Local couple Mel (Feisty) Fitzpatrick and Linda Pigott recently tied the knot- an event finally made possible by the much awaited changes in the marriage equality legislation. “Our big day was a little day. Very quiet and private, but it meant the world to us,” says Mel.
Late last year Australia’s parliament finally legislated for marriage equality after more than two thirds of Australia’s voting population posted YES for same-sex marriage, in what proved to be a divisive postal vote survey. “The whole process exposed a lot of unnecessary ugliness,” says Mel. “In fact the build up and the emotion experienced when the result was announced felt like a huge pressure cooker. The stress for many of the LGBTQI community came at a personal health cost.”
Despite the social disunity caused by the postal vote process, the euphoria felt by a huge majority of Australian’s as the results were announced was overwhelming. Summed up at a press conference after the vote, the Equality Campaign co-chair, Alex Greenwich, said: “We came, we saw and love finally conquered. Marriage equality is finally the law of the land.”
This month we are celebrating love and marriage Bellingen Shire-style. We wanted to know if life and hopefully, attitudes have changed since this legislation and if local same-sex couples have decided to take the plunge. In this interview we chat with local couple Mel and Linda about equality and what that has meant to them.
Did you meet in Bellingen?
Yes, even though we’re both from Sydney and at one time only lived a block away from each other.
Has the institution of marriage always been something you both wanted?
I guess we prefer to think of it as the ‘Institution of Equality’. We’ve both always been very politically engaged and have spent 30 years campaigning/fighting for equal rights. Marriage Equality felt like the last major hurdle. While we’d already made a commitment to each other some years back it’s been lovely to have the same choice as everyone else and to make it legal.
Can you explain how it felt to know that you weren’t able to marry before the change in legislation last year?
It’s not an over-statement to say that you feel like a second-class citizen when you are not afforded the same rights as others. You can also feel vulnerable in the legal sense when faced with questions about ‘next-of-kin’. Some people we know have been devastated financially and emotionally by having to prove their relationships at the worst time of their lives. We no longer have that fear now we’re legally married.
Do you see the change in ‘marriage equality’ legislation as affecting other equality issues for the LGBTQI community?
Absolutely. Already people have treated us differently, like our relationship is suddenly more serious, and that kinda proves why Marriage Equality was so important. There are many flow on effects that people take for granted, for example Superannuation, Pensions and access to aged care.
Have you both already experienced any perceptible shift in the way the general community relate or accept the LGBTQI community and specifically yourselves?
The level of support given by our local community throughout the survey was overwhelming and it’s continued to be positive. And it’s funny how people have suddenly noticed the rings we exchanged years ago. I guess you could describe it as a metaphor. But it’s lovely, so many people have been really happy for us.
We would all like to believe that Bellingen Shire is a progressive region- have you both found that to be the case in terms of equality and acceptance for the LGBTQI community?
Absolutely. We’ve never felt marginalized or different in our community, but that changed during the survey. That was very divisive and not a great time. Although I will say the vast majority of people in Bello have been completely amazing.
You got married as soon as possible after the change in legislation. Was there a romantic proposal or was there a plan in place long before the postal vote result?
There was no such proposal actually but rather an understanding that we both had. Like we said, we’d committed to each other years earlier but once Marriage Equality started looking like a reality, we were able to consider it seriously. For us it was a no-brainer.
How does it feel now? Has it changed you both personally or your relationship?
To be honest it feels exactly the same in a day-to-day sense, but we have the comfort of knowing that our relationship has equal standing in Australian law and increasingly in the community generally.
For very young LGBTQI folk- I can only imagine that they will grow up with a greater sense of belonging and acceptance. You must be so happy that this change will have such a profound effect on today’s youth.
Yes, this is massive. Every generation hopes that the generation that follows will have a better time of it. We sincerely hope that young LGBTQI people will not have to fight for basic rights and instead will experience true acceptance in their community.
This week-Thursday 17th May- you are helping to organise the event “You CAN Ask That” at Bellingen Golf Club. Who are you hoping to attract? Is everyone welcome?
The ‘Bello Love is Love Project’ is organising the event. This is the first in a series of public conversations to build inclusiveness and relationships in our community. So YES, everyone is very welcome. We’re really hoping that people will come along and feel free to ask anything they like. The aim is to provide information and to answer questions people might not feel comfortable to talk about because they worry they might offend. We’ll have a question box where people can submit their question(s) so it can be completely anonymous.
We have 5 panelists including a trans man, local gay and lesbian people as well as our heterosexual allies. They’re all real fire-crackers so we’re hoping for a lively and entertaining night. Plus we have the wonderful Deb Spillane as facilitator. It’s a free event for adults and adolescents. The Q&A discussion starts at 7pm but we encourage people to come early and support the bistro by having dinner there. It’s all part of building relationships in our community and increasing inclusiveness- but it should be fun too.
Bellingen Shire is a secret Australian hamlet along the Waterfall Way on the NSW mid-north coast. This region is popular for its unique landscape where the Great Dividing Range almost touches the sea. It boasts a diverse history and proud indigenous culture, and is home to an eclectic and supportive community of farmers, alternative lifestylers, tree-changers, and families who have called this region home for generations. Interesting in so many ways and with so much to offer, it’s no wonder visitors return time & time again, while other never leave…