Hunter MPs back marriage equality

29th August 2017

Source: Newcastle Herald | By: Joanne McCarthy | Posted: August 29, 2017

CATHOLIC Archbishop Denis Hart’s veiled threat to church employees over same sex marriage has backfired in a region devastated by clerical child sex abuse, a poll of Hunter mayors and state and federal politicians on the same sex marriage postal vote has shown.

The region’s most prominent Catholic politician, Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon, urged same sex marriage supporters to vote yes in the postal poll, despite describing the $122 million cost as “a shocking waste of money”.

“It will be an even greater waste of money if we have a poor turnout and therefore, a result open to challenge,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

Asked to comment on Archbishop Hart’s threat that gay Catholic employees would lose their jobs if they married, Mr Fitzgibbon said he was a Catholic and “I hope the church takes the necessary steps to demonstrate it has learned from the shocking mistakes of the past. I’m not encouraged by Archbishop Hart’s comments.”

Muswellbrook mayor Martin Rush said he supported same sex marriage and would be voting yes. He described Archbishop Hart’s comments as “extremely troubling”, and warned that any Catholic Church moves against gay staff could jeopardise how a council rated church facilities.

“Any decision by a public-funded, or partly public-funded, institution to exclude same sex married couples from seeking merit-based employment is likely to weigh very heavily on council’s consideration as to whether that institution is a public benevolent institution for the purpose of rating exemption,” Mr Rush said.

While councils cannot change the rating exemption of church and school buildings, other church facilities including aged care could be affected.

Upper Hunter mayor Wayne Bedggood provided some of the strongest comments of any elected Hunter representative in support of same sex marriage, but said it was “not for me or any other community leader to impose their will on others”.

“I personally believe that we as a society will look back in 100 years time and wonder what on earth all of the fuss was about and how could people of our era have been so narrow-minded and unaccepting,” Mr Bedggood said.

“Marriage equality will be right alongside slavery, apartheid, women's rights and recognising our Indigenous people’s rights to vote and custodianship of country as some of mankind's biggest discriminatory acts.

“If two people love each other enough to want to symbolise that love with a public and legal declaration, then I can see no reasonable reason for them to be denied that right.”

Liberal MP and parliamentary secretary for the Hunter Scot Macdonald said his voting intention was a matter of public record after he voted for same sex marriage in a NSW Legislative Council vote.

In response to a question about Archbishop Hart Mr Macdonald wrote: “My reaction to anyone pressuring or coercing from any viewpoint is that they are probably doing themselves a disservice. I am sure the Australian people are quite capable of coming to a considered position without intimidation.”

Singleton mayor Sue Moore declined to say how she would vote, but said many people had complained to her that the postal vote was a waste of money, and the $122 million cost “makes me really cranky”.

Dungog mayor Nancy Knudsen supported same sex marriage, and said governments “should never have become involved in the word ‘marriage’ at all”.

The word “marriage” should have been reserved for religious ceremonies and non-religious partnerships, whether same sex or heterosexual, should have been called civil unions, she said.

Labor politicians strongly supported same sex marriage and blamed Coalition internal politics for the imposition of the postal vote, rather than a vote in parliament.

Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison gave “a resounding yes” to people voting for same sex marriage.

“When I was 15 years old my sister had a lesbian friend who used to spend days at our house because she was too scared to go home with her partner. I knew that it was wrong. It was inspiring to me that my parents provided a safe place for her to have a relationship and to experience the acceptance of a family,” Ms Aitchison said.

Port Stephens MP Kate Washington, Swansea MP Yasmin Catley, Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp, Cessnock MP Clayton Barr, Wallsend MP Sonia Hornery and Charlestown MP Jodie Harrison said they were voting yes and supported community debate. They were appalled or dismayed by Archbishop Hart’s comments.

Ms Hornery said she will ask the Attorney General to clarify if the Catholic Church can legally sack someone for marrying their same-sex partner when NSW Parliament resumes in September.

“I respect deeply held religious convictions, but I am concerned that this threat constitutes bullying and a serious invasion of employee privacy,” she said.

Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper, Paterson MP Meryl Swanson, Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon and Shortland MP Pat Conroy will vote for same sex marriage. Upper Hunter MP Michael Johnsen did not respond.

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