Bill Shorten calls Tathra’s Eddie Blewett to say congrats on marriage equality

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was among the first to thank and congratulate Tathra’s Eddie Blewett and his family this morning following news that Australia had said YES to marriage equality.

Phone call to Eddie

Remember Eddie? He came to Canberra a while ago to tell the country about why his mums deserve equality – just like other families. Eddie’s story persuaded a lot of Australians to vote yes. After the result today, there was one person I wanted to talk to.

Posted by Bill Shorten MP on Tuesday, 14 November 2017

 

Eddie and his mums, Claire Blewett and Neroli Dickson gathered at The Wharf Locavore at Tathra with friends to hear the announcement from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The YES win was greeted warmly by the crowd of 30 or so people, but tempered by the need for parliament to now ratify the will of the people.

“I am relieved today has finally come and that the ‘YES’ vote has won,” Eddie says.

“Let’s get this done now so that families like mine can go back to doing what families do.”

Eddie took his story and point of view to Canberra the day the first survey forms were posted – September 12.

The Labor caucus lead by Mr Shorten and his Deputy Tanya Plibersek came and shared Anzac biscuits and a game of soccer with Eddie and his mates (which includes my family) on the front lawn of Parliament House.

The event made national news, Eddie’s simple and authentic message rang loudly.

“People who know my family, know that there is nothing wrong with us,” Eddie told the Canberra media pack on September 12.

“We play soccer in the winter and volunteer for the surf club in the summer,” he said.

“I have two parents, they love me and they love each other, all couples and all families deserve the same respect and value.”

#Tathra's Eddie Blewett talks to the media pack at Parliament House, Canberra with Bill Shorten MP Mike Kelly MP, and Tanya Plibersek, asking #Australia to get this done and say YES for Rainbow Families.Ian

Posted by About Regional on Monday, 11 September 2017

 

Realisation today that 62% of his countrymen agreed was reassuring.

“It’s been hard, having your family talked about and judged, thank you to everyone who has supported us during this difficult time,” Eddie says.

“I really hope the Prime Minister makes good on his commitment to take this to parliament and have this finalised by Christmas.”

Bill Shorten’s call this morning was a surprise, but points to the power of Eddie’s campaigning.

“Bill told me he wants this done by December 7, that was good to hear,” Eddie says.

“I am really grateful for Bill and Tayna’s support.”

Celebrating a win for YES at Tathra Wharf. Photo: Ian Campbell
Celebrating a win for YES at Tathra Wharf, November 15, 2017. Photo: Ian Campbell

With the sea under Tathra Wharf being whipped up by biting winds from every direction, those gathered started to unpick the detail of the results.

There was disappointment at the New South Wales result – the lowest YES vote in the country with 57.8%.

“Queensland (60.7% YES) and Tasmania (63.6% YES) seem more progressive,” was one cheeky comment I overheard.

News that 17 of Australia’s 150 electorates had voted NO also chipped away at the mood.

For the same-sex couples and gay people gathered seeing a number put on those who seemingly oppose who they are and their way of life was stark.

“I am really pleased most people have said YES, but it’s an uncomfortable feeling knowing that almost five million people (38%) have said NO, it’s hard not to feel that personally,” Claire Blewett says.

Seeing the local results come through renewed the energy in the 150-year-old wharf building.

Sixty-five percent of Eden-Monaro voters said YES, 62% in the Eurobodalla/Shoalhaven based seat of Gilmore.

“The way we got to this result has been damaging, ” Neroli Dickson says.

“But locally it’s been incredibly encouraging to experience the genuine support of so many in this country community, friends and ‘strangers’ who all want diversity celebrated, a 65% YES vote confirms it,” Neroli says.

“To know that the community we call home said YES so strongly is brilliant,” Claire adds.

“But we’ll wait for the next step to take place in parliament before we really relax and enjoy this result.”

The 'Yes' campaign kicks a goal at Parliament House. Photo: Ian Campbell
The ‘Yes’ campaign kicks a goal at Parliament House, September 12, 2017. Photo: Ian Campbell

Labor’s Mike Kelly, Member for Eden-Monaro says he is intensely proud of his electorate today.

“A result amongst the highest in Australia. I am even more proud of the respectful way in which this community on both sides engaged in the debate,” he says.

“The result demonstrates the intelligent and compassionate nature of this electorate and their steadfast belief in equality.”

In neighbouring Gilmore, Liberal MP Ann Sudmalis thanked the people of her electorate for taking part.

“I welcome the outcome, a YES vote supported by 62% of the electorate,” Ms Sudmalis says.

“I welcome the Prime Ministers commitment to have this legislated by Christmas, I will support a YES vote in the House of Representatives,” Ms Sudmalis says.

Speaking to About Regional later in the day, Bill Shorten paid tribute to the power of individual voices like Eddie’s.

“When Eddie spoke to the country about his family, I think he persuaded a lot of people to vote YES,” Mr Shorten says.

“This victory belongs to Eddie, his family and other LGBTIQ families in Australia.

“Eddie is an absolute legend. I’m really proud of him, and I know his mums are too,” Mr Shorten said.

Eddie Blewett and his mums, Neroli Dickson and Claire Blewett. Photo: Ian Campbell
Eddie Blewett and his mums, Neroli Dickson and Claire Blewett. Photo: Ian Campbell

Marriage equality – have you got the energy for this? South East locals hope you do.

'Love Makes a Family' as seen at the 2016 Sydney Mardi Gras
‘Love Makes a Family’ as seen at the 2017 Sydney Mardi Gras. Source: C and N

The disappointment around the postal plebiscite on marriage equality is real and bitter for many, but it seems it is the only course of action available to bury this boring issue once and for all.

Boring because for so long the vast majority of Australian’s have understood that ‘Love is Love’ yet the months/years of political scratching around has disillusioned and disengaged the community.

There are those challenging this process in the High Court of Australia, describing it as unlawful; the full bench of the court will decide  on September 5 and 6.

The wheels of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, who will run this show, will continue to spin regradless – getting ready for the survey which is due to start just a week after the High Court decision.

While those in our community at the sharp end of this cheer on the High Court challenge, in the back of their mind they are also laying the ground work for the campaign ahead – mobilising as many people as possible to vote ‘yes’ in this non-compulsory process.

Bega Valley LGBTIQ advocate, Tas Fitzer says it took him a couple of days of reflection to work out the way ahead.

“I really understand the temptation for supporters of marriage equality to say ‘I am not voting, I am boycotting this process’, because it’s not a process we’d like to legitimise,” Tas says.

“We are giving a platform to debate that is going to be harmful to children of same sex couples, for young LGBTIQ people, and for people struggling with their identity.

“We don’t want to be here but we are here, this is something we have to deal with and the best way to deal with it is to take it head on,” he reasons.

Tas Fitzer. Source: Facebook
Tas Fitzer. Source: Facebook

Tas says he’ll be voting ‘yes’ and will be actively campaigning for others to do the same.

“Disagree with the process – absolutely, disagree with how it’s being done – absolutely, but let’s accept the fact we are here and make the most of it,” Tas says.

C and N are women who live on the Sapphire Coast and have been together for over two decades, they have a teenage son and are active members of a range of community and sporting organisations.

They have asked me not to use their names, mindful of the impact any publicity might have on their boy.

“For the first time in a very long time, I feel different and vulnerable, and that I have to somehow show evidence of how healthy, normal, and loving my relationship is with both my partner and son,” C says.

“How I live my life day to day and how I parent our child is under the microscope for those who don’t know us.

“And, I’m embarrassed for Australia – friends, colleagues, clients, people I know, across the age span, those with faith and those without, really don’t understand what the problem is, there is this sense of – really, we are still talking about marriage equality?,” C says.

Reflecting on the weeks ahead C and N believe there will be a relatively small but vocal group of people who will feel the postie poll gives them permission to voice their bigotry, to judge, attack, and say dreadful, hurtful, untrue and damaging things about the LGBTIQ community.

If it goes ahead, the result of the poll will be known on November 15 but it will be parliamentarians that ultimately decide if the Mariage Act can include same sex couples.

Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull has said he’ll be encouraging a ‘yes’ vote and if ‘yes’ wins his Liberal MP’s will be free to vote according to their conscience.

ABC South East reported this week that Anne Sudmalis, the Liberal Member for Gilmore which covers the northern end of the Eurobodalla, won’t reveal her personal view on same sex marriage.

The ABC said that Ms Sudmalis would stand up for what her electorate decides.

A survey on the issue conducted by Ms Sudmalis in October 2015 pointed to 62 percent approval for marriage equality in Gilmore, 36 percent were opposed, while the rest undecided – the ABC reported.

Colourful tutus with a clear message
Colourful Bega Valley tutus with a clear message at the 2017 Sydney Mardi Gras. Source: C and N

Labor’s Mike Kelly, the Federal Member for the neighbouring seat of Eden – Monaro told About Regional, “The fastest and cheapest way to deliver marriage equality is through a free vote in the Parliament, not a $122 million survey.”

“If we are going to be forced to take part in this farce then I think the best thing we can do is send the Turnbull Government a message they can’t ignore – vote yes for marriage equality,” Dr Kelly says.

Dr Kelly is urging eligible voters to enroll or update their details with the Australian Electoral Commission before August 24 so that they can take part in the marriage law survey.

The former Army colonel is hopeful the campaign ahead will be respectful and tolerant.

“I plead with everyone in our community to exercise the utmost civility and join with me in urging that we all refrain from engaging in misinformation or hurtful comments,” Dr Kelly says.

Twenty-one-year old Tas Fitzer is of a similar mindset.

“The mental health of some of our young LGBTIQ people is of real concern to me,” he says.

“That’s why I have decided to get out there and campaign for a ‘yes’ vote so that they can see there are people out there to support them.”

Click play to hear more from Tas…

 

Speaking with C and N in fading light this afternoon, both fear some in the community who would vote ‘yes’ are now unmotivated to take part given the level of discussion the issue has had over an extended period of time.

“Many people honestly don’t understand what the fuss is about and are exhausted by this debate,” N says.

“Because same sex marriage seems a no brainer to them, I’d implore people to realise that unfortunately for some Australians the idea is frightening and abhorrent.

“Giving free reign to people to say whatever they like, to judge us simply for not living our lives like them is scary, scary for us now and for the next generations,” N explains.

Both are hopeful people will push past the grubby, lengthy politics of the issue and find the energy and motivation to say ‘yes’.

Writing for About Regional almost 12 months ago on this issue, Iain Dawson the convener of Bega Valley for Marriage Equality asked people to walk in his shoes…

“John Howard’s change [to the Marriage Act] in 2004 defined marriage as ‘a union between a man and woman only’.

“I am incredulous that Australia still judges my relationship with the man I love, ‘to the exclusion of all others’ as less than equal to my peers, friends, and family.

“For those not yet convinced; put yourself in that equitation and see how it feels, what it says to your soul.

“80% of Australians want our leaders to change the Marriage Act.

“The majority of my countrymen see my relationship as equal; that gives me and the LGBTIQ community strength and hope,” Iain wrote.

Whatever happens in the High Court on September 5 and 6 this issue will remain unresolved, work still needs to be done to finish this, energy needs to be mustered.

As a heterosexual father of three, with friends and family seeking equality that I take for granted, I will find that energy, despite the shit sandwich we are being served, I ask you to do the same.

Thanks to About Regional members – Tim HoltAmanda StroudDeborah Dixon, and Nastasia Campanella for supporting local story telling.

Declaration: Tas Fitzer is a part-time Electorate Officer for Mike Kelly and former Country Labor candidate.