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From this day forward

Photograph of Peter Waters
Peter Waters, Tweed Equality Campaign Spokesperson, outside Anderson’s Treasure Store in Murwillumbah. Courtesy of Peter Waters & Pete Daly.

The campaign The Council and the community
The count The celebrations

On 15 November 2017 Australians voted “yes” to marriage equality. It was the culmination of an incredibly successful campaign for marriage equality organised by the queer and gender-diverse communities of Tweed Shire.

On 9 December 2017, the federal Marriage Act was amended; the right to marry in Australia was no longer determined by sex or gender.

The campaign

After the announcement by then Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, that a postal vote survey would be held in November 2017, Tweed couple, Peter Waters and Pete Daly, quickly realised there was not yet a coordinated local Yes campaign. In response, they spearheaded and helped to fund one of the most successful regionally-based Yes campaigns in Australia.

By mobilising the support of residents and businesses, Peter and Pete embarked upon a two-month, non-stop campaign. As Peter told The Echo, “our message is that LGBTI Australians live, work and participate in regional and rural areas. We are your neighbours, friends, employees, employers and customers” (2017).

Photograph of the marriage equality banner at Tweed Heads
The marriage equality banner being erected near Twin Towns in Tweed Heads. Photo courtesy of Peter Waters and Pete Daly.
Photograph of the marriage equality banner at Murwillumbah
Yes Campaign banner hanging over Murwillumbah Bridge. Photo courtesy of Peter Waters and Pete Daly.
Photograph of an thank you advertisement in Tweed Valley Weekly
Marriage Equality Yes campaign advert, Tweed Valley Weekly, 2017. Courtesy of Peter Waters & Pete Daly.

Visibility was a core element of the local campaign, so Peter and Pete arranged for street-wide banners to be hung over Murwillumbah Bridge and in Wharf Street, Tweed Heads. They wanted to remind Tweed locals when they drove through town “that this is not a faraway campaign in the big cities, but that we are asking for their support as locals” (The Echo, 2017). Cam Hogan from the North Coast Equality Campaign added, “We want this banner to show LGBTI people across Tweed that they are not alone during this challenging time and encourage everyone to vote YES”. (The Echo, 2017).

In addition to the banner, Peter and Pete took out a run of full-page ads in the Tweed Valley Weekly, which with the assistance of Ken and Mia from the Regent Cinema in Murwillumbah, was projected before movie screenings during the campaign. Ken told Peter that he often heard members of the audience clapping in support when it was shown. The Cinemax Cinema in Kingscliff later included the ad.

After the successful vote, Peter and Pete ran a big thank you ad in the Tweed Valley Weekly in the same format.

The Council and the community

During the campaign, some Tweed residents questioned whether local councils should take a position on the issue of marriage equality, submitting that it is the role of local government to provide in the "areas of rubbish, roads and water". However, Tweed Shire Councillor, Katie Milne, then-Mayor, argued it was the Tweed Shire Council's role to "support human rights", and "to advocate for our community" (2017).

Photograph of Tweed Shire Councillors in front of the marriage equality banner

(From left): Councillors Reece Byrnes, Chris Cherry, Katie Milne and Ron Cooper in front of marriage equality banner being erected in Tweed Heads. Photographer: Aisling Brennan.

Photograph of a snap rally for marriage equality
Snap rally for marriage equality. Murwillumbah Nurses and Midwives outside Murwillumbah Hospital, 2017. Courtesy of the NSW Nurses & Midwives Association - Murwillumbah Branch.

At the 21 September 2017 meeting, Tweed Shire Councillors voted 4:3 in favour of a motion which included support for the amending of the Marriage Act to include all members of the LGBTQIA community. Cr Milne, who moved the original motion, told The Echo, "I thought it was important that the Council take a stance as an organisation" (2017). However, Cr Owen disagreed, telling the Tweed Daily News, "I was elected to make decisions on essential services for the community" (2017).

Immediately after the meeting, Councillors Warren Polglase, James Owen and Pryce Allsop, who voted against the proposal, filed a rescission motion to overturn the decision. Marriage equality campaigner, Peter Waters, said the Council's support would show the Tweed's LGBTQI community they were valued, and argued:

“I have two answers to the argument that marriage equality is beyond council’s remit.

First, as a lawyer, the Local Government Act - which is your constitution - specifies principles which councils must apply in their decision making. Those principles include ‘recognising diverse local community needs and interests and ‘considering social justice issues’. Fairness is as much your responsibility as councillors as is taking out the garbage.

Second, I also speak from my experience growing up as a gay person in this area. You knew you were different, but unlike in the cities, there were no external reference points, or at least no positive ones, to help explain who you were. There is a reason why suicide amongst gay teens in rural areas is so very high. Flying the rainbow flag outside the local council chambers and council voting to support marriage equality maybe symbolic, but it will make a difference because it says ‘we see you, we respect you, you are us’. That is all LGBTIQ people want.”

The subsequent motion to rescind the decision was lost.

The survey process and consequent political debates weren't without ramifications for the Tweed's LGBTIQPA+ community. As, Claire Cottone of Headspace (Tweed Heads) told the Tweed Daily News at the time, "Tweed's LGBTIQAP+ youth, in particular, had been significantly affected by the process of the postal survey".

The count

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, nearly 8 out of 10 eligible Australians (79.5%) expressed their view. With the majority indicating that the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry, with 7,817,247 (61.6%) responding Yes.

The electorate of Richmond, which includes Tweed Shire, expressed above-average support for the Yes campaign. 92,490 people from the Richmond electorate submitted a response to the postal survey, which equated to 80.3% of enrolled Richmond voters. 67.9% of Richmond voters voted Yes, which was above the overall national response of 61.6%.

The resounding Yes vote was a relief for local Adrian Ellis. Still, as he explained to the Tweed Daily News, "it terrified me knowing that the nation will be analysing, determining and questioning my community, how I live my life and who I love", he said. "I felt like I was a creature being examined, poked and prodded under a microscope, which wasn't comfortable at all." (2017).

Photograph of a ballot form
Proud to vote yes for equality #loveislove. Courtesy of Jessica Goode, Facebook, 2017.
Photograph of survey statistics
Australian Marriage Law postal survey results including Richmond Electorate. Graph courtesy of Tweed Daily News, 2017.

Historian, Dr Timothy Jones, explains, "for very many LGBT people, the postal survey was a deeply traumatic time. Many still live with the ongoing grief of having had the dignity of their lives, and those of their children, up for debate." (2018).

On 9 December 2017, the Marriage Act 1961 was updated to allow for marriage equality, defining marriage as “the union of 2 people to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.” (Australian Government). This replaced the previous definition that marriage was between a man and a woman. For many Australians, the passing of the Bill in the House of Representatives was seen as a watershed moment for equal rights.

The celebrations

Photograph of a Facebook comment made by Malcolm Thorne
”Get out the Champagne”. Courtesy of Malcom Thorne Facebook, 2017.

Celebrations were held across the nation, including a special gathering at Mavis’s Kitchen in Mount Warning Road. For Peter Waters and Pete Daly, the result marked the end of a difficult but fulfilling chapter in their lives. Together, they had fought and won long-denied legal recognition for their community.

Since marriage equality came into effect, Tweed has become a popular destination for LGBTQIA+ couples to tie to knot, like Craig Burns and Luke Sullivan, who were one of the first same-sex couples to wed just minutes after midnight on 9 January 2018. The couple were married in the Tweed at Summergrove Estate, and you can read more about Craig and Luke’s Carool wedding and other stories on our Story Map.

Photograph of Craig Burns and Luke Sullivan at their wedding

Love is Love, Craig Burns and Luke Sullivan at their Summergrove Estate Wedding in Carool. Photographer: Chris Hyde.