Same sex marriage okay in Kooyong

Jacqueline Tomlins, her children and partner Sarah Nichols.
Experts say that the formally conservative electorate of Kooyong will back same-sex marriage legalisation in the upcoming election, report Charlotte McDonald and Calin Barker

Despite being in a traditionally conservative area, residents of the Kooyong electorate will be voting in support of same-sex marriage in the election, says lesbian and gay rights activist, Jacqueline Tomlins.

“[Kooyong] is a highly educated demographic, financially quite conservative but socially relatively progressive,” said Ms Tomlins.

Ms Tomlins and her partner Sarah Nichols have been together for 22 years and were married in Canada, but their marriage is not recognised in Australia.

“When we came back we decided to test the legal validity of our overseas marriage,” said Ms Tomlins. “The week before our case was due to be heard in court, the Howard government changed the legislation and put in the clause about one man and one woman which effectively knocked our case out.”

Since then, the couple have been campaigning for the legalisation of same sex marriage in Australia.

Kooyong Liberal MP Josh Frydenberg spoke in Parliament against gay marriage in 2011 and video of that speech remains on his website. But last year he described his views as having evolved.

He has said he supports a conscience vote on the issue in the Liberal party room and has been moved by the personal stories of constituents. He has been quoted as saying he believes that he is certain gay marriage will become part of the Australian way of life

Frydenberg is listed as a supporter of same sex marriage in Australia by lobby group Marriage Equality Australia. But Tim Manger, a civil marriage celebrant, is sceptical.

“Josh Frydenberg is there for one reason and one reason alone, and that is to be re-elected,” he said. A change of heart was an “indicator of the electorate’s views”, and not necessarily of his own.

It suggested that the voters in Kooyong had moved away from their more traditional, conservative opinions and now held more progressive views.

However, Ms Tomlins said that it didn’t surprise her that Mr Frydenberg changed his view over time, after Ms Nichols and she met with him.

Mr Manger recently appeared on Channel Nine’s Married at First Sight, officiating at the wedding between strangers Clare and Jono. Dubbed a “social experiment” by Channel Nine, the marriages performed for the show are actually commitment ceremonies, “identical” to those performed for same sex couples.

Mr Manger said that it was “absolutely stupid… the most absurd thing” to marry strangers for television when same-sex couples are unable to do so.

Commenting on the strong Catholic presence in Kooyong, he said he thought that the well known Catholic schools in the area influenced voters.

Ms Tomlins agreed that it was the church that had “influential people in powerful places” who were controlling the Liberal party.

“The Australian Christian Lobby, I will name them because they’re idiots”, said Ms Tomlins. “Right wing Christian parliamentarians who have the power to do things and are supported, backed up and prodded by the ACL.”

Local theology student Fraser Holloway is a supporter of gay marriage, despite being a devout Christian.

He thinks that Kooyong residents are not even aware of issues surrounding minority groups such as the gay community.

“I think people in this area are in a pretty comfortable position,” said Mr Holloway, who said locals didn’t think about the same sex marriage debate, compared to more diverse areas such as Fitzroy or Brunswick.

Raised in a Christian home, Mr Holloway has continued to follow his faith as an adult, but does think that those with a similar upbringing are less likely to think for themselves when they vote.

He said that many Christians vote “according to certain topics because they’ve been taught what’s right and wrong” voting a certain way because “their parents did it”, instead of thinking for themselves.

Despite his concerns, Mr Holloway said he thought that same sex couples were becoming more accepted in the community, and that the issue was being more openly talked about and discussed.

Ms Tomlins agreed: “There isn’t any pushback anymore. The people in Kooyong and all the people that I encounter everyday… the ‘ordinary Australians’ are completely supportive.”