POLITICS

Marriage Equality Picnic Serves As A Reminder Families 'Come In All Shapes And Sizes'

'Don't listen. Be yourself. Vote Yes.'

12/09/2017 5:52 PM AEST | Updated 12/09/2017 7:10 PM AEST
Fairfax Media
Eddie Blewett with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten after he addressed the media in support of same-sex marriage outside Parliament House

CANBERRA -- There were picnic rugs and punnets of fruit, cooler bags and camp chairs. Kids ran around in the spring sun as a young mum and her young son sat on the grass, gently rolling a soccer ball between one another. It was an entirely unremarkable, normal, lovely picnic.

Except for the TV cameras and the media scrum, the click-click-click of photographers' gear, the phalanx of politicians descending en masse to sample a homemade biscuit or brownie, the metal and marble facade of Parliament House looming large just over the road, and the federal police detail anxiously watching over proceedings.

On Tuesday, as the first of millions of marriage equality postal surveys started being sent out from the federal government, a dozen or so Labor politicians gathered on the front lawn of Parliament House to meet with rainbow families, LGBTQ couples and their kids, to talk about the effects of the debate currently raging.

"A lot of LGBTI Australians thought that a lot of the arguments about their identity had been fought and won, and that this survey, because this government couldn't make up its own mind, this abdication of responsibility, has now seen members of the LGBTIQ community have to become a talking point about decisions which they thought were done and dusted," Labor leader Bill Shorten told a knot of journalists, flanked by his colleagues and another gang of young kids and their parents.

Earlier, Shorten -- with deputy Tanya Plibersek, Mark Dreyfus, Mike Kelly, Gai Brodtmann, Stephen Jones, Emma Husar, Lisa Singh, Louise Pratt and more in tow -- had wandered through the picnic, nibbling at snacks and chatting warmly with the rainbow families.

"Families come in all shapes and sizes," he told one mum.

Another mum quickly rushed up behind the media pack watching on, trying to quietly nudge her way through.

"I've got to get a photo of Bill eating my son's Anzac biscuits," she whispered to one cameraman by way of apology, pulling her phone out to get a quick happy snap of the Opposition Leader enjoying the fruits of her kitchen.

The Labor picnic walk-through came just an hour before the Government announced it would introduce additional protections to safeguard vulnerable parties from vilification and intimidation during the marriage survey. Shorten implored those supporting marriage equality to fill out their surveys quickly, and post them back as soon as possible, to ensure their vote didn't get lost or forgotten about.

"We say to gay and lesbian, and LGBTIQ Australians, that we're sorry that you have to have a separate process for making a decision about you to all other Australians, but please don't be disappointed. Turn that disappointment into determination," he said.

"We encourage Australians, when they get the survey in the mail, to fill it out straight away. Don't delay, don't put it on top of the fridge or behind the couch. We need to just have the vote and get on and be done with it. And Labor, will for every day of the campaign support LGBTI Australians, and say to them that you're not on your own."

"I think this is a great chance for Australia to catch up with a lot of the world. It's a great chance to finally be done with this issue. It's a great chance to say to all Australians, that we value your relationships, and that love is love, and equality is equality, and this is all about the fair go."

Shorten then passed over to Eddie Blewett, a young teen who came to parliament with his two mums Neroli and Claire.

You might remember Eddie from this time last year, when he came to parliament to ask Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull a question about the plebiscite -- "Why should people who barely know us make an assumption on our families and vote on how we can live?"

Eddie spoke to HuffPost Australia that day, saying: "They know nothing about us, but they're voting on our family, which is none of their business."

Fairfax Media
Eddie Blewett with his mums Neroli Dickson and Claire Blewett, in September 2016

On Tuesday, Eddie again spoke to national media about the postal survey, the bastardised successor to that original plebiscite he spoke out against, almost a year to the day ago.

This is what Eddie said:

"People who know my family know that there is nothing wrong with us. We play soccer in the winter and we volunteer for the surf club in summer.

I have two parents. They love me and they love each other. All couples and all families deserve the same respect and value.

Twelve months ago I came here. Nothing has changed. The marriage equality is still unresolved. I feel like people aren't going to vote. I feel like they're going to throw their ballot papers in the bin.

I also wanted to thank all those people who tried to keep this matter in Parliament.

People are saying stuff about my family. They're saying they are not normal. They are saying that they're second rate.

Don't listen. Be yourself. Vote Yes."

The kids booted a soccer ball around a makeshift field set out by plastic cones on the lawn, right behind the cameras and microphones and politicians at the press conference. The corner posts of the field were flags decked in rainbow hearts, the sidelines bore glittery red hearts, while the goals were marked with yellow flags bearing the word "YES" painted in capital letters.

It wasn't hard to see the metaphor.

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