Senate debates

Tuesday, 18 September 2012


Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012

7:30 pm

Photo of John FaulknerJohn Faulkner (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I support the Marriage Amendment (No. 2) Bill 2012. I support this bill because I support equal rights for all Australians. This should not be a debate about the virtue and value of marriage as an institution, nor about its role in our society. Nor is it a debate about the role and prominence of religion—any religion—in our nation. It is a debate on the simple question of whether it is right for a government to deny some of its citizens access to a secular, government-recognised status on the basis of the gender of the person they choose to share their life with. I support this bill because I believe that no government should deny rights to any citizen on the basis of race, sex, religion, country of origin or sexual preference.

Human rights can never be at the mercy of individual opinions or individual prejudices. They are not privileges to be extended to one person and denied to another according to the winds of popular opinion or the whims of the government of the day. They are inherent in each and every one of us, quite simply because we are human—inherent in each unique, and uniquely valuable, person. 'Recognition of the inherent dignity,' the Universal Declaration of Human Rights starts, 'and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.' That inherent dignity, those equal and inalienable rights, belong to those who are different to us as well as those who are like us.

While as individuals we may fall short of the ideal of living without prejudice, of judging each and every person we meet purely on, as Martin Luther King said, 'the content of their character', we must always hold our government and its laws to a higher standard. It is not for governments to grant human rights but to recognise and protect them. It is not for any of us to approve of human rights, only to choose whether to respect or ignore them. Today the Australian parliament faces such a choice. Will we continue to deny the rights of hundreds of thousands of Australians because of the gender of their partner? Will we continue to refuse to accept the full citizenship, the full humanity, of our fellow Australians simply because of who they choose to live their lives with? This is not a complex question, nor should it be a difficult one. Removing this last legacy of discrimination against some of our fellow citizens affects no-one but them. Recognising their rights curtails the rights of no-one else.

There are times when governments must consider competing claims to rights. When, for example, a legislature passes a law providing for the imprisonment of individuals found guilty of certain crimes, they are weighing one citizen's right to liberty against others' rights to safety and security. So too must laws concerning defamation, national security, or even more mundane matters such as road safety, take careful consideration of the balance between the rights of different citizens. In all these cases, allowing some rights to be exercised without any constraint will infringe the rights of others. But this is not such a case.

No Australian will be denied any right if this legislation is passed. Those who are married will stay married. Those who are currently able to marry will still be able to marry. Married couples will not lose one iota of their current rights. Marriage celebrants will not be compelled to marry any two individuals any more than they are today. Those with personal objections to the marriage of any two individuals will be no more forced to attend their wedding than they are today. Contrary to some of the more colourful contributions to the public debate, this legislation will not cause a sudden outbreak of mass homosexuality across the country. In fact, this bill will strengthen the rights of those currently able to marry by recognising marriage as a right all adults have—one that government has no justification to deny. A right denied to some is a right secure to none. This bill will simply end the current discrimination against some Australians who are denied the right to formalise their relationship in law on the same basis as everyone else. There is no justification for continuing to maintain that discrimination.

There are those who object to the removal of this discrimination against gay and lesbian Australians because they believe that to do so would be contrary to the tenets of their religion. I respect absolutely the right of any Australian to hold to whatever religion they choose. But we live in a secular society, a society which respects both each citizen's right to practice their religion and each citizen's right not to have a religious belief enforced upon them. Our marriage laws already recognise the diversity of religious faith in this country and they recognise that many Australians subscribe to no religion at all. We recognise the marriages of Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, Unitarians, Buddhists and Hindus—the marriages of those of all religions, of mixed religions and of no religion. The Marriage Act is the civic law of a secular country and it has never been, and should not now be, shaped by the desire of some members of some faiths to dictate the behaviour of those who do not share their views.

There are those who object to the removal of this discrimination against gay and lesbian Australians because, they argue, it goes against nature. But marriage is not a natural occurrence; it is a social one. Like all of our social customs, it reflects different values and different expectations in different places and at different times. What was once, in most of Europe, essentially a legal contract between families to secure the transmission of property between generations is today an expression of mutual love and commitment between individuals. What was once the province of only the wealthy—the great majority of the population once simply 'jumped the broom' to show their commitment before their community—is today considered a right for members of all social strata, regardless of income, background or residence. What was once throughout Australia the legal obliteration of a woman's individual identity—her personhood, her right to own property, work, or act in any way without the consent of her husband—is today the decision of two equal people to share a life together.

A nation's laws reflect its values. I believe that our nation recognises the full and equal citizenship of all Australians, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual preference. I believe that our nation stands against discrimination against any person. And I believe it is time—it is past time—for our marriage law to reflect those values. I will be voting in favour of this bill.

7:43 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President:

The Labor Party's got a clear position about the Marriage Act that is a party position, so you should expect to see the Labor Party voting as a political party, voting in unison if that proposition comes to the parliament.

So spoke the Prime Minister to Radio National on 29 September 2010 in response to the question:

Will you allow a free vote on gay marriage on your side of politics?

So why are we debating this proposition and why is it that Labor has broken yet another promise?

We know why. It is the Green tail yet again wagging the hapless Labor dog. As with the carbon tax, Labor will say one thing and do the exact opposite to placate the Greens. Meanwhile the Greens, anticipating a certain result here, have used their numbers in the Tasmanian parliament to try to effect an outcome there.

It is amazing the way these things are being reported. A federal Labor member has had his branch unanimously condemn his position and his federal electorate council condemn his position. I speak of the Maroubra branch and the Kingsford Smith Federal Electorate Council—Mr Garrett's seat. That strong stance taken by rank-and-file Labor party members gets no coverage in the media. But an actor who says, 'I support gay marriage,' will get the front page of a newspaper to proclaim her particular point of view. It seems that in this debate the media has deliberately cut out certain people.

Some prominence was given to the President of Unions Tasmania, Mr Kevin Harkins, who in effect threatened Labor senators in my home state of Tasmania. He said about Labor senators who might exercise a conscience vote and oppose this bill: 'They should go and find a job in another state.' When he drew breath, Mr Harkins told us that this issue is all about tolerance, not in the slightest seeing, let alone being embarrassed by, the hypocrisy in his own intolerance.

My view on this bill is already on the public record by virtue of the speech I gave to the Young Liberals national convention in January this year. I will not therefore repeat all the arguments. It will suffice to direct those who are interested to my website, where that speech is, and to quickly canvass a few issues. Firstly, marriage is not all about love. It is ultimately about the next generation and its socialisation, with the benefit of having, if at all possible, mother and father role models. The social data and studies in this area are simply overwhelming. Children do best with both a mum and dad. Sure, there are circumstances where they are not given that opportunity for a variety of reasons, but we as a society should not embark deliberately on creating situations where that might be the case.

Let me turn to the issue of discrimination, which is so often referred to. Marriage, by its definition and purpose, is highly specific. It has always been heterosexual-specific. That does not make it unequal or discriminatory. To try to make it into something else will change its very definition. The sex of the spouses is determinative of marriage, just as the sex of the person is determinative of motherhood. We blokes can assert discrimination all we like, but—guess what—blokes are not mothers; they never have been and never will be. We could change the definition of motherhood, but then motherhood would no longer mean and be motherhood anymore. Of course, for the record, the same applies to fatherhood. The concepts would then be diminished to something nondescript, such as parenthood, and the important roles of motherhood and fatherhood and their distinct yet complementary roles would be diminished in a sea of meaningless political correctness, to the great detriment of the next generation.

There are many restrictions on marriage: you cannot marry under a certain age, you cannot marry a close relative, you cannot marry a married person, you cannot marry more than one person at a time and, yes, you cannot marry a person of the same sex. If the same-sex disqualification is to be addressed as discriminatory, it begs the question: can it be asserted that the other disqualifications are also inherently discriminatory and indicative of ageism, family phobia or polyamorous phobia? Interestingly, the polyamorous cohort in our community are already celebrating the push for homosexual marriage as they see the breaking of the idea of marriage as an exclusively heterosexual, monogamous institution as their opening to recognition. Don't say it is not happening, because it has already been in the Australian newspaper. When the Greens put on their website that marriage for all does not actually mean marriage for all, many disgruntled Green members indicated their opposition to that situation. I remind senators that in the country that first initiated homosexual marriage—namely, Holland—we now have, courtesy of the Australian of 10 December 2011, a picture of Victor de Bruijn with his brides Mirjam and Bianca at the Netherlands' first trio wedding. So don't say that that is not the next step. I would also invite colleagues to have a close look at the experience in the state of Massachusetts in the United States. It is interesting that in the United States, we are told, there are six states that have legalised homosexual marriage. We are never told that there are in fact 31 states that have specifically outlawed it courtesy of referendums and votes by the people.

Thirdly, let me turn to the assertion of human rights and answer directly that which Senator Faulkner put in his contribution. The Left, which always seems to have recourse to some fantastic interpretation of an obscure international treaty, is strangely silent in quoting treaties in this debate. Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights deems it necessary to refer to marriage. Why? Because, to quote article 16(3): 'The family is the natural and fundamental group of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state.' A close examination of the declaration reveals that every single article, apart from article 16, starts with the words 'everyone', 'no-one' or 'all'. Article 16 specifically begins with: 'Men and women'. It distinguishes between the genders—it is the only clause to do so—saying that they have the right to marry and found a family. The meaning and content could not be clearer: marriage is a heterosexual construct and relates to the founding of families. Talking about marrying and founding a family in the same breath, in the same sentence, puts up in lights the universal importance of marriage and the family.

That marriage is between a man and a woman is specifically mentioned in the declaration should not surprise, because marriage has been a fundamental stabilising institution in civilised societies for over 6,000 years. This long-lasting tradition has stood the test of time and for good reason. It has some very cogent rational arguments in its favour. A long-lasting relationship in which children are nurtured, exposing them to the benefits of the unique differences of a father and a mother, provides the best environment in which to raise children. Be it their academic achievements, social skills, individual and social stability, emotional stability, sporting prowess, you name it; the kids from married heterosexual couples win out. Study after study has confirmed this to be the case—yet again, hardly surprising. So to deliberately and unnecessarily deprive a child of the diversity of a mother and a father experience is not in the child's interests.

Recently, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled emphatically that same-sex marriage is not a human right. Many homosexuals fully agree with this ruling, and to suggest that all homosexuals support this push to change the definition of marriage is simply incorrect. For the sake of our children, I trust common sense will prevail. To change the definition of marriage will have wide and far-reaching ramifications. The experience in the state of Massachusetts is an important cameo, as is the one in Holland to which I have referred previously.

I note many people want to speak on this bill and therefore I have cut my comments this evening to a brief contribution. Suffice to say that for all the reasons outlined in my speech to the Young Liberal movement earlier this year and in my speech this evening, I oppose the bill and encourage all colleagues to reject it, as it would be a highly socially destructive venture if we were to embark upon it.

7:54 pm

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to make a contribution to the debate on the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012. It has been difficult to keep track of the number of different bills that are afoot on this issue at any given time. As Senator Hanson-Young has just joined us in the chamber, I want to acknowledge my colleague for her enduring work on this issue and also acknowledge that passage of this legislation, or legislation like it, will happen. It is not a matter of if; it is just a question of when. I suspect, on the basis of the comments we have just heard from Senator Abetz and those like him, that that day is not today, but it will come. We have no doubt whatsoever about that.

The Greens support this bill and this is not an issue which will go away. The majority of Australians support it. I do not think this is as simple as a generational thing. I know of any number of people of older generations who support this concept who cannot work out why we have not got around to removing this discrimination from the statute books. I think support among young people is pretty strong and people are scratching their heads asking: 'Why is this even a debate? Why is there still even a contest to removing this pointless discrimination from Australia's laws?' This is one of the last places where it still exists, as states and territories have gradually acceded to the bleeding obvious and removed this discrimination which serves no purpose other than to denigrate people based on their sexuality. This Commonwealth parliament will get there. It makes me profoundly sad that tonight is not the night.

If representatives of all political parties in this place were able to vote according to their conscience and in line with the views of the vast majority of their constituents, this matter would have been resolved a long time ago, as it has been in many countries around the world. I am not even sure why removing discrimination should be a conscience issue. It should be straightforward and it should be something we had dealt with well before now.

The Greens are passionately committed to seeing Australia eliminate this form of discrimination. The Greens have led the way on this debate. The work of Senator Hanson-Young and our state and territory colleagues in parliaments and assemblies around the country has led the way on this debate, but of course we are not alone. This is not a Green issue, this is not a left-right thing; this is about people. I am proud the Greens have led the way. A Westpoll in 2010 in WA showed that 90 per cent of Greens voters support gay marriage—not a lot of room for ambiguity there. This pointless legal discrimination deeply insults and disadvantages same-sex couples by declaring their love as second-class. By removing this legal discrimination, we can have a real impact on the cultural discrimination of homophobia.

Homophobia is hate. I do not believe for a moment that most of the senators who will come into this chamber tonight and tomorrow and put their views against this bill and this concept hate gays and lesbians, but homophobia is about that. It is an ongoing affliction in Australian society and in other societies around the world. The struggle of lesbian women, gay men and people identifying as transgender, bisexual or queer is one of courage up against some of the most vicious hate and brutal violence. The struggle for marriage equality is a part of that struggle. It is not the whole struggle, obviously, because we are a way down that road and Australia has changed in recent decades. It is a marker on the road. It will not be the end of the campaign, but it has become significant of broader currents in Australian society, about why we leave these forms of discrimination on the statute book.

Senator Abetz has just given his views. I feel closer to those expressed a few moments before by Senator Faulkner, who gave an extremely powerful and compelling speech. I wish more of his colleagues shared those views. I want to remind senators of how we got to where we are, where marriage has become the issue of the day and where things like pride marches around the country are normalised and legitimised. This did not happen by itself—it took a lot of courage. It took defiance, it took organising and it took endurance to get to the point where we are at today. It took a movement and a different kind of courage for people who lived outside major cities and for whom there was not safety in numbers. People should absolutely have the right to get married if they want to, but let us recall that it is not that long ago that to be out, to be loud and proud, declaring your right to exist, could get you killed. In 1991—not that long ago—a Sydney man was beaten to death because of his sexuality. He was beaten up by a group of young men who thought that beating up a fag would be heaps of fun, so they encouraged him to go to a park and then they killed him.

In 2003 a study conducted by the New South Wales Attorney-General and a number of others titled You shouldn't have to hide to be safe found that gay men and lesbians were between four and six times more likely to be assaulted in a 12-month period than other Sydney men and women. What an extraordinary disgrace—in 2003. I wonder how much better those statistics are these days. The community looks to us for leadership. That is part of what we are paid for, and tonight you would have to say the record is pretty patchy on whether they are getting the leadership that people deserve. The study by the New South Wales AG found that gay people were subjected to verbal abuse and harassment, such as spitting, offensive gestures and being followed. They were threatened, they were the victims of attempted physical attack and assault and they reported experiencing property damage with petty things like vandalism and theft, written threats and psychological abuse—hate mail, bullying and that kind of thing. They were also subjected to sexual assault.

Although it has changed through a process of continual education, campaigning, advocacy, hard work and courage, we know that HIV and AIDS related discrimination are focused primarily towards crimes against gay men who are scapegoated in expressions of fear towards the virus. That has changed in Australian culture. That took leadership and courage. And we are not there yet, but we can see how these things can change through a process of community effort, education and advocacy.

What happens to people experiencing homophobia? We know what happens: stress, depression, withdrawal, anxiety, loss of confidence—the same things that can happen to any individual who is being bullied and picked apart for something that they do not necessarily have any control over. It does not feel like a disease; it is something that is about them and is intrinsic to them. The higher rate of suicide in gay youth is part of the evidence. Despair is the result of discrimination when you are not accepted for being who you are and loving what you love. Because of the violence, hatred, abuse and discrimination that are experienced, marriage equality would be an achievement in the struggle against this. I can already hear the words that will come back at us from senators opposing what we are proposing to do to the institution of marriage, such as it is. These senators would say, of course they are not against hate crimes, hate speech and discrimination, the sort of bullying and psychological abuse that I have described. But it is all part of the puzzle and this is the sticking point now. This is where the country has decided the national debate will stick until we have resolved this issue. So it invokes all of those other aspects of this very, very long campaign for equality. Tonight is not just about marriage equality. It is about equality more broadly, based on the fact that all of us in all of our diversity and difference are human beings and fundamentally the same.

We know that this is a declaration by the Commonwealth to gay and lesbian Australians: you are not abnormal, you are not wrong, you are not unequal; we are simply removing those clauses that were placed there consciously. I can remember when that happened. The Howard government, in an act that I think the country has learned to regret, deliberately inserted those words into the Marriage Act to take those rights away from people. The words were designed not to remove ambiguity but to install discrimination. Equal legal status is a big step towards preventing homophobic violence and it undermines the notion that inferior status should be accorded to gay people. It would of course remove the Commonwealth's tacit support for the idea that there is something wrong with homosexuality. Equal status would also pull the rug from under the bigotry that seeks to justify homophobic hate crimes and the sorts of behaviours that I have just described and that do still exist in our society and are still experienced by Australians.

It is a breach of article 18(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to have barriers to the right to marry. I guess that is something Senator Abetz had not come across in his sketchy and hasty reading of international covenants to see if he could find some evidence to support his case that this is a planet wide phenomenon that Australia would be bucking. Sorry, Senator Abetz, but you did not do your reading. It is a violation of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. As the Western Australian Women's Law Centre stated in their submission to the inquiry into Senator Hanson-Young's bill:

Same-sex couples who engage in the act and commitment of marriage are not putting the public at any risk of health, safety or order, are not breaching the rights of freedoms of other people, and as such should not be subject to such limitations.

My dear colleague the Hon. Lynn MacLaren, MLC in the Western Australian Legislative Council, announced a bill to be brought into the Western Australian parliament. She has called on the West Australian Minister for Education; Energy; Indigenous Affairs to introduce a specific policy against homophobic bullying in schools, drawing on recent research that shows that such policies are working in other states.

Such bullying is actually alarmingly common in schools. Studies still show that suicide rates amongst gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities are 2½ to 14 times higher than in the general community and that young people are particularly vulnerable. We in this place have a duty of care to protect students from such bullying. Lynn's efforts on bullying are due to the fact that children learn homophobia at a very young age. Prejudice and targets to express prejudice begin at school. Gay people are dehumanised for having violated gender norms. It can be subtle or it can be really explicit. One of the ways in which we can make it explicit is to write into the law that people are different. That is something that this chamber could change and fix.

If the federal government refuses to get out of the way of reform at a Commonwealth level, we are the ones who are charged with oversight of the Marriage Act, a Commonwealth act. But if this chamber fails to get out of the way of a reform that the majority of Australians clearly support then the Greens in Western Australia want to provide the opportunity at the state level to make this possible. We have seen the moves in the territory assembly in recent weeks to do effectively what is obvious. Because Canberra has failed—that is loose language, I suppose—or because this Commonwealth parliament has failed, the assembly have taken that step and in the legislative council in Western Australia, Ms MacLaren will take that step.

For many years I have been proud to join the gay pride march in Perth. I have been there as a straight man supporting the right of gay people to live, love and express their diversity and political goals exactly as they wish. It is not something that should be up to me. It is well overdue for the Australian government to proudly join like-minded secular democracies around the world that have removed discrimination against same-sex couples, allowing them to celebrate the legal, emotional and social commitment afforded to heterosexual couples who choose to marry.

I acknowledge my colleague in the Western Australian parliament, Giz Watson, MLC, who was the first openly lesbian parliamentarian in Australia. She has said that gay marriage in Australia is a matter of time. It is not something that we would force people to do—if you are opposed to gay marriage, don't have one—but it is a right that we believe should be afforded to those who would choose it. Giz led the way in Western Australia, and I acknowledge Western Australian ALP colleagues in the state parliament there, particularly the state Attorney-General of the day, Jim McGinty, for removing all discrimination from the Western Australian statute books. This was a campaign led by the Greens WA and the Labor Party in Western Australia, and if Senator Louise Pratt were here tonight I would tip my hat to her as well.

That is how this work is done; in a long campaign. They went through the Western Australian statutes with a fine-toothed comb and pulled out dozens of discriminatory phrases. That campaign took years to come to fruition, and it was fought at the time by much the same people who are fighting and kicking and screaming over this, in my view, entirely innocuous change to the Marriage Act. The sky did not fall in; nothing has changed. The institution has not been undermined, or if it has it has been undermined by completely different things—

Senator Hanson-Young interjecting

In fact, as my colleague Senator Hanson-Young reminds me, the institution has been strengthened because it is something now that can apply to us all should we choose it.

When the time comes I think Australia will celebrate this step forward. The celebration and credit for this turning point will be due to the long and courageous struggle on the part of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans- and intersex people for their basic human rights to be recognised, protected and celebrated. I strongly commend this bill to the Senate. If we do not pass it tonight we will pass it one night, and may that night come soon.

8:10 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to make a contribution to the debate on the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) Bill 2012. Australia's first civil union scheme was introduced in Tasmania and commenced operation in January 2004. The Relationships Act 2003 provided for the registration of deed of relationship with the Tasmanian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Registration of a deed of relationship allows immediate access to relationship entitlements as well as a means of proving the existence of a relationship if challenged. I remember members of the gay community saying that this satisfied their needs for their relationships to be acknowledged and recognised. Eight years later, what has changed? What was good enough is no longer good enough, so I ask: what has changed?

Homosexuality has always existed in human society but I do not believe it has ever previously been linked to marriage. I have personally supported all our government's moves to take away discrimination—some 85 pieces of legislation were passed in the Senate. However, this campaign being run in the community has been run without mutual respect. It is so disappointing that those advocating for this bill demonstrate no respect for those with a differing view. The bitterness within their community, the personal assassinations and the disgraceful attacks on those individuals who believe in the Marriage Act as it stands is a reflection of those who are calling for understanding and tolerance, and they should first lead by example. This bill does not just extend what currently exists to same-sex couples but completely changes the institution of marriage.

I noticed recently that the title Campaign Director of Australian Marriage Equality used to apply to the equal status of a man and a woman in a marriage. How things have changed! During the debate there have been a number of people who have referred to the number of individuals and couples in our community who will benefit from this change in legislation, but I refer to the Australian census of 2011, in which out of all the couples in the country only 0.7 per cent identified themselves as being in a homosexual relationship.

In a submission to the Senate inquiry into the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012 family law expert Professor Patrick Parkinson said:

In Australia, functional equality has already been achieved. I am not aware of any legal rights and obligations that arise from marriage that do not also apply to registered same-sex unions, other than the right to call the relationship a marriage. Certainly that is so in federal law. For example, there is complete equality in terms of rights in relation to the division of property and the payment of maintenance on relationship breakdown.

Terri Kelleher from the Australian Family Association cites recent research and argues:

Although the family takes many forms in contemporary Australian society, it is uncontroversial to insist that the ideal family environment is that in which children are raised by their own mother and father. According to a 2004 study, 73.6% of children under 18 in Australia live with their biological parents in intact families. It is a statistic we expect most Australians would applaud: the more children growing up in such circumstances, the better. The institution of marriage is instrumental in realising this ideal, by binding a man, a woman, and their biological children in a stable family unit.

The Ambrose Centre for Religious Liberty, in its recent public submissions on the bill, cited Frank Furedi in the Australian on 25 and 26 June 2011:

From a sociological perspective, the ascendancy of the campaign for gay marriage provides a fascinating story about the dynamics of the cultural conflicts that prevail in Western society. During the past decade the issue of gay marriage has been transformed into a cultural weapon that explicitly challenges prevailing norms through condemning those who oppose it … As a result, it does not simply represent a claim for a right but a demand for the institutionalisation of new moral and cultural values.

Men and women are free to enter into whatever relationships they desire as long as in doing so they do not endanger others under the law or in any other way demean other relationships. However, I would argue that marriage as it is currently defined under the law reflects the wider societal views of that relationship as being between a man and a woman. The suggestion that same-sex marriage is a fundamental human right is not a genuine claim. The European Court of Human Rights has in the past three years twice stated that there is no human right for same-sex marriage. I concur with the view by Australian human rights lawyer Father Frank Brennan AO, former chairman of the National Human Rights Consultation Committee and an expert on discrimination, who has written:

Instead of stating 'All persons have the right to marry', the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides: 'The right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to found a family shall be recognised.' The Covenant asserts: 'The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.'

Some people have quoted the case of Gladys Namagu and Mick Daly and how that demonstrates the arbitrary nature of marriage arrangements at that time in relation to Indigenous Australians. Gladys, an Indigenous woman, and Mick, a white man, were denied the opportunity to marry as Indigenous Australians did not necessarily have the right to marry a person of their own choosing. This kind of discriminatory treatment in marriage was to change after a long struggle, including the 1967 referendum campaign and the changes to the system of fault based divorce in this country. After 1975, we saw a more humane approach to the already difficult decision to end a marriage. I believe that these cases demonstrate true discrimination and improvements in human standards, but I am far from convinced that the changes proposed in this bill relate to discrimination. They relate to the definition of marriage, not discrimination.

Before I move on to talk about the views of constituents, I would like to cite what has happened in Massachusetts. On 18 November 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court declared that it was unconstitutional not to allow same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage commenced within six months and within three years it was taught in all levels of school—elementary, middle and high school—that same-sex marriage was a normal part of society. By 2006, as same-sex marriage was legal, a federal judge had ruled that schools had a duty to portray homosexual relationships as normal, despite what parents thought or believed. Businesses had to recognise same-sex married couples in all the benefits, activities et cetera regarding employees and customers. The wedding industry is required to serve the homosexual community if requested. Wedding photographers, halls, caterers et cetera must do same-sex marriages or be arrested for discrimination. Is this what is going to happen here in Australia? Interestingly, Denmark, the first country in the world to recognise civil partnerships for same-sex couples, this month legislated to force the church to provide same-sex weddings. Scotland is currently considering introducing same-sex marriage laws and is not even considering exemptions.

The Senate committee inquiry made a recommendation to include an avoidance of doubt clause as a concession to the religiously minded community and the churches. The removal of doubt with respect to the operation of section 47 of the Marriage Act is to reinforce a view that ministers of religion will not be compelled to solemnise same-sex marriages. However, as we all know, churches and ministers remain at the mercy of the government of the day. Church-run schools could be subjected to anti-discrimination laws in regard to what they can teach on the subject of marriage. The reassurance which the recommendation is seeking to offer is hollow and merely technical in nature rather than a matter of substance. What is the next step or are we to be promised that this will not happen again?

I now want to talk about the issues that have been raised in the thousands of letters, emails and constituents' calls to my office. The following is a representation of the views of many Tasmanians as well as people from the mainland of Australia. Two-thirds of the correspondence received were opposed to same-sex marriage. Many of the communications were long and detailed. Clearly this is a major issue for people and of deep personal concern to them. They put a lot of effort into their communications. When I move around my constituency in my home state of Tasmania, apart from the activists who are pushing this same-sex marriage agenda, I find people in the community are more interested in education, health, their homes, paying their mortgages and having a job. They are the priorities. Those in Tasmania who purport that the majority of Tasmanians support this change will see what happens with the Tasmanian bill, which has been passed by the House of Assembly, when it is put to the Legislative Council next week. We will see whether the bill passes that state and whether it will lead to a High Court challenge.

If I could just quote some of the correspondence that I have received. Firstly, from BB: 'Please do not change the definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Remember Australia has signed the UN charter on the protection of children and womanhood in the marriage state.' From JS: 'Marriage is a very ancient and most important institution in our society. It certainly predates the modern state. It was accepted by the people as the one way of providing for successive generations. There have always been anomalies in the institution, as in all institutions that cater to mankind. However, the acknowledgement that it was a necessary part of society was universal. What is the big discovery that has been recently made that calls for the change in marriage? There is no such discovery. There is only a misguided plea by the homosexual groups, who want to have a society that accepts their lifestyle. History shows that the homosexual groups always have another issue that must be addressed. After same-sex marriage, what will be next?'

From AR: 'I would like to express my non-support for gay marriage legislation. My reasoning isn't that I want to restrict benefits and rights for gay people. It is simply that a gay relationship isn't marriage. You would have to change the meaning of the word, and I do not support changing the meaning of marriage, because there is no need to do so. I do not believe there is any inequality involved in leaving marriage as it is. Homosexual relationships already get recognition and benefits.'

From SP: 'I wish to state categorically that the stability of our nation's future depends on families as our foundation and ask that this only be changed by referendum so as not to fall prey to the militant lobby groups with an agenda to destroy marriage.'

From D and AO: 'Most of the world has chosen not to change the definition of marriage. Those who seek to change the definition ignore the impacts on children and the potential to create another stolen generation by putting an adult desire above the needs of children. Regrettably, discrimination still occurs in society. People, children, are often discriminated against because of their weight, clothing, tattoos, body piercing, religion and the schools they go to or went to et cetera. The solution to this is for people and the media to be taught that all people are to be respected. As you will be well aware, any discrimination against same-sex couples was removed when the government changed laws in 2008.'

It is very easy to run an emotional argument. I do not believe there is anyone that will contribute to this debate that would be opposed to recognising the love and commitment that same-sex couples have for and to each other. We all have family and friends who are gay and lesbian. That does not change my position, and it certainly has not changed the position of that overwhelming majority of Tasmanians who have contacted me and asked me not to support this bill. I will read, finally, this brief quote from one voter, which is very clear, 'This voter does not want the Marriage Act changed.' While these are just a few extracts, and whether you agree or disagree, these are the sentiments of the majority of constituents who have contacted my office—and my job is to voice their opinions.

8:25 pm

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (Queensland, National Party, Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

This issue around the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012 is extremely pertinent to the structure of everything that our nation is and has been built on. If you go to the core of the issue, a child has the right to know who their biological parents are. They have the right to know who both their mother and their father are: who the people were who were the component parts of the initial stages of their life.

Marriage is an institution, a custom, that surrounds itself with trying to reinforce the reality of nature. It is a process that has been created in so many cultures and in so many religions over so much time. Some say it is merely a construct of legislation, but it is not. It is actually a construct of the reality of who each one of us is. Family is the most effective policy that any government can stand behind. The family is the greatest aged-care policy. The family is the greatest law and order policy. The family is the greatest housing policy. The family is the greatest education policy. The family is the greatest health policy. The ramifications of going into that institution of marriage, which is at the centre of what the family is, are way beyond merely a statement of what a person wants and desires.

It is also really important to understand that it is just another reality of the world that you cannot have everything just because you want it. Everybody has to make sacrifices. We all want so much, but marriage itself is a statement. It is not the gaining of rights but the acquiescing of rights. It is basically about stepping away from rights. If you want to keep all your rights then the best way to do it is to not get married, because then you have all the rights. It might not be the ideal set-up. You can have children if you want. You can do whatever you want; there are no real bounds. But the statement of marriage is a statement that you are prepared to acquiesce your rights and to go into a situation where all those rights that you had formerly are not there.

In trying to get to the centre of this issue, it is also important to try not to offend or belittle other people. We live in a time now where there is no novelty in knowing people who are gay. They are around everywhere; they are in everybody's family. That is the reality of the world. But it takes courage to say, 'Just because there is a familiarity and there are so many people I know who are gay, that does not mean I have to agree with everything that everybody wants.' That is another reality. In trying to draw a picture, without trying to belittle it, I might be a Buddhist who wants to call myself a Christian. Well, I cannot. If you are a Buddhist, you are a Buddhist; if you are a Christian, you are a Christian. You cannot say, 'I demand my right as a Buddhist to call myself a Christian.' It is just ridiculous. It is not what you are. It is a terminology that does accept that you can be both.

If you want to be married, because of the requirements of nature, it involves a male and a female connection for the hope and possibility of having children. You cannot do it with a male and a male. You cannot do it with a female and a female. It is just not possible. The institution of marriage stands ultimately behind the reality of nature. It does not matter what piece of legislation we pass; you cannot change nature. You cannot change that reality. But what we can do is go down a path of a new form of social engineering—about which we really have no idea of the consequences. If you believe in conservation, then conservation of the structure of society that has sustained us for so long would be a pretty good place to start.

If we redefine the institution of marriage by legislation we must remember that we are not only redefining it for those of us who are here now but also redefining it for those who were here before us. We are redefining it for our parents, for our grandparents and for all those who have gone before us. We are redefining the relationships that they went into and the sacrifices that they made with some legislative recalibration of the process from this point forward. I think most people whose parents are married would say, 'I know what that was and I know what it wasn't.' We do not want to diminish the relevance of our history and the legacy of who we are.

I understand the concerns that are held by other people who say, 'I feel that if I do not have the capacity to call myself married I will feel diminished.' There is not much that we can do about that. The reality in life is that there are always things that you cannot have. There are things that I cannot have. I think it is really important that in this debate we try to respect everybody's views.

Stacy Aronson and Aletha Huston, in their article, 'The Mother-Infant Relationship in Single, Cohabiting, and Married Families: A Case for Marriage?' in the Journal of Family Psychology, found that children in married homes demonstrated more positive behaviour and scored better on a range of demographic variables. In this study, attitudes about child-rearing, income and social support failed to explain variations in living arrangements, suggesting that the make-up of the family before conception and birth was vitally important.

A growing number of studies have found that children who experience changes in their living arrangements suffer worst development outcomes on average. A study in 2006 by Shannon Cavanagh and Aletha Huston found:

Children who experienced instability had higher teacher and observer reports of problem behaviors than those from stable family structures.

That is not to say that every marriage works out—we know that about 40 per cent of marriages do not—but it is the aspiration of what people go into. Nobody goes into the act of marriage hoping to get divorced; they go into the act of marriage hoping to stay married. To be honest, I have never seen any person who is happy with the fact that they have had an unsuccessful marriage. I have always seen people who wished that their marriage had worked out, who wished it had been better, who wished that they could have had their time again.

So there is a huge weight on the institution of marriage and what goes into it. To say, 'I'm going to compare a dysfunctional marriage with a successful relationship between same-sex people,' is not a fair comparison. Anyone can go to any anecdotal analysis and find same-sex people who are cohabitating happily and you can find lots and lots of families who are very, very happy. And you can certainly go to lots and lots of gay relationships which become bitterly unhappy and you can go to lots of marriages that become bitterly unhappy. But the undisputed reality is that children who have been brought up in a stable relationship with a mum and dad have the best chance—not a perfect chance, but the best chance—to get their best development environment surrounding them.

Other studies show the importance of children, particularly male children, having a positive relationship with their father. In 2006 an article in the Journal of Family Studies used a nationally representative sample of adolescents in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. This article found:

Consistent with our initial hypothesis, a more positive father-child relationship is associated with a reduced risk of delinquency and substance abuse above and beyond the effects of the mother-child relationship. These results remain consistent even after using controls for various aspects of mother-child relationships, maternal monitoring and other maternal characteristics, family and household-level characteristics and child-level characteristics.

We interpret this as meaning that fathers matter. Likewise, a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in 2006 found that living in a broken home at age eight increases the chances of children committing criminal offences in late adolescence. These findings are confirmed by a study in the Journal of Pediatrics, which found that children and families without a father are more likely to be in fair or poor health.

Once more, this is not a statement that every child who is in a broken home ends up in poor health or ends up with a criminal record. It is not saying that at all. It is just talking about the realities of the probabilities. Stability in structure that confirms and reaffirms both a mother and father figure is the best environment for a child to grow up in—and, the closer that mother and father figure is to the genetic make-up of the child, the better it is.

Behind all this stands the nature that underpins the reality of what a marriage is. Cultures in so many different areas have reaffirmed this. Cultures with no interconnectivity between each other, which have come up with their ideas independently of each other, have all come to the same conclusion, that a marriage is between a man and a woman, and they have always signified the importance of it with ceremony, with commitment and with a whole range of laws that surround it. Some are backed by law, some are backed by religion and some are backed by custom, but they are all there. And we cannot now just say that we are going to deny the reality of thousands of years of human custom because we choose to, because we are desirous of it, because we want to, because it is our wont—and, because it is our wont, we demand that we ignore all that goes before us because we are desirous of this outcome. You cannot do that. You have to basically take the unselfish position that you cannot have everything you want in the world just because you want it. The statement of marriage itself is not a statement of getting what you want; it is a statement of giving up what you want, and it is a statement of commitment to the purpose.

What is this almost overwhelming political movement to go into every form of tradition and corner and change it, just because there is some group, or some section of a group that is desirous of that? Don't we have to also take into account the possible greater offence to the larger number of people who also stand behind the statement that they are married? Don't their views have some weight in this debate? What about every person who says, 'What about my parents? They were married.' Doesn't that memory, and that legacy, have some weight in this debate? What about the people who say, 'My grandparents were married'? Doesn't that have some weight or legacy in this debate? Why are we always in such a rush to diminish everything else rather than to simply say, 'In this instance I am prepared to make the sacrifice. I can't have everything I want. I am prepared to make the sacrifices.' It is one of those sacrifices that you make in life and that is it. There does seem to be a desire of selfishness that says, 'For me to attain every desire I want, I am prepared to sacrifice the legacy, the aspiration and the structure of what so many more people, and other people, want to keep.'

All of the studies that I have referred to have clearly confirmed that there are great risks if we re-engineer marriage away from being about the family. There are grave risks to the children's developmental outcomes, and surely such outcomes are just as important as anything else. I hope that this debate shows that in Australia, when we need certain things to be evident, to draw us together, when we see the disturbances that have happened on television and we want some communal values, something that basically draws different faiths together, that draws different groups together, that draws different societies together, if there is one linking principle when there are so many other things that divide people, then marriage is it. Marriage is one of those commonalities that reach out across so many ethnic and religious divides. We say that we are a multicultural nation and it is absolutely imperative that there be some linking ethos, something that links all these disparate groups together. If we are going to say, 'No, we won't even acknowledge that,' we will go into that space as well and destroy it, and remove it. What is a linking principle? Has it just become the vibe, the hope—the hope that there is some connection? Or will we make up some grandiose, flowery statement of what links people together, but the statement will have to say that it means absolutely nothing because it might offend some group or somebody? But there is one area which has the potential to draw so many people together because there is a common view across religions, across faiths and across ethnic groups, and that is marriage.

This is a piece of legislation that says, 'Because we have found our way into this building, we can now redetermine the path of history because we are desirous of it. We can now put aside the cultural clique that has been formulated in so many different areas but has done so in a parallel manner. Whether you are in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, or in Renaissance Rome, or on the plains of America, or in Ireland, or in Africa, all these groups have all come to one conclusion. They have all basically found that one of the key structures of society is the family; and the ceremony that underpins the family, that is the inception of the family, is marriage, under a whole range of different names, and despite all of that we are going to say, 'No, because we are now so modern, so clever, that we can put all of that aside, even though we really do not know what the ramifications are.' That is another thing: we do not really know. You want to tear down the structure that underpins society, but you really have no clue what the ramifications are. It is unwarranted.

In closing, this is not a statement about trying to offend anybody. As I said before, every person in every walk of life has to make sacrifices and has to make choices. You make the choice. If you want to get married, then you have to find someone of the opposite sex for that ceremony called 'marriage'. If you want to be in a relationship with someone of the same sex, that is fine, but it is just not marriage. It is something that you may determine and it may have worth, it may have depth, but it is not marriage. I think that if everybody thinks about it logically, it is yet another sacrifice you make which you can put aside and say, 'If you're not prepared to make that sacrifice, then that in itself is a statement that the sacrifice that you would have to make of marriage is probably something that you are not prepared to accept.'

8:44 pm

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

It is my pleasure to be able to speak on the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012 today. But before I start I would like to acknowledge some people in the gallery who are here for this debate. I would like to acknowledge Shelley Argent, the head of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. I would like to acknowledge Alex Greenwich, a very, very vocal, passionate and inspiring supporter of marriage equality, who heads the Marriage Equality movement. I would also like to acknowledge Sharon Dane, who is here with Psychologists for Marriage Equality. They are all here to listen to this debate in the parliament.

We have been very lucky to hear some very passionate debate on an issue that gives individuals one of the most important rights that exists—the right for each person to choose whom they love and to ensure that they have that love recognised by each and every one of us. It was a pleasure to hear, for example, the passionate contributions from people like Senator Pratt. You can have this discussion in the abstract, you can have this discussion about people's rights and what it means for the rights of people in the community more generally, but it is only when you hear from individuals who experience the discrimination, who experience the prejudice and who experience the hate that goes along with some of the views that we have heard in this debate that you understand just what this legislation means for ordinary people.

I do not, as a straight man, have the ability to talk about this issue from that personal perspective, but one perspective that I do bring to this issue is that of a health professional. I can talk a little bit about what this legislation means for the health of those people who are affected by the discrimination that currently exists. Before I get onto the issue of the health impacts of this legislation and what it would mean for the health of young people in this country, I want to talk a little bit about the politics of this issue. I am confident that I am on the right side of history; I am absolutely sure of that. I know that reform is inevitable. I know that we are talking about an issue that is about love, that gives rights to people without taking rights away from anyone, that does not cost anything and that makes people happier. So I am confident that we will win this fight. It may not be tonight, it may not be in the coming weeks, but we will win it. Before we get there we have to name what is at the heart of the resistance to this reform—and that is prejudice.

It is prejudice which says that the love between two people of the same sex is somehow less worthy and somehow not the same, not as valuable, not as important and not as significant as the love between a heterosexual couple. I keep hearing from people who oppose this change trying to elaborate on their arguments and trying to find a way of expressing their point of view without exposing their prejudice, but they tie themselves up in knots—they cannot succeed—because prejudice is what lies at the heart of this debate. Occasionally, we also get to hear contributions that do not even try to disguise the prejudice. Senator Boswell, for example, told us last night that same-sex-attracted people were not normal, that they did not have any right to bring up children. I can only imagine what it must be like to be someone like Senator Wong, for example, who has to sit back and listen to that prejudice. They are views that belong in the 1950s, when a woman's place was in the kitchen, when Aboriginal people could not vote, when blacks could not marry whites. That is where those views belong. And I keep hearing about this notion of family as though the only family that matters in this country is one where there is a heterosexual couple with two kids, with mum back at home cooking the meal for dad, making sure that the washing is done when dad gets back from work. That is the only family that seems to matter to members on my right.

I have a very different view of families. I come from a family where grandma might be at home, where cousins might be wandering through the house and where uncles and aunties might be looking after the kids. I have friends who have tried to have kids but have been unable to have them. They are just as important. That family counts just as much. I have single friends. I have gay friends. A modern plural Australia means having families who are more than what we hear from one side of this debate, which is the traditional nuclear family. This is a view from the 1950s. I heard the largely incoherent and rambling contribution from Senator Joyce, where, again, all the junk science kept being trotted out. We hear about the issue of kids being brought up with homosexual couples and the outcomes that they experience. This is all discredited. The science has been very, very clear that children who are raised from same-sex couples have the same psychological, social and academic outcomes as children who are raised by opposite-sex couples. We know that now. The science is absolutely clear. But, again, all the junk science is trotted out by those people with a vested interest.

It is very, very clear that when same-sex parents marry it improves both the health and the wellbeing of their kids and it gives their families really important legal protections. Yet, we hear from Senator Joyce that if you do not pass on your genetic material to your offspring it somehow diminishes the relationship you have with your children. How offensive is that, not just to same-sex couples but also to parents who adopt! He has just offended not only people who are arguing for this reform but any family who has been unlucky enough not to be able to have kids and who has adopted their children. The view is that their genetic material has not been able to be passed on and so somehow that relationship is diminished.

I am not going to get too hung up on Senator Joyce and Senator Boswell because they are hardly the heavy hitters of the opposition, but I do find the position taken by the opposition remarkable. We have the party of liberalism, the party that talks about respect for the individual, the party of small government, the party of individual responsibility, and here they are with the heavy hand of the state saying: 'We're not going to let you do this. We're going to vote against what it really means to be a true liberal.' Worse still, they do not have the guts or the courage to allow members of their party a conscience vote on this issue. They will deny them a conscience vote on this issue. You are running away from a debate that you know you will lose. You are absolutely gutless.

I have to reserve some of my criticism for the government. In this country we have, for example, Joe de Bruyn, a unionist and an influential member of the Labor Party, who spoke recently at the Australian Christian Lobby conference, a few weeks before the Labor conference. He said:

The key thing to understand is that this issue is not …going to be won or lost in the Labor Party on the question of merit, because on an issue of merit we will go down 80-20. It's … going to be won in the Labor Party if it is perceived to be electoral suicide if they go ahead and change their policy …

He is right: there is overwhelming popular support for marriage equality right. We saw Sarah Hanson-Young's bill, which reported back with a clear recommendation that federal marriage laws should be changed to give all people the right to marry. They were recommendations that were endorsed by senators across all political parties.

There are 12 countries in the world that have marriage equality—the first being the Netherlands. There are eight states in the US. Barack Obama has shown some leadership, his views have evolved and he has now voiced support for same-sex marriage. There is a conservative Prime Minister in New Zealand with a marriage equality bill coming before the parliament. David Cameron is another conservative leader and he is indicating that he will support reform in this area. And we have a situation where the rank and file of the Labor Party believe that this should happen and we have a Prime Minister who has gone missing. There is no leadership. She had an opportunity to take this debate on, to confront prejudice in a way that the opposition has clearly failed to do, and she squibbed it. She disappeared. It is disappointing that a Prime Minister who has done good things across some progressive issues has decided to walk away from this debate and this fight.

I have a few comments about the impacts on health that this legislation will tackle. As a health practitioner, as a doctor, I am acutely aware of how issues of discrimination and stigma can affect people's health and wellbeing. When we say that people of the same sex cannot get married, what we are saying to them is that their relationship is second-rate, that the decisions that they have made are less worthy and that discrimination against gays and lesbians is okay. It sends a very clear message to young people who are struggling with their sexuality and are confronting issues of identity—who they are—that their hopes for a long and fulfilling relationship with a partner who they love are in vain. In fact, the research is very clear on this point.

We recently had a contribution to this debate by Jim Wallace from the Australian Christian Lobby and Archbishop Jensen, who said recently that being gay is more dangerous than smoking. In one sense he is right, because discrimination is dangerous, because prejudice is dangerous. By his logic, being Aboriginal is more dangerous than smoking. The health impacts that are associated with people's sexuality are a consequence of discrimination and stigma. They have nothing at all to do with the choices that people make. We know, for example, that if you are same-sex attracted you are more likely to smoke, more likely to have had a chronic condition, much more likely to have experienced high levels of psychological distress, more likely to have had suicidal thoughts and plans, and more likely to have attempted suicide. Those statistics, as shocking as they are, have nothing to do with being gay and everything to do with the social prejudice, discrimination and violence that is perpetrated against lesbians, gay men and bisexual people.

Work in this area has been done for a number of years and we know that there is a psychological condition where people who are part of a minority experience particular stresses that are the consequence of the adverse social conditions that are experienced by members within a stigmatised social group. We saw one of those submissions to the recent Senate inquiry, pointing to the extensive research that demonstrates that one of the major implications for people who experience this sort of stress is that it increases their vulnerability to mental illness, because people internalise the negative messages that come from stigma and discrimination.

It is really critical that we tackle this issue head on, but we also need to tackle the people who make contributions in this debate and make an argument that suggests that it is something to do with the very essence of being a same-sex attracted person rather than the consequences that flow from the hurtful language that those very people themselves demonstrate. So it is clear that we need to do everything we can. I can tell you that when you have a young kid sitting in front of you who presents with a history of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and they are wrestling with the notion that they may be same-sex attracted, and we as a community send out messages to that young child that say, 'Your love is somehow wrong; the attraction you feel for another person is somehow wrong,' we make that person's health worse. This is a health issue as much as it is an issue about the basic rights of individuals. I am confident that we are going to make progress in this area. I am absolutely confident of that. I just think that in a nation like Australia, which has taken on so many important reforms, which has taken on prejudice when it comes to our Indigenous brothers and sisters and when it comes to the prejudice that women experience and the gains we have made in those areas, it is only a matter of time before we make gains in this area.

I know that Australians value a fair go and they value the notion of equality before the law, and they are values that are compromised by marriage discrimination. My own experience around marriage is something that I have reflected on through this debate. For me marriage was about being able to make a public commitment to my partner and being able to share the commitment that I made to my partner with those people closest to me. Being able to celebrate the love that you have for your partner in front of the people you care about and to have that love legally recognised by your community and by the state should be the right of each and every Australian, yet we are denying that right to same-sex couples today.

Marriage has never been a static institution. It has changed. We heard about the issue of no-fault divorce. There have been big changes to the institution of marriage, and this is one more change along that journey. By legislating for marriage equality we do send a positive message to young people who are coming out and coming to terms with their sexuality that your community accepts you, that your relationships are equal and valid and that your community loves you just as they love every member of that community.

It is no longer acceptable for both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott to impose their views on the entire Australian community. If nothing else, they should move out of the way and ensure that all of us in this place are able to express our views as individuals in an attempt to stamp out discrimination by legislating for equality in the Marriage Act. Love does not discriminate and neither should our laws. The time will come, and it is only a matter of time. As my colleague Senator Ludlam has said, I am sure it will be soon. It will be a great day for this parliament and I welcome that day.

9:02 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to participate in this debate and I support the bill before the chamber. I think it is important that this chamber vote to remove discrimination against our fellow Australians who are gay, lesbian, transsexual or intersex. I think this bill has been misunderstood by some speakers in this chamber. I think it would be good just to go to the main points of the bill before I go to the arguments as to why I support the bill.

This bill will amend the Marriage Act 1961 to ensure that all adult couples who have a mutual commitment to a shared life have equal access to marriage. The bill seeks to end discrimination against same-sex couples who wish to have their relationships recognised by the state by amending the definition of marriage that is currently in section 5 of the Marriage Act 1961. At the same time, this bill protects religious freedom. The bill will permit a minister of religion, a person authorised under a state or territory law or a marriage celebrant authorised under the Marriage Act 1961 to perform a marriage between same-sex couples and will permit that marriage to be recognised in Australian law. In addition, amendments to section 47 of the act will reinforce the existing provisions that ensure that a minister of religion is under no obligation to solemnise a marriage where the parties to that marriage are of the same sex. That is the guts of the bill. It does not force any obligations on a minister of religion but what it does do is give our fellow Australians who are gay, lesbian, transsexual or intersex the same rights as every other Australian.

I became extremely concerned about the need to give gay couples the right to marry after one of my constituents, a mother of a gay son, rang me about three years ago and took me through in great detail the discrimination, the violence and the mental trauma that her son had to endure as a young gay man. When we hear about the problems for a gay son or a gay daughter it did not strike me until that mother spoke to me about the problems and the intimidation that her son had faced that this was not only a problem for the gay son; it was a problem for the whole family. It was a problem for the gay son's mother, his father and his siblings, and the family were basically living in what she described to me as a siege mentality about trying to protect her son. I thought, 'This is Australia'—I think it was in about 2010—'how can we continue to tolerate this type of intimidation and discrimination against a young Australian man?' How can we? I say that we need to deal with it now. After I spoke to the mother, I decided to come out—no, I didn't 'come out', but I did decide to say I would be very vocal in the Labor Party to say this discrimination had to stop, because quite frankly I was disgusted that gay members of the Labor Party had to basically deny their very being because of a policy position the Labor Party had that said: 'Marriage is between a man and a woman and you as a member of the Labor Party are not as equal as other members of the Labor Party.' It is not just in the Labor Party we have this; we have had High Court judges who are gay. We have police, who you expect to go out and protect you when you are in trouble, who are gay. We have brain surgeons, surgeons, lawyers, doctors and nurses who are gay—people that we expect to come and help us in our moment of need. And yet we say to them: 'Because of your sexual preference, you are not equal. You cannot get the same rights as other Australians.' I think that is wrong. I think the Labor Party needs to deal with it, and we have taken one small step towards dealing with it.

I agree with the other speakers who have said that, regardless of the outcome of the debate tonight, history is on our side and we will change this and we will make sure that the young Australian man from Greystanes who has suffered all that humiliation, violence and intimidation will have the right sometime, and sometime soon, to make a commitment to the person that he loves and marry that person. That is what we need to do. I think we have to do it. I think it is extremely important.

Not long after that mother rang me and after I publicly indicated my support for same-sex marriage I was in Albury and a gay man approached me at a meeting I was at and thanked me for coming out and saying that everyone should be treated equally. Again, the story that that man who lived in the country told me he had suffered in terms of discrimination his whole life would make you weep. It was just terrible. That is because we have stigmatised gay people over the years. We have treated them as if they are not normal. I do not want to personalise this debate, because I think it should be above the personal, but some of the contributions that I have heard—as I have listened to a lot of the contributions—are certainly rooted back in the fifties and sixties when we were not as sophisticated as we are now, when we did not accept that people had the right to have sexual preferences that were different from heterosexuals.

I also want to thank my friends and colleagues in Rainbow Labor. It is pretty hard when you are a member of a political party and you have got gay, lesbian, transsexual and intersex members of that party who belong to a party that says, 'You are not equal; you will not get the right to marry.' I cannot look my comrades from Rainbow Labor in the eye and say, 'You should be treated differently from other people in this country.' I just won't do it. I don't think it's right.

I take the view that activists and courageous people like Senator Pratt are absolutely right in getting out there and supporting their right to have a marriage. The arguments I have heard tonight from some in the chamber about how a child will be disadvantaged by being brought up by a gay couple I think deny the reality of some children facing absolutely terrible lives with heterosexual couples. Gay couples who make a commitment to a child, in my view, make that conscious decision that they want a child, that they love that child and they will look after that child, and I think some of the arguments are quite offensive. It is offensive to argue any other way.

I come to this debate from a working class background. I was brought up in Lanarkshire in Scotland—a place called Bellshill that was pretty renowned for the sectarian divisions in that area of the west of Scotland between Catholics and Protestants. Years ago it was frowned upon if a Catholic married a Protestant or a Protestant married a Catholic. We have overcome that, so we have matured as a society and things are getting better. But in that working class background that I had there was a culture of discrimination, intimidation and violence against gay and lesbian people. I think it is reprehensible that we have not tried to deal with it before. It was fuelled by fear and fuelled by ignorance; it was fuelled by religious and cultural intolerance; and it was fuelled by a legislative discrimination in Australia even up until recently and right now.

I come to this debate not only as a working class man who has witnessed the discrimination and intimidation of gays; I come to this debate as a married man. I did find it quite offensive for Senator Brandis to generalise about the view of the Left on marriage. Yesterday was my 41st wedding anniversary, so I know a bit about marriage.

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Poor Elaine!

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Not 'Poor Elaine'—I am very lucky to have met Elaine over 40 years ago

For Senator Brandis to say that the Left mock and deride marriage is just a nonsense. I could never have been prouder when I married my wife, Elaine. I did it in a civil marriage because Elaine was brought up a Catholic and I was brought up a Protestant, and 40-odd years ago that was still an issue, let me tell you. It was one of the reasons Elaine and I decided we would like to come to a country where religious discrimination would not be imposed upon my kids and my grandkids, and we have been lucky enough to do that. I suppose there are parents of gay couples who would want to be in a place where they can get some relief from the discrimination, and Australia should be that place and we should be making a big commitment to that tonight.

The argument from Senator Brandis that the Left mock and deride marriage is a nonsense. Another one of the proudest moments in my life was when my daughter, Lynn, got married. To have my daughter marry was of great pride to Elaine and me, but again it was a civil marriage. It had nothing to do with religion. There seems to be a thing in my family: my mother was a Catholic, my father was a Protestant, my daughter has married a Catholic and she was brought up with no religion because I am an atheist. I do not believe in religion; I do not think religion should be imposed upon anybody. If you want to be religious, my view is you have the right to be religious—that is part of people's rights—but a civil marriage is no less important or valid than a church marriage.

Senator Brandis said that marriage is an institution based on law, custom and religion. Well, Senator Brandis, you are wrong. My marriage of 41 years was not based on religion. You hear much about the sanctity of marriage in these debates. My marriage is not based on sanctity; it is based on love. That is what my marriage is based on. And gay couples should have the same right to base their relationship on love and be married. My marriage is not about any holy writs, it is not about religious vows or beliefs. It is about love, it is about mutual support, it is about care, it is about understanding, it is about dealing with life's ups and downs together. And why should a gay couple not be able to have that type of relationship under the Marriage Act in Australia? I just do not understand why not. We are not saying that the religious should change their views. If people want to belong to a religious group who say that gay marriage will not be recognised, so be it. I think it is wrong; I think it is dumb; I do not think it is based on a proper interpretation, as I understand it, of religion, but so be it. If that is what they want to do, I think that is okay. I cannot understand the logic of religion or custom being used to deny our fellow Australians who are gay the capacity or right to commit to each other and declare their love through the legal act of marriage.

Senator Brandis said everyone is entitled to their view of what marriage is, and I agree. But marriage is not and cannot be solely a religious or unchanging cultural institution. It never has been and it never will be. Marriage is a constantly changing institution. It is not about setting aside the history of civilisation, as I have heard in this chamber in the past couple of days; it is about learning the lessons of history. It is about evolving in marriage. It is about tolerance and understanding.

I take the view that the most sensible National Party member I have heard on this is the Hon. Trevor Khan, a National Party member in the New South Wales upper house. In an opinion piece on 25 June he said that 'support for marriage equality by conservatives is both rational and sensible'. He quoted David Cameron, the British Prime Minister—he is not my relative; he is one of the black Camerons, this guy—who last year said:

Yes, it's about equality, but it's also about something else: commitment.

This is the British Prime Minister. He said:

Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other.

So I don't support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I'm a Conservative.

I am not here arguing the conservative line, but the arguments I have heard from the conservatives in the Australian parliament have been so far away from a logical position that it just makes you wonder what is going on. The Hon. Trevor Khan makes some very important points. He says:

My father has since acknowledged that he regrets not attending my commitment ceremony in 2006, adding that 'I pray I will be given the opportunity to right my wrong and see my eldest son legally marry the man he loves'.

Again, it shows that people's views are changing. The fathers and mothers of gay people want the same rights for their children as heterosexual couples. The Hon. Trevor Khan went on to say:

It is time for all of us to soften our hearts and accept that the expression of love and commitment through marriage should be available to all couples, irrespective of sexuality.

I wish that issue had been debated at the National Party conference at the weekend because I think that would have been a good use of the time of that conference: showing compassion and understanding the need to treat everyone equally and give gay couples the right to marry just the same as heterosexual couples because it would be a better Australia if we did.

9:22 pm

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

I have spoken many times in this place about the importance of traditional marriage. In fact, I spoke about marriage in my maiden speech in this place over six years ago. In that speech I said:

Marriage has been reserved as a sacred bond between a man and a woman across times, across cultures and across very different religious beliefs. Marriage is the very foundation of the family, and the family is the basic unit of society. Thus marriage is a personal relationship with public significance and we are right to recognise this in our laws.

I have been and always will be a strong supporter of traditional marriage and its current definition, being a union between a man and a woman. Marriage is accorded a special place in our society because it is a union that is orientated towards having children, thereby ensuring the continuation of our population and civilisation. Society benefits from marriage, so marriage is accorded benefits by society. At the base level marriage is concerned about what is best for society, rather than being concerned about the so-called rights of the individual. Changing the definition of marriage would indeed change the focus of the institution itself. It would put the focus on the desire of adults, as opposed to having the focus on the production and nurturing of an environment for the raising of children for the benefit of society.

I know that not every marriage has children but marriage is a foundation for the family unit upon which our society is built. It has proven itself as the most sustainable and effective social support and training environment for our future generations. I recall columnist Miranda Devine quoted a UK Family Court judge in 2010 in which he noted that family breakdown is the cause of most social ills and that, despite its faults, marriage should be restored as the gold standard and social stigma should be reapplied to those who destroy family life.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies has found that children of married couples benefit from marriage because they have higher levels of social, emotional and educational development in comparison with children who do not live in that traditional environment. Married mothers are more likely to be employed or hold a university degree and married-couple families are less likely to come up against financial problems. While the authors of the research were keen to stress that this is because of a family's financial situation and the educational qualifications of the mother, it does give me cause to wonder: doesn't marriage itself help to provide financial stability and better outcomes? That seems to be a case for opening marriage up to any environment and to any union of two people, as Senator Cameron said, who happen to love each other, but in a family environment it is children who should be the primary concern and children benefit from having both a male and a female role model living in a house—two people that love each other in a permanent union.

We have all seen the sad effects of marriage breakdown and the adverse impacts it can have on children. We have to also acknowledge that today families do not always come as the gold standard where mum and dad do live together under the one roof of a house and love each other and provide that nurturing environment. I have always said that a child is better in any environment where it is loved and that is irrespective of the circumstances, but it will not stop me from advocating that traditional marriage is the absolutely best environment for the rearing of the next generation. So whatever the forms that families take in this modern day and age—and they do come in so many different forms with some people being individual parents and indeed same-sex couples also raising children and they all do an amazing job in the circumstances—as I said, I will not stop focusing on the importance of promoting and encouraging the traditional family. But simply because marriage is important that does not mean that we should redefine it. We should not open it up to all comers, because I think it would actually devalue the institution.

The move for same-sex marriage is just another step in what I consider an attack on our enduring and important institutions, particularly the social ones. It is another tear in the fabric of our social mores. The proponents of same-sex marriage, and I do not mean to generalise but this is about many of the proponents of same-sex marriage, ask for one step and they think that is all they want or they say that is all they want and they will be satisfied when this has been achieved—'Just this one thing; give us that and that will be okay and all inequality will be diminished and everyone will be equal and it will be fair'. But the harsh reality is that there will never be equality in society and there are always going to be people who feel that they have got a raw deal or have been discriminated against or do not have the same access to opportunities or advantages as others do, and to pretend any differently is really to deny reality. But history demonstrates that once those who advocate for radical social change, which I consider this to be, achieve it in any way, shape or form, there is then another demand and another demand and another demand and they slowly chip away at the very foundation of what provides our social support, stability and cultural mores and we are left with a replacement that is somehow vastly inferior to the wisdom of successive generations.

I recall that in this place only a few years ago people pushed for the same entitlements and benefits for all relationships that were then held by married couples. This was achieved. I opposed it at the time because my point was that just because people are in a sexual relationship that does not mean that they should be afforded the same rights and privileges as society affords those in traditional marriage, and I have outlined some of the reasons for that. Indeed, I advocated at the time that if it is about genuine equality and interdependency then we should advance this to interdependent relationships in which there is no sexual engagement. There are any number of those relationships, including people who live together and share bank accounts and expenses and who, for all intents and purposes, share their lives without having a sexual or physical relationship. But that was rejected, I suspect because it was not really about equality. It was not about interdependency and it was not about sharing your life with someone; it was about chipping away at the institution of marriage.

The legislation got through and I lost that debate—you win some and lose some in this business. At that stage I was one of many saying this was another step that would undermine marriage. Today we see the next step. This is another push—it is not the first time and it will not be the last time—for same-sex marriage. Time and time again the techniques of the radicals who seek to overturn the social institutions and social fabric of our society are out of step with the priorities of mainstream Australia. No-one out there that I have come across says this is the most important issue facing Australia. There are enormous social and economic problems in this country, and this debate will not solve any of them. Time and time again the same characters seek to tear down our institutions that have been built and have sustained our civilisation for thousands of years. The time has come to ask: when will it end?

If we are prepared to redefine marriage so that it suits the latest criterion that two people who love each other should be able to get married irrespective of their gender and/or if they are in a sexual relationship, then what is the next step? The next step, quite frankly, is having three people or four people that love each other being able to enter into a permanent union endorsed by society—or any other type of relationship. For those who say that I am being alarmist in this, there is the polyamory community who were very disappointed when the Greens had to distance themselves from their support for numerous people getting together and saying they want to enter into a permanent union. They were disappointed because they were misled that this was about marriage equality and opening up marriage to all people who love each other.

There are even some creepy people out there—and I say 'creepy' deliberately—who are unfortunately afforded a great deal more respect than I believe they deserve. These creepy people say it is okay to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals. Will that be a future step? In the future will we say, 'These two creatures love each other and maybe they should be able to be joined in a union.' It is extraordinary that these sorts of suggestions are put forward in the public sphere and are not howled down right at the very start. We can talk about people like Professor Peter Singer who was, I think, a founder of the Greens or who wrote a book about the Greens. Professor Singer has appeared on Q&A on the ABC, the national broadcaster. He has endorsed such ideas as these. I reject them. I think that these things are the next step. As we accede to one request we will then have the next one which will be for unions of more than two people. We will have suggestions for unions of three or four people. I notice the Greens are heckling, but the point is that they misled their constituent base and there was an outcry about this. Where do we go then? Do we go down the Peter Singer path? Those that say this is the end of the social revolution have no history of being honourable about that. They continue to push and challenge our social and cultural mores. We simply cannot allow such an important social institution to be redefined, especially when Australians do not see this as a priority issue.

Senator Cameron was critical of his party denying some of the people in support of same-sex marriage a conscience vote, the ability to speak up in favour of what they thought was important. He neglected to mention that the Left of the Labor Party had never really supported a conscience vote. In fact, they sought to change the party's position to support same-sex marriage. That meant that those that had a conscientious objection to it would have been bound by the Labor Party's platform to support same-sex marriage. On the one hand Senator Cameron decried the fact that some people could not vote according to how they felt and yet he was one of the architects of this, along with people like Mark Butler. In a story in the Sydney Morning Herald Mark Butler is said to be one of those who believes that those who support traditional marriage should not be allowed to put their position forward.

I understand that this is a very sensitive debate. I also understand that senators on both sides of this chamber have very strong views. I understand some of these views are borne by personal experiences or those of loved ones and some are borne by their idea that this is a fairer and more equitable way to proceed. We have seen demands and requests for surveys of what is going on in the electorates. That was put forward by Mr Bandt in the other place. He asked for members of parliament to report back on what their constituencies thought about this argument. I have to say that a significant majority—some have suggested as many as two-thirds—reported that their constituents broadly supported marriage being retained as between a man and a woman, as was endorsed by this parliament some eight or 10 years ago. In standing up for traditional marriage, advocates are not saying that one group is better than another or that one group is superior to another. This is, in my view, about defending what is right and what is important for society. Last year I read an article by a 19-year-old university student Blaise Joseph, who wrote:

Marriage laws are fundamentally a question of what's best for society rather than a question of individual rights.

That view, in one way, shape or form, was shared by over 32,000 people who wrote in favour of traditional marriage to the recent Senate inquiry.

Add these views to MPs' electorate surveys and the calls and emails I get from my own constituents and it is very clear to me that many Australians want to protect the notion of traditional marriage, for many valid reasons. These people have, in some instances, put aside their fears of being branded as intolerant, uncaring, heartless or in support of inequality by those people who profess to be tolerant of other points of view and who, in my view, look to degrade the notion of marriage. These people who have stood up against same-sex marriage in the face of a very vocal campaign are to be commended in this current culture of political correctness, where those who apparently disagree with the wisdom of the elites are somehow howled down and demonised publicly.

I am sure there are millions more Australians who share these sentiments irrespective of whether they have spoken publicly about it. I will continue to stand with these Australians and to fight for traditional marriage because I believe it is what the people of Australia want. More importantly, I think it is the right thing to do both for our children and for our society.

9:39 pm

Photo of Penny WrightPenny Wright (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012. The Greens and my colleague Senator Sarah Hanson-Young in particular have long been working to change the law so that, finally, all Australians can marry the person they love no matter their gender or sexual orientation. There are so many good reasons to achieve marriage equality at this time in our history, but the most compelling for me is quite simple: it is about recognising and celebrating loving and committed relationships. Basically, I believe we just cannot have too many of them.

Relationships are like everything in life. They are the basis of everything we do, everything we achieve and our deepest sense of self. They are our connection with other human beings and the framework for social cohesion and strong communities, and I believe that committed, loving, loyal relationships, whether sexual or platonic, are the gold standard. Surely any society worth its salt would seek to uphold and embrace loving, committed relationships and do anything to encourage, support and celebrate them, and to support those of its citizens who wish to formalise them. Allowing people to marry is one very powerful way to do that.

There can be no doubt that the time for this change is now. We know that marriage equality now has broad support in the Australian community: 64 per cent of Australians support marriage equality and 61 per cent of married people support marriage equality. Interestingly, polls show us that support among coalition voters is the highest it has ever been—more than half, at 52 per cent. Many church groups support marriage equality. Fifty-three per cent of Australian Christians support marriage equality.

The Australian Greens' Marriage Equality Amendment Bill, introduced into the Senate by my colleague Senator Hanson-Young, has the strongest cross-party support. The Senate committee inquiring into the bill, which included Australian Greens, ALP and coalition MPs, recommended that all Australians should be equal under the law, including under the Marriage Act. In short, we know that this change has support from parliamentarians across the spectrum and Australians of all ages and in every corner of the country.

It is interesting that Barack Obama's view has evolved over time, and ultimately he has come out and voiced his support for equal marriage in May this year. It is clearly time for this inevitable reform but, in Australia, both leaders of the old parties are still standing in the way of history. I call on them to show real leadership on this issue now. I urge the Prime Minister to allow members of her party to champion this reform which seeks to apply the very policy of the Australian Labor Party. I urge the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, to have the decency and courage to be true to the traditions of his party—the so-called Liberal Party—and allow members of the coalition to vote according to their conscience. It is time for leadership in this Commonwealth parliament. Some of the states—Tasmania and South Australia—are leading the way, but it is infinitely preferable to have this reform at a federal level to ensure uniformity across Australia.

It is not just here in Australia that we can see change coming; we know that the tide is inexorably turning around the world. Fundamentally, that is because at its basis this is about fairness and respect for human beings and loving relationships. We have moved into the 21st century. Twelve countries now have marriage equality, along with eight states in the US, and change is coming in New Zealand, Scotland, France and Brazil. New Zealand will have a marriage equality bill in the next few weeks and it will be supported by Conservative Prime Minister John Key. Scotland's government has announced it will move for marriage equality later this year. British Prime Minister David Cameron, a conservative, supports marriage equality. This is despite the fact that Britain already has civil union legislation, but it is not popular or widely used, not surprisingly because it is a second-class option.

As the Australian Greens spokesperson for legal affairs I am committed to seeing the enhancement of equality in the Australian community. Equality is basically about treating people with courtesy and respect—the way we would all expect to be treated by our friends, peers, colleagues, employers or strangers. The right to nondiscrimination and equality are fundamental components of international human rights law and are contained in a number of international conventions to which Australia is a party. These include the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that all people 'are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law'. The right to equality before the law guarantees equality with regard to the enforcement of the law. The right to the equal protection of the law without discrimination is directed at the legislature and requires state parties to the conventions to prohibit discrimination and take action to protect against discrimination. The principle of equality requires that any form of relationship recognition available under federal law to opposite-sex couples should also be available to same-sex couples, and this includes civil marriage. Australia has an obligation under international human rights law to ensure that LGBT people are not discriminated against on the grounds of their sexual orientation or identity. Reforming marriage laws will uphold that obligation. The current Marriage Act restricts marriage to heterosexual couples and so contains inherent discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The Australian Greens want to see true equality when it comes to marriage so that all people regardless of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity have the opportunity to marry, to formalise their loving, committed relationships. This is not only the right thing to do to accord all people equality and respect for who they are; there is clear evidence that this is good for societies too, leading to fairer, healthier and more inclusive communities.

Within Australia, marriage retains significant status. For many, it represents a relationship that attracts social approval and respect, affection and legitimacy. Not surprisingly, excluding certain members of our community from the opportunity to have their relationships recognised in this way sends a very clear message that their committed, loving relationships are illegitimate. I thoroughly agree with the observation that my colleague Senator Pratt made yesterday that it is a cruel irony that gay people in Australia have often been demonised as being promiscuous and unwilling to commit to meaningful relationships while being denied the ability to marry and show their public commitment to their partners in the same way as Australians who happen to be heterosexual.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has stated that the maintenance of laws that discriminate on the ground of sexuality and gender identity tend to support and perpetuate beliefs which are likely to lead to violence and other antisocial conduct against members of the GLBTI community. The effects of this second-class status are pernicious and harmful not only to the physical health and safety of members of that community; there are huge mental health implications too. That leads me to reflect on the importance of marriage equality through the lens of another of my responsibilities: spokesperson for mental health for the Australian Greens.

There are members of parliament, and we heard from some of them tonight and yesterday, who try to claim that this is not an important issue worthy of the attention of this parliament, that there are far more important issues to deal with, they tell us; it is merely a distraction from the more important affairs of state—whatever they may consider them to be. But when we consider the consequences of the current discriminatory situation we have in Australia, it is clear that this is a hugely important issue for many Australians and their families, their friends and their loved ones. It has been put to me that the single most important and cost-effective mental health policy that Australia could undertake would be to introduce marriage equality. Almost revenue neutral, it would reduce the incidence of anxiety, depression and ultimately suicide in the stroke of a legislative pen. Let me tell you why.

Last year, I was visited by the Psychologists for Marriage Equality and they pointed out to me some alarming statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2007 national survey of mental health and wellbeing. These statistics indicate that homosexual and bisexual people are four times more likely to have ever been homeless, twice as likely to have no contact with family or no family to rely on for serious problems, more likely to have had a chronic condition in the last 12 months, twice as likely to have experienced psychological distress, almost three times as likely to have had suicidal thoughts, five times as likely to have had suicidal plans and four times as likely to have attempted suicide.

Psychologists for Marriage Equality provided me with information based on detailed research about the adverse effects of discrimination and negativity on people in minority groups, called minority stress. There is clear evidence that social prejudice, discrimination and violence against stigmatised groups play a significant role in poor mental health. They pointed out that the Australian Psychological Association recently endorsed the resolution of the American Psychological Association calling for:

… the legalisation of same-sex marriage on the basis of psychological evidence showing the mental health benefits of marriage and the harm caused by social exclusion and discrimination arising from not having the choice to marry.

In endorsing this resolution, Professor Simon Crowe, President of the Australian Psychological Society, said:

Decades of psychological research provides the evidence linking marriage to mental health benefits and highlighting the harm to individual's mental health of social exclusion. The APS supports the full recognition of same-sex relationships on the basis of this evidence.

Paul Martin is a psychologist with 25 years experience and he specialises in mental health and same-sex attraction. He trains GPs, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, counsellors, managers and Christian leaders about the psychological issues facing those who are gay, lesbian and bisexual. In his submission to the Senate inquiry into the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010, Paul Martin pointed out that the mental and physical health of same-sex attracted people is measurably poorer than for the general population, citing those same ABS statistics, but pointed out that this is not a result of the psychological effects of same-sex attraction. All the psychological evidence demonstrates that being same-sex attracted is not a disorder. Rather, Paul Martin says:

Poor health outcomes are the result of the high levels of psychological distress experienced growing up surrounded by negative attitudes and behaviours to same-sex attraction. Growing up gay or lesbian is to grow up as something you've been taught to hate. These 'homophobic' messages continue to occur into adulthood and can intensify the distress.

They can take the form of hate crime, workplace discrimination and being excluded from 'normal' society. Worst of all, this homophobia can be internalised leading same-sex attracted people to hate and harm themselves.

On the positive side, there is clear evidence about the positive link between marriage equality and mental health. Paul Martin also points out:

Studies from North America and Europe have shown that feelings of well-being, security and acceptance among same- sex attracted people and their family members increases dramatically when same-sex couples have the choice to marry.

This is for two reasons. First, some of the most negative messages internalised by same-sex attracted people are about the instability and worthlessness of same-sex relationships. Second, marriage, with its emphasis on care, commitment and fidelity, continues to define the meaning of love and relationships in our society. The government reinforces the very worst stereotypes about gay and lesbian people when it excludes them from marriage.

The American Psychological Society states:

…   …   …

"The denial of civil marriage, including the creation of legal statuses such as civil unions and domestic partnerships, stigmatizes same-sex relationships, perpetuates the stigma historically attached to homosexuality, and reinforces prejudice against lesbian, gay and bisexual people."

These conclusions are echoed by recent Australian psychological research, again discussed by Paul Martin.

In a recently released paper, researchers from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales called on the government to allow same-sex marriage as a preventative health measure. The researchers, led by Professor Ann Ritter, refer to studies which show a direct link between marriage equality and reduced alcohol and drug consumption. They also cite studies showing a link between marriage equality and reduced HIV infections, as well as the positive health benefits of marriage generally. According to the paper:

The best public-policy interventions are those which target a significant problem, have a clear rationale, are supported by research evidence, are least costly to implement and have strong community support. Legalising gay marriage as an alcohol and drug policy response meets these criteria … It is now time to legalise gay marriage, as an important contribution to reducing alcohol and other drug harm in Australia.

Over the last few months I have been travelling widely in rural Australia, consulting with people from all walks of life about mental health and wellbeing. Evidence suggests that rates of poor mental health, particularly suicidal ideation and suicide attempts, are much higher for homosexual or bisexual people living in rural and remote areas, because the effects of social isolation and stigmatisation are amplified. There is less privacy and they have fewer peers, and they are often very exposed. This was something I heard consistently from mental health practitioners in rural areas and is particularly the case for young people, who are often extremely vulnerable at a time in their lives when they are learning about who they are and how they can make their way in the wider community. Their sexuality is obviously a crucial aspect of their emerging self-image.

One of the most inspirational people I have met in the course of this reform process is Shelley Argent, the passionate national spokesperson of PFLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. I still remember when she visited me with a bunch of mothers from Queensland, who spoke so passionately about the concerns of their beloved offspring, including those who were same-sex attracted. In their submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs inquiry into the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010, Shelley Argent wrote:

… as Australians, we bring our children into this world believing this country has a free and equal society, but when a loved one “comes out” we soon learn this is a myth.

…   …   …

It should be noted that our lesbian daughters and gay sons want no more or less than their heterosexual siblings, which is to just be equal. And we as their parents also want equality for them which includes the right to marry their partner of choice regardless of sexual orientation.

In relation to mental health, Ms Argent wrote:

We believe that if allowed to marry it will minimise depression and substance abuse that comes with low self esteem and unfortunately, many of our sons and daughters in the LGBT community do suffer mental health issues because of how they feel about themselves which is mainly due to societal attitudes and them being told in some subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways they are inferior. This is why suicidal ideation is such a problem in the LGBT community. Marriage equality will be a huge step forward in this area, because it will show that the government no longer condones discrimination under the cloak of “tradition” and the outdated belief of “marriage being between a man and a woman”.

As the Australian Greens spokesperson for mental health but, more importantly, as a mother, a friend, a colleague and a neighbour, this deeply concerns me. I do not want to live in a world where same-sex attracted people feel so desperate about the prejudice they experience or so unworthy that they cannot be proud of who they are and they end their lives. Ultimately, I want to see equal marriage because I want to live in a community where every Australian can marry the person they love—it is as simple as that—instead of being told that their relationship is less valid than, less meaningful than or inferior to others.

Before I finish, I would like to acknowledge some of the people that I have met in the course of my thinking and learning about this issue. I have had the privilege of meeting many inspirational people. I remember meeting two significantly older men, in their sixties, at an equal love rally in Adelaide. They had been together for a long time. They told me that their wish was simply that they could walk along the street, hand in hand, just as most of us who are heterosexual would take for granted, without being harassed or berated by other people—that they could feel comfortable living in a society where they could actually show their long and enduring love for each other. I met two lovely young women from Adelaide, who visited me in Parliament House to put to me the cause of marriage equality and to explain that they had moved to Adelaide from interstate. They had been together for four or five years and were wanting to marry, because they had made a commitment to each other. I have met psychologists, doctors, clerics and teachers—gay, straight and bisexual, and all motivated to see this great overdue reform in Australia.

I want to live in a nation where all people are able to feel proud of who they are: of their ethnicity, of their appearance, of their religious beliefs and of their sexuality. Hand in hand with this is my desire to see Australia become a nation where all people are able to feel proud of the person they love and of the love they share—whatever their gender and whatever their sexuality. I believe it is truly time for us to ask why we cannot, in the 21st century, embrace an Australia which is fully, gloriously and humanely inclusive and equal. Legislation for marriage equality will save lives and celebrate the rich experience of being human in Australia.

9:58 pm

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Given the significance of the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) Bill 2012, the members of the government have been given a conscience vote, and that means the vote of individuals from the government is not dictated by focus groups or poll driven and is not even determined or dictated to by the group as a whole. It is a matter of personal conscience. It should also mean that opposing sides can achieve disagreement where both sides of the argument understand the other's arguments and understand why they disagree. Unfortunately, many who do not support this bill have had charges of hostility, unreasonableness and bigotry aimed at them. In fact, I have witnessed some and had some aimed at me. There have been exaggerations and some bizarre comments made by people on both sides of the debate. I think that has served to discredit those arguments.

I do not oppose this bill on the basis of religious zealotry, fundamentalism, hatred, bigotry or homophobia, contrary to some comments made to me and about me. I oppose discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and I have no issue with the legislation on civil same-sex unions. But what I believe is that the traditional and current definition of marriage should remain as being between a man and a woman. The institution of marriage precedes governments, parliaments and written law. It is an ancient institution and holds a special and unique status—and deservedly so. In our culture, and virtually every other, the act of marriage as we know it has always been between a man and a woman, and this bill aims to profoundly change that traditional meaning and understanding. It disconnects from the issue that male to female married relationships are different from other kinds of relationships, sexual or non-sexual, and it disconnects from the issue that marriage deserves its unique legal and cultural status—

Debate interrupted.