Marriage equality supporters in Bendigo forge campaign for 'yes' votes in federal government's postal survey

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If plans forged last night at a meeting of marriage equality supporters come to fruition, Bendigo will see LGBTI people and their allies campaigning on the streets to win “yes” votes in the upcoming postal survey. 

Almost 100 Bendigo residents met at the Bendigo Trades Hall to brainstorm their response to the federal government’s controversial process.

Campaign leader Harry McAnulty, who runs Bendigo HIV health service VACountry, told those assembled that his workplace was already seeing an increased demand for its support services since the optional ballot was announced last week. 

“Really, this debate is judging who we love, and who we are as a people,” Mr McAnulty said, before adding that shows of support from LGBTI people and their loved ones were heartening.

“I’m proud to look around and see that Bendigo is here tonight to galvanise what we’re going to do to get a ‘yes’ vote.”

Attendees resolved to approach the postal vote campaign in three ways: community activism, including talking with people on the streets; online activism, which would see them wage a social media campaign in favour of marriage equality; and talking to friends and family, to win over votes closest to home.  

The campaign will also have two stages, first aiming to get unenrolled voters registered to take part, then pushing for a ‘yes’ vote once the August 24 enrolment deadline passes. 

The postal survey faces one more hurdle before ballots are delivered to homes, with its legitimacy to be scrutinised next month by the High Court. 

Mood among campaigners seemed hopeful, with chants of “What do we want? Marriage equality” called out from the crowd. 

Nonetheless, counsellors attended the meeting in case participants needed support.  

One of the health professionals, who asked not to be named, said she attended the meeting because of the enduring legacy she was left by a young client.

“When I asked her what she wanted from her life, she said: ‘to get married like my mum and dad’,” the counsellor recalled about the girl, who reported feelings of same-sex attraction. 

Victoria Police officers patrolled the venue but no protesters picketed the meeting. 

Bendigo West MP Maree Edwards was also among the night’s speakers, reading statements from her state government counterpart Jacinta Allan and federal Bendigo MP Lisa Chesters. 

She said sexuality and gender equality were a central tenant of the government’s platform and while it would spend $500,000 to protect LGBTI people against harm during the voting process, it was the federal government that had the last say on same-sex marriage legislation. 

“We want to make sure that if the vote happens, we’re all on the same team,” Ms Edwards said. 

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