Wednesday, 15 February 2017
Select Committee on the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill; Report
Thank you, Acting Deputy President Bernardi.
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. … It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
That quote is part of the judgement of Justice Kennedy of the Supreme Court of the United States in the Obergefell v Hodges (2015) decision. This decision required the states and territories of the United States of America to legalise same-sex marriage. I have now read the judgement, but you can read the story of this case as told by the petitioner, James Obergefell, in his book, Love Wins. I would recommend this book, as it tells the story that the most human and the best part of all of us yearns to hear—that is, that we can love and be loved.
Last week, many politicians, leaders of the armed services, public servants and parishioners attended St Christopher's Cathedral in Forrest for the ecumenical service to commemorate the commencement of the parliament for 2017. The reading given by the Leader of the Opposition was a very well-known reading from Corinthians. I had just finished reading James Obergefell's book, and I was struck by the similarity of the sentiments expressed by Mr Obergefell, by Justice Kennedy of Supreme Court and by the passage from Corinthians—I think many would know it—which ends:
And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
I think many Australians and indeed many in the GLBTIQ community have been on a journey. Many Australians will always believe that marriage is only between a man and a women. Of course, there have been many twists and turns on this path. As Shakespeare recognised:
The course of true love never did run smooth.
For example, in the 1970s there were some on the extreme left of politics, including some student organisations, who regarded marriage as prostitution and an institution that should be outlawed—nay, criminalised. Some might say the change in this view of marriage from that view to the view that there should be the right to marry for all is a win for those who believe in the institution of marriage. Often times the conservative side of politics, it seems to me, does not always live by conservative values at all.
The committee also spent many hours considering the rights of people and what happens when those rights do clash. It has been put to me that not every Senate committee is so collegiate and so pleasant. At the moment, I do not believe this can be so. I would like to thank the chair, Senator Fawcett. Senator Fawcett has been unfailingly fair and has been an all-round fantastic chair, so I would like to thank him particularly. I would also like to thank Senator Pratt, who was the deputy chair, and senators Paterson, Smith, Rice and Kakoschke-Moore. I would also like to thank my family and friends and people to whom I reached out to solicit their views on this issue, which ranged through everyone from conservative commentators to Supreme Court justices to taxi drivers to all people in between.
This committee worked through some difficult conversations about the balancing of rights—and this has been spoken about by other senators—acknowledging and never forgetting that we live in a diverse and tolerant society where we allow people to believe and advocate in same-sex marriage and to believe in traditional marriage. This committee was determined to acknowledge both sides of the debate, and I think the report reflects that. It is important to note that in our society we must allow people to express their views, and it is even more important—vital—that people in our society have the right to hold many beliefs. I say that because there was discussion about whether some of the exemptions should be given, and I think the report reflects a balanced view on that.
I think we would all accept that rights come with responsibilities. This debate is often framed in terms of rights, and some of the previous senators have explored those. I want to turn, though, to the other side of coin—that is, the responsibilities that come with rights. If we accept that committed, loving relationships strengthen our society then gay and lesbian marriages entered into will also strengthen our society. There was a time when 'till death do us part' meant exactly that. It also means that people celebrate the better times and work through the harder times, and I think that this makes us all better human beings and allows us to live fuller lives.
I want to end with a quote from Justice Kennedy in the Obergefell case again. He said:
Rising from the most basic human needs, marriage is essential to our most profound hopes and aspirations.
This consensus report that the committee has tabled and delivered today, I think, reflects that we can now go forward, examine marriage and legislate for marriage so that all Australians may enjoy that institution.