House debates

Monday, 15 November 2010

Private Members’ Business

Same-Sex Marriage

8:12 pm

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I ask leave of the House to amend the notice relating to same-sex marriage in the terms circulated to honourable members in the chamber.

Photo of Harry JenkinsHarry Jenkins (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Is there any objection to leave being granted?

Photo of Philip RuddockPhilip Ruddock (Berowra, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have not seen the amendment.

Photo of Harry JenkinsHarry Jenkins (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I will get a copy to you as soon as I can get you one. It is coming.

Honourable Members:

Honourable members interjecting

Photo of Harry JenkinsHarry Jenkins (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Could the Deputy Clerk stop the clock, please. We will do this correctly procedurally so that everybody can be happy. Is there any objection to leave being granted? I am in the position where the honourable member for Melbourne has sought leave to amend his motion and I am seeking an indication from the House whether leave is granted.

Photo of Mrs Bronwyn BishopMrs Bronwyn Bishop (Mackellar, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Seniors) Share this | | Hansard source

There is much uncertainty in the chamber as to the nature of the change that the honourable member wishes to move. It does seem that the proposed amendment is quite different in substance from the original motion moved. That is the perception that is being discussed informally in the chamber. For clarification purposes, could you read out the original motion and then read out the proposed amendment so that the House can be informed.

Photo of Harry JenkinsHarry Jenkins (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The motion is as circulated in the Notice Paper. The amended motion is now being circulated to honourable members in the chamber. There is a one-paragraph suggestion of an amendment. Is there any objection to leave being granted?

Photo of Warren EntschWarren Entsch (Leichhardt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a point of clarification, given that this was basically put on just before we were expected to speak on it, the original motion in relation to number (a) and (b) has now been removed from it. This now replaces the entire one and in effect it is number 2. Can I seek clarification on that.

Photo of Harry JenkinsHarry Jenkins (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Without my getting into interpreting the motion, the original motion was in two parts. The second part was a call upon parliamentarians to gauge certain things. Basically, that is the amended motion that leave is sought for.

Photo of Warren EntschWarren Entsch (Leichhardt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Can I assume that number 1 stands, or is number 1 now deleted and number 2 becomes the motion.

Photo of Harry JenkinsHarry Jenkins (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The original motion in totality had two parts. The amended motion, as circulated, is the whole motion, as I understand it. I will get clarification from the member for Melbourne that the one-paragraph motion is the proposed amended motion that he wishes to place before the House. It is a single one-paragraph motion and all the rest in the first part of the original motion is no longer what he is proposing. I am only allowing this because of the exceptional circumstances of this present parliament. This is not something that I will be in a position to allow in future. We must bring this aspect to a resolution. Is leave granted for the member for Melbourne to move the motion as he has proposed and circulated, which is a one-paragraph motion?

Photo of Mrs Bronwyn BishopMrs Bronwyn Bishop (Mackellar, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Seniors) Share this | | Hansard source

I have a point of order. The original motion—and the people who are listening to the broadcast are entitled to know—in part (b) calls on all parliamentarians to gauge their constituents’ views on the issue of marriage equality. The proposed amendment says:

The House calls on all parliamentarians, consistent with their duties as representatives, to gauge their constituents’ views on ways to achieve equal treatment for same-sex couples, including marriage.

Which is a totally different concept from the one originally moved. Ordinary rules of debate tell me that it is a departure from the substantive motion as originally moved and therefore would be out of order. I ask, Mr Speaker, if you could rule on that, apart from the question of leave, because quite frankly this has been brought on at the last moment, when the issue had been canvassed before. There was no consultation and I feel that it is a difficulty in the circumstances for a proper decision on whether leave should be granted or not to be reached.

Photo of Harry JenkinsHarry Jenkins (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

To give certainty about what we are looking at I will rule on that point—and this is an advisory ruling—and say that if leave were granted for this proposed amended motion I would see it as being in order. Is leave granted?

Leave not granted.

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move the motion relating to same-sex marriage in the terms in which it appears on the Notice Paper:

That this House:

notes that there is:
a growing list of countries that allow same-sex couples to marry including the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Spain, Canada and South Africa; and
widespread support for equal marriage in the Australian community; and
calls on all parliamentarians to gauge their constituents’ views on the issue of marriage equality.

Love knows no boundaries. Love knows no limits. And love knows when it has found its partner. There have been many attempts through history to limit love. All have failed. As we move further into the 21st century, I am confident that attempts to limit love will fail again and that full marriage equality will become a reality. This motion before the parliament does not seek to overturn the Howard government’s change to the Marriage Act which sought to limit marriage to a few. My colleague Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has a bill before parliament that, when passed, will amend the Marriage Act to enshrine the right for all Australians to marry regardless of their gender or sexuality. In time the Greens will move for that bill to be debated. But with this motion we seek to provide an opportunity for members of parliament, the media and, most importantly, the community to discuss the importance of marriage equality. The motion is not binding on members of parliament or the government. Its passage will not in itself legally endorse or ratify the right to marriage equality. Rather it will acknowledge the reality of community opinion in Australia, which has changed.

In moving this motion, the Greens want parliament to acknowledge that Australian public opinion is changing. We also want parliament to acknowledge that change is happening around the world. We want those who are still stuck in the old way of thinking to go out and engage with the people in their electorates to find out where they are now at. I welcome my colleagues who have chosen to participate in this debate today and I am encouraged by the fact that many more MPs would have spoken today if we had more time for speaking spots rather than the 10 we were able to allocate. I am also encouraged by the number of members of parliament, including ministers, who have indicated their support for marriage equality through the media. Some of them have raised the prospect of bringing forward their party conference to change policy. I am also encouraged by suggestions and support by various members for a friendship group that could progress these issues. This is all welcome. However, I would say that there is no need for such delay. If the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition were willing to shift direction, we could change the law right now. It is especially disappointing that the Prime Minister and the government continue to hold on to 20th century thinking on matters of love when the community is so far ahead of them.

We know that the community has progressed. Recent polling shows that the majority of Australians support a move to full equality for marriage. When the Greens’ Marriage Equality Amendment Bill was considered by a Senate inquiry, over 25,000 submissions were received. We know that there are many small groups who are well organised and well resourced and that they will continue to speak out very loudly in favour of discrimination. But it is a mistake to think that, because they speak loudly, they speak for everyone. I would ask members concerned about those groups to have a look at today’s analysis of community attitudes appearing in the Fairfax press. What it suggests for those sitting in this House by virtue of a small margin is that the well-organised old-world lobby groups are not engaging the voters in your seats. Instead what you will find there, as Mark Davis writes, is that ‘perhaps the marginal seats are not as fussed by gay marriage as the politicians think’. That means the time is right to make this change.

There are now so many people wanting to marry but whose love the law says cannot be recognised, and there are their friends and family members. It is these people whom this debate is ultimately about—the many, many people who want to marry and cannot because their partner is of the same sex and the many, many people whose sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, grandmothers and grandfathers, friends and neighbours all know someone who wants to be married but cannot because of this archaic legal discrimination.

Today the online campaigning group GetUp! asked couples to submit their photos and their stories of why they want to be married. Tony Bannister wrote:

The attached photo is of my beautiful partner Paul Walters & I. We have been together as a couple for over 13 years. We are committed to each other, our families and our friends. We have busy, successful careers, have a number of properties which we co-jointly own and we live our lives, just like most other ‘married’ couples in harmony with each other in a caring and loving way.

What we don’t have is a recognition of our partnership in terms of legally or equality. Not only is this discriminating as to what this means to ours and others relationships but I strongly believe that this is at the root of discrimination in terms of educating our children that same sex partnership, marriage and unions are just as equal, loving and right as our parents and friends. Anyone we are connected to, from parents to friends to work colleagues, can see that what we have is no different from what they have yet agree that we should have the same rights and protections. Until this happens we are living in a world of ignorance and intolerance.

That is an important point. When one considers what the arguments against same-sex marriage are, it can only devolve to the basic proposition that there are two groups of people in Australia, one of which deserves more rights than others. When you have a young boy in a country town who is struggling with his sexuality, or a girl in a city school, for us in this parliament to be sending the message that there are two classes of people is completely unjustifiable and will not promote full equality in our community. The examples on the GetUp! website are just a few of the thousands of Australians who want to be married but are barred by the Howard government ban.

There have been times throughout history when the civil rights of the group of people have been violated, often with legal sanction. Many of those struggles continue. The struggle to end discrimination and for full equality for LGBTI people did not begin with marriage equality and it will not end when it is achieved, but it is an important turning point for that struggle. There is a famous aphorism ‘Love conquers all’. As I said in my opening remarks, love is a powerful force and it is a powerful force for good. It is the power of love that has brought us to this moment in the debate over marriage equality, and it is the power of love that will force this parliament and this country to face the reality of what marriage and love mean in the 21st century.

I know that some people have said that they do not need a motion to go and engage with their constituents and get their views. But what this motion does is ask members of this place to recognise that community attitudes have moved on. It is a call from those of us who believe in full equality to the rest of the members of this place to go and talk to the people in their communities and find out that their attitudes have changed. I commend this motion to the House. I know that this motion will not be the last step in the struggle for equality. This motion will not bind members to do certain things; this motion will not result in a change in the law. What it will do is take another important step in the struggle for what some senators and members on the government benches have acknowledged is inevitable law reform in this country. I comment this motion.

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Chisholm, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Denison, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

8:30 pm

Photo of Philip RuddockPhilip Ruddock (Berowra, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The motion that we have before us needs to be read with the remarks of the honourable member. It is quite clear that the honourable member is seeking support for fundamental change to the law of Australia in relation to marriage. The opposition has a clear position on that question, and that is that it believes that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and that the opposition does not support any change to Commonwealth law that would diminish the institution of marriage and will continue to oppose any action that would alter that status.

Having said that, let me make it clear that over a period of time there has been consideration of this issue. There was consideration by the High Court of Australia. It looked at the question as to what we mean when we refer to marriage. The court opined—and I notice that people pay great respect to the views of our court—that marriage is between a man and a woman. In fact, in May 2004 when I was Attorney-General I introduced the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill to prevent any possible further court rulings allowing same-sex marriages. The law was amended accordingly and it put beyond doubt the definition: marriage is a union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others voluntarily entered into for life.

There have been other times when the matter has been the subject of discussion. The states have recognised that you can establish a basis for civil unions for same-sex couples in which there is a recognition of the union between people that is very similar to the union that many others make—that is, a de facto relationship, which does not involve a marriage but which does carry certain rights and responsibilities. A de facto relationship would to all intents and purposes be for a same-sex couple very similar in its genesis in terms of the rights and responsibilities.

I have often been asked why it is that there is so much emphasis upon a union being between a man and a woman. It is seen that marriage has been ordained over a long period of time as a basis for ensuring that a union that can give rise to the procreation of children is the subject of some regularity and order, particularly when the ongoing care of those children becomes relevant when there might be differences of view as to whether or not the relationship should continue. It is in that context that we have law dealing with marriage break-up and law which primarily has as its focus the issue of how children are dealt with.

There has been a view over a long period of time in this country that in relation to children, while it cannot always be the case—for example, if there has been a death or other similar circumstance—that it is desirable that children have the role model of both a father and a mother available to them and influencing their upbringing and that is the preferable model for this country. It is self-evident that same-sex couples are unlikely to have children other than by the adoption of a child of one of those people in the union by another party or, if adoption to a same-sex couple over a man and a woman was permitted, which would generally would be seen as being less desirable in the context of the law dealing with adoption, where there are so few children available. I make the point that there are arguments that have carried a great deal of weight over a period of time that marriage should be for a man and a woman only and it not be available to same-sex couples. But it should not be seen that the arguments that I put mean that I believe that there should be overt discrimination against same-sex couples.

In fact, I have overseen a great deal of the work that gave rise to the development of the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—Superannuation) Act 2008. A lot of that work was done initially under the Howard government when the Law Reform Commission was looking at these matters. The Howard government wanted to see how we could progress the elimination of all those forms of discrimination which had been in place over a long period of time. I ought to make it clear that I supported very strongly the relevant legislation that brought about those changes in 2008. It brought them about in a number of areas: taxation; superannuation; defined superannuation benefits; social security and family assistance; the PBS safety net and the Medicare safety net; aged care arrangements; child support, where that was relevant; citizenship and veterans’ affairs. Even in relation to immigration, I played a very early role in supporting measures that enabled same-sex partners to be reunited in Australia in circumstances where one partner was a resident and the other was not in Australia.

Those changes, while they were not recognised on the basis of marriage or a de facto relationship, were like for same-sex couples as for the others. So I make the point that this is not a suggestion that we should have discrimination against same-sex couples in the wide range of other areas. I thought it was important that we were able to reform private-sector superannuation arrangements to ensure that same-sex couples could receive reversionary benefits. Similarly, I thought that for defined superannuation benefits, death benefits should be able to be conferred on same-sex partners. I think it was appropriate in the public sector. The best known case was that of Justice Michael Kirby. Changes were made so that his partner was able to benefit from the judges’ pension arrangements.

Equally, in relation to social security and family assistance, reforms were initiated that ensured that same-sex couples were recognised as couples and consequently would receive benefits on the same basis that opposite-sex couples, as the explanatory memorandum referred to them, received them. Likewise, the PBS safety net and the Medicare safety net arrangements, whereby same-sex couples previously could not access Medicare or pharmaceutical benefits as a family, were amended.

So I want to put beyond doubt that this is a measure that, if opposed, accommodates a view that people are opposed to same-sex couples being able to access benefits and other programs in the same way as married or de facto couples do. This is a very narrow issue that relates to the way marriage is defined. It is not designed to stop those who are described as being in love from being in a de facto relationship in the same way as other de facto couples are. All it does is recognise that marriage has always been seen to be different and that that basis ought to be kept, primarily because marriage deals with issues that arise when children can possibly be conceived. (Time expired)

8:41 pm

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Throsby, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to move the following amendment to Mr Bandt’s motion on same-sex marriage:

That all the words after ‘that’ be omitted, with a view to substituting the following words: ‘this House calls on all parliamentarians, consistent with their duties as representatives, to gauge their constituents’ views on ways to achieve equal treatment for same-sex couples, including marriage.’

I wish to make a few observations about the amendment. The first observation is that I do not pretend to be an early activist on this issue. When I think about the issues that I campaigned on this year, they were about dealing with youth unemployment, which stands at around 14 per cent in my area, reforming our economy to make it more sustainable and preserving our planet for future generations. It was about improving infrastructure and access to health and education services. Now, having focused on the issue and having applied the core Labor values of equality, fairness and dignity, I believe that there is a case for change. Indeed, it was these values that led Labor, in its first term, to conduct an exhaustive review of all Commonwealth laws to identify and remove all areas of discrimination against same-sex couples. In the last parliament the Labor government amended 86 separate pieces of legislation to this end.

The second observation is that if change is to occur it must be built on community consensus. If legislation is to be changed it will require consensus, which will require more votes than any single party can muster in this chamber. That will not be achieved by a heroic dash but by careful advocacy that respects different views, respectfully. On this issue there are different views. There are some who, on theological grounds, believe that to celebrate marriage of two men or two women is an affront to their religion. I have thought carefully about this objection, and I cannot help but draw the conclusion that the real objection here is not to the marriage but to the relationship.

We can be thankful that we live in a society in which those who hold this view are as free to hold it as I am to say, respectfully, that I do not agree. We on the Labor side are opposed to discrimination. This opposition is grounded in the value of fairness and equity, and we are opposed to treating people differently because of gender, race, religion or sexual preference.

There are others who argue that same-sex marriage is an affront to tradition. I have more sympathy for this argument because I am a great believer in the importance of tradition. It is often the stuff that binds us together, but it can also be the stuff that excludes and impedes genuine progress. We in this place must be very careful of mindless genuflection to tradition, because traditions change over time. There have been many matrimonial traditions which we now think of as absurd, if not abhorrent. Betrothal, dowry and a wife’s matrimonial vow of obedience to husband come to mind as examples.

The third observation I would make is that marriage is an important institution in our society. It is a special relationship where two people say to each other and to the rest of the world that they agree to be bound together in love, exclusive of all others, for life. I believe it would diminish us all as a society if we were to say that we may exclude gay and lesbian couples from this celebration. That marks them as somehow less worthy or even as biological oddities. I respect the right of religious organisations and others in our community to disagree with this view and to continue to practise in accordance with their beliefs. Indeed, no motion or act of this place can of itself change those beliefs. But it is an entirely different thing to ask of the state to enforce it.

Finally, I come to this place as a representative of my party and my electorate. I will advocate for change, but I will do that in my electorate and in accordance with the rules and processes of my party in this parliament. (Time expired)

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Chisholm, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the amendment seconded?

Photo of Sharon GriersonSharon Grierson (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

8:46 pm

Photo of Bruce BillsonBruce Billson (Dunkley, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Small Business, Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Madam Acting Deputy Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to contribute to the debate tonight on the member for Melbourne’s private member’s motion. It originally sought to convey some current information about international trends and domestic opinions about same-sex marriage and it urges members to engage with constituents about community views. Email traffic that I have received, though, has interpreted the member’s motion as being more about moving forward with equal recognition for all couples and a call for marriage equality. Others included one sent to me and presented as being from the and actually coming from me, which I found quite amusing. I got an email from myself, which I did not write, that claimed that this motion was a ‘dangerous proposal’ which would undermine society.

Clearly, what the motion says—and the manoeuvres on the amendments tonight are one thing—and what many people believe it is actually about vary greatly. Tonight the motion has been varied on the floor, and we are now discussing a different subject. But with the vast majority of the communications I have had on this motion being about the broader topic of same-sex marriage, this is where I will focus my remarks.

As I have previously stated, I do not support the definition of marriage being altered to include same-sex couples. I believe that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and I do not support any change to Commonwealth law that could diminish the institution. I would be supportive of a national register of civil unions and relationships that clearly captures and conveys the dignified and honoured status of a committed and durable relationship between two adults that can be witnessed by family, friends and a broader community. Countries with civil unions and registered partnership legislation include Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Greenland, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Uruguay and at least 10 states in the United States. This of course is an avenue open to Australia, and I urge its examination.

I encourage an examination of civil unions and registered partnerships as a pathway that would afford an opportunity for special and dignified status and state sanctioned honour in a manner that I believe would engender public support and confidence. In my view public support and confidence matters. As public attitudes evolve, support for the continuing evolution and nurturing of this public view is important if moves are to be supported by the public. A celebration or a public commitment in the form of a marriage is one form of expression of the form, character, quality and durability of a relationship. It is no impediment to having other relationships that are part of a public commitment and celebrated in another form, with another character, another quality and other durability.

But the important thing is that if we are to move forward with this recognition we cannot do so by diminishing the sense of right and designation that people who have married have chosen for themselves. It is quite ironic that this charge for rights is being pursued by diminishing the rights of those who have chosen to designate their relationship a traditional marriage. I do not understand that logic. People who have entered into a marriage as it is defined and recognised under the law, whether it be by way of tradition, custom, conservatism or religious orientation, have done so consciously, knowing that that is the designation they have sought, that that will be the designation they will secure and that the nature of the relationship they have entered into will be recognised as such by the broader community. We should not seek to remove that from people who have chosen that pathway and have operated within the current definition of marriage, which I agree with. What we should aim to do is offer another pathway, one that is a public commitment also, a celebration, an expression of the form, character, quality and durability of a same-sex relationship. But it does not need to appropriate the definition and the title of ‘marriage’. Let us call it something else. Let us grant the desire for recognition that some want.

In conversations with my friends and the local community, the gay community are not as one on this voice. Many convey to me a belief in the importance and the quality of the relationship, not the title or the moniker that it attracts. Those in a traditional marriage hold fast to that distinction because that is a definition they chose for themselves. A pathway forward should be able to accommodate both. (Time expired)

8:51 pm

Photo of Sharon GriersonSharon Grierson (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the private member’s motion put forward by the member for Melbourne and to support the amendment by the member for Throsby that ‘this House calls on all parliamentarians, consistent with their duties as representatives, to gauge their constituents’ views on ways to achieve equal treatment for same-sex couples including marriage’. I personally welcome the specific inclusion of marriage in the amendment. That is where the debate is in our communities.

I want to speak on this motion for several reasons: first, to demonstrate that this is a mainstream issue which affects many people who live in my electorate and in every electorate across Australia. This is not an issue confined to same-sex couples or to any particular lifestyle or to any particular place of residence. This is an issue that goes to the core of the human experience: the need to be loved and to love and the need some people feel to have that bond formally recognised in a union called marriage. Although it is my personal view that marriage as a legal construct has some serious limitations, I understand that to many people it is an important milestone in their quest to form a partnership in life based on lasting love and commitment.

Second, it requires no elaboration other than to say that, amongst my wider family, friends, colleagues and community and within organisations that I deal with every day as an MP, there are many people in same-sex relationships who would like the right to marry. They would want me to put forward their view and oppose discrimination against them on the basis of their sexual preference and the nature of their relationships. I am pleased to do that tonight.

Third, as a heterosexual mother of two heterosexual daughters, I do not come to this debate because of any intimate experience. But I am a mother and I empathise with the mother who emailed me to say that she has two young adult children, one who is married to the person they love and the other who cannot marry the person they love because they are of the same sex. There was a certain poignancy and regret expressed that I would think all mothers and fathers can understand. We hope our children find a special partner in their lives to love and support them as we as parents loved and supported them before they gained their independence. To loving parents, the gender nature of that relationship is secondary, as it should be. And as parents we hope that our children will be able to celebrate that special relationship with their family and friends. For many, the most important part of that celebration is marriage.

Although the Constitution extends to us here the power to legislate on marriage and divorce, the first Marriage Bill introduced into the Commonwealth parliament in 1960 and reintroduced in 1961 did not define who could marry but made bigamy an offence. An attempt at the time to amend the legislation to define marriage as ‘a voluntary union of one man and one woman for life to the exclusion of all others’ was defeated 40 votes to eight—a more enlightened time, perhaps.

But in 2004 the Howard government introduced two bills which defined marriage as between a man and a woman and clarified that same-sex marriages entered into under the law of another country would not be recognised under Australian law. The then opposition, of which I was a member, supported those changes without division. As is the procedure within the Australian Labor Party, I spoke against that position in caucus but was bound by the caucus decision, based on ALP policy. Within the ALP we continue to apply that collective approach, but similarly I will continue to speak out to eliminate discrimination in all its forms.

Tonight’s motion is not to change the Marriage Act and it is not a debate to support or oppose same-sex marriage, but it supports honest dialogue in our communities and in our electorates about same-sex marriage, just like the debate that already is occurring. The recent Australian Story program Mum’s the Word provoked much debate; the churches are having this same debate; and our community are considering this issue as they confront the reality for their family members, friends and work mates. That is a good thing. To the many, many people—hundreds—from my electorate who have emailed me on this issue: thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. That is a good thing too.

I also speak tonight as a member of the Australian Labor Party, a party that historically has brought about equality of opportunity in this country. Labor governments championed opportunity for all and led the way in bringing about fairness and dignity in the workplace. Labor governments delivered strong economic and social reforms to deliver better standards of living in this nation. And it was a Labor government in 2008 that removed discrimination against same-sex couples in 100 Commonwealth laws. That was a phenomenal achievement, one which was overdue and had wide community support. But for same-sex couples the Marriage Act remains the last hurdle in granting them equal rights. So I encourage continued debate within the ALP and within our communities and I personally hope that honest dialogue free from prejudice and intolerance will lead to same-sex marriage being recognised in this country and legislated in this parliament. (Time expired)

8:56 pm

Photo of Warren EntschWarren Entsch (Leichhardt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very well documented as an advocate for gay rights and the right to equality and I continue to support the cause wholeheartedly. I have many gay friends who have been adversely impacted upon by discrimination in our communities, and I believe that equality should not be determined by one’s sexuality under any circumstance. I am aware that there is a growing list of countries allowing same-sex couples to marry, and I agree that we need to gauge constituents’ views on the subject of gay marriage. While I support gays and lesbians in having their relationships recognised, I think there are much bigger issues at play that need to be dealt with as a matter of priority.

Just some of the issues that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are facing through federal government discrimination include where some individuals are unable to access the necessary Medicare rebate codes required to provide medical treatment because of the way the government sees their sex. For example, they may have legally changed their sex, in the case of a transgender person, or they may be legally recognised as a male but have physical attributes usually associated with a female, in the case of intersex people. In both cases, where Medicare provides rebates for only men or only women, sex and gender diverse people get caught up in the middle of the red tape. Government departments have refused to recognise that while you were born a man you now live the life of a woman, due to various legal and financial hurdles involved in meeting government requirements. In these cases government communication often still contains the prefix ‘Mr’ rather than ‘Mrs’ or ‘Miss’. For a transgender woman living in a rural town, this can cause enormous mental anguish as your neighbours find out about your past.

There are a range of other issues that face older gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in Australia. Many older people in this community currently accessing aged-care services have lived a lifetime of discrimination and they continue to remain in the closet in aged care, fearful of discrimination, and are therefore largely invisible in the aged-care sector. Because aged-care services have largely not recognised gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender clients, they are forced to return to their closet in old age in the fear of receiving lesser treatment by their aged-care service providers. The transfer of responsibility for aged care from states to the federal government as part of the health and hospitals reform provides a unique opportunity for the federal government to address this issue and ensure that culturally appropriate aged-care services cater for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender older Australians.

The definition of de facto spouse within the Sex Discrimination Act is the last remaining definition in federal legislation where there is a distinction between heterosexual de facto couples and same-sex couples. During the 2010 federal campaign it was the Liberal Party that was committed to protecting same-sex couples from discrimination by introducing protections on the grounds of relationship status. The change to include same-sex couples in the Sex Discrimination Act is a minor technical amendment that would bring the Sex Discrimination Act into line with the 2008 reforms passed by the parliament that enjoyed absolute bipartisan support. I might add it was a campaign that I initiated back in 2004 and during the next three years was able to convince both sides of parliament of the value of being able to proceed with the removal of this discrimination. The impact, however, of this amendment would ensure that the benchmark was set across Australia that same-sex de facto couples could not be discriminated against.

Another area that also needs to be addressed is that identified by ACON’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy that same-sex attracted young couples are at significantly higher risk of self-harm and suicidal behaviours, with many factors influencing behaviour. It is important that we deal with that. My point is that we are a long way from correcting much of the urgent issues facing this community before we tackle the recognition of gay unions. We need to get our priorities right. I am very keen to establish a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender parliamentary friendship group where gays and lesbians can have direct access to MPs to discuss issues of direct concern to them. This will help us to bring these issues out into the open and I believe it is an essential step in moving forward to greater equality. I am in the process now of establishing that as a cross-party parliamentary friendship group and I encourage all members to participate in that friendship group. It is a wonderful way of being able to get a greater understanding of these members of our community. (Time expired)

9:02 pm

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Denison, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very pleased to support the motion of the member for Melbourne calling on members to gauge their constituents’ views on the issue of marriage equality in Australia. My support for marriage equality is well known. However, for me, this important issue is not just to do with same-sex marriage. It is about equality: that everyone, regardless of their gender, race, sexual preference or religion be treated the same under Australian law. In essence, I believe passionately that all people are equal and should be treated as such. The fact is that in Australia, if you are a man and a woman and not married to anyone else, you can go and get married, but if you are a man and a man you cannot. The same situation applies if you are a woman wanting to marry a woman. In other words, the law is not treating people equally. It is legislated discrimination that treats some lovers as second-class citizens simply because of the people they want to marry. And that is not fair.

Australia’s history has other examples of legislated discrimination. For instance, if you were living in Australia a little more than 100 years ago and you were a woman, you simply could not vote. It was less than 50 years ago that, if you were a woman working in the Public Service in Australia, when you got married you also signed up for unemployment and had to hand in your notice. Fast forward to 2010, with a woman as Governor-General and another as our first female Prime Minister, and these laws look archaic and unjust. A politician foolish enough to propose we ban women from voting, or demand that they quit work simply because they got married, would be derided and ridiculed as out of touch and sexist.

I note the government is still working to reduce most remaining areas of discrimination—for example, with a paid parental scheme to help reduce active discrimination against women in the workplace. It is also encouraging to see that the government is now taking the recognition of Indigenous rights to the next level, recently proposing a referendum to enable formal recognition in the Constitution. Yet here we are in 2010 when two out of three Australians are in favour of marriage equality but still we are discussing whether or not we should even canvass the issue of marriage equality. Remember that this motion is only to do with having a discussion in the community about marriage equality. It is not a motion to remove the discrimination in the law that states marriage must be between a man and a woman. Surely Australia, a nation that prides itself on giving everyone a fair go, is mature enough to have this discussion. Indeed, it is a discussion many of us have already had sitting around a dinner table, having a natter at a barbecue or on a Friday night over a drink.

It is beyond time that we as politicians listened to that discussion rather than bury our heads in the sand and leave it for our successors to sort out the mess—a tactic I am sure more than some members in this place would prefer. But to those members I say that events have overtaken you, the conversation has already begun and it is time we all joined in. If this motion fails to win support, I believe the parliament, already out of step with the community on this issue, will risk losing touch even more with the people it is supposed to represent—people who, according to the recent Galaxy poll, are two-thirds in favour of same-sex marriage. In other words, the majority of the Australian community is ready for a conscience vote on marriage equality, so let us at least agree to go so far as having a public discussion about the issue.

In closing, I need to remind members that this is not a debate about religion and who can get married in a church. Churches are private institutions and obviously it must remain up to them who they marry. All we are talking about here is the need for members to facilitate a discussion in their electorates about marriage equality. Doing so will reflect, I am sure, not only the breadth and strength of views in the community concerning marriage equality but also the fact that the majority of Australians favour marriage equality.

9:06 pm

Photo of Malcolm TurnbullMalcolm Turnbull (Wentworth, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband) Share this | | Hansard source

It was 40 years ago this year that my father-in-law, the Hon. Tom Hughes QC, as Attorney-General, spoke to the Australian Council of Social Service on the subject of homosexual law reform. This was an age when a homosexual act was illegal. Homosexual men who engaged in homosexual activities were at risk of prosecution and imprisonment. It seems like a completely different world, but it was only 40 years ago. Tom Hughes said in that speech:

It is one thing to disapprove on moral grounds of homosexual connection in a private place between consenting adults. It is another thing to permit such disapproval to drive one to the conclusion that conduct of that description should be classified as criminal. In a pluralist society it is no part of the function of the law to uphold and preserve the Judaeo-Christian ethic simply because that ethic exists.

Tom Hughes was widely criticised at the time by many people across the board, but in the years that followed he was not the only member of the coalition to speak out in defence of equal rights for homosexual people. Shortly after his speech, the Liberal and Country League member Murray Hill introduced a private member’s bill into the South Australian legislative council to decriminalise homosexuality, and that occurred in 1975. In 1973 the former Liberal Prime Minister John Gorton sponsored a motion here in the federal parliament supporting homosexual law reform. That was passed by the House of Representatives, decriminalising homosexual acts in the territories.

As the former Attorney-General, the member for Berowra, noted earlier in this debate, in 2004 the Howard government made changes to superannuation law that introduced the concept of interdependency, giving same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual couples. And in 2007 I announced on behalf of the government that death benefits would be extended to same-sex couples under the Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme. So our side of politics has long supported a reasoned debate on this very important issue and has supported changes to the law in line with changes to community attitudes. We strongly supported the HREOC reforms that were passed by this parliament in 2008, and they were a watershed in terms of rights for same-sex couples, because they fairly comprehensively eliminated discrimination under federal law. The member for Leichhardt has quite fairly described some other matters of continuing discrimination and they should undoubtedly be addressed. His call for a friendship group for LGBTI issues and citizens is a very good one and I certainly join with him in encouraging honourable members to support that group.

I have for many years taken the view that, while advocating strongly for equal rights and the elimination of all discrimination for same-sex couples, nonetheless marriage is a permanent union between a man and a woman. That is the traditional view. The argument is put that tradition is not in and of itself a justification for discrimination, because plainly there are many traditions, particularly in the area of the rights of men and women, that have long passed quite rightly into history. It was not so long ago, as I have discussed, that homosexual acts were criminal in and of themselves. To go back a little further, to the 19th century, married women were not allowed to inherit property. So there have been many changes. I believe it is important for us always to remain in touch with our constituents on this issue, to be aware of changing attitudes, to recognise changes in our community and, at the same time as we support equal rights for all Australians, to listen carefully to our constituents. Having said that, this motion is, in the words of my father-in-law, with whom I began these remarks, ‘a penetrating glimpse of the obvious’. A motion calling on members of parliament to talk to their constituents is no more than asking us to do our jobs, and we do not need a motion to do that. (Time expired)

9:11 pm

Photo of Shayne NeumannShayne Neumann (Blair, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Like many in this place, I have relatives and numerous friends in same-sex relationships. Families come in many shapes and sizes, and love between consenting adults is to be cherished and honoured. I have always believed that we should end discrimination against same-sex couples. I have always taken the view in internal ALP fora that we need to end the egregious and outrageous discrimination in relation to taxation, social security, health, aged care, family law and employment. I do not believe that there is a community consensus on this issue of same-sex marriage and I do not believe many in our community are ready for same-sex marriage, for personal, religious, philosophical and traditional reasons. I was pleased when the previous Labor opposition adopted the attitude it did in relation to the amendments to the Marriage Act and supported the position that we took at the national conference in relation to marriage being between a man and a woman. That is based on the classic Hyde definition of the 19th century, which Justice Brennan of the High Court adopted and recognised in the case of the Queen v L. It is the position adopted in the Family Law Act as well.

That said, it took a Labor government, of which I am proud to be a member, to end more than 100 instances of discrimination against same-sex couples in federal law. It took a Labor government to go beyond the 58 instances which were identified in the June 2007 Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s report Same-sex: same entitlements. When it came to power, Labor identified more than 100 statutes and provisions which discriminated by using the term ‘member of the opposite sex’ in legislation relating to aged care, superannuation, child care, Medicare—including PBS—pensions et cetera. These are all basics that opposite gender couples are legally entitled to and take for granted. It was a Labor government which ended this outrageous and egregious discrimination against same-sex couples.

The federal Labor government does support a nationally consistent framework for relationship recognition to be implemented by the states and territories—again, a position adopted at the national conference of the ALP. Victoria, the ACT, New South Wales and Tasmania have established relationship recognition schemes, and relationships recognised under these schemes are now recognised in a wide range of Commonwealth laws. The federal Labor government will continue to encourage the states and territories to do this. We support also—and we took this to the last election—enactment of legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation or gender status and the removal of such discrimination from Commonwealth legislation. During the election, the Gillard Labor government confirmed it would be introducing legislation to protect against discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation or gender status as part of its review in consolidation of federal antidiscrimination laws into a single act. We will of course undertake consultation in relation to these matters with stakeholders on the proposed single antidiscrimination law.

I commend Attorney-General Robert McClelland, who carried a community consensus in relation to so many areas. These issues of discrimination persisted for a long time in areas of child support, family law, employment and taxation, making sure that same-sex couples felt less part of the Australian community. These forms of discrimination were done away with, making very clear that rights were being extended, including joint social security and veterans entitlements, child support, employment entitlements, superannuation, workers compensation, inheritance rights and the ability to file a joint tax return to gain the same tax rebates as married couples. These were important Labor reforms because it is Labor which has had a long history of ending discrimination. It took the election of a Labor government to do this. The coalition had not the wisdom nor the determination to end this discrimination against same-sex couples. I commend the member for Throsby’s amendment and commit myself to making sure that the gay and lesbian community in my electorate feel part of the electorate of Blair and that they always feel loved, cherished and honoured.

9:17 pm

Photo of Teresa GambaroTeresa Gambaro (Brisbane, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Citizenship and Settlement) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the motion from the member for Melbourne. The Liberal Party has had an unparalleled legacy of firsts in the recognition of female and Indigenous political representation and in real and practical outcomes that have focused on fairness and the merit of the individual. I want to comment on the words of the member for Blair on this subject and acknowledge the fantastic work that the member for Leichhardt did in 2004 to ensure that there were equal rights across a number of areas of federal legislation. We have also had a support base that respects our tradition of avoiding fleeting trends and pointless populism. As the Liberal Party, we pride ourselves on providing a genuine balance between liberal progression and conservative stability and we must bring such considerations to this important debate.

There is a very strong argument that legal rights and social acceptance of gays and lesbians must continue to progress. Same-sex couples rightfully demand the practical benefits and social respect that heterosexual couples enjoy and I believe that the majority of Australians generally support equal rights for same-sex couples. I believe that those in my electorate of Brisbane would demand that such equal rights are adhered to. And I support the views in the community in relation to any proposed changes to the specific definition of marriage.

There is some genuine division of opinion in the wider community. I have spoken with people of all ages and backgrounds and it is really important to note that there is even disagreement within the gay and wider community as to the best way forward. Our older generation have seen and lived through unprecedented change, and I would imagine many of them are appalled by what they perceive as disrespect for the traditions that have served them so well. They have seen great achievement and prosperity from the stable family traditions that they have known and respected. As such, there is an argument for giving serious consideration to the issue before we engage change in important traditions. If the argument is about preserving the historic designation of marriage as being exclusively between a man and a woman then let us ensure that we fully consider the fact that we may be terminating a well-respected and definitive institution.

There are a whole range of issues that many speakers before me have canvassed, and they are equally important to the LGBT community, who often do not receive the same level of acknowledgement by members in this place or the media. Some of those issues are: the fear of discrimination by aged-care providers; access to sex-specific Medicare rebates for transgender or intersex people who may not have been recognised as that sex by Medicare—for example, prostate cancer for post-operative transgender women; and the inclusion of same-sex de facto relationships within marital or relationship status protection in federal antidiscrimination laws. There are already precedents internationally that suggest that same-sex civil unions are not equally recognised—for example, in the UK, where insurers have been found to charge higher premiums for same-sex civil union partners because such partners are only recognised as singles for insurance purposes.

There are many considerations in this important debate but fundamentally we must adhere to the philosophy of a fair go for all. It is in our national ethos, it is right, it is true and it is relevant to these considerations. But we must also respect our traditions and respect those who hold them dear. There are many considerations and I believe that they would coincide with the thoughts of the wider Brisbane community.

I have received many emails and phone calls from people from the Brisbane electorate regarding this motion. There are many differing opinions on this matter. I have heard directly from gays that there is even difference of opinion in the gay community for and against this issue, just as there are a range of opinions from heterosexuals. I have heard from straight people who have entered into civil unions who are quite content with the public affirmation that they have received from a civil union.

This motion specifically asks us to consult our constituents. I am happy to consult the people of Brisbane, as I have always been happy to consult my constituents and canvass their views on this issue.

Photo of Ms Anna BurkeMs Anna Burke (Chisholm, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.