amendment (Definitions and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, into Parliament tomorrow.

If passed, the Bill will change the Marriage Act to allow the marriage of “two people” rather than a “man and a woman”.

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Online mental health organisation ReachOut Australia has reported a 40 per cent increase in the number of young gay people seeking help since the postal survey began, with many reporting high levels of anxiety about the debate. 

Individuals in the ‘no’ minority have voiced concern over the impact of a changed Marriage Act on religious freedoms.

Section 47 of the proposed Marriage Amendment (Definitions and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 states that religious marriage celebrants can refuse to solemnise marriages and that there are no limitations on the grounds for which that celebrant refuses to marry a couple. 

“A religious marriage celebrant may refuse to solemnise a marriage if the celebrant’s religious beliefs do not allow the celebrant to solemnise the marriage,” the Marriage Amendment Bill 2017 reads.

“This section does not limit the grounds on which a religious marriage celebrant may refuse to solemnise a marriage.”

The Bill also states that any religious bodies can refuse to provide goods or services for the purpose of a marriage if that marriage is in conflict with their religious beliefs or doctrines.