Marriage equality motion at Bellingen Council meeting

SUPPORTERS: Back row - Wendy Robson, Steve Selig, Kylie Selig, Mayor Dominic King, Cr Jenni Fenton; Middle row - Caroline Joseph, Cr Toni Wright-Turner, Miceh Selig, Christine Marks, Cr Desmae Harrison, Carol Vernon; Front row -S eth Preston, Sophia Selig
SUPPORTERS: Back row - Wendy Robson, Steve Selig, Kylie Selig, Mayor Dominic King, Cr Jenni Fenton; Middle row - Caroline Joseph, Cr Toni Wright-Turner, Miceh Selig, Christine Marks, Cr Desmae Harrison, Carol Vernon; Front row -S eth Preston, Sophia Selig

Bellingen Shire Council has passed a motion  to support the ‘Yes’ vote for marriage equality, fly rainbow flags and banners and engage with the local LGBTIQ community, particularly youth, by holding a public event.

Prior to the motion being discussed there was a presentation from a member of the public, 67-year-old Christine Marks, who has been a lesbian-identified woman for 40 years and in a same-sex relationship for 24 years.

In the room lending her support were her daughter and son-in-law and several of her grandchildren. Her partner was away on a youth camp and unable to attend.

Ms Marks said the non-binding vote for marriage equality was offensive and disrespectful.

“It has promoted a level of public debate, prejudice based on ignorance, outrage, degrading of people who are not heterosexual and has profound psychological impact on all of us who are LGBTQIA and non-binary identified people and their families,” Ms Marks said.

She noted that Bellingen was the first town she had lived in during her 40 years as a lesbian where she had not encountered homophobic neighbours and that council support would send a strong message to those who were feeling vulnerable, anxious, fearful and undervalued.

“Respect, dignity and recognition is all that will flow from voting to give LGBTI people the same rights as heterosexual couples to have a civil marriage, Ms Marks said. “I would love to see Bellingen flying a rainbow flag.”

The voting was 4-2, with Cr Garry Carter and Cr Steve Jenkins opposing the motion after arguing that the postal survey was a Federal matter, the issue of voting yes or no was a personal matter and local government did not need to be involved.

“Council has no right to support this issue unless it has the backing of the community as a whole,” Cr Carter said. “This issue is a Federal government postal survey, end of story.”

Cr Toni Wright-Turner, who put the motion, suggested council allocate $2,500 to meet costs associated with supporting the Yes campaign.

“It’s not in our budget but it has been thrust upon us by a government decision,” she said. “I don’t think we should be here but because we’ve been put in this position, it’s important as community leaders that we do stand up on issues like this and give our full support to equity in the community.”

Mayor Dominic King and Cr Jennie Fenton also spoke on the importance of showing leadership and demonstrating support for diversity.

Cr Desmae Harrison, who said her family had been affected and knew what it was like to have a teenager on suicide watch, commented that the display of support should not be Bellingen-centric, but should extend to flying rainbow colours in Dorrigo and Urunga as well. However, she had some reservations about the unbudgeted expenses, given how hard council had worked to be Fit for the Future.

Cr Wright-Turner said the cost was ‘minimal’ and from the public seating area Christine Marks commented she was sure the community would help by fundraising.

Cr Jennie Fenton reiterated the importance of publicly supporting young LGBTI people, and noted that council documents were not explicit enough in their commitment to diversity.

“Young people are dying about this issue. It’s important for their confidence and life chances. When you are a devalued member of the community, your education, health, economic opportunities all go down and your risk of suicide goes up. We have this statement about supporting diversity but there’s no mention of the LGBTI community at all, this will be a loud, proud start to our acknowledgement of this community.”

Mayor Dominic King commented that the postal survey might be a Federal government issue, but it affected everyone.

“It’s a leadership issue, we need to stand up for all the groups here,” he said. “Difference in this community is what makes this place so great. But some people are missing in our inclusion plan. It’s a Federal issue but an issue that affects everyone. It’s not a one-off either, it’s the start of recognising these people in our community. It won’t be the last time the banners are used.”

The full motion:

That Council:

1. Publicly support marriage equality, regardless of sex, gender identity or sex characteristics

2. Write to all Federal Members of Parliament and the Commonwealth Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission advising them of Council’s support

3. Write to all political parties with representation in Federal Parliament encouraging them to prioritise debating changes to the Marriage Act, and to allow a conscience vote on marriage equality

4. Engage with our local Lesbian Gay BisexualTrans Intersex Queer (LGBTIQ) members of the community to:

 Express our support for the YES case in the postal survey for marriage equality

 Jointly hold at least one community event showing our support, especially to our young LGBTIQ community, and engaging with and informing our community

5. Fly rainbow banners along the eastern approach to Bellingen in the time leading up to the voting period i.e. November 7 and fly or display a rainbow flag or promotional material at appropriate locations in the town centres until marriage equality is determined at a federal level

6. Formally move towards embedding a culture of welcoming and inclusivity building on initiatives such the provisions within Councils Workplace Equity and Diversity Plan, and formal acknowlegement of country at council meetings, through provision of relevant professional development and training for councillors and staff.