With voting in the upcoming Marrickville by-election expected to be close, this week the two major contenders began their campaign to woo the gay vote for the contested seat.

Labor’s Carmel Tebbutt and the Greens’ Sam Byrne booked ads in Sydney’s gay press and both spoke to the Sydney Star Observer about their record on gay and lesbian issues.

The Marrickville electorate will go to the polls on Saturday 17 September following the resignation of gay-friendly Labor MP Andrew Refshauge who formerly held the seat.

The electorate, which includes the suburbs Newtown and Erskineville, is recognised as having a strong and growing gay and lesbian population. The by-election has attracted a number of candidates, including the Democrats’ Michelle Bleicher, but it is Tebbutt and Byrne who are emerging as the frontrunners -“ and both believe the pink vote is important.

Tebbutt, who is the NSW minister for education, was last June involved in the controversy surrounding the Department of Education’s decision to ban a high school teaching aid on homophobia. At the time Tebbutt went on the record to say the material was inappropriate, but also believed there was no place for homophobic bullying in schools.

I made it very clear at the time I’m fully supportive of teaching about sexual diversity in our schools. It is in the syllabus. I’ve not changed that, Tebbutt told the Star.

The issue was really about what sort of resources are available to teachers to support them in teaching the syllabus. The department deemed that [material] wasn’t appropriate, but there are many other really good resources.

Since that incident I’ve met with ACON and the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby to talk with them about ways we can better support teachers.

Tebbutt, who last week resigned from the upper house but retains her role as education minister, said she had, a strong record of supporting gay and lesbian issues.

She explained how she actively supported a lesbian space project when she was on Marrickville council 10 years ago, and how she supported the equal age of consent bill both times it was before NSW parliament. The second time it was before parliament, Tebbutt led the government’s position and led the debate on it in the upper house.

I’m proud of the state Labor government’s record on gay and lesbian law reform, she said. Some of the reforms she listed were changes to the state’s superannuation laws to recognise same-sex couples, the establishment of the police gay and lesbian liaison unit, and the establishment of the gay, lesbian and transgender advisory committee within the attorney general’s portfolio.

If I am elected to the seat of Marrickville, I would be a very strong voice for the gay and lesbian community of Marrickville at the highest levels of government.

As for her thoughts on same-sex marriage, Tebbutt said, The real issue is the need for relationship recognition and equal rights before the law. I don’t know that there’s a consensus on the issue of gay marriage in the community as such.

Certainly I share the view that it’s only through full recognition of relationships under federal law that equality can be achieved.

I recognise there are some real issues that confront the gay and lesbian community, particularly around discrimination and tolerance and acceptance. And I know that’s particularly an issue for young people.

Tebbutt’s main campaign issues are transport, access to health services, education and community safety.

Greens candidate Byrne is currently deputy mayor of Marrickville council. He said the decision to ban the homophobia teachers material was a disgraceful business.

There’s no excuse for making policy decisions based on The Daily Telegraph‘s headlines, he said.

Byrne said he was one of the people who drafted the Greens’ national LGBT policy, adding that while he’s not gay, he knows a lot about the issues.

The Greens policy has some very clear statements on how we’re committed to campaigning against discrimination and vilification of GLBTI people, he said.

Our policy is moving to full rights on adoption and parenting issues. On all these issues, I think the Labor government is very, very quiet. We’re standing up and saying this is what should happen.

We think the state has the power to legalise gay marriage, so I call on Carmel to also commit to this legislation.

Byrne added that while not everyone wants to get married, they should have the right to. It would be a good way to get a lot of equality in a lot of other areas of policy. It would be a great leap forward.

There’s still problems in areas of immigration and education and health, so it would be a great step and I totally support it.

Byrne said he’s committed to speaking out at every opportunity on gay and lesbian issues.

We’re here to push the political system in a more progressive way, and a strong vote for the Greens will mean those messages are clear, he said.

Byrne’s main campaign issues include public transport, diverting more money into public schools and hospitals, cleaning up the Cooks River and encouraging residents to recycle.

Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-covenor David Scamell said the Marrickville by-election presents a good opportunity to send a strong message to the state government that our issues are important, and gay and lesbian law reform must be prioritised.

Scamell said there are still a number of key areas of reform at the state level, such as parenting rights and amendments to the Anti-Discrimination Act. The government must be accountable to ensuring that legislative change takes place, he said.

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