The mayor of Byron Shire in northern NSW intends to symbolically ‘legalise’ gay marriage in his district despite raising questions of the power of a council to do so.
Byron Shire Mayor Simon Richardson is preparing a notice of motion to announce the council’s support for gay marriage, which would include establishing a local ‘marriage’ registry to symbolically recognise same-sex relationships and creating a ‘love park’ where LGBTI couples can plant trees in recognition of their love.
One of three Greens councillors on the nine-member Byron Shire council, Richardson says the federal government is failing same-sex couples and that he will personally officiate at same-sex marriage ceremonies.
Local councils have no legal power to recognise gay marriage, with the constitution restricting the right to define marriage to the federal government.
Richardson said the measure was designed to be symbolic and that it was a suitable tribute to the area’s growing LGBTI community.
“I’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from people in the Byron community, both gay and straight – a number of people have rung the council up to inquire about moving to the area so they can live in an environment that welcomes them and their relationships,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Diane Woods said that while she was “not against gay marriage in principle,” she would be opposing the measure as it was unsuitable use of council time.
“We have many problems in Byron Shire – infrastructure, alcohol abuse, street camping – and yet our mayor is focusing on gay marriage. I don’t see this as an appropriate role for a local council,” Woods said.
Tweed Shire Mayor Barry Longland echoed Wood’s concerns, saying that gay marriage was “not council business”.
When questioned on the suitability of the proposal for a local council, Richardson defended the council’s right to “take a stand” on issues of national importance.
“If local government was just roads, rates and rubbish nothing of any significance would get done. We have a mandate from the people of Byron to do this, it represents their interests.”
Woods, a pro-business councillor who ran against Richardson at the Byron mayoral elections in 2012, often stands in opposition to the mayor and his more environment-friendly stances on local issues.
The motion will be presented to Byron Shire Council in early March.