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Marriage equality more than an institution—it’s a right to determine how we live

Twenty-five-year old Ballardong and Wiradjuri woman Edie Shepherd can hardly believe it’s been a year since Australia voted yes to same sex marriage.

Melbourne-based Shepherd co-founded the lobby group Blackfullas for Marriage Equality and the first anniversary of the “yes” vote on Thursday (November 15) will be especially sweet for her.

“The four months of the campaign felt like my entire life. It felt like about 10 years,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like it has been an entire year.

“The only big difference I have felt so far is that I’ve been to a couple of weddings now.”

“In terms of what the ‘no’ side said, in that the sky would fall and the fabric of society would tear apart, for the most part it just feels like business as usual, except people have autonomy and choice over their lives.”

Ms Shepherd, who identifies as queer, will spend the day in Sydney at the premiere of SBS documentary Australia Says Yes, in which she appears.

The documentary follows the LGBTIQ+ rights movement from its beginning in the 1960s campaigning to de-criminalise homosexuality, through to last year’s historic Marriage Law Postal Survey result.

Ms Shepherd says she has seen an early edit of the film and “cried like a baby”.

“Something I appreciate about the documentary is that it is very honest,” she says.

“During the campaign we had to smile and be positive, but there was a lot of heartbreak in the campaign, particularly one of the couples who had been fighting for years, one of them was very sick and passed before the legislation came through Parliament.”

A social worker, Ms Shepherd says she became involved in the campaign by accident when a friend started a Facebook page. She was encouraged by the amount of support they received as it got going.

“I grew up in a queer family so I had three mums and a dad and a billion aunties, uncles and cousins,” she says. “I was also raised to be very politically aware of the world around us.”

“For as long as I can remember I’ve been told, ‘You’ve been born into politics because you’re black’.”

“I’m a protest baby. I was always up on my mother’s shoulders at a rally, all that sort of stuff.”

“Being outspoken with my opinions is not new to me.”

Ms Shepherd sees parallels between last year’s survey, the 1967 referendum to count Aboriginal people in the census, and Aboriginal rights generally.

“It wasn’t so long ago that our mob had to request and often beg for the right to marry the people we choose so it’s one of those things,” she said.

“In terms of marriage equality in itself, that’s been going for about 50 years, but for me the marriage equality campaign wasn’t about that institution at all it was about our right to determine how we live our lives and that will keep going until us black fellas aren’t experiencing even half of the stuff we are at the moment.”

In an added sweetener she says the first anniversary of the “yes” vote falls on her mother Ali’s birthday. And while this year she will be celebrating the successful campaign, she said next year, November 15 will belong totally to her mother.

Australia Says Yes will air on SBS Thursday, November 15 at 7.30pm.

By Wendy Caccetta

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