Monday, 3 June 2013
Private Members' Business
Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012; Second Reading
I rise tonight to reiterate my position on marriage equality, which I have spoken about before in this parliament. After much thought over many years, I am convinced the debate around marriage equality is fundamentally an argument about justice and that all people should be equal before the law. So, in good conscience, I have had no other choice than to support marriage equality.
Over the years I have honestly tried to weigh all the arguments in this debate. Many people try to convince me not to support marriage equality. In doing so, they have urged me to consider the children of same-sex unions. It caused me to reflect on my own family. I would have preferred that my father had not left my mother when I was 11. It was not my choice, it was not the choice of my sisters and it was certainly not the choice of my mother. It was the choice of my father. I bitterly resent and take deep offence at the suggestion that I was not raised in a family or that I am damaged or dysfunctional because I was raised by a single mother, because families come in many forms. Over the ages, children have been raised by aunts, by uncles, by grandparents, by siblings, by cousins, by friends, by benefactors, by the church, by the court, by nannies and by boarding schools. What is critical is that children in all circumstances are loved, respected, nurtured and safe. The construct of a family did not matter to me. The only thing I needed to know when I got home from school was that I had someone there to reassure me, to nurture me and to tell me that I was okay and that life was okay.
Then there is the experience of my wider family. I am the proud godmother of Alice Rose Uhlmann-Foy. She is a precocious young girl with an unbridled passion for potato chips, and she is a girl well on her way to being Prime Minister. I find it impossible to believe that she could have more devoted parents than Elizabeth Uhlmann and Kate Foy. Both know that nothing is more nurturing than the love of family, and the world is a better place because Liz and Kate have two beautiful daughters, Alice Rose and Emma Kathleen. I cannot deny to them anything that I would wish for myself, and the best thing in my life is my marriage. My marriage stabilises me, energises me and constantly encourages me to be better than I am. Liz and Kate know that their life has not been an easy thing for some in our family to reconcile, but we all know that and we understand that, and we love them for it.
I have met with many, many constituents on this issue, and I have been struck by the strength and passion of both sides of the argument. For the most part, both sides have been deeply respectful. However, I have also been struck by the intolerance of a handful of people around this debate calling for tolerance. I have also been offended by the suggestion that those who do not support same-sex marriage are necessarily homophobic. The constituents I have met who are opposed to same-sex marriage are not homophobic. Like those who support it, they are driven by a deep faith and deep morality, and I respect that. But I respectfully disagree.
I call on all of my parliamentary colleagues and activists on both sides to maintain a respectful tone in this debate on this very important issue. It is, after all, a debate that is so deeply personal to so many. I am also firmly of the belief that no church should ever be forced to marry same-sex couples, and I will never support that. But the state already recognises unions like de facto couples that churches do not. Before the law of this Commonwealth, all women and men should be equal, no matter their colour, no matter their creed, no matter their sexual orientation, because people have the right to choose the individual they love, and, if they choose to marry, the state should not stand in their way. Strong relationships are the foundation on which we build a strong community.
I have spoken on this issue many times in this chamber and in the main chamber, so I do not think I need to talk in detail about my views on marriage equality other than to summarise and to make a few points very quickly. I respect the fact that within my electorate there are a broad range of views on this issue, and I certainly respect the views of my constituents who might have a view different to my own. But as I have gone about my work—and I have met many people—it has merely served to confirm in my own mind that it would be the right thing to do to amend the Marriage Act to allow people of the same sex to marry. In saying that, I emphasise that I respect the views of those who disagree with me, and I have sought to represent them within my electorate and in this place, but I am firmly of the view that the Marriage Act should be changed—in fact, it will be changed one day; the only question is exactly when it will be changed.
I believe it must be changed for a number of reasons. For a start, you cannot outlaw love. I believe that two people, whether they be a man and a woman or two men or two women, if they love each other, are entitled to the same right to marry as any other couple. I also believe that the Marriage Act as it is currently worded and as it was amended by the Howard government is nothing short of legislated discrimination. This parliament has virtually ended legislated discrimination in a broad range of other acts of parliament, but it is remarkable that in this act the legislated discrimination remains, and I believe that that should be done away with. The way to do away with it is to do away with the requirement that a marriage be between a man and a woman. It should merely be between two people, and that includes two men or two women.
But, having said that, of course churches are private institutions, and they must be allowed to choose who they marry. I think it has been a very important component of the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012 and of previous attempts to bring about marriage equality in this place that, when we do change the Marriage Act—and we will one day—it must be explicit that the churches retain the right to choose who they marry.
This is an issue where I think people should be allowed to follow their hearts, which means that it needs to be a conscience vote. It should be a conscience vote, and I remain very disappointed that the opposition is continuing to refuse to allow a conscience vote. I note that the tradition and the public statements from the Liberal Party make it quite explicit that it is a party that allows its members to follow their conscience on each and every vote. So it is remarkable that, on this matter, the opposition continues to refuse to allow the members of the Liberal Party to do what the Liberal Party has allowed in the past for many other issues, what the Liberal Party says that it is quite proud of, and that is to allow members to follow their conscience. One day they will be allowed to follow their conscience, and I think that will significantly alter the outcome of that vote at that time.
This is not a personal attack on the Leader of the Opposition, but I do worry that, although it was famously said that he 'gets' women, I am not sure that he yet 'gets' gay people and their fundamental right to be able to choose who they love and to formalise that with a marriage under the Marriage Act. I call again on the opposition leader to do what his party says it allows and allow his members to follow their conscience and vote accordingly. Then we will know for sure what the genuine will of this parliament is on this issue.
In rising to speak to the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012, I start by acknowledging that there are very strong views on either side of this argument and also within the community. This is the third time that I have spoken on the issue of same-sex marriage. The first was on the member for Melbourne's notice of motion back in 2011 where we were called upon as members of parliament to consult with our communities. The second was on the member for Throsby's private members bill. Each time that I have spoken on this matter it has triggered an avalanche of correspondence in my electorate office.
I take up the point that the member for Denison just made with respect to a conscience vote. I think it is appropriate for members to have a conscience vote on this matter. In saying that, I must declare that I am coming into this debate with a strongly held personal view. My personal view is, and has always been, that marriage is between a man and a woman. I have been told that I am out of step with society and I have been accused of imposing my personal views on the community. It has also been said of me that I have been doing the bidding of the Catholic Church. I, like everybody else, can be influenced by my upbringing, but I have gone to some great length to ensure that I do not impose my personal views on my community.
At one of the ALP conferences, as you would recall, Madam Speaker, where I think you and I both spoke, I got written up for having a view which was not necessarily popular. I got written up then as a vile, rotten politician. This is an issue of conscience and it should not be subject to politicking. It should not be subject to focus groups and surveys or influenced by external negotiations. It is your own personal position. If your views can be so easily affected by external forces, I think that says more about the person than anything about the subject matter that we are discussing.
Recently I was in a discussion with a very good friend of mine, Jim Marsden, a prominent solicitor in Campbelltown. Clearly he has a very strong view about marriage equality and is concerned that my view is out of step with the community. His late brother, John, was a leading solicitor, a champion of civil rights and a person associated with the contemporary developments of Campbelltown. He was a good friend of mine, like his brother, but John was gay. But that in no way affected my relationship with him or diminished my respect for him, his professionalism or the friendship that we shared. But I just cannot find it in me to apologise for the personal views that I hold.
In this debate, I am challenged to put the community view ahead of my own beliefs. In accordance with the motion moved by the member for Melbourne back in 2011, I consulted with my electorate. I actually went to great lengths to do so. I received vast amounts of correspondence. I received four petitions; three of them had over 400 signatures each and the fourth had, from memory, 150 signatures. I conducted an online survey, as I know many other members did, and the feedback I received was overwhelming. I undertook the survey using the same basis that others members used; as a matter of fact, I think we all used the words that were in The Sydney Morning Herald to assess it. However, I got a vastly different result. There were 395 participants in the survey, and the responses demonstrated that in excess of 92 per cent of my electorate were opposed to same-sex marriage. Because I reported it that way, the view was that my survey must have been doctored somehow, but I have no reason to do things like that.
My electorate is very multicultural, it is certainly socioeconomically challenged, and people with disabilities are overrepresented. But it also has a very strong and active, vibrant religious enclave. As I said, I will not come into this place and apologise for my own personal views, but I certainly will not come in here and apologise for the overwhelming view taken by my community.
I rise for the fifth time to speak on a bill to amend the Marriage Act. At the outset, I would like to dispel the myth that members of the Liberal Party are unable to use their conscience vote. Unlike the Labor Party, we are, and I have used it on a number of occasions against my own party. We have the ability to vote with the other side of the parliament or abstain from voting. That is still available to people.
Having said that, I make the point once again: you have to admit that advocates for same-sex marriage are persistent. The member for Melbourne is certainly committed to the process of social engineering. The dogma to destroy the definition of marriage as defined in the Marriage Act is well and truly alive, and it will continue. He and his ilk arrogantly and continually ignore the wishes of the majority of Australians who, through their elected representatives, have emphatically said no to the recognition of same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage advocates like the member for Melbourne have placed new meaning on the Fabian Society's process of gradualism, or the drip, drip, drip process of social brainwashing.
I quote from a succinct editorial on page 18 of The Weekend Australian of 29 May 2004, following the debate on the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2004 which resulted in significant recognition of the rights of homosexuals and reinforces the relentless self-indulgence of the homosexual movement's push for same-sex marriage, despite those generous reforms. The editorial began:
HOMOSEXUAL Australians had a big practical win and a small symbolic defeat this week The Government announced legislation to allow superannuation to pass to a same sex partner without penalty tax. It means that gay and lesbian partners will have the same rights as married couples and heterosexuals in de facto relationships. This is a long overdue and sensible decision that will put an end to a ridiculous restriction on the rights of homosexual couples.
And I agree with that. It went on:
The Government was accused of playing politics, seeking to shore up conservative support. But if this was the Prime Minister's motive it was one Labor was quick to share, saying it would support the legislation restricting marriage to heterosexuals. While gay activists might not like it, the major parties are convinced the community will not wear the idea of same sex marriage.
And nothing has changed. The editorial also said:
Without this legislation, social engineers on the bench and at the bar would likely soon find some contrivance under international law that would bind Australia to acknowledge overseas same sex marriages and adoption rights. Mr Howard is quite right to say that if the definition of marriage is to change it should be done by the people’s elected representatives, not the courts.
Gays who argue this is demeaning and unjust should get over it. There is nothing that prevents priests and celebrants conducting ceremonies for gay couples affirming their decision to live as couples. They may not be married under the law but surely how they, and the people in their lives, perceive their relationship is what matters most.
Fifty-one years ago, I married a wonderful woman in a marriage ceremony which was and is applicable to every Australian resident, without exception, today. The question needs to be asked: how are homosexuals discriminated against when no homosexual is denied marriage under Australian law and marital requirements are, without exception, applicable equally to every Australian resident? Isn't declining to accept marital rules a self-discriminating free choice and not a social or legal discrimination? De facto heterosexual couples are not discriminated against for choosing to refuse marriage, so what is the special obligation or need for homosexuals to marry?
I close off by saying this: I think it is abominable that gay activists continue to focus on and manipulate civil rights strategies to justify claims for same-sex marriage and keep using accusations of discrimination, inequality and homophobia to intimidate politicians and the general public. I represent the majority of my constituents, who know and adhere to the reality that marriage is an accepted bond between a man and a woman. Marriage is a bedrock institution worthy of protection under law. There should be no doubt about what the word 'marriage' means. However, there is growing evidence to suggest that the commonly accepted definition of 'a union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others' is again under threat. In response to that, I say this: those who represent that threat will be out of this place in the next couple of months, but my views and the views of my family will not change in relation to the definition of marriage.