ADVOCATES have pointed to an impressive turn out and high-profile support at Saturday’s marriage equality rally in Albury as evidence there is significant support for the issue in rural Australia.
The rally came just days after Assistant Education Minister Sussan Ley, whose federal seat of Farrah includes Albury, said on the ABC’s Q&A program her constituents weren’t ready for marriage equality.
“It is an idea whose time hasn’t quite come in the area of regional and rural Australia that I represent,” Ley told the Q&A audience.
Albury councillor Ross Jackson addressed the crowd at the rally with a speech in support of marriage equality, calling for an end to “discrimination, oppression [and] inequality”. The councillor is the brother of internationally successful basketball player Lauren Jackson, who also attended the rally and gave her support to the issue.
Jackson told the Star Observer he disagreed with Ley’s characterisation of the community’s attitudes.
“I think everything over time has to change, and I believe this community is ready for this,” he said.
Jackson said being close to people who had suffered discrimination gave him an obligation to speak out, and compared shifting social attitudes on marriage equality to the way thinking in Australia changed around issues like women’s suffrage and the White Australia Policy.
“For anything, there’s no more pure motivation than to say fair’s fair,” he said.
Although Ley declined an invitation to attend Saturday’s rally, Toni Johnson from local LGBTI support and advocacy organisation Hume Phoenix told the Star Observer Ley’s office had since been pursuing a face-to-face meeting with the group to discuss community attitudes to marriage equality.
Johnson argued the rally’s success showed how out of touch Ley was on this issue, and expressed concern Ley’s comments could damage the area’s reputation.
According to Johnson the LGBTI community had “laughed at” Ley’s comments on Q&A for being so out of step with the reality of the community’s support.
While the timing of the rally with Ley’s comments was a coincidence, Johnson said it was perfect publicity and probably helped increase support for the marriage equality petition Hume Phoenix plans to present to Ley and the Indi federal independent MP Cathy McGowan, whose electorate is across the border in Victoria.
“Signatures are still filling up, so I hope to present that to [Ley] and we’ll send one off to Indi too,” Johnson said.
Johnson said as far as she was aware McGowan “hasn’t got an issue” with marriage equality.
Members of the area’s LGBTI community were heavily involved in McGowan’s grass roots political campaign that launched the independent candidate into the federal House of Representatives.