Bendigo marriage equality supporters celebrate return of ‘yes’ survey result

The sense of nerves was palpable at Bendigo Trades Hall on Wednesday morning as Australia’s chief statistician, David Kalisch, took to the lectern in Canberra to announce the results of the marriage law postal survey.

Dozens of people of all ages had gathered at the hall to watch together a live broadcast of the announcement of the results in an event organised by the Bendigo Says Yes campaign team.

Everyone watched intently the screen at the front of the room as Mr Kalisch began his speech; some people held hands, while others rested a supportive hand on a shoulder or stood with hands at their mouths, nervous at the impending announcement.

But relief and joy quickly washed away that tension when, shortly after 10am, Mr Kalisch revealed to the nation that 61.6 per cent of participating Australians had officially said ‘yes’ in support of marriage equality.

Cheers and applause rang out through the hall, people grabbed one another in joyful embraces, and tears of happiness flowed down cheeks.

While marriage equality is still yet to be enshrined in law, the announcement of the results marked the end of an emotional and often difficult process for the LGBTI community that officially began when Treasurer Scott Morrison directed the Australian Bureau of Statistics to undertake the survey on August 9.

Ahead of the announcement, many at Wednesday’s event seemed confident Australia would return a vote of ‘yes’, buoyed by polls conducted before and during the campaign, but the possibility the pendulum could swing the other way still hung over the heads of supporters.

Alex Watson and Amber Bittner were among those gathered at the Trades Hall to hear the results who, while hopeful of a ‘yes’ result, were “terrified” before it was revealed.

Eight-year-old marriage equality supporter Lily Potter also admitted to being nervous.

She might be 10 years too young to have participated in the survey, but Lily still holds passionate views on marriage equality.

She told the Bendigo Advertiser of her belief that it was “none of the government’s business” to tell people who they could or could not marry.

“I think it's important because it's human rights and people should be able to love who they want to love,” Lily said.

"Euphoric" is how Axedale’s Merle Stunnell described her feelings upon hearing the result, a huge smile spread across her face.

“The young kids, they could find a postbox,” she joked, referring to the fact that about 78 per cent of 18 to 19-year-old Australians participated, the strongest representation among people aged under 45.

For Heathcote resident Alice Petherbridge, the moment speaks of the journey for equality LGBTI Australians have faced.

“Can I just say how far it’s come since I was a young teacher,” Alice said.

“I would have lost my job if they’d found out I was lesbian.”

​Local university students Chloe Chappel, Isabella Somerville and Ashlyn McDonald wore radiant smiles in the aftermath of the announcement.

The trio spoke of how united they felt coming together with other marriage equality supporters to hear the announcement, something Chloe described as “a pivotal point in history”.

"It was amazing," Isabella said of learning the result.

She was grateful to be surrounded by like-minded people at such a time, she said, and have their support when there were others who held beliefs that she could not exist with equality.

Chloe said the result was a “concrete” affirmation of support of marriage equality, removing doubt about the level of support within the community.

People also spoke of how happy they were to hear the federal electorate of Bendigo had returned a majority 'yes' response of 68.7 per cent.

That result was higher than not only that of Australia as a whole, but Victoria overall, and one of the strongest ‘yes’ responses for a regional area.

A visibly emotional Rosemary Hill said she was “very proud” of the Bendigo electorate and added she was also grateful for the support of MP Lisa Chesters, describing her as a “rock” for the community.

Knowing there is that level of support within the Bendigo community is something that is heartening for Isabella Somerville.

"I don't think I've ever felt prouder to choose this as my place to live," Ashlyn McDonald added.

While pleased about the result, some also told the Bendigo Advertiser of their unhappiness that the process happened at all, with Heathcote resident Rosemary Hill labelling it Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s “shame”.

That the survey was only one step on the way to achieving true equality for the LGBTI community was also raised by some at Wednesday’s event.

It was now time to look forward to what would come next in the process of making marriage equality a reality, Ashlyn McDonald said, as well as what action needed to be taken to achieve progress in other areas affecting LGBTI people, such as trans rights, mental health and homelessness.

“I think it’s important to keep the momentum going,” Isabella Somerville said.