EYEWITNESSES have described “an angry chanting crowd” of protesters outside a Brisbane Catholic church hours after the High Court agreed to allow the same-sex marriage postal vote to go ahead on September 7.
Dozens of same-sex marriage supporters chanted, blocked the driveway entrance and spilled into the car park of St Michael’s Church, Dorrington as they awaited people arriving for an information evening entitled “Safe Schools – Education or Social Engineering”.
“It was pretty distressing really,” meeting organiser, Stuart Beavis, the chairman of the local chapter of the Knights of the Southern Cross, said.
He described a chaotic scene in which parishioners were shouted at and their cars blocked from entering the church grounds.
Mr Beavis arrived more than an hour before the scheduled 7.30pm meeting to warn would-be attendees that the information night had been cancelled.
The guest speaker, Queensland director of the Australian Christian Lobby, Wendy Francis, had told organisers there were security concerns about the meeting, following contact with police.
“The police were aware that something was brewing after more than 200 people signed up for a pro-SSM demonstration on Facebook,” Mr Beavis said.
“As it turned out no more than 50 protesters turned up and they made a complete nuisance of themselves.
“I was the first one there. I knew I had to get there early because I hadn’t been able to tell everybody attending the meeting that it was called off. When I mentioned that to protesters they completely ignored me. They filled up the driveway.”
Trouble started when meeting guests started arriving.
Parishioners were also arriving at St Michael’s for a scheduled parish council meeting in a presbytery room.
Mr Beavis said a parishioner trying to turn his car from the road into the driveway was blocked by the protesters.
Protesters claimed the man drove fast towards them.
“No, he was braking, as he tried to drive from the road into the car park. The crowd was blocking him,” Mr Beavis said.
“It was pretty awful, especially since there was nothing for them to protest against any more.
“If they were like that when there was no meeting on I would dread to think what they would have been like if we were still running the meeting.”
The protest was organised by the National Union of Students.
Police said one woman was arrested for obstructing police and another person suffered a minor injury. She was treated by paramedics. The incident was reported the following morning on breakfast TV as a clash between rival protesters.
Cabinet minister Peter Dutton told the Nine Network the incident did not reflect the respectful debate the government wanted on marriage reform. “Of course it’s not. Conduct yourself in a reasonable way. Have a respectful discussion,” he urged.
Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese said the standoff was unsurprising, and the government’s postal survey was always going to be divisive. “That was one of the concerns we had about a plebiscite or a postal vote – that there would be division in the community,” he told Nine.