Tuesday, 5 December 2017
Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017; Second Reading
In recognising the national and Queensland 'yes' vote results in the survey, I note the comments from the member for Warringah where he said to 'yes' campaigners:
… I accept that what they have fought for for so long should now come about.
Yet almost five million Australians voted no in the recent plebiscite and their voices should be heard in this chamber …
But, above all else, he said that the vote of the people has happened and that this is:
… the best way because it resolves this matter beyond doubt or quibble.
On the simple question of whether the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry, the national result, as we know, was 61.6 per cent yes. The Queensland result, as we know, was 60.7 per cent yes. I want to emphasise to the chamber that the Groom result was 50.8 per cent no and, therefore, 49.2 per cent yes, with an overall participation rate of 80 per cent, or 82,713 persons. As per the results in other electorates, we did see a higher percentage of females responding. The highest percentage participants across the age groups were those aged 65 years and above. All states and territories recorded a majority 'yes' response. One hundred and thirty-three of the 150 federal electorate divisions recorded a majority 'yes' response. Of the 17 that recorded a majority 'no', two are in Victoria, three are in Queensland and 12, predominantly Labor electorates, are in New South Wales.
I'm not a gambler by nature, nor do I have a crystal ball, but I am someone who knows my electorate. I'm on the record as predicting over recent months that the Groom result would be roughly fifty-fifty, and that's exactly what has happened. I think it's important to focus, in order to put this into context, on other electorates that returned very marginal results. The marginal 'no' electorates included Bennelong in New South Wales and the Liberal seat of Mitchell in New South Wales. The marginal 'yes' electorates included the National seats of Flynn and Hinkler in Queensland and, of course, the Labor seat of Holt in Victoria—a very broad cross-section of regions and parties represented in those regions, indeed.
My consultation in Groom since the result of the survey has been quite extensive so as to decipher what is essentially a fifty-fifty result in my electorate—that very small margin of 50.8 per cent no. I've caught up a number of times with Mr Thomas Coyne, a representative of the LGBTIQ community in Toowoomba and the leader of a peaceful march supporting the 'yes' case through our city many weeks ago, and I have met with other LGBTIQ community members and supporters. I have also met with our mayor, Paul Antonio; my own bishop, Bishop Robert McGuckin of the Catholic Diocese of Toowoomba; and other Christian leaders, such as Pastor Casey Wolverton from the Toowoomba Seventh-day Adventist church, Pastor Ken Wootton from the Christian Outreach College, Pastor Andrew Hoey from the Rangeville Community Church, and Pastor Ian Shelton from the Toowoomba Christian Leaders Network, the father of Lyle Shelton.
It has been clear, throughout all of those consultations with people supporting obviously both the 'yes' and the 'no' cases in the survey, that respect has shone through in our community above all else. I share with the chamber in particular the gracious and insightful comments of Thomas Coyne, when he shared with me his concerns about mental health in the LGBTIQ community, and, at the end of our conversation, shared with me—no prompting whatsoever—that, equally, that may be a concern for people for the 'no' case disaffected by the result. But his important point about the mental welfare of people affected by this survey, particularly in the LGBTIQ community, was well made.
The conclusions from all these consultations in my electorate of Groom over these last few weeks I can summarise as follows. All of those that I've consulted—'yes' and 'no' supporters, as I've said—first of all believe that this bill is going to go through. Secondly, we've had feedback that is basically encouraging the House to categorically vote no, in line with those people's personal views or their electorate results. Thirdly, obviously there are some categorical 'yes' supporters who want a 'yes' vote out of this chamber, in line with their personal views and/or the national or Queensland result, in our case.
But far greater than anything else has been the feedback in my community in recent weeks regarding an overall desire to ensure the protection of religious freedoms. Pastor Andrew Hoey from the Rangeville Community Church said to me that, sure, in his view, a gate has been opened here with the survey result that he didn't want to see opened, but he wants this House, and representatives such as me, to step in and look at the protections, now that that gate has been opened, for those concerned about religious freedoms.
In concluding my contribution here, I stress to those observing from outside the chamber, particularly in my electorate of Groom, that this is just the debate on the second reading of this bill. Many have suggested that the bill as presented includes sufficient religious freedoms. In the next day or two, we will be in a position to consider in detail suggested amendments that are likely to be in line with what many in my electorate want me to consider. They are foreshadowed to be in terms of religious freedoms, freedom of speech and parental choice.
Given the national and the Queensland result, and the very close result in Groom—I call it a 50-50 result—and particularly given my discussions across the region in recent weeks with those who have led the charge in the 'yes' and 'no' cases in Groom, I certainly do not wish to frustrate the progress of this bill. But I do state that, whilst not all of the religious freedoms that have been raised with me will be potentially covered in these amendments to be considered to the marriage bill, and while some of them may not even find a home in this bill, I am committed to supporting such amendments, pending their detail when finally discussed in this chamber. I also recognise the specific Ruddock review, early next year, on whether Australian law adequately protects the human right to religious freedom.
So, whilst we all work through the detail, both in this bill and of course in the outcomes of the Ruddock review in the early months of next year, I support very strongly, above all else, the view that respect for differing positions on the result of the survey on the question of same-sex marriage must be maintained, and that such an approach will ultimately ensure that this is, indeed, a unifying moment for our country.
This is a big day for love. Despite the years of bigotry and hate, despite the years of violence and lies, despite the ignorance and the fear, love has won. Today we are on the brink of an extraordinary moment in Australian history. In the tale of our nation this will be remembered as the day love won. The resounding 'yes' vote for marriage equality was a moment of which we can all be proud. Australians opened up our arms and embraced our sisters, our brothers and our families. In the face of bigotry and hatred, we reflected back love. To the young boy in the country town who is working out who he is attracted to, or to the young girl who wants to take her girlfriend to the high-school formal, this is for you. This is a message from the nation's highest body that you are equal, you are loved and you are respected.
In my electorate of Melbourne, people campaigned for the 'yes' vote with gusto. Hundreds of volunteers knocked on thousands of doors. Greens offices were full of volunteers and supporters making phone calls. Union organisers at the Victorian Trades Hall Council were active everywhere, and thousands of people turned out for massive rallies. In that respect, I particularly want to acknowledge the years of advocacy from Aly Hog, Anthony Wallace and all those at Equal Love, who have been tireless in Melbourne and throughout Victoria in their pursuit of equality.
And there were countless local actions. In Kensington, around the corner from me, the Kensington Good Karma Network, a Facebook group that covers Kensington and Flemington, got together of their own volition to place a bulk order of rainbow bunting. As a result, as you walk around streets in Kensington, you will find in many places that every second or third house is festooned with decorations of pride and a call for the 'yes' vote. Racecourse Road, Bridge Road, Swan Street, Gertrude Street, Smith Street and Brunswick Street were a sea of rainbow—and many houses, I am proud to say, had posters that my office had sent to everyone in the electorate. Many churches showed their support. The cities of Melbourne, Yarra and Moonee Valley also displayed a strong message of equality. And so did many big businesses, major organisations and big footy clubs like North Melbourne, Collingwood and Richmond. The result of this enormous effort from thousands of people was that the electorate of Melbourne recorded the highest 'yes' vote in the country. I am so proud of the people I am lucky enough to represent.
And so, after decades of prejudice and pain, today we take a crucial step in the healing of our nation. Today a wrong will be made right. Finally, our parliament will change our laws to reflect a universal truth: we are all equal. But we wouldn't be here without the collective effort of everyone who has fought for progress. And we must remember that every step towards equality for LGBTIQ Australians has been paid for with pain and sometimes blood—the blood of queer Australians and their allies who took to the streets to stand up for their rights, only to be batted down by batons and fists; the blood of people who were callously murdered for daring to be who they are; and the blood of people tragically spilled by their own hand when the barrage of messages telling them they weren't loved, that they were wrong, became too much for them to bear. It is a tragedy that their innocent blood was spilt. It is an unspeakable tragedy. In their memory, I wish to pause now for a moment's silence.
LGBTIQ Australians have always been part of our community. In a world that so often told them they should not, or do not, exist, their mere existence has required a courage and resilience many of us can only imagine. Perhaps this truth is embodied by the postal plebiscite—the aberration of democracy that this country put the LGBTIQ community through to get here. As if hundreds of years of persecution weren't enough, the LGBTIQ community was forced to tolerate one final humiliation before they and their love could be recognised as equal. In a cruel twist from a weak Prime Minister, the fundamental rights of a minority were decided by the very majority that oppressed them for so long.
But, thankfully, the people of Australia proved they are better than the obstructionists who have succeeded for far too long in strangling progress in this country. The victory was sweet and it was emphatic, but it came at a price that should never have been paid. I cannot imagine how the last three months have impacted on LGBTIQ people. Our government pinned you down under a microscope to examine your soul, to determine whether or not your love and your relationships were worthy of equality. You were used as a paddle for the Prime Minister to wade through political waters that were too treacherous for him to wade through alone.
I also reflect on how this important step forward for LGBTIQ people cannot be the last step that we take. True equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people eludes us now, and the unfortunate reality is that it will continue to elude us well after this bill is enshrined in law. So this watershed moment is not the end and it's not the beginning. It is a step on a long, winding path towards justice. In removing discrimination from marriage we must remember that we are only dismantling one part of a system that bombards LGBTIQ people from every angle with a message that they are different and that they are not normal.
So, on this day, as we look behind us at the journey that we took to arrive at this moment, we should, in part, be ashamed. But, as we look forward, we have an opportunity. We have an opportunity to use the momentum that has been generated in 2017 to fuel the march towards full equality. Today, as parliament finally catches up with the wishes of the people, we have a reason to be optimistic and hopeful about the future. With this hope comes responsibility: the responsibility to get this right—to get this right here in this chamber, because the nation is watching us closely and sizing up whether this place is up to the task they have set for us: whether or not we will finally vanquish the hard-right conservatives who have waged a holy war of bigotry on the LGBTIQ community for so long. They are holy warriors, led by the member for Warringah, insidiously spreading their hate and their fear for far too long.
My message to you, the watchful nation, is that the Greens up are to the task you have set for us. We have always been up to that task. Since we entered this place, we have led the charge to remove discrimination from marriage in this country. I am proud that former Greens leader Bob Brown first introduced a bill for marriage equality into the Senate in 2004. I'm proud that one of my first acts as a parliamentarian was to successfully move and have pass through this chamber a motion requiring MPs to consult with their electorates about marriage equality, to understand just how much people had moved on. And I'm also very proud to have introduced the first-ever marriage equality bill into the House of Representatives in 2012.
What I must make clear now is that, while the current bill before the House will remove discrimination from marriage, it is still a compromise. This is not the bill the Australian Greens would have introduced if it were just up to us, but it is apparent that this bill, the product of a cross-party process, is one that is capable of winning the support of parliament. I will move several important amendments on behalf of the Greens that reflect those that were moved in the Senate and which seek to ensure that this bill more closely satisfies the promise that this bill claims to fulfil.
The amendments, which I will deal with more closely in the consideration in detail stage, make changes to the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 to, amongst other things, retitle it to reflect what this bill is actually about. They will also ensure that religious and other exemptions don't open the door to further discrimination. The amendments will do a number of things, but amongst those things they will remove the section of the bill that restates the section 37 exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act, which already give religious organisations right of refusal in the provision of goods and services according to their religious beliefs. This is an unnecessary duplication in the bill, as religious organisations already have this right. What we are also concerned about is that by putting those provisions in this bill it might open up the door to a whole stream of new litigation from the very people who have fought this bill coming to fruition in the first place. I hope that I am rendered wrong in due course, but it is important to point out now that we still have some work ahead of us to do.
We will also seek to amend the bill to ensure that we don't exclude or limit the operation of the states and territories in dealing with antidiscrimination laws, to the extent that any law is capable of operating concurrently with this act. If there are states who have taken a more enlightened approach than the Commonwealth, then we should lift up those provisions rather than push them down. But, of course, I say proudly that, in any event, whether or not those amendments get up, this bill will be supported because it is a bill whose time has come.
We stand on the shoulders of giants. Every right and every freedom that we enjoy has been won by the struggle and the sacrifice of those who have come before us: the hundreds of thousands who fought and died in the struggle against slavery; the strength and tenacity of working people who won the right to form unions and the eight-hour day; and the bravery and courage of the suffragettes, who gained women the right to vote. But, here in our time, we also have our own heroes. Thank you, Rodney Croome, Ivan Hinton-Teoh, Alex Greenwich, Anna Brown, Felicity Marlowe and countless others who have fought for marriage equality. Thank you also to Shelley Argent, from PFLAG; Peter Furness, founding convenor of Australian Marriage Equality; Dr Sharon Dane, marriage equality researcher; and John Kloprogge, AME volunteer and just.equal board member. I hope that they're in the gallery today. I don't know whether they've made it, but I hope they are. Thank you also to Jason and Adrian Tuazon-McCheyne and to Jac Tomlins and Sarah Nicols—the couples who first filed to have their overseas same-sex marriages recognised in 2003, prompting John Howard to amend the Marriage Act in 2004. It is so fantastic that you are able to join us as we right a wrong.
I say thank you to Bob Brown, who first fought in Tasmania and then in this parliament for equality. I want to thank my Senate colleagues for coming here to the chamber to witness this crucial step towards equality and, in particular, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who has fought for marriage equality since the day that she was elected into this parliament a decade ago and worked to make sure we got some real progress during those good days of a power-sharing parliament. Thank you to Senator Janet Rice for being such a powerful leader for change and being willing to share your own story in the cause of that change. Thank you for your humility and your love and your care.
Love is universal. Everyone is capable of giving and receiving love. Every culture and language has a word for love. The Chinese philosopher Laozi said:
Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.
The Arabic word for love is Ishq. This is a profound or divine love for a God or for another person. In the ancient poetry of the Sufi, one cannot often distinguish between the love of another person or of God. The Apostle Paul said in the Corinthians:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love has persevered and, as marriage equality becomes law in Australia and around the world, a new chapter in the story of love is being written, a chapter that will mean that the love of two people will be recognised in law regardless of their gender or sexuality. Love will become truly universal. Many years ago, when first speaking of marriage equality in this place, I said:
Love knows no boundaries. It knows no limits. And love knows when it has found its partner. There have been many attempts throughout history to limit love, and all have failed. As we move further into the 21st century, I am confident that attempts to limit love will fail yet again and that full marriage equality will become a reality.
I said that a few years ago. I am so happy now that time has come. Let the bells ring! Let the people sing, 'Love has won!'
I thank the member for Moore for allowing me to speak outside of the order that was previously agreed—I do appreciate that.
There would be no greater contrast than me speaking immediately after the member for Melbourne. While his electorate had the highest 'yes' vote in the country, mine had the second highest 'no' vote in the country. A few things have astonished me since then—first of all, the number of people who were surprised that that was the case. I have always had the understanding that, in my electorate, the opinion polls are roughly the reverse of what they are nationally. Secondly, I was astonished by the number of people who have said, as a democratic principle, I was obliged to break an election commitment as a result of the postal ballot. It's the first time I've ever heard the breaking of an election commitment being described as a democratic principle, but that's how a number of people have sought to put it.
Last time this issue was raised in the parliament, I did vote no. Last time this issue was raised in the parliament, I did not speak. In fact, in the many hours of debate we've had on marriage equality, this is the first time I've come to the dispatch box. When we first dealt with a marriage equality bill, there had been a resolution, which the member for Melbourne just referred to in his speech, where we were told, and it was resolved, that we should consult with our electorates and, having consulted, we should vote accordingly. That meant a very different thing in my part of Sydney to what it meant in many parts of Australia. But, after that vote had taken place, we had a discussion within the cabinet room about marriage equality, and different people were putting their views as to why they'd voted particular ways. I've checked with Senator Wong that she's okay with me saying this. I would never give up something that was said in the cabinet room, but, only yesterday, she let me know that she is okay with it being repeated. At the end of that discussion in the cabinet room, where different people had put different views, the discussion was over and we were about to move to the next item on the agenda. In a very soft, gentle but clearly audible voice, Penny just uttered the words, 'Say "black" instead of "gay", and hear how it sounds'.
I can't think of a single sentence that has had a deeper effect on me than the words that Penny Wong said in the cabinet room—'Say "black" instead of "gay", and hear how it sounds'—not only because of the emotion of hearing those words but also because, when you think about my electorate, my part of Sydney does know discrimination. The people in my part of Sydney don't know terribly well the discrimination that this legislation seeks to fix, but they know discrimination. When discrimination on the basis of race is happening, including from some prominent people at the other end of this building, my electorate gets targeted full-on. When there's discrimination against people on the basis of their faith, my electorate gets targeted absolutely. They need someone who will fight discrimination and will win. They don't need someone who will run some sort of argument that some forms of discrimination are okay and others aren't. If I'm going to be true to the needs of my electorate, of my part of Sydney, of my neighbours and of that little three-kilometre circle that I've lived inside all my life, when most of the rest of the people have travelled around the world to be there, they need someone who will fight discrimination fearlessly because, on national polls, the people in my part of Sydney who get discriminated against are never in the majority. So, if I'm willing to defend them as minorities, I can't pick and choose.
Within my part of Sydney, there are census figures which can't be true. In my suburb of Punchbowl, there are something like 4,000 coupled households and yet only eight identify as same-sex. You look at the statistics around the rest of the country and you think, 'What could that mean?' It means a whole lot of people move out, it means a whole lot of people just don't identify and it also means a lot of people, no doubt, find themselves in terribly unhappy heterosexual relationships. It would manifest itself in a number of ways. But, ultimately, it also means that there are young people in my part of Sydney who, on top of the religious discrimination and on top of the discrimination on the basis of their race and ethnic origin, cop this one too. For heaven's sake, I'm not going to leave them on their own. We can't have a situation where there is a credible argument that says, 'Because you represent a multicultural community, there is a form of discrimination that you must endorse.' I can't be party to that.
On the amendments that have been put forward and that have been flagged: I indicated before any amendments were proposed in any way that I would be opposing them. That includes amendments that the member for Melbourne will put, which will come from one direction, and the amendments that the member for Warringah will put, which come from another. I indicated that I would oppose them for a very simple principle: if this House approves marriage equality in a different form to the Senate we run a very real likelihood that we will get a dispute between the houses, and where we are dealing with conscience votes we have no way of resolving that. If we go through the entire process that the postal ballot was about and we get to the end of this year—after the public have been forced through what they've been forced through and after the affected community have gone through what they've gone through—and we still don't get it done, the Australian people will have every right to be deeply frustrated and sick to death of this place. There will be some amendments that will have a level of merit, I have no doubt, from one side or the other, but to contemplate this not getting done I think is truly unthinkable.
It's also the case that some of the amendments that have been put to me by some people locally, who I deeply respect, are amendments that defend principles which I agree with. They are principles which I do not believe are in the slightest way put at risk by this legislation. This legislation is not the first time that the Marriage Act has presented different definitions to those of the Christian faith, or the Buddhist faith or the Muslim faith. In fact, for the entire history of this act, it has never been an exact match to any form of religious marriage. Therefore, I don't for the life of me see how people will suddenly be able to stop observing their religious beliefs. I don't see how charities will suddenly have a problem when they already have a view of marriage that doesn't match the Marriage Act. I can't for the life of me see how these problems will arise and, therefore, I can only form the view that there are some people, whether they are inside the parliament or without it and have been part of the 'no' lobby, are simply trying to play a game of messaging. I don't see why the parliament should be part of that.
So, if we ended up with a clear question and I thought there was a threat to people being able to preach their religion in their temples, in their synagogues, in their prayer rooms or in their mosques—if I thought that was going to be at threat—then I would support legislation that dealt with that. If there is ever legislation that puts that at threat, I'll be speaking pretty loudly against it. This legislation doesn't; it absolutely doesn't. It is disingenuous for people in this House, who deal with legislation as the core business of what we do, to pretend for a minute that those issues are at threat.
I have always been conscious of the fact that the forms of discrimination and hate speech that I have dedicated most of my political career to opposing are forms of discrimination I will never experience. I'll never know what it's like to travel on the train and be abused by a stranger for what I wear. I'll never know what it's like to be in the playground and to be pushed around by other kids because of the colour of my skin. Nor will I know in my life what it's like to be considered different from other people, and less than other people, because of who I love. How can I defend the person who gets abused on the train and defend the child in the school playground, and not also defend the person who is discriminated against on the basis of who they love?
My electorate, my part of Sydney, needs someone who can. My part of Sydney needs someone who can fight discrimination fearlessly and win. I'll be voting yes. There will be plenty of people in my electorate who are disappointed by that, but no-one will be surprised and no-one will see it as anything other than me being completely consistent with the person who presented to them and who they chose to elect.
As I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, I wish to say that despite my own personal beliefs, respecting the principles of democracy, I will represent the will of the electors in my constituency in respect of the proposition that the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. However, I have concerns that the proposed legislation does not contain adequate safeguards to protect the freedoms and liberties of a large section of our community. In recent weeks I have received a volume of correspondence from my constituents expressing concerns about their freedoms. This legislation introduces arguably the most significant and radical social change in our nation's history, both in custom and practice, to the traditions of our country, even dating back prior to European settlement, when Indigenous people shared many Western norms relating to gender roles and family structure. The long-established binary nature of marriage is now being challenged.
By way of background, in 2016 I was part of the Liberal-National coalition team which went to the federal election on the platform of giving the Australian people the right to vote on the issue of same-sex marriage via a nationwide compulsory plebiscite intended to ensure maximum participation. However, as events unfolded, the plebiscite enabling legislation was blocked in the Senate on a number of occasions. As events unfolded, members of the coalition party room collectively decided that the Australian marriage law postal survey, conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, was the appropriate course of action. The question posed in the survey was, 'Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?'
At the time of the survey, some 16,006,180 Australians were registered on the electoral roll and eligible to vote. The national participation rate was 79.5 per cent, with 12,727,920 responses received. Of these, 7,817,247, representing 61.6 per cent of respondents, voted yes, whilst 4,873, 987, representing 38.4 per cent of respondents, voted no. In my electorate of Moore, there were 100,491 eligible electors on the electoral roll, 83,575 of whom made the effort to vote, representing a participation rate of 83.2 per cent. A total of 56,690 electors voted yes, representing 68 per cent of respondents, whilst 26,690 voted no, representing 32 per cent of responses. It appears there were 195 informal votes.
I made a commitment to the electors of Moore that I would carefully consider the survey results in arriving at my decision in parliament. Accordingly, I wish to explain my reasoning. Firstly, the participation rate of 83.2 per cent is relatively high—only slightly lower than the attendance typically recorded at a compulsory federal election. This is a significant contributing factor in my decision to abide by the result. Secondly, the 56,690 electors who voted yes represented more than 50 per cent of eligible electors by 6,444 votes, representing 56 per cent of all eligible electors—a clear, absolute majority. Therefore, respecting the principles of democracy, I am inclined to reflect the will of the electors in my constituency by voting in favour of the proposition that the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. In doing so, it is contrary to my own personal beliefs, which I have expressed during the debate. Out of respect for the electors of my constituency, I propose to explain the reasons for my beliefs so that they may consider and better understand my reasoning as their elected representative, irrespective of whether we agree or not.
I believe that the institution of marriage is predominantly for the purpose of the having and raising of children in a supportive environment by their biological parents. Of course I acknowledge that, in reality, marriage does not always result in children, and that, due to circumstances, children are not always raised by their biological parents nor in a supportive family environment. Traditional marriage is by no means perfect, but I believe, as many Australians do, that it is the best system which our society has, in the vast majority of cases, for raising children.
Every child is conceived and born of a father and a mother. Every child should have the basic right to be raised by his or her parents, unless there are extenuating circumstances which prevent this. This is a social norm which the government ought to protect. Parents of opposite genders bring unique characteristics and traits, which enrich a child's life with diversity. Where a child is separated from his or her biological father or mother due to unfortunate circumstances, then it is my belief that it is best that the child has access to a father figure and a mother figure to guide him or her to develop into a well-adjusted young adult. What I am saying may be controversial in today's politically correct world. It may be called 'old fashioned'. It may be called 'conservative'. But it represents the family values which a significant proportion of the Australian population believes in, and I have every right to express this point of view without fear of persecution or prosecution.
It is biologically impossible for a same-sex couple to produce children without the involvement of a third party, a gamete donor or surrogate, using reproductive technology. This arrangement introduces the element of a third person into a marriage relationship and is one of the fundamental reasons for my objection to same-sex marriage.
Consenting adults have a choice when deciding to enter into a relationship. I believe that the rights of the child in relation to his or her biological father and mother must also be taken into consideration. Is it ethical for government to normalise the separation of a child from his or her biological father or mother, merely by adult choice, without good reason? Children did not get a vote on this issue, yet future generations of children will be among the citizens most heavily impacted by this legislation.
Passing this legislation will almost certainly result in consequential amendments to other acts, which will have to be amended in the future by parliament. It is not known how many statutes will require amendment. The budgetary impact of this legislation has not been fully assessed and will almost certainly have consequences for future budgets. In my view, there has not been sufficient debate about the consequential costs to society of making this change. Ultimately, it's the taxpayers of Australia who will bear the cost of this change.
Having made a commitment to reflect the will of the electors in my constituency, in favour of the proposition that the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry, the question is: what form will the legislation take? The current bill before the House is inadequate without amendments to protect freedom of speech, freedom of religion, parental rights and faith-based charities and organisations from detriment. Celebrants should be afforded religious and conscientious objection protections.
Members should be mindful that some 4,873,978 Australians, representing 34.8 per cent of respondents, voted no. These Australians deserve the right to hold their views and beliefs and refrain from involvement in same-sex marriage. Reasonable amendments to protect freedom of speech, freedom of religion, parental rights and faith based charities and organisations from detriment are entirely justifiable. The definition of marriage should separately recognise both man-woman marriage and two-person marriage as valid marriages in Australian law. We must maintain our hard-won freedoms to assemble and to speak freely about traditional marriage and family values in our homes and schools. Individuals should have the freedom from being required to express, associate with or endorse a statement of opinion about marriage which is inconsistent with a person's or organisation's genuine religious or conscientious convictions about marriage.
Faith based organisations such as charities must not be forced to become politically correct to avoid fines and a loss of charitable status. They should not be the subject of complaints to the Human Rights Commission or other tribunals. The legal action taken against Archbishop Porteous and the Australian Catholic bishops in relation to the booklet about traditional Catholic Church teaching on marriage is an example. Other examples include professionals being denied their registration because of their views. Experiences in Canada, Ireland and Sweden have seen governments restrict freedoms. The Australian Greens have called for an end to the exemption of religious bodies from the operation of antidiscrimination laws. Holding and expressing a traditional view of marriage as being between a man and a woman must not be deemed to be homophobic bigotry. We must prevent government from taking adverse action against people who have a belief in traditional marriage.
In our multicultural society we must be respectful of the ethnic communities which voted very strongly to retain the existing definition of marriage. The Australian parliament should respect the freedoms of all religions, including the Christian foundation of our nation, and ministers of religion should be free to preach a traditional view of marriage to congregants of their faith. The legislation ought to maintain specific exemptions for religious, educational and medical institutions which allow them to maintain the religious ethos of their respective foundations. Parents should have the right to remove their children from classes where the teaching is inconsistent with their beliefs about marriage, gender or family values.
The Australian censorship system classifies media content according to age-appropriate categories of G, representing suitable for general exhibition; PG for parental guidance recommended; M for mature audiences; MA 15+ for mature audiences, where children under 15 must be accompanied by an adult; and R 18+ for restricted to adults only. If parents are to supervise the content which their children are watching, then it is not unreasonable that they maintain discretion over the content which their children are exposed to in our schools.
Many Australians who voted yes expressed the view that they were happy to let same-sex couples marry as long as it didn't interfere with their lives or impinge on their beliefs, families or rights. Most of these people would be supportive of reasonable and fair-minded amendments to protect these rights. Article 18(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights gives everyone the right to freedom of conscience and religion. The bill in its current form contains inadequate protections for religious freedoms, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, parental rights and the right to protest.
During the consideration in detail phase of this bill I will support a series of amendments which seek to protect the freedoms of speech, religion, parental rights and faith based charities and organisations from detriment, which I have just outlined. It is important to include antidetriment provisions to protect individuals and organisations with a genuine traditional marriage belief from being subjected to unfavourable treatment by public authorities because they hold, express or lawfully act on that point of view.
In conclusion, despite my own personal beliefs, I will respect the principles of democracy and represent the will of the electors of my constituency on the proposition that the legislation should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry, and I will be supporting amendments to this bill which seek to safeguard the rights of Australians who hold a dissenting view.
There are some issues so important to the fabric of society that they should not be decided in this parliament alone. The issue of marriage, whose origins are first and foremost a religious rite, is fundamental to our society. I remain eternally grateful to my parents for the strong family unit I was brought up in.
Marriage is a tradition that recognises the union between two people. On this issue, it was only right for each Australian who wanted to be heard to be given a chance to speak. This was our commitment to Australians at the last election, and it is a commitment that we have fulfilled despite the fact that this process was continually frustrated. The coalition believed we should allow all Australians to have a say on whether the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. Australians embraced the opportunity to have their say as part of this process. We saw a record number of people update their details on the electoral roll, and nearly 80 per cent of all eligible Australians participated in the survey. In my electorate of Wannon, 81.4 per cent of all eligible voters returned their survey forms to the ABS. Nearly eight million Australians, and around 50,000 of my own constituents, voted yes in the survey.
As I have previously stated, I will be voting in favour of amending the law to allow same-sex couples to marry, in line with the national and local result. I wish all same-sex couples who decide to marry the best of love and happiness. Can I also commend the member for Leichhardt for his steadfast commitment to this issue. He has been a consistent advocate since 2005, when I first came to know him. I would like to thank all the constituents who came to see me during the survey process to advocate for a 'yes' vote and to explain their personal circumstances and why this outcome was important to them. I am not going to single out anyone in particular, but a broad cross-section of the community made representations, including young farmers, parents, students and the local business community.
This process has been an affirming experiencing for Australian democracy and the Australian public, who peacefully and respectfully participated in the public debate. Australians can be assured that the process and outcome of the survey was transparent, fair and, most importantly, allowed all Australians to have a say on this important matter of conscience. As Liberals, we understand that these issues are nuanced and that individuals hold a wide range of views for various reasons. As parliamentarians, it is now our responsibility to enact legislation that legalises marriage for same-sex couples but also acknowledges the concerns of the nearly five million people who voted no. Every coalition member and senator has a free vote to give effect to their decision.
While I support the traditional definition of marriage, I gave a commitment before the last election that I would vote in line with the result of the survey and I will honour that commitment. In saying that, I also believe it is incumbent on the parliament to determine the appropriate levels of religious protections as part of implementing this reform to our marriage laws. The survey period and result demonstrated that a majority of Australians supported the legalisation of same-sex marriage. However, the sensible discussion that accompanied the survey also showed a very high level of support for protecting religious freedoms. While it is important to ensure the will of the majority of Australians is respected and same-sex marriage is legalised in a timely fashion, it is equally essential to reassure Australians that their right to their own religious beliefs will be protected.
As with the 'yes' case, locally, many of my constituents made their views known against same-sex marriage. I thank them for the respectful and courteous way they did this. Australians recognise that the essential liberties of freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and freedom of speech must be protected. I am of the view that any reforms to protect religious freedoms at large should be undertaken carefully, and I welcome the recent appointment of the Hon. Philip Ruddock to lead a review into the legal protections for religious freedom in this country. I also welcome the fact that Mr Ruddock will be assisted by an expert panel, including Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher, AM; the Hon. Annabelle Bennett, AO SC; and Father Frank Brennan, SJ AO.
Either in this bill before parliament or as appropriate in other federal legislation, it is essential that religious freedoms continue to be protected in Australia. Right now I would urge each member to consider the potential impact of this bill on the millions of Australians who chose to vote no. Their views are not diminished by their loss, and their freedom to hold their views should not be constrained by any law that we may now seek to pass. I urge all parliamentarians in the House to consider the substance and intent of the Paterson-Fawcett amendments. These amendments should be considered on a conscientious basis, rather than from behind parliamentary lines.
We must ensure that as we provide freedom to one, we do not take it from another. Conscience and the freedom of conscience in our society are sacred. This freedom is fundamental to the freedom of speech, freedom of action and freedom of political expression. For those without faith, it does not mean that freedom of religion is any less a freedom. Our system has established these freedoms on the suffering and sacrifice of many of those who have gone before us. Many Australians have died for these freedoms and we should ensure that as we extend a new freedom, their sacrifices are not forgotten.
As a young boy growing up in country Victoria, my grandfather had a portrait of St Thomas Moore hanging over the desk in the office. It was through my grandfather that I came to learn of his deeds. St Thomas Moore was a parliamentarian, a lawyer, a loyal servant to his king and a deeply religious, conscientious man. The story of his sacrifice and quiet spiritual devotion is a lesson in morality that we can all benefit from. In reflecting on his faith and his example in public service, we must recognise the need for a robust legal framework that allows people of faith with conscientious objections to same-sex marriage the freedom to thoughtfully and peacefully honour their own faith. Indeed, it is appropriate to reflect on the words of St Thomas Moore who said:
No man shall be blamed in the maintenance of his own religion.
And while St Thomas Moore's stance against Henry VIII on the grounds of his religious principles did not prevent the passage of change, he refused to endorse a position contrary to his own beliefs, which ultimately led to his execution.
Centuries later, no Australian should be persecuted for maintaining their just and conscientious beliefs, as long as they are consistent with our political and civil rights. Those Australians who do not endorse this change should not risk being punished or forced to endorse it. Their beliefs and faiths should be respected in the same way we will expect them to respect this new freedom when it is passed. Protecting religious freedoms do not discount the freedoms of same-sex couples wishing to be married. They enhance the tapestry of Australian society and ensure that institutions, such as churches, charities and individuals feel free to practise their views in an open and tolerant society.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I do not intend to come close to using my allotted time for the purposes of this debate. For the avoidance of any doubt, I will be voting yes in relation to passing the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017.
There are two reasons why I won't be using my allotted time. The first is that any contribution that I could make to this debate will not come close to matching the impassioned eloquence of my colleagues whose speeches I have been most privileged to hear: the member for Watson, just before me; the member for Barton, who moved all of us to tears; and the member for Griffith, who I will speak about in a little more detail shortly. Those speeches had such passion and such eloquence that I could not hope to contribute to or enhance that debate. The other reason is that, quite frankly, every minute that I use standing here is a minute longer it will take for this bill to become law, and I do not intend for that to occur on my watch.
I would like to use this opportunity to acknowledge those campaigners who have fought so hard and for so long to simply achieve a just outcome, and that is marriage equality. Firstly, I acknowledge those parliamentarians who were fighting for equality long before I ever contemplated coming to this place. I would like to apply a uniquely Western Australian gloss in relation to that acknowledgement. The first is Brian Greig, a former Australian Democrats senator who stood up in the other place as an openly gay man in his first speech, in 1999, and foreshadowed the long and bitter fight ahead simply in the name of equality and to recognise the equality of the value of relationships, not only in relation to marriage but in many other areas of unfair and unjust sexual discrimination and discrimination based upon gender or sexuality. Brian Greig, we salute you.
A former state member for Perth, John Hyde, was one of the first openly gay men in our state parliament. He made his maiden speech in 2001. John, this moment is for you and for all like you and Brian, who fought so hard, for so long, so long ago. That is what we're here for.
To the current local activists in Perth and in Western Australia, including the WA says YES! team of Emma Gibbens, Paul Benson and all of your tireless volunteers, we salute you. The local PFLAG group were instrumental in securing such a significant vote in Western Australia and, indeed, in my federal electorate of Perth—and I see the federal PFLAG team here in the gallery. We salute you, Shelley Argent, Rodney Croome and the host of other tireless activists working behind the scenes.
To the parliamentarians both state and federal who fought so hard so for long: it has been an absolute privilege to watch the tireless advocacy of the member for Maribyrnong, our leader; Senator Penny Wong; our deputy leader, Tanya Plibersek; and the member for Griffith, who has fought this fight so many times. It has been a privilege to watch you fiercely and tireless advocate simply in the name of equality. To those on the other side: Senator Dean Smith, we salute you, and we salute the member for Leichhardt. In one of those moments that I will never forget in this place, the member for Griffith being dwarfed by the hug of the member of Leichhardt was unforgettable—horrific perhaps but, nonetheless, an absolutely beautiful thing.
In the campaign itself—I will not use this time to re-prosecute the arguments for or against. Let's just reflect on the result. There was a 63.7 per cent 'yes' vote in Western Australia, over and above the national average of 61.6 per cent who voted yes. In my seat of Perth, I am very proud to say that 71.5 per cent of those who voted proudly voted yes. I would like to take this opportunity to also acknowledge our wonderful local Rainbow Labor branch, who fought tirelessly. To Sonia Gurrin, to Ashley Buck, to Andy Skinner and to all of those members of Rainbow Labor who fought so hard and for so long, this moment, where I stand right now, is for you.
Of course, fundamentally, when we come to this place, we cannot separate the personal from the political. I take this opportunity to also reflect on a dearly beloved sister-in-law now passed. Her name was Sharon. She was 42. She fundamentally formed my views in relation to why this should simply be a 'yes' vote. Sharon was gay and she had a partner for 16 years. I could never possibly look Sharon in the eye and tell her that she didn't have the same right to get married to her partner as I did to her sister. It was as simple as that. I don't know what Sharon would have done knowing that she could actually make her marriage a reality subsequent to the passing of this legislation. We will never know—she died some years ago, very young—but it's not the point; the point is that she would have had the choice. That's all this legislation seeks to achieve: the freedom of choice to ensure that Sharon's relationship with her partner, as she then was, is held on equal footing with the relationship that I have with her sister. It's as simple as that. I heartily endorse those who have spoken before me on this. The answer is simple: no amendments, no excuses and no more delays. Let's just get on with it. I commend this bill to the House.
The Australian people have spoken, and what they've said in an overwhelming majority is that they want this parliament to legislate for same-sex marriage. Sixty-one point six per cent of Australians who participated in the postal plebiscite—or postal vote, if you like—voted yes to same-sex marriage. In my seat of Fairfax, 64.3 per cent of people voted yes. With nearly 80 per cent of all eligible voters participating in the process, I think we can all be sure that this result is indeed fair and is indeed conclusive. Now it falls to this parliament to honour the will of the Australian people and to legislate for same-sex marriage.
Changing the definition of marriage is more than a legal issue; it's a social issue—a social issue that holds great cultural significance. This is why I have been, from the get-go, so supportive of a plebiscite as the best process to resolve the matter. I want to acknowledge the leadership of both former Prime Minister Abbott and Prime Minister Turnbull for instigating and delivering on a commitment to empower the Australian people to have their say. The reasons I have supported the plebiscite process so strongly are: firstly, it meant the conscience, the view, of each Australian on the issue of same-sex marriage could be treated equally; secondly, by reflecting the will of the people, the ultimate outcome would have the greatest legitimacy; and, thirdly, experience around the world told us that a public vote on this matter creates greater social cohesion compared to a parliamentary vote alone. With the knowledge that same-sex marriage is a social and cultural issue as much as it is a legal one, it was essential that we, as the government, ensured maximum public engagement so the issue could be truly resolved not just here in this parliament but in our homes and our communities. And that is precisely what we have done.
I think it's only appropriate for me to also congratulate my colleagues in this House who prosecuted the case for 'yes' and also those who prosecuted the case for 'no'. They did so with honour, dignity and respect. They did so in the spirit of the very rich, deliberative democracy that Australia is.
Now that the people have spoken, this issue comes to this House, and we have a bill before us, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. I intend to honour the will of the Australian people and support legislation for same-sex marriage. However, I believe this bill can be improved by providing greater protections for freedom of religion and freedom of conscientious belief.
Let me also point out a deficiency of the bill that I don't believe has been adequately aired, and that is: the bill accords priority to religion over conscience. It assumes religious beliefs are more important than conscientious beliefs. For example, in clause 47 it provides, for religious marriage celebrants, more rights, with respect to solemnising marriage, than for non-religious celebrants. I have a problem with this because I don't believe religious beliefs are more important than conscientious beliefs. In fact, I believe conscience trumps religion. Indeed, the primacy of one's conscience should be sacrosanct. This isn't just a matter of Liberal Party philosophy, although it is our philosophy. It is also a matter of Christian theology. It was once said by a 19th century theologian, John Henry Newman, who also happened to be a cardinal of the Catholic Church at the time:
… I shall drink, — to the Pope, if you please, — still, to Conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards.
It's important that any amendments to this bill reflect at least parity for conscience and religion so far as the solemnisation of marriage is concerned.
If amendments that offer further protections for freedom and freedom of conscientious belief fail to be passed, then I will take comfort in the Prime Minister's announcement of a review into legal protections for religious freedoms in Australia, to be led by Philip Ruddock. Any government review into our freedoms is of the utmost importance, and I can't emphasise that enough. Any review that looks at our freedoms as a nation is critical.
In my maiden speech to this House I said:
The foundation upon which I hope our future is built is a common set of values—values that bind all Australians regardless of race, religion or creed.
I believe there is no greater value than that of freedom, for nothing else guarantees happiness and fulfilment like freedom, freedom realised through independence, self-reliance and dignity of the individual—ideals that in turn promote protection of free speech and property rights and encourage human endeavour and free enterprise.
To my mind, to protect and promote values such as freedom are the very reason we are here in this parliament.
Let me now close by again congratulating everybody who has been involved in this process. I re-affirm my commitment to honour the will of the Australian people by legislating for same-sex marriage while also remaining true to the need to protect the freedom of conscientious and religious beliefs.
I have to say I've been waiting for quite some time to be able to stand and make this speech in the parliament. I declared, like many who came in on the Labor side in 2013, that, on the day we got to vote on this bill, I'd be speaking in favour of marriage equality, proudly, on behalf of my constituency, and that I'd be voting yes. Before I get into outlining why I'll be voting yes, I just want to speak about why I will be voting against the amendments that have been put forward by the Prime Minister and the member for Warringah.
I am actually quite shocked that those opposite in the Liberal Party and the National Party could have sat here yesterday to see that beautiful moment when the member for Goldstein proposed to his partner and said, 'Will you marry me?' It was more than a Love Actually moment. It made this place really human. It spoke to the really personal nature of this debate. But then, if the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill amendments are successful, his colleagues are saying it's okay for a business to discriminate against providing services to them when they're planning their wedding. The proposals that have been put forward by the member for Warringah would allow a taxi, a florist or someone to say, 'We are not going to provide services to you because you're a same-sex couple.' That is wrong. That is just wrong. That is a form of discrimination we outlawed in this country many, many years ago. In this country, there used to be signs in windows saying, 'No blacks allowed.' We outlawed that because that is wrong. We ended that discrimination. We ended discrimination in marriage based upon age, based upon disability and based upon race, yet we've got those opposite who now want to bring it in for people based upon sexuality. That is wrong. That is why Labor will vote against the amendments that have been put forward by the member Warringah. You cannot say on one hand, 'We support marriage equality', but on the other hand allow people to discriminate against that couple. That is disingenuous and it is wrong.
I also want to call out the misinformation during the survey process. Government members are now saying how wonderful it was that the country came together. Say that to all the LGBTI people in my community that had their relationships questioned every day that process went on. Say that to the young people who ended up in Bendigo ED because of the anxiety, because of the stress and because of what they had been put through because of government members and because the Prime Minister was too weak to do his job and allow this parliament to vote on this issue. I want to call out the misinformation about Safe Schools. I had far too many conversations with people in my electorate who thought that this bill was about Safe Schools. It has nothing at all to do with schools. This bill is about marriage equality. This bill is about saying that two people can marry—that love is love. It has absolutely nothing to do with our schools.
I vote yes to this bill and in favour of marriage equality for the 68.9 per cent of people in my electorate who did stare down this government's divisive campaign around marriage equality and did exercise a vote in favour. The Bendigo electorate result was higher than the national result. It was higher than the Victorian state result. After this agonising and divisive campaign, our result was a real victory for people in our community for coming together to say, 'We are going to stand with the LGBTIQ community and stand with them and vote to demonstrate to the government just how supportive and inclusive we are.' Our result in Bendigo was similar to that of many regional electorates.
I was asked by some in the media if I was surprised by the result. The answer was no because, like a good MP, I have chatted to people in my community. Since being elected I've had surveys, petitions and conversations. The community made its mind up to support marriage equality in my electorate a long time ago. In the conversations that we had at our street stalls, people who had never engaged in politics said: 'I'm voting yes. I'm telling you I'm voting yes. I'm also telling you I'm very disappointed in the Prime Minister.' Some are people who support the Liberal Party and the Nationals. Unfortunately, my result in the Bendigo electorate is not 68.9 per cent. We know that members of the Liberal Party or the Nationals or voters for them supported marriage equality.
But we didn't need to have a survey to know that. It states very clearly in section 51 of our Constitution that it is the role of this parliament to define the Marriage Act. Whilst overwhelmingly Australians have voted in favour of changing the law, they didn't actually get to change the law, unlike in other countries. The fight isn't over and it is now up to all of us to do our job.
I vote yes for every member of the LGBTI community who had to endure physical and verbal attacks as a result of this survey. I vote in favour of this bill for the headspace workers in Bendigo, for the workers at the Bendigo hospital and for all the people in the mental health sector who provide support to our LGBTI community that felt quite confronted and victimised by this survey.
I vote yes for the activists in my electorate, the Bendigo Says Yes committee and, in particular, Ethan, Harry, Tash, Nat and Tash, and Harry and Nat, who are here today in the gallery. I acknowledge them for their efforts. I can remember when I messaged Harry. I was sitting in this place and I said: 'We now have to go through with the survey. We should talk to Luke at Bendigo Trades Hall about getting a committee together.' He said, 'Already onto it.' He just reacted and organised and pulled together a great 'yes' campaign. I also acknowledge the Castlemaine Says YES crew, the Kyneton Says Yes crew, Rainbow Labor and Central Victorian Labor branches, who helped support the street stalls, the motions and on-the-ground support. I acknowledge the great community organisations in my electorate like Cobaw health, in the Macedon Ranges, and Haven; Home, Safe, which, without a doubt, said, 'We are with you and we stand with you,' and were a big part of the campaign locally.
We had to confront the misinformation, and we did so honestly and frankly. I also want to acknowledge the efforts of my office. Outside of work hours on weekends, they got involved in the 'yes' campaign, not because I asked them but because they believed in the campaign and the campaign issues.
I vote yes today for all the small businesses in my electorate who've expressed support for marriage equality over the years. In 2015, the big businesses of Australia took out an ad to say that they support marriage equality. In my own electorate, businesses decided, 'Let's do the same,' and, led by a local cafe owner, 21 businesses took out a full-page ad in the Saturday Bendigo Advertiser to say that they support marriage equality. They were the first regional community to do so. There were one or two people who said that they will now boycott these businesses because they supported marriage equality. It didn't matter, because every single one of the cafes was full. People bought clothing because they were so proud to go shopping in a business that supported marriage equality. It really helped show our community how committed we were to inclusion.
I vote yes for our local media, who've been part of telling the Bendigo and Central Victorian story, and, in particular, Bendigo journalist Mark Kearney, from the Bendigo Advertiser, for his positive and inclusive coverage. Mark spoke to me about how this was very hard for him, being part of the LGBTI community—to continue to be independent and impartial on an issue that was so personal to him. But Mark, like the rest of the Bendigo media, did an outstanding job to make sure they told the story.
I vote yes for all the schools and school students who've raised this issue with me since I was elected—St Kilian's, St Joey's, Catholic College Bendigo, Girton Grammar School, Bendigo Senior Secondary College, Bendigo South East College, just to name a few. When I asked the students, 'If you were Prime Minister of this country, what would you do?' they all said that their priority would be marriage equality. In fact, in this place not that long ago, Catholic college students who were here held their own vote up on the Queens Terrace, and, when put to the question, 'Would they support marriage equality?' they all voted yes and asked that we in this place do so as well.
I vote yes for friends on Facebook who wrote comments in the last 24 hours about why they support marriage equality. I vote yes for Maree, who said, 'My family welcomes this bill because, at long last, our son Sean and his husband, Brad, will be equal and legal when they come to live in Australia,' and for Melissa, Reverend of the Anglican Parish of Woodend—in fact, for all of our Anglican parishes—who said: 'Many religious leaders in your electorate are fine with this bill as it is. Many of us voted yes and will be proud when all people are equal under the law.' And I vote yes for Chris and Peter, and all of their friends and family, who will be thrilled at the prospect that they could be married next year.
I also vote yes for friends and family. Like many in this place, this is a personal debate, and they've shared how this law will affect friends and family. I vote yes for Katherine and Erin and their beautiful little girl and for all of the United Voice babies. Shortly after I left United Voice, there was a bit of a baby boom. Four babies were born. Four women were on maternity leave, equal in every way except for two of the couples. They didn't have the choice about marriage and, through this debate, their relationship has now been put on show. Hopefully, those children will never have to know the debate their parents had to go through.
I vote yes for good friends Mattie and Shane. Recently, when my partner, Matt, and I caught up with them, we were talking about how this debate has affected them. They are older; they came out in the eighties, when it wasn't popular to do so. They faced a lot of discrimination and this debate brought up a lot of old memories for them. It also brought up a lot of challenges in community, in society and with friends and family—debates they shouldn't have had to have. They've been together for 15 years. I look at their relationship and go, 'I just hope that so many other Australians can have the kind of wonderful, loving and respectful relationship that they have.' They may never choose to get married, but if we pass this bill it's a choice they get to have—just like Matt and I could have. Matt and Shane should be able to have the same choice.
I grew up in a household where my parents were not happily married. Married, yes—but not happy. There was not love. As a teenager, this did affect my views on marriage. People who knew me as a teenager would probably be quite surprised that I'm now very supportive of marriage. When I was young, because it wasn't a happy household, I saw marriage as a prison sentence, trapping wives and children in unhappy marriages, unsafe marriages and quite fixed gender roles. It wasn't until later in life when I started to attend the weddings of good friends that I realised that marriage today is about love.
Love is love, and that is why I support marriage equality. I vote yes today because, like many on the Labor side, I believe that marriage equality is a human right. It is about equity before the law. Across central Victoria and the electorate of Bendigo, an area that I'm so proud to represent in this place, I vote yes today for all of the local businesses and for the religious and the community leaders who have stood and said, 'It's time; vote yes.' The advocacy groups, the individuals and all the young people who many years ago signed the petitions and started the campaigns, I vote yes for them. They have declared publicly and loudly that they support marriage equality and that it's time. It's time for all of us in this place to respect them and their values, and it is time that we voted yes.
It was Churchill who told us that democracy was the worst form of government, except for all of the rest. So it has been with our postal survey: democracy has been celebrated. It has shown that it can succeed, with a postal survey to assess the country's desire to legalise same-sex marriage. Despite all the warnings of confrontation in the streets; despite the efforts to derail the process in the High Court, sponsored by no less than the Labor Party; and despite the distrustful statements that Australians could not be trusted to debate this issue in a civilised manner, it was, and has been, a resounding success.
This policy, this process, has provided a way for all Australians to accept the results in a way that the parliamentary process probably could never have done. It was 79.5 per cent of the Australian population, just a slither below four in five eligible Australians, who participated in what was a voluntary process. They embraced the postal survey and loaded up the postboxes, which, according to some critics, they would not be able to find. Most importantly, after a couple of fairly scratchy weeks, active participants in the campaign came to realise that, where they sponsored confrontation and attempted to vilify others, they were losing public support. Yes, there were a number of conflicting situations that were lifted into the national profile. But we could all see mainstream Australia turning its back on that type of campaigning, and so it was that the most strident campaigners toned it down.
In that way, the postal survey was a victory for middle Australia. They insisted the debate be conducted in a civilised way. We should always hold the intelligence of the Australian people in high regard. That is why I made a commitment to follow the advice provided to me by the people through the plebiscite, taking particular note of the wishes of the Grey electorate. It is well known that my personal view was to oppose change to the current arrangements, and I voted against it. But I did also commit to following the advice of the Australian public and, in particular, the Grey electorate. And so it was that 61.6 per cent of Australians voted in favour of change, 62.5 per cent of South Australians vote in favour of change and, most importantly, 53.3 per cent of the Grey electorate voted in favour. True, the vote in Grey was almost 10 per cent below the national and state averages, but it was still in favour. I cannot with a clear conscience deny that majority, so I will support change in this area. To those who have campaigned for this change: congratulations. To those wonderful families and individuals who have come to me seeking change over the years: while we may have disagreed, I have recognised your genuine intentions. I also recognise all of the wonderful constituents who have come to me seeking that the current act be maintained in its current form. But I urge all to respect others who have differing views and to work together.
The next 48 hour in this place will be very interesting as we seek to find a form of words with suitable protections for others directly affected by changes to the Marriage Act to allow them to exercise legitimate choices, and I am carefully examining the amendments which have been circulated. My chief concern has been in the areas of education, where I fear Commonwealth support for independent—mainly religious based—schools may be threatened if they choose not to teach same-sex marriage as equal in every way, in direct contravention of their religious tenets. At this time, I am confident that most parties in the parliament are determined that that should not happen—at least, that is what they say. But who can say how it will all end?
I am not convinced that any protections for schools' rights are best placed in the Marriage Act; in fact, I am pretty confident they probably aren't. Perhaps those types of reforms would be better placed in the education funding structures or even the antidiscrimination act. That is why I am pleased the Prime Minister has appointed Philip Ruddock to review religious protections. Mr Ruddock, a former Attorney-General, a former Father of the House and a former member for Berowra—which is a very multicultural electorate—will report by the end of March. I expect that further work will need to be done in this area at that time. But today I congratulate those who have brought about change, and I celebrate the democracy that we live in. I thank the Australian people for their engagement and involvement in the process, and I'm determined that we should celebrate the country that we live in, with all of its diversity.
Much is made of the claim that there is no need to change the Marriage Act because gay and lesbian people already have equal rights in Australia. But that assertion is wrong on at least two counts. Firstly, the Marriage Act, as it currently stands, is legislated discrimination because it explicitly limits marriage to be between a man and a woman. Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, let's not forget the power of the symbolism in this discrimination and the fact that, at the end of the day, this country, through its current law, treats gay and lesbian people, and the love they feel for others, as inferior to love by heterosexual couples and the recognition of that love. In other words, the laws don't just tell us how to act in Australia; they tell us how we think in Australia.
I am very proud to be from a state that has consistently led the marriage equality issue. In 2003, Tasmania was the first state to adopt a civil union scheme. In 2005, we became the first state to see the introduction of state legislation allowing same-sex marriages. In 2008, we were the first state where a Labor Party state conference endorsed marriage equality. The state Liberal Party also led the way by being the first in Australia to allow a conscience vote on marriage equality in the state parliament. In 2012, the lower house of the Tasmanian state parliament became the first in Australia to pass marriage equality legislation, co-sponsored by the Labor Party and the Greens. We have also been the first state to have both houses of parliament pass motions supporting marriage equality.
In the postal survey Tasmania's vote was well above the national vote, and I'm so proud to say that my own electorate of Denison returned one of the highest 'yes' votes of any electorate right throughout this country. Upon reflection, I think Tasmania has led the way because being the last state to decriminalise homosexuality—in 1997—taught us firsthand the damage caused by prejudice and taught us the importance of inclusion.
Of course, none of that would have been achieved and nor would we be here this week looking to finally legislate marriage equality if it weren't for the efforts of a great many people. First and foremost, I would like to recognise Rodney Croome, who is with us today in the gallery, along with some of the other people that I recognise. Rodney is a longtime campaigner for LGBTI rights. He was involved in the fight for law reform in Tasmania and was arrested in 1988 after setting up a stall at the Salamanca Market, calling for homosexuality to be decriminalised. In 1994, Rodney was involved in taking the criminalisation of homosexuality in Tasmania to the High Court and to the United Nations. He has been the national director of Australian Marriage Equality and currently serves as the spokesperson for the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group. More recently, Rodney was the Tasmanian Australian of the Year in 2015.
I have many other people I would like to recognise and I hope they will forgive me for mispronouncing some of their names. I see sitting in the gallery Shelley Argent from Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays; Peter Furness, the founding convenor of Australian Marriage Equality; Dr Sharon Dane, marriage equality researcher; and John Kloprogge, an AME volunteer and just.equal board member. There are also Jason and Adrian Tuazon-McCheyne, Jac Tomlins and Sarah Nicols, the couples who first filed to have their overseas same-sex marriages recognised in 2003, which prompted then Prime Minister John Howard to—shamefully—amend the Marriage Act in 2004.
I would also like to recognise all of the people at Tasmanians United for Marriage Equality, who helped to ensure Tasmania returned a postal survey result above the national average. I especially recognise Megan Tudehope, Rajan Venkatamaran, Vincent Bound, Richard Hale, former Antidiscrimination Commissioner Robyn Banks and Sam Watson. They are all Hobart people. It is really good to mention them today because they all went above and beyond the call of duty.
In closing, a lot of people have said a lot of things about marriage equality these last few months, including in this place this week. Much I have agreed with, but some I have not, and I certainly don't agree with those speakers who want any amendments to this bill. But, frankly, the time for talking is over, and now we should just do this thing because ultimately marriage equality is just about love.
There is no better way to describe that love than Norman MacCaig's poem 'Incident'. I hope it's safe to mention a Scottish poet here today!
He wrote in that wonderful poem, 'Incident':
I look across the table and think
(fiery with love)
Ask me, go on, ask me
to do something impossible,
something freakishly useless,
something unimaginable and inimitable
like making a finger break into blossom
or walking for half an hour in twenty minutes
or remembering tomorrow.
I will you to ask it.
But all you say is
Will you give me a cigarette?
And I smile and,
returning to the marvelous world
I give you one
with a hand that trembles
with a human trembling.
I rise to support the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. This is a cause which I have long supported and I am gratified and proud in so doing, now to find myself in company with the overwhelming majority of the Australian people. I rise to support this bill because I am a Liberal, and liberalism stands for freedom: for every freedom consistent with the equal freedom of one's fellow citizens; for every freedom consistent alike with the good of the individual and the general good of society; for every freedom that emerges from and sustains the inherent dignity of humanity. I support this bill because it establishes a new freedom of precisely such a kind, yet one that has been denied too long, too cruelly and too often with such meagre and patently disingenuous defences.
It should be the equal right of gay men and women, in common with their fellow countrymen, to shoulder in full the responsibilities and enjoy in full the privileges that are attached to the institution of civil marriage. That means more than one merely creating under a different name some second-rate, technical, de facto correspondence between the rights of gay couples and the rights of their heterosexual counterparts. Equality means equality. Their commitment is no less deep, their fidelity no less enduring, their love no less worthy of the rituals of official recognition and public acceptance that have become the familiar hallmarks of the marriage ceremony as we know it. To accord them a different status is to accord them a lesser status and in reality to perpetuate the shameful history of discrimination and humiliation against which gay and lesbian Australians have had to struggle so long and so bitterly.
There are other reasons I support this bill. I do so because, like former British Prime Minister David Cameron, I realise, as I think all on the conservative side of politics should realise, that marriage equality is something that should be supported not in spite of being conservative, but because it is the conservative thing to do. Conservatism should not be the enemy of change. The spirit of true conservatism is about keeping what is best in our institutions and improving what is not. Marriage is rightly at the heart of our social system. It is the institution most conducive to the happiness of family life and with it the stability of community life. That is not simply because it creates a stable framework in which to raise children, vitally important though that might be, but also because men and women, all of us, by our nature crave love, compassion, support and understanding—all of those things which find their highest expression in the marriage bond.
I do not pretend, of course, that all marriages are successful, but all successful marriages are a boon to society and we do our society harm by withholding the blessings of marriage from a whole section of the community who are just as qualified and more than willing to embrace its responsibilities and share in its benefits. There are now 45,000 households in Australia with children of same-sex couples whom this law will enfranchise in a way that expunges forever the enforced shame of second-class status that has so far been their lot. That is progress and that is improvement—improvement of a kind that brings new vigour and new relevance to one of our most revered institutions.
I want to say something about religion because I am an observant Catholic, and it is because of my religion and not in spite of it that I support this bill. The separation of church and state is the foundation of our civil order. It is enshrined in section 116 of our Constitution, which precludes the Commonwealth from making laws for establishing any religion, imposing any religious observance or prohibiting the free exercise of any religion. The protection of the free exercise of religion is an important part of that principle and accordingly finds expression in the amendments proposed in the bill to section 47 and the insertion of proposed sections 47A, 47B and 71A of the Marriage Act 1961. These permit religious marriage celebrants and religious organisations to decline to participate in a marriage which does not conform to their religious tenets, which is only fair and reasonable. But it is not and never was necessary for the protection of religious freedom to disallow same-sex marriage altogether.
I am satisfied that these changes protect religious freedom in this country. I do not support the insertion of unnecessary amendments. As a matter of principle, acts of parliament should not contain superfluous clauses, especially superfluous clauses based on the opinion that Australia's laws don't adequately protect the religious freedoms that we have cherished since Federation. I firmly believe that they do. It would be a betrayal of the separation of church and state to deny the equal right of all citizens to contract civil marriage simply because of the sacramental restrictions that apply to holy matrimony. It would also be hypocritical. We do not deny civil marriage to infertile couples or divorcees, even though these too are traditional impediments to Christian marriage. That is because it is plainly wrong for the law of the state to disqualify citizens from secular rights by reference to religious laws, let alone the laws of a religion which those citizens may not even profess.
Nevertheless, we do well to remember that in Australia, as in all Western democracies, the legacy of Christian ethics lies at the heart of our polity and that the church has contributed immeasurably over the centuries to the historical development of our way of thinking as a community. So too the nobler instincts of religion—justice, charity, forbearance and love—continue to inform our culture and indeed underpin the very reasons we as a community instinctively deplore injustice, discrimination and prejudice. Yet religious tenets must never become in themselves the prescriptive basis of our lawmaking. That way lies oppression. Reason, fair dealing and even-handedness must always remain the yardstick of our secular laws, but reason is not to be thought, on that account, the enemy of faith. Reason too is a gift from God and can illumine our shortcomings as articulately as the voice of conscience. Reason, let it be said, commends this bill.
I am fortified in this regard by the recently stated views of the rectors of the Jesuit colleges of Riverview in Sydney and Xavier in Melbourne, sister colleges of my own St Ignatius Adelaide, that the achievement of this legislation is consistent with the gospel of Christ. So let it not be thought that there is nothing the church can learn from the world—a world which, after all, she raised in its infancy. Chief amongst those lessons from which the church might most profit is the warning not to mistake immutability for truth or intransigence for virtue, for reason alone, unclouded by superstition, tells us that homosexuality is no more abnormal than left-handedness, that sexual orientation is innate and not conditioned, and that the expression of love between two men or between two women is not to be stigmatised because of the words of an ancient text or the prejudices of an unscientific age. Too many young people have taken their lives or had them taken from them because of the words of an ancient text. Nor is same-sex attraction a disorder to be reversed, much less an illness to be cured, and much less a vice to be brutalised by punishment.
So it behoves us in this place to ensure that these same tired and destructive prejudices, which have wrought enough wretchedness and suffering in their time, should not be permitted to continue to disenfranchise any Australian from participating in the one institution of society by which our laws respond to our greatest virtue by taking love and enhancing it with the social status it inherently deserves. To all gay and lesbian Australians, but especially to all those young men and women who have struggled with their sexual orientation in the confines of a once unsympathetic culture, I say: here is a law to challenge and in time to bring an end to all the unthinking denigration and casual condescension that they once routinely had to endure and which many, tragically, could not endure. And it will be brought to an end—of that I am certain—because, in concert with the peoples of the civilised world, it is now overwhelmingly the expressed will of the Australian people that it be brought to an end. I commend the bill to the House.
I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. On 14 November at 10 am the result of the marriage law postal survey was announced. The result was clear and definitive. Australia said yes, the state of Victoria said yes and my electorate of Wills said yes. More than 7.8 million Australians, 61.6 per cent of voters, voted yes for marriage equality. This 'yes' vote was carried in every state and every territory. Seventy per cent of constituents in my electorate of Wills said they wanted to see Australian marriage law change to allow same-sex couples to marry, and this was from an 83 per cent turnout of voters in Wills.
However, the fact is that the Turnbull Liberal government chose to spend $122 million on a postal survey that was non-binding, a waste of taxpayers' money and needlessly damaging and divisive. The result in no way alters this fact and the fact also that it was fundamentally an abrogation of our responsibilities as elected representatives in our federal parliament, a representative democracy here in Australia, and our role and responsibility to make and amend laws. And all of these responsibilities have been effectively deferred to the work that we have before us for the last few days of this week. It is now time for the parliament and its representatives to do what they were elected to do, which is to vote on legislation.
I supported marriage equality well before the postal survey. In fact, during the last election campaign, I made very clear what my position was, and I publicly stated I would vote yes regardless of the results of the survey because the principle of equality before the law, regardless of one's ethnicity, one's faith or one's gender or sexual preference should be the fundamental basis of our secular democracy, and in fact it is the same principle that underpins freedom of religion for religious minorities.
Freedom of religion, freedom from religion, and the separation of religion and state, as we have heard from previous speakers, are all fundamental principles of our secular democracy. Indeed it is my conviction that in order to ensure religious freedom, which is sadly lacking in many autocratic states overseas, where many religious minorities are persecuted because of their faith, we must maintain the principle of equality before the law for all, and that is what protects those in religious minorities from any impingement by the state.
I come from a community which is more traditional. I come from an Egyptian background. We have heard from many previous speakers that many of the more recent migrants to this country have voted no in parts of Western Sydney and other parts of Australia. They are entitled to their views. One thing I have tried to explain to people in those communities, whether they be imams in the local mosques in my electorate or priests in the local churches, is that the reason they are able to practise their religion so freely in Australia, the reason the state can't interfere in their freedom of worship, is that principle of being treated equally under the law in this country, a treatment that is not afforded to them in countries that do not share the secular principles of democracy that we have here in Australia.
We know that Australians have made their views very clear in this postal survey. The parliament must ensure that the will of the people becomes law as soon as possible. There has been more than enough dithering and delay by the government on this critical issue. We on the Labor side have been very clear from the outset of this debate that we do respect freedom of religion as one of the foundations of our diverse and harmonious society, but it is true to say that we don't believe that marriage equality and religious freedom are mutually exclusive. While there is a respect for religious freedom, we do not believe that same-sex marriage in Australia warrants a repeal of antidiscrimination laws. This is not what Australians voted for when they voted for marriage equality in such large numbers.
The protections for religious freedoms set out in the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, which was introduced by Senator Smith on 15 November and passed by the Senate on 29 November, strike an acceptable compromise between achieving marriage equality and protecting religious freedoms. These religious protections included in the bill are based on the unanimous recommendations of the Senate Select Committee on the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill. This committee consulted extensively with communities and stakeholders across Australia, and its cross-party members worked very hard to reach a consensus position.
This legislation, this bill before us, contains provisions that preserve religious freedom in the performance of the marriage ceremony and the provision of goods and services reasonably incidental to the marriage ceremony. Respect for those views held by people of faith and respect for the rights of religious institutions is, as I have said, a fundamental part of our civil society. As several speakers have suggested before me, it is appropriate that the parliament take the proper time to carefully consider what protections are required as a separate matter to this particular legislation. We will see recommendations from the panel convened by Philip Ruddock in the coming weeks, and the Australian Labor Party will consider them carefully.
Some key principles are what guide us in supporting the bill that is before us. One is a commitment to religious freedom and the ability of churches and other religious institutions to practise wedding and marriage ceremonies according to their own religious doctrines because, as we've said, freedom of religion is a constitutional right—section 116—and must be respected. Also, there is the important principle that the Australian people have spoken—and we've heard that result—but, more than that, there is the principle of confirming equality before the law, which is what we have before us in this place. We won't stand for delay or further discrimination as part of this process. This is the kind of common sense approach that, I think it is true to say, we are committed to. As such, I don't support further measures or amendments—argued for by some—that would have the effect of rolling back existing antidiscrimination laws.
The explanatory memorandum to the bill, which we endorse, makes this position very clear. Specifically, at point 64, it states:
Commercial businesses, their employees and independent operators who provide goods or services, or make facilities available, are currently prohibited from discriminating in connection with marriages on various grounds including race, age and disability.
These prohibitions have been in place for a significant period of time, and they ensure that people are treated equally in public life and protected from discrimination. Point 65 further states that 'the bill does not propose any new carve outs', particularly for the LGBTIQ community. Whatever you are—whether you are a taxi driver, florist, baker or whatever other examples have been raised—if you don't work for a body established for religious purposes, you can't lawfully refuse to drive a person to their wedding reception or provide them with the flowers or prepare a wedding cake. These are part of existing antidiscrimination laws which don't allow refusal for service, and this will continue on with this bill.
This has been a difficult debate for some people, but it's an important debate. Ultimately, though, it's quite simple. All Australians should be treated equally under the law, regardless of their sexual preference, faith, gender or ethnicity. This is the foundation principle that protects minorities in our secular democracy. In order for us to protect those minorities in this democracy, we need to make sure that that equality before the law is given to all before the law. It is the principle that is tied to the principle of freedom of religion and to the separation of religion and state. This has been a long process—one that could have been completed much earlier if we didn't have to go through the postal survey—and I commend the bill to the House. I look forward to returning to the chamber in the not too distant future to vote yes on the bill. Thank you.
I rise today as the federal member for Flynn to offer my thoughts to the private member's bill to change the Marriage Act, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. The question before us today is to change the definition of 'marriage' in the act from 'between a man and a woman' to 'between two persons'. A successful change to the Marriage Act aims to deliver legal and equal recognition to same-sex marriage.
Geographically, Flynn is twice the size of Tasmania, and the views in Flynn are as diverse as the electorate is large. The people of Flynn are compassionate, fair-minded and hardworking Australians. Changes to the Marriage Act are a significant question for Australians and Australia. It should not be done lightheartedly, as families, indeed strong families, are the pillars of a strong society.
The only way they could change the Marriage Act was after consulting with the Australian people. We made the promise to consult with the Australian people as an election promise in 2016, an election that we went onto win. The coalition won the 2016 election, and we clearly demonstrated the will of Australians to have their opinion heard on this very important issue. With almost 80 per cent of eligible Australians taking part in this voluntary survey, it clearly supported the government's decision to fulfil an election undertaking, and it was the correct and appropriate manner to answer this question once and for all.
I gave an undertaking to the people of Flynn that I'd uphold the decision of all Australians. Flynn returned a vote for yes, and more than 76 per cent of the electorate wanted their opinion to be heard. The Flynn vote accorded with the Australian vote, and 62 per cent of Australians voted in favour of a change to the Marriage Act. Therefore, I feel duty-bound to vote according to the wishes of the electorate. While I'll be upholding the wishes of the electorate in this legislation and endorsing their wish to change the Marriage Act to 'two persons', I should also hold true to the values the coalition stands for, values such as freedom to hold and express a view, freedom of parents to have the final oversight as to how their children are educated and freedom of religious beliefs and expressions, and decisions of religious organisations and their assets.
Other members of parliament will act according to their convictions and with their personal beliefs, in contrast with their electorates. I do not offer advice or judgement upon their actions and how they vote in the chamber. However, I will uphold the commitment I made to the electorate of Flynn and I vote according to the wishes of the majority of Australians.
I rise today to speak in support of the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, which has such significant meaning for our country, for the many LGBTIQ Australians, for their friends and family and for everyone in our community, because this week we vote to make our country a more equal place.
Being a member of parliament is a strange role in many ways. I am acutely aware that some of what we do in this chamber is irrelevant and remote to the lives of the people we represent, such as the argy-bargy that goes on in question time and the foolish debates that don't change a thing for anyone. I don't mind admitting I find that side of politics intensely frustrating. But other days, being a member of parliament couldn't mean any more, and today is one of those days. Today, we make a change that will affect people in a real way. Today, we help define our country in the way Australians have told us and shown us they want it to be defined.
This victory does not belong to me. I have been in parliament for four years. Prior to that, strong activists, people like Senator Penny Wong and others, have done decades of hard yards on this question. I feel like I got to help out in the advocacy for this, which was a really positive experience, where there was a lot of goodwill in the community, but I am well aware that this has been an incredibly long fight, and I know that, at times, it has been gut wrenching, a slog and a battle in the trenches.
I want to pay tribute to some of the groups I think have played a very important role in this. One of those groups is Rainbow Labor. This is a group of extraordinarily committed activists who have joined our party, and they stay in our party because they know that getting this political party on to the government benches is the only way to move this country forward on the issues that they are passionate about. For every one of those Rainbow Labor people who has spent so many years of their lives fighting for issues just like this one, this progress belongs to you, and I am so grateful for your efforts.
I want to say a few words about young people. They can be a maligned group in our country, ever being accused of not caring enough about things that really matter. In their engagement in this discussion, they showed us that that is wrong. I want to salute the young people of this country for standing up and making their voices heard. We know the plebiscite process that was set up was always going to favour older people to participate at higher rates. But I want to point out one thing that really got me on the day that the result was announced. The highest participation of any group of Australians under the age of 50 was 18- to 19-year-old women, 82 per cent of whom voted. Not only was it the first time that most of those young women had voted; it was the first time many of them had ever posted a letter. This makes my heart sing for the future. It makes me believe we are in safe hands. I want those young women to know that I believe passionately in them and their ability to make our country better and stronger.
In the end, it was young people who got us over the line. I think we all knew that was going to be the case. It tells us one of the fundamental truths of social change, and that is that we need young people to speak up loud if we want society to change for the better. In my experience of life and getting older, I see that we're very susceptible as humans to believing that the environment we are in at a particular point in time can't possibly change. But young people see things differently. They see how things can be different. Young people today are doing something that no generation has ever been able to do before. They are standing up in schools—even in primary schools—universities and workplaces and saying for the first time that LGBTIQ people actually deserve full equality in this country. They are working to achieve it and they are succeeding. That is something the generations who went before me have not been able to do and my generation hasn't been able to do. But those young people are doing it for us. I'm so proud of, and grateful for, their efforts.
I want to make a few comments on the plebiscite. It wasn't a good idea. It wasn't a unifying moment. The only people I have heard say this was a unifying moment are straight people. When I think about the experience the plebiscite put my friends through, I am very angry. A lot of people who are in a better position than me can talk about their personal experience of this. But I want to share with you one gut-wrenching moment that I have experienced. A lot of young people congregated around my office to go and talk to families about how they were going to vote on this incredibly important issue. A lot of those people identified as being gay. It was gut-wrenching to go out with those young people and watch them have to knock on doors and have the people at home tell them they would be voting no in the plebiscite and then to see their faces when they came back to me. The Prime Minister needs to understand there is a generation of young people who will never forgive him for making them go through that.
I want to focus, though, on the really big, important aspect of this, and that is that Australians said yes. Some people I spoke with connected very strongly with the idea of this being about the more legalistic arguments about fundamental human rights. But a lot of the people I talked to voted yes as a simple act of generosity. A lot of people said to me, 'This doesn't affect me, but why would I stand in the path of something so important to someone else?' I found that to be a very Australian attitude—the best of the warmth, openness and tolerance of this amazing country that I get to represent in this chamber.
I spent quite a bit of time talking to people who I know voted no in the plebiscite. Every member of parliament takes a different approach to how they represent their community; for me, it's very important to engage with people who have a different point of view. I sat down with a lot of people who I knew would vote no. I had a cup of tea with them and talked to them about their issues. I really wanted to understand why because, to me, it's challenging to see why you would not want this to happen. So I sat down with people and I talked to them about it to try to understand their perspective. One of the top issues that kept coming up was Safe Schools. I heard a lot about people's concerns about the way gender is changing in society.
But when I had these conversations with people, after we'd talked for a while, something would come out towards the end of the conversation that was quite fundamental. That was that some people in this country fundamentally believe that there is something wrong with being gay. That was the honest view that was expressed to me in my office. I say that without judgement, but that was always a place where the conversation kind of reached an impasse, because I have a fundamentally different view. I don't believe there's anything wrong with being gay.
One of the arguments that I disagreed with the 'yes' campaign on was the argument that this change that we're going to make this week in this parliament is a small thing—just a few small words in a piece of legislation. I just don't agree with that. I don't think this is about a small thing; I think this is about a very big thing. This is about our nation reaching out. It's a nation making it clear that LGBTIQ people belong, and that's not a small thing. It matters a great deal. It matters a great deal in particular to young people. Deputy Speaker, I know you'll be very well aware of the statistics. We know that young people who are having questions about their sexuality are about five times as likely to attempt suicide as other young Australians. But, as with most things, statistics tell you one part of the story but it's human experience that fills in the gaps.
I have, of course—like almost everyone in this chamber, surely—gone through the experience of watching my friends come out. It's incredibly hard for them. It really is. It's hard for them to come out in what they see as a society and a country that doesn't respect them as fully equal human beings. I see them go on that journey and then I see that, even after they've come out and even when they're living a life acknowledging the true person that they are, they bear some scars from that experience that they went through. I don't think that anyone should have to go through that experience. No-one in this country who is questioning their sexuality should feel they are any less of a person, that they are less valued or that they are less respected. Today we say that as a parliament. That's why I say this is not a small change; it is a huge change, because this is our country saying, 'We love you, we respect you and we want you to have the full rights and opportunities that we get to enjoy'.
Like so much of what we do in politics, this debate has not been pretty. Politics can be a very ugly business. It's never as clean, clear and perfect as we want it to be. A lot of people hate politics, and we know that a lot of people have diminishing faith in its ability to make any changes. But I want to say something to those people. Just have a look at how our laws have changed and how our society has changed just in my lifetime. I'm 37 years old. In the year I was born in Victoria, gay sex was a crime. I was 17 by the time Tasmania decriminalised being gay. When I joined the Labor Party, I was 16 years old. Marriage equality was never going to happen. It was not even part of the political discussion in any mainstream way, because it was unthinkable. Here I stand before the parliament less than two decades later, and we're about to give LGBTIQ Australians equal rights before the law. Soon a gay wedding is going to be completely unremarkable. Society can change. It does change. This has given me and so many other Australians hope. Our political system isn't pretty, but what matters most is that it can be used to change our society for the better, and I am so deeply privileged to be a part of that change today.
An incident having occurred in the gallery—
I rise today in the chamber to speak in support of the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, and I want to make three points. Firstly, this has been a good process, reflecting the best elements of Australia's democratic traditions. Secondly, this good process happened with no thanks at all to the Labor Party. Thirdly, it is important to respect the views of all Australians as we go through this process.
Why has this been a good process? The coalition took a promise to the 2016 election that, before putting same-sex marriage to the parliament, we would give the Australian people the chance to have their say, and we delivered on that promise. Nearly 80 per cent of eligible voters participated. That's a very high level of participation for a voluntary exercise, a good sign for our democracy. A particularly good sign is the number of young people who participated, far in excess of some of the gloomy predictions. There was a clear result nationally with 61.6 per cent of Australians voting yes, and a clear result in my electorate of Bradfield. In Bradfield, 60.6 per cent of respondents voted yes, very close to the national average. This is an outcome which is important in achieving community acceptance of what is a significant social change.
I take a classical Liberal position: the harm principle articulated by John Stuart Mill, which states:
The only purpose for which power can be rightfully extended over any member of a civilised community, against his will—
today we would say 'against his or her will'—
is to prevent harm to others.'
It is in accordance with that position I voted yes in the postal survey. In accordance with the position that I have consistently stated given that both the Australian people and the people of Bradfield have, by majority vote, expressed their support for the law being amended to permit same-sex couples to marry, I will be voting yes on this bill.
This good process and this outcome have been achieved with no thanks at all to the Labor Party. When you saw the opposition leader on 29 November turning up at the rally in Melbourne proudly proclaiming 'Today we celebrate, tomorrow we legislate', you would think this was a man seeing his own painstaking work come to fruition. But you would be naive and credulous to think that because the facts are clear: the Leader of the Opposition didn't want the law to change in December 2017. He wanted nothing to happen until after the election in 2019 so he could use this as a campaign issue. His most recent position has been trenchant opposition to the Australian people being given a say. He said, 'We will oppose this ill-conceived, ill-thought-out plebiscite.' But the Leader of the Opposition has been as inconsistent and slippery on this issue as he was on the issue of whether he supported Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard for the Labor leadership. Remember the Leader of the Opposition told the Australian Christian Lobby on 13 August 2013 that he 'would rather the people of Australia could make their view clear on this than leaving this issue to 150 people'.
The facts are also clear that Labor had six years in government and did nothing to deliver this important social change. In fact, Julia Gillard was adamant in 2012 that the Labor government would not be introducing legislation to change the definition of marriage. In yet another slippery display from the Leader of the Opposition, having said earlier this year that Labor was calling for a free vote in parliament, what Labor is actually doing now is not allowing Labor MPs a conscience vote on amendments whereas the Liberal Party has a free vote on every aspect of this issue.
We have had a good process but it is very important we respect the views of all Australians, including the more than five million who voted no. They were motivated by a range of factors, including concerns about the maintenance of religious freedom. This is a very important issue, which is why the Turnbull government has committed to hold a separate inquiry into the protections of religious freedom in this country to be led by the Hon. Philip Ruddock AO. A number of my constituents have raised concerns with me that religious leaders and institutions may face restrictions on maintaining teachings about marriage which have been core principles of their faith over centuries, indeed millennia. There are, of course, provisions within the bill before the House designed to address these issues. In addition, a number of amendments have been put before the parliament on these issues and I will examine these amendments on their merits before finalising my position.
A number of my constituents have also raised concerns with me about the social engineering agenda being pursued in schools by people like the Marxist educator Roz Ward. Many parents very much disagree, for example, with the idea that primary school children should be required to engage in workshops about gender identity and same-sex attraction. While that is not the subject matter of this bill, it is important to acknowledge the very real parental concerns on these issues.
Let me conclude by returning to the subject matter of this bill. The Turnbull government has carried out a process which has allowed the Australian people to have their say in the face of trenchant and politically cynical opposition from Labor. The outcome, which we are arriving at, reflects leadership by the Prime Minister. I also want to congratulate the members for North Sydney, Brisbane, Goldstein, Leichhardt and Senator Dean Smith on the work they have done to get to the point that we are at today.
This is a matter which is of considerable importance to gay and lesbian Australians. The Australian people have by a clear majority stated their opinion that the institution of marriage, this powerful force for good in our society, should be available to Australians in a same-sex relationship as it is to Australians in a heterosexual relationship. I welcome that decision and I am pleased to have the opportunity to express my support for this bill.
Today is a great day for Australia. Today we say yes to equality. We say yes to love. Soon we'll have the all-too-rare privilege of casting a vote to extend the great Australian ideal of fairness and equality to every gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex person. We'll get the chance to make this country a better place. Every single Australian deserves to be treated equally under the law no matter who they are or who they love.
Above all things Australians value fairness and equality, but for too long the institution of marriage has been one that excludes one group of Australians, and in so doing we have sent a powerful message not just about marriage but about equality, discrimination and exclusion. It's the wrong message and it's hurt a lot of people. Today we right that wrong. Today we send a new message: one of hope, inclusion and love. Everyone deserves the right to be married if that is what they want. Everyone deserves to be able to choose the way in which they want to live their life and to choose how they want to celebrate and develop their relationships. That's why I'll be once again voting yes for marriage equality.
My partner, Ross, and I have been together for nearly 40 years. We have three children and now a granddaughter. We don't want or need anyone to sanctify our relationship. It is strong and loyal and loving. But the difference is we've been able to choose to build our family according to our principles, and LGBTIQ people should be able to do the same. I do not want a church or the state involved in my personal relationship. I adore my father and love my partner, but the idea that I would be given like a piece of property from one man to another is totally antithetical to me. The patriarchal views of many religions do not align with my ethical beliefs that men and women should be equal, and the same is true, from my ethical standpoint, about LGBTIQ people. They too should have the right to live with and love who they choose and marry if they want to.
In 2015 I received an email from a constituent of mine, Tiffany Talberg. Tiffany wrote: 'As a gay woman, this issue is very close to my heart. I may or may not want to marry a partner in the future, but that doesn't mean I should be denied the option of marrying the one I love.' Tiffany is right. She should have the freedom to marry the person she loves, and, with the passage of this legislation, she will soon have that freedom.
The truth is that many Australians were ahead of the parliament on this issue. It is a reform that is long overdue. In my own electorate of Jagajaga, 73.5 per cent of people voted in favour of marriage equality. I do want to congratulate everyone who was involved in the 'yes' campaign. I especially want to give a shout-out to those from Trades Hall in Victoria who campaigned tirelessly for equality. In particular, I want to thank Will Strack, who ran the field campaign.
I do want to especially acknowledge and pay tribute to all the rainbow families who I know have had a difficult time with this public debate about their private lives. Let me be very clear: the postal survey was unnecessary. It caused needless pain for LGBTIQ Australians. We didn't need this process to decide to end discrimination against gay and lesbian people and whether or not they should be able to marry who they choose. We never needed a process whereby strangers got a say in determining whether some relationship between two people was more equal than others. For many LGBTIQ Australians who struggled with their identity early in their lives, the postal survey took them back to a place of insecurity—a place where they were told they needed to seek acceptance from the rest of the community to be who they are.
I especially want to acknowledge and congratulate so many LGBTIQ Australians who've campaigned for this day for so many years—and it has been a very long time. In 1949, the death penalty was still on the books for sodomy in Victoria. It took until 1980 for the Hamer government to decriminalise homosexuality in Victoria, and in Tasmania male homosexuality wasn't decriminalised until 1997, so we have come a long way. One of the positive things about this debate is that it has energised and engaged young people. They are a new generation that's becoming politicised because the issue of marriage equality touches them at such an emotional level. Young Australians just cannot abide discrimination against LGBTIQ Australians.
I want to especially pay tribute to my good friend and colleague Penny Wong. Her leadership has been so strong and so constant. We are incredibly lucky to have her. I especially want to acknowledge Sophie, Alexandra and Hannah. Our thanks and love go to the three of you. Another great Labor senator, Louise Pratt, has been such a tower of strength during this debate, and I know how much this means to her and her wonderful family, especially Jasper.
I want to briefly talk about a school in my electorate: Eltham High School. Eltham High was one of the 10 founding schools to support the Safe Schools Coalition program, which aims to create a safe and supportive school environment for same-sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse people. I remember a speech that the principal, Vincent Sicari, gave to the students after the murder of more than 50 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando in the United States in 2016. He told his students, 'I cannot expect you to value diversity and individuality and have social responsibility if I remain silent when things like this occur.' For the remainder of the week, the rainbow flag flew at half-mast at the front of the school as a sign of respect and solidarity. I want to congratulate Eltham High for its leadership on inclusion in our education system.
I also briefly want to talk about religious freedom. These matters have been raised a lot in this debate. Some of the amendments that have been proposed to this bill by conservative members are seeking to extend exemptions from the Sex Discrimination Act and various state antidiscrimination laws. I want to say loud and clear today that I do not support any of these amendments. Our antidiscrimination laws are important. There are, rightly, limits to religious freedom. Discrimination on the basis of sex, race, sexual preference or anything else is unacceptable in a modern society like Australia. Do we really want to go back to a place where someone can be refused service—where you can refuse to bake them a cake or drive them in your car—because they're gay? The Australian people do not want that, and I certainly will not support it. We all know that no religious minister under this bill need marry a gay couple against his or her conscience. Churches are able to determine who they marry and who they don't and will continue to do so. These amendments that some conservatives want to move aren't about protecting religious freedom; they are, in fact, an underhanded attempt to water down our antidiscrimination laws, and I certainly won't be supporting any such amendments.
I now want to speak, in closing, directly to LGBTIQ Australians. You are no less than other people because of who you are. Your love is no less because of who you love. This bill is a significant step towards equality. This bill is a significant step towards eliminating discrimination against LGBTIQ Australians. But there are still more steps we must take. The freedom to marry will soon be legislated, but there are still far too many workplaces where LGBTIQ Australians suffer from discrimination. Too many young gay people are bullied at school and bullied on sporting fields simply because of who they are, the way they talk or the way they look. The task for us all is to eliminate discrimination. The task for us all is to foster greater inclusion of LGBTIQ Australians.
I want to close by sharing a very personal story. Earlier this year I became a grandmother for the first time, and my granddaughter's name is Camille. She of course has been a peaceful eruption of joy and love in our world. And this, like most big moments in your life, causes you to reflect—to reflect on the kind of place you want to leave behind for future generations. With the passage of this bill, young Australians growing up today will have the freedom to choose to marry the person that they love. It's a future that has been a long time coming, but, in the end, love and the campaign for equality will win.
Some would suggest that opposition to same-sex marriage revolved around morality. But I've got to say that, for many people around this country who voted no, that wasn't the issue. The issue for them was freedom. The issue for me was about freedom and the protection of freedoms in this country if we have a change to the law such as this. It's not about morality for me or for most other people.
I've never pretended to be a paragon of virtue. I'm a Christian, but I've fallen short of the mark, like so many other Christians. In my past, I lived, unmarried, with a girl for many years. So I'm not going to get up on my high horse and moralise to other people. I've been to wild bucks parties; I've been out on nights with uni mates, to places where good Christians shouldn't go—I've done all of that. So I'm not going to get up and lecture other people. I haven't lived a saintly life. The saint I come closest to is Augustine, who had a great prayer: 'O Lord, grant me chastity—but not yet.' So I am not here to moralise. I'll save that for the pulpit.
I am a conservative politician, and I care about freedoms. And that's what I want to talk about tonight, because, while I accept that there is broad support in the Australian populace for changing the definition of marriage, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 does pose a challenge for freedom, and particularly for freedom of religion, freedom of faith, freedom of worship, freedom of speech and freedom of conscience—all of these key freedoms. And I've got to say that millions of people cast their vote against same-sex marriage because they were concerned about these freedoms potentially being lost.
I'm talking about the right of churches, synagogues, mosques and temples to stand up for, stand by and articulate their religion's articles of faith without fear of penalty and without fear of censorship. I'm talking about the same right for pastors, for priests and for ministers of religion to do likewise; for the businesses and services that those religions run; and for the right of faith based charities and organisations also to articulate their faith's values and to ensure that their employees, their services, their goods and whom they provide those to conform with those values. It is the right of any person of faith, I've got to say, to express their values and to live by them authentically. I include in that those who do run businesses, and also employees, without fear of being shut down, or being sacked or dismissed, or being hauled before some government tribunal. It is the right of parents to actually have a say in what is taught in the classroom regarding sexuality, marriage and relationships.
As a supporter of the plebiscite itself, I said from the get-go that I would not vote against the wishes of my electorate. It was a very specific statement. My electorate voted 55 per cent in favour of changing the definition of marriage to enable people of the same sex to be married under law. But that does mean that nine out of 20 people in my electorate had those concerns about freedom, concerns that I stated before: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of faith and freedom for parents to determine what happens with their child's education regarding matters of gender, sexuality and marriage. I'm sure that most of those nine out of 20 individuals in my electorate would, like me, accept the fact that the majority have spoken: the majority want a change to the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act to enable people of same sex to marry. However, I think that they would also be likely to say that protections for key freedoms need to be built into the bill that is before us today.
I am more than willing to support this bill if key protections are put in place in this bill. Key protections must be put in place in this bill. I heard the speaker before, and I've heard many other speakers who have stood up and have ridiculed those protections. They've ridiculed them as going back to some era of ultradiscrimination where we can refuse service to people simply because they're same-sex attracted. No-one is talking about that. In fact, none of the amendments that are before us today are talking about that. I actually think that businesses should be able to refuse service for same-sex marriages, but that's not an amendment before us today. I've got to say that refusing service for a same-sex marriage is very, very different to refusing service to someone because they're gay. Refusing service to an individual because of who they are is very different to refusing service for a particular event which you might not be able to be part of because of your faith.
As I said, I am more than willing to support this bill if key protections are put in place. I am actually stunned that there are those in this parliament who support redefining marriage and who are opposed to putting these safeguards in this bill. That actually says something. I know that we have had an announcement by the government that there is going to be a former member of this place heading a review on this issue, the issue of religious liberty, when it comes to this matter and other matters. But that is a promise on the never-never that I cannot be certain of when I am asked to vote on this bill. This bill, I know, is going to have grave issues for freedom of speech, for freedom of faith, for freedom of conscience and for parents' rights to actually determine what goes on with their child's education on this matter.
We were told by those running the 'yes' campaign that these concerns for freedom were a furphy. They said that they were side issues, that they were issues that would not eventuate should same-sex marriage become law. If that were the case, I would have to ask why there is any concern for putting these protections for key freedoms into this bill. I do happen to have a quote here from the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, about the so-called freedoms that are in the bill before us, not the amendment. He says:
Lame proposals to protect ministers of religion and places of worship offer no protection to the 99.9% of religious believers who are not clergy.
He goes on to say:
It is imperative that our political leaders enact laws that protect the rights of all, religious believers included.
There is great truth to that. It's great that we are actually protecting the freedom of churches and pastors to do what they want to do within their own worship spaces.
But I have got to tell you about other countries where same-sex marriage has been legalised—I look at Denmark and I look at Sweden as examples. In Denmark, for example, the government of the day back in 2012 changed the law to say that pastors and ministers of the Church of Denmark must actually perform same-sex marriages. They must perform same-sex marriages or, if they want to object, they need to refer to a pastor who will perform the marriage within that church. I have to say that the law there has clamped down to erode that last right and now, basically, they have to perform it. It is the same in the Church of Sweden. This year the Prime Minister in Sweden said that all pastors in the Church of Sweden must perform same-sex marriages. So, when you have an example of two countries overseas where these protections for churches and pastors have not lasted, you have to say, 'What hope is there for anyone else?' That is why these protections that we are talking about are needed today.
We have had many cases overseas. The UK Charity Commission removed the charitable status of 19 Catholic adoption and foster agencies because they did not want to adopt or foster to same-sex couples. In New Zealand a charity by the name of Family First has been deregistered because it was committed to traditional marriage, which was no longer considered a public benefit. In Johns v Derby City Council in 2011, the English High Court supported a council decision that a Christian couple with traditional views on marriage who had successfully fostered many, many children would not make suitable foster carers anymore because they were not open to promoting or accepting a same-sex-attracted lifestyle. I have got to say that the list could go on and on and on.
We have our own examples in this country. The Catholic Archbishop of Hobart, Julian Porteous, was dragged before the Tasmanian antidiscrimination commission because he dared to tell Catholic Church teaching on marriage to Catholic school students. Why was he put before that tribunal for that? Could it happen again? Will it happen again? Probably even more under these laws. We need these protections in place to stop that from happening. It is clear that it already can happen in this country. It will happen more if we pass this bill without these key protections in place. We had that 18-year-old girl, Madeline, here in Canberra, who posted something on social media in support of the 'no' campaign and, as a result, her contract with her employer, Capital Kids Parties, was cancelled.
We need protections in place for people of faith who want to express an opinion on this not to be sacked or have their contracts cancelled, which is a fundamental breach of an international human right. Look it up in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Your ability to express your faith and to live out your faith is a core human right in that document. Today or this week, if we do not put these protections for freedom in here, we will see that whittled away in this country.
I will end with a letter that I received from a grandmother in my electorate of Dawson. She comes from Andergrove. She said to me, 'Unless there are adequate safeguards in place, you are legislating towards the inevitability of heavy fines and even imprisonment for Australians, as has been shown to be the case in other nations who have gone down this track.' I couldn't say it any more succinctly. Please, please, I beg the other members of this chamber: I am willing and there are many others here who are willing to vote for this bill to enable the majority decision to be ratified in this place, but we are asking for protections. We are asking for protections around key freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of faith, freedom of conscience, and the right of parents to determine how their children are educated in these matters. It is not a very big ask. I would say to members that we can do this. We can tick off what the majority have asked for in this country while accommodating, recognising and respecting the views of the minority. It is before this parliament to do it, and I would encourage every member to vote for the amendments that are going to be put up to this bill.
My boy Patty is a typical 10-year-old in most respects. He loves his mum and argues with his dad about the amount of time he spends playing computer games. He is desperately looking forward to the end of school in two weeks time. Of course I am proud of him. But on the morning of 15 November he gave me one more reason to be proud of him. After breakfast, he asked me, 'Can I call Raph?' Raph is Patty's best mate. They do Cubs and they do circus and they do drama and they do just about everything else they can together. These are new millennial kids so a phone call to them means Facetime or Skype. When he managed to pull Raph up on the iPad, he saw his face and he said to him, 'Are you nervous?' 'A little bit', replied the boy at the other end of the iPad. 'I just want to wish you good luck,' said Patty. As Raph said 'thanks', his mum's face appeared behind him on the iPad. 'We are nervous and a little bit excited too,' they said. 'We have been baking rainbow cakes all morning to burn up the nervous energy.' It was eight o'clock; there were two hours to go. As I walked Patty to school that morning I told him he would remember this day, as I had remembered other important milestones from my childhood.
It is not often in the life of a statistician that they appear on television. It is even less frequent that the report from a statistician is prime-time viewing on every broadcast network in the country. In fact, if the international society of statisticians have got a record book, I am certain that David Kalisch smashed every record for the attention he received at 10 o'clock on that morning of 15 November. I want to congratulate him and his staff for the great work they have done in conducting the survey. When he revealed the result of the $100 million vote, there was no room for doubt; over 61 per cent of Australians had voted in favour and a majority was enjoyed in every state and in 133 of 150 electorates.
Raph and his parents could celebrate. My family would celebrate. It was a momentous occasion. For Raph and his family, it sent a powerful message: your family is not second class. To the young boys and girls who are struggling with their identity, we have sent them a very powerful message too: it is okay being just who you are. This is something worth celebrating.
This is not the first time that I have spoken on a bill for marriage equality. My first year in this place, 2010, seems so long ago. I spoke on a motion in support of consulting our electorates on the very question. At that time I observed that the real objection to same-sex marriage was not to marriage itself but to the relationship. I still think that's true. The motion was the first important step in the House making its journey towards this debate today. I remember at the time when the member for Wentworth opposed it he wasn't alone. In February 2012 I moved a private member's bill for marriage equality. The bill was to give effect to Labor's national platform. In that speech I said that I believe that God made us all equal but different, not differently equal.
Forty-two members voted in favour of the bill. There were no coalition MPs amongst them. It was of course a much more controversial matter back then, even within my own party. And in my own branches there were threats against sitting members such as me who'd taken a stand on the matter. I say to those coalition MPs who have taken the journey inside their own party, I congratulate you. I want to take the opportunity to single out the member for Gippsland and the member for Leichhardt today. These are members like me from regional seats where it was thought that the call for equality was less strong than it is in the inner cities. Of course, that's wrong. I'm pleased to say that those threats of political reprisals have now turned into vocal support within the party, within the electorate and now within this parliament.
People have changed their minds. For me, the journey was a short one. I don't pretend to be an early advocate on this issue. But, when I applied the same Labor principles of equality and fairness that I would to any other issue, there was only one possible answer. The Prime Minister and many of his colleagues, and many of mine, like millions of other Australians, have changed their minds, too. And this is a good thing. The arguments of some of the opponents in my early days made it easier. I'll never forget being told that God would punish both me and my children for taking a stand in favour of marriage equality. Clearly this is not a God that I or the majority of people of faith would recognise, but over the course of the last five years many abhorrent things have been said in their name.
In my electorate of Whitlam, 62.3 per cent of people voted yes. There was a great turnout. It surprised me. Over 80 per cent of residents participated in the survey. I want to talk about regional electorates. There are 150 seats in the federal parliament, with 88 of those classified as metropolitan and a further 62 as regional or rural. Of the 150 seats, only 17 voted against marriage equality. If you applied the common prejudice that says that regional folk are less progressive on issues like this than are their city cousins, you'd conclude that the city overwhelmingly voted in favour and the regions overwhelmingly voted against. Well, you'd be wrong. Of the 62 regional seats, only three voted against marriage equality. This confounds those views that regional Australia is somehow less progressive on these sorts of issues and less welcoming of diversity than people in the inner cities. Regional electorates like mine have shown themselves to be open places that are willing to embrace same-sex couples.
At the start of this process I called on regional Australia to embrace this opportunity to show Australia that we embrace and celebrate all our citizens. I'm really pleased that the people of regional Australia have answered that call. I want to pay tribute to some of the campaigners. Sometime in the future the majority of Australians are going to look back and they're going to look at the passage of these laws as somehow inevitable. So much of what we look at now as inevitable we also think of as easily won. This was neither.
There have been many tributes given to members and senators who have been instrumental in today's proceedings—from my own side, Senators Wong and Pratt and the members for Maribyrnong, Grayndler, Sydney and Port Adelaide. And we have just heard a fine speech from the member for Jagajaga. There wasn't a dry eye in the House when we heard the member from Barton contribute to this debate earlier today.
I would also like to give a special shout-out to the 'yes' movement. It was Ashley Hogan, one of the courageous LGBTI senior staff and a longstanding campaigner on the issue—within the campaign she was known as the 'clearance unicorn'—who shouldered the load of both quality control for the campaign and coordinating responses to the public. Most campaigns have entire departments of people who do this. It was Ashley and her team of dedicated volunteers who performed it during this campaign, and they deserve our sincere thanks. There was Joe Scales, campaign adviser and rising young union leader, who used up weeks of leave to volunteer his formidable skills to the campaign. There were Georgia Kriz and Audrey Marsh, the New South Wales field directors, two talented young leaders who were guided by the formidable Patrick Batchelor, who was the national field director. But there were plenty of others who came before them. In 1979 an Illawarra based MP, George Petersen, an early mentor of mine, introduced a private member's bill into the New South Wales parliament to remove from the criminal statutes a whole heap of crimes that were directed at homosexual activity. I pay tribute to the early efforts of those early pioneers—George Petersen and those who supported him.
I also want to pay tribute to some of the community advocates. I see Sally Argent from PFLAG up in the Speaker's gallery. Sally has run a fantastic campaign on this issue on behalf of the parents and friends of people who are lesbian and gay. I pay tribute to Rodney Croome, who I met years ago in a leaders forum long before I ever thought I would join this place, for his tireless work. In my own region, there was Illawarra Rainbow Labor. I want to recognise Caitlyn Roodynirees and my dear friend Simon Zulian, who dedicated his tireless campaign work to his deceased partner, Kane—the love of his life who he never had the opportunity to marry. I salute you, Simon, for your tremendous work.
Many members who have spoken in this debate and who have opposed marriage equality have now sought to amend the bill to protect what they see as an erosion of religious freedom. I support religious freedom, but it is not unqualified. I do not support the proposed amendments, which are solutions to imagined problems. The amendments to permit same-sex marriage do not require a religious organisation to solemnise marriages that are not consistent with its faith. There has, for the most part, been a healthy dialogue during this debate between faith based organisations and the parliament on this matter. The churches have been very forthcoming in their advocacy for the status quo. This is their right. It is also the right of parliamentarians to speak frankly and to offer advice to faith based organisations. It is something that I do now. Instead of pursuing an exemption to the general law under the apprehension that a special right or protection is needed, a better course of action might be to take some time to reflect upon your own beliefs and the operation of this law.
There are many in the community who quite rightly ask of my own church, 'If marriage is such a central institution to our society, why don't your priests and brothers marry?' There are many instances where the changes in the law have affected the way that churches and other religious organisations have conducted the rites of marriage. I will give a few examples. It is no longer necessary that a minister of religion ask for a certificate from the Protector of Aborigines to conduct a marriage between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It is no longer permissible for a minister of religion to solemnise a marriage of people as young as 12 or 13. In my grandparents' days, this was allowed. It is now against the law. I cite these examples to make the point that marriage has changed over time and so can churches' and religious organisations' views of marriage. Since the 16th century we have used the image of Lady Justice with a sword and scales but also a blindfold. When applying the law of justice, we are taught that justice is blind to the circumstances of the individual who stands before her. In this place, we make those laws and we strive to do so justly.
I started with an observation of a conversation with my son, and this is where I would like to conclude. Like many members, I have young children. My two are aged 10 and 13. Like the statue of Lady Justice, I don't know today who they will fall in love with. I don't know whether they're going to be straight or gay. But I do know that, because of what we are doing today, the law shall not discriminate. If they decide to marry somebody who they truly love, who are we to stand in their way?
The question put to the Australian people in the postal survey was this:
Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?
The answer given was a clear yes. Nationally, 61.6 per cent of the population responded yes; 38.4 per cent of the population responded no; and nearly eight out of 10 eligible Australians expressed their view.
When we look at the vote by parliamentary seats, 133 of the 150 federal electoral divisions recorded a majority 'yes' response. My own electorate of Canning, in Western Australia, recorded a 'yes' vote, with 60.2 per cent voting yes and 39.2 per cent voting no. I also note that 21.5 per cent of enrolled voters did not respond at all in Canning. Indeed, almost a quarter of my electorate remained silent on this question. So, I begin by acknowledging the clear victory won by those advocating for a 'yes' vote, and I congratulate them on their successful campaign.
For many gay Australians, this is a time of joy, celebration and fulfilment for them and for their families and friends, and I wish them every happiness. It is a moment made special because this social change does not draw its authority from above, but rather from below. The mandate for this change originates from our local communities all around Australia. This is important, as we organise ourselves in Australia from below, not from above. We organise ourselves in our immediate communities. We start with the family, and then we move out to our local municipalities, to our states, and then we come together as one country in our bond as the Commonwealth of Australia. Therefore, the postal survey has granted the change as both a cultural and a legal mandate. The Australian people have given us clear direction to legalise same-sex marriage. Now we must legislate for same-sex marriage, as this government has committed to doing so, with all Australians having had the opportunity to give voice to their convictions on this question. And I must say that it is an immense privilege to represent the people of Canning during the final stages of this process.
I have been very clear with Canning electors about where I stand on the question of marriage. I have always held the position that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, entered into for life and to the exclusion of all others. My view on marriage is founded on religious conviction. I am a Christian, and I see marriage as a religious ordinance—an institution that is entered into before God. This is the orthodox position of the common historical tradition of Christianity held by many Australians across our vast continent. I affirm it and believe it.
I also recognise that man-woman marriage is an institution that is not strictly confined to Christianity or to Western civilisation. It has been present in every culture and religion throughout history. People of no faith at all hold to man-woman marriage as well. I acknowledge the culture of our Indigenous Australians, many of whom came together and signed the Uluru Bark Petition on 1 June 2015 in this House. Those Indigenous elders, whilst recognising that they do not speak for the entirety of their language groups or country, declared:
… the union between man and women is deeply a part of our ancient and continuing culture across all of our communities, and that our Fathers and Mothers provide the foundation for those communities.
My point is very simple: man-woman marriage is common to all cultures, particularly to our First Australians. It is my view and the view of 4.87 million other Australians. It has endured because it is, indeed, beautiful, true and good. That is why I argued the 'no' case during the campaign and that is why I voted no in the postal survey.
But the people of Canning and of Australia have voted that the law should be changed to include same-sex couples in the institution of marriage, and I must respect that. That is why I have been clear with my electorate—since the 2016 federal election and several times since on the public record—that, in the event of a 'yes' vote in the postal survey, I will abstain from voting yes in the House. In other circumstances, I would vote against this bill, but I respect the will of my electors and the Australian people and I will not seek to vote it down. At the same time, I cannot go against my conscience on this question of marriage. This is why I will abstain. In the words of Christ, I must render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.
Individual conscience is central to my political vision. That is why I am a Liberal member of parliament. I believe in the freedom of conscience, speech, expression and association. They are the lifeblood of our Western democratic tradition. That is why I will defend the right of Labor MPs to vote with their conscience, against the wishes of their electorates. They must do what is right for them. I do, however, oppose the Labor Party binding their members to vote against amendments to this bill. This is nothing more than an attempt to wound this government and stymie our attempt to enhance and strengthen the Smith bill so that it protects all Australians, including those of religious faith.
Many people like to think that the idea of conscience exists on its own—that it is something that occurs naturally to our civilisation. I take the view of a Scottish theologian who once wrote that 'the great shadow on the conscience of the modern West is the shadow of the cross'. Christianity has had an outsized influence on the formation of our Australia—our culture, its norms and its institutions. That is not to say that we are a Christian nation, but we cannot ignore the marks of that tradition around us, from the prayers at the commencement of parliament to the preamble to our Constitution. Our entire of system of government, with all its attendant checks and balances, can be seen as a project to preserve and uphold the dignity and worth of the individual in Australia. The source of that project lies in the central tenets of Christianity—the profound idea that every person bears the mark of their maker and is worthy of respect. It is on that basis that we can disagree with one another and have a politics of compromise. This is never more important in an increasingly diverse nation, with many Australians practising religious faiths including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and many others. We also have an increasing number of Australians who declare no religious faith at all. We are at a time in our history where we need to live alongside each other with greater understanding and empathy, particularly when we cannot agree. As Robert Menzies said in 1942:
We are a diversity of creatures, with a diversity of minds and emotions and imaginations and faiths. When we claim freedom of worship we claim room and respect for all.
Many of our great charities, hospitals, schools and local institutions—the ones that are formational in our lives and that sustain us at our lowest ebbs—are faith based and, indeed, many are Christian in character. Many of them, except for a few outliers, hold to the tenets of traditional Christian teaching, including that of marriage. They need room to teach, practise and live out their convictions without interference from the state.
I am very concerned that the Smith bill does not protect those Australians who hold to a traditional definition of marriage, nor institutions of a religious character that hold the same. The Smith bill focuses exclusively on the wedding ceremony, while ignoring the larger reality that people of conscience and religious faith seek to live out their convictions on a daily basis. I, therefore, will be moving an amendment during the committee stage, a freedoms amendment, that seeks to safeguard sincere Australians who, for either religious or conscientious reasons, hold to a traditional view of marriage and associated beliefs on parenting and sexuality. This amendment will shield Australians who express such views—with the limitation that those views must not be hateful, harassing or threatening—from the vexatious misuse of state or territory anti-vilification laws. We have already seen the example of Tasmanian Archbishop Julian Porteous, who was targeted by a complainant and dragged before an antidiscrimination tribunal for doing no more than expressing the long-held position of the Catholic Church on marriage. This amendment will protect individuals like him who publicly express a view of traditional marriage from vexatious litigation. It is important to note that the shield will only be enlivened when people who hold a sincere and relevant belief in traditional marriage are attacked. It is not a sword to be wielded in the service of bigotry.
This amendment will also protect individuals and entities such as charities, schools and not-for-profits from discrimination because of a sincerely held belief in traditional marriage. It will protect them from detrimental treatment by a public authority, whether it is a Commonwealth, state or territory authority or a local government authority established by the Commonwealth, states or territories. This protection will prevent them from delicensing or defunding, as we have seen with universities, schools and charities in international jurisdictions that have legislated same-sex marriage. Importantly, it will allow faith-based schools to teach marriage and sexuality in accordance with their religious tradition without fear of detriment. It also respects the rights of parents to raise and educate their children in conformity with their moral and religious convictions. It will also allow parents to withdraw children from classes that do not accord with their beliefs on marriage. This amendment is designed to protect the 4.87 million Australians who voted to retain the traditional definition of marriage. It does not allow for discrimination or hate speech. Rather, it preserves conscience and religious freedom.
I'd like to finish by acknowledging that I love my country and I want to see our democracy flourish into the future. This was a long process. It was hard for many people. But it has delivered change for those who sought it, and I respect that. And as Christmas comes ever closer, I'm reminded that we have great cause for optimism and hope—a hope that transcends this political sphere. I will continue to serve the people of Canning regardless of their sexuality, religion, gender or ethnicity, and it remains an honour to do so.
The last time we debated this issue here, I was about to get married. I said then that if my wife, Louise, and I had met in a different time in a different place, we might never have been able to get married. That is because my wife, Louise, is Vietnamese. Fifty years ago, interracial marriage was banned in most states in America. In most Australian states and territories for most of the 20th century, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people couldn't get married unless they had the special permission of a government official, usually called a 'protector'. In New South Wales until 1963, it was an offence for an Indigenous person and a non-Indigenous person to even live together. In South Africa, the first apartheid law passed in the forties was the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act. When I think about this debate on marriage equality, I think about those old laws and how I'd feel if the law today said that I couldn't marry Louise.
On the weekend, I went back and read the judgement of the US Supreme Court that overturned the ban on interracial marriage in 1967. The case is called, quite fittingly, Loving v Virginia. Mildred Loving was a black woman. Richard Loving was a white man. They lived in Virginia. In 1958, they got married across the border in Washington DC. A couple of weeks later, back at home, police raided their house in the middle of the night, found them asleep in bed and arrested them. They were charged with the crime of miscegenation. Three months later, a Virginia court sentenced them to a year in jail. The sentence was suspended on the basis that they leave the state of Virginia. They did that, but they didn't give up. They fought all the way to the US Supreme Court.
It took almost a decade, but that fight changed the law in the United States and it changed the lives of countless Americans. Change like that doesn't just happen; it happens because of extraordinarily courageous people like Mildred and Richard Loving. When the Virginia Supreme Court rejected their appeal in 1965, they said it was because it was important to 'preserve the racial integrity of its citizens and prevent the corruption of blood and a mongrel breed of citizens'. Just imagine how those awful, hateful words must have felt to Mildred and Richard Loving.
More than 50 years after those words were written—by men on the other side of the world who are long since dead—they still affect me. They still make me angry and they still sting. What would those men who wrote those words think of my little baby boy, Jack, the most precious and important thing in Louise's and my lives? Louise and I and little Jack are lucky that we live in a different time. We don't talk about 'miscegenation' or 'mongrels' anymore. Thank goodness. Things have changed because of people like Mildred and Richard, and they keep changing. It's impossible to imagine us having a debate about whether two people of the same sex should be able to get married when Mildred and Richard were fighting for that same right 50 years ago. But we are having that debate today. Over the course of the last few months, gay and lesbian Australians have felt the same sting of other people's judgement of their relationships. They've suffered that for a long, long time, and particularly over the last few months as Australians cast their vote.
Out of this, though, has come a very clear message. Most Australians think same-sex couples should be able to do what Louise and I have done, what Mildred and Richard did 62 years ago, what most of us here have done, or will do, and what millions of Australians have done, some more than once—that is, get married. More than 61 per cent of Australians voted yes. In some parts of Australia it was very, very popular; in some parts, it wasn't. My electorate is one of those places. It recorded the highest no vote in the country. Some people were surprised by that; I've got to say I was not. I know my local community pretty well. I was born and raised in Western Sydney; I've lived there almost all my life. I always thought my electorate would record the highest no vote in Australia, and I've always been very up-front with them about my view. It's a socially conservative place full of a lot of wonderful people, a lot of people of faith, a lot of people from parts of the world where the idea of two people of the same sex getting married really is a foreign concept. And so the result didn't come as a shock.
Since the results of the survey were released, a number of people in the media and a number of people in my electorate have come to me and said, 'Are you going to vote no now because the community has?'—even though I voted yes five years ago when my friend and colleague Stephen Jones introduced a private member's bill and even though I voted yes in the survey. Voting yes isn't a popular thing to do in my neck of the woods—I know that—but if all you seek in this job is popularity then you're going to be constantly disappointed. As a member of parliament, you can never make everybody happy all the time. The best you can do is be up-front with people, be honest with people and be true to yourself. Ultimately in this job, it's yourself that you have to confront and, in the quiet moments, answer to. I don't like having a different view on this than my community. But if I voted no here, after everything I have said and everything that I believe in, I think I would be rightly criticised as a hypocrite, as someone who lacks character and courage when it counts. And that's not me—at least, it's not the politician and, more importantly, it's not the person that I aspire to be.
My electorate knows what the sting of discrimination feels like. They experience it every day—some because of the hijab or the turban that they wear, or the beard on their face, and some just because their English isn't perfect. And when that happens I'll stand up and fight for them. I did it when Bronwyn Bishop tried to ban the burqa in the public gallery. I did it when this government tried to change the law to make it legal to offend, insult or humiliate someone based on the colour of their skin. I did it when they tried to change the law, only a few months ago, to stop people who don't have university-level English skills from becoming Australian citizens. And I'll keep doing it. I know there are some people who are concerned about what the impact of this legislation is going to be on their church or their mosque, their school or their faith, but it's important to know that nothing in this legislation changes the right of churches or mosques or religious schools to preach and teach their view of marriage. This happens today. It happens right now.
A good example is the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church, today, often refuses to marry people who have been divorced if they haven't had that previous marriage annulled. That's not consistent with the current Marriage Act. Catholic schools and charities don't lose funding today because of that. They're not breaking any law by preaching and teaching Catholic doctrine. And this legislation, this change to the Marriage Act, doesn't change that. But if there are gaps in the law to protect religious freedoms that are identified by the expert panel that the Prime Minister has set up, then I'll be arguing in my party that we should fix them.
There was a time in Australia when being a Catholic meant you suffered terrible discrimination. For most of the first 32 years of convict settlement in Australia, Catholics were prohibited from even going to church. They couldn't hold a Catholic mass. There was a time in this country when, if you were a woman, you couldn't even vote. My great-great-grandmother has never cast a ballot. There was a time when Indigenous people weren't even counted as Aussies. There was a time when Indigenous Australians couldn't even get a drink at the pub. My grandfather used to run pubs in country New South Wales. My mum grew up in them, and she told me a story the other day about her memories of her dad secretly serving Aboriginal customers out the back.
Most of the people that I have the privilege in this place to represent wouldn't even be here today if we hadn't got rid of another set of discriminatory laws, some of the most odious policies ever conceived by this place—the White Australia policy. We used to think it was okay, though. We used to think it was all right to discriminate against people based upon their sex or their religion or the colour of their skin. We don't now. We treat people equally, or at least we try to. And we're a better country because of it. That, for me, is what this debate is all about: equality. Equality before the law—giving every Australian the same opportunities in life that I have, whether that's the right to vote, the right to practise your religion, the right to drink in the same pub or the right to marry the person you love.
The issue, of course, before the House is how society should define marriage, and that issue is as complicated as it is old. There is an image I recall vividly and, likely, will do for some time. It was the sight of a Neolithic man and woman—roughly 5,800 years old—arms and legs interlocked in an embrace, which, all these thousands of years later, is recognisably tender. That image brings to mind a pivotally important truth about marriage, that the institution is beyond ancient. It is probably fair to say that almost as early as there were such things as sentient beings that we would regard as human, those humans had been seeking someone to share their lives with, pairing for support, for comfort and to build and care for families.
It is not that marriage reduces down to how unpleasant we humans have found being alone. Much less shamefully, I think it boils down to the fact that human life has traditionally been so difficult and so full of tragedy that we have found a great truth in living—that hard, individual lives are improved by the finding of a greater strength and resilience in sharing life's tragedies than is ever attainable from living and dying as creatures of solitude. In my mind's eye, I see that Peloponnesus image preserving, with remarkable dignity, the final moments of a couple that held each other in their arms. Whatever their fate was, and however hard and likely cruel their lives were in what they endured, they had each other right to the end. Most things about the lives of that couple we'll never know, but we can assume with safety that their lives were hard, much harder than ours. It's no stretch to note how in the great sweep of human history life was, in the whole, generally full of want and tragedy and very often unimaginably violent. Also, it's far from a stretch to conceive of this ancient couple as married to each other. This is because marriage is so ancient that it predates written history or even writing itself. The instinct and want to couple is likely as old as the instinct to use tools.
So, while the couple I have in my mind's eye may have been the subject of only the humblest ceremonial recognition of their existence as a couple, they may well have made a commitment to each other every bit as real and human as the commitments that we now as moderns make governed by law and sanctioned in different ways by various religions both new and old.
Being a construct of such antiquity, marriage in its practice has always evolved. For a great part of human history, the practical considerations of alliances and intertribal arrangements dominated the reasons for marriage, but over time the marriage of reasons has been replaced by the marriage of emotions. Alain de Botton described modern marriage in the following way:
Marriage: a hopeful, generous, infinitely kind gamble taken by two people who don't know yet who they are or who the other might be, binding themselves to a future they cannot conceive of and have carefully omitted to investigate.
For all its changeability, the reason for its endurance is that marriage is driven not ultimately by reasons but by a fundamental human emotion: the want to conquer life's challenges by sharing its burdens.
Marriage predates governments and it predates organised religion. In fact, I suspect that the instinct for humans to want to couple is as old and as fundamentally defining of humanity as the instinct to use tools. In fact, it may be even older than the instincts for religion or art. Religion adopted and synthesised marriage so that it has become critically inseparable from many religions' theology, and that is the reason why extra protections for religion should accompany this bill, but neither governments nor churches can lay claim to inventing or owning marriage.
As the most thoroughly and fundamentally human of institutions, only people own marriage and only people can adapt and evolve the institution in a durable way. That evolution in Western nations has wisely been, in the last several hundred years, undertaken slowly and with due and proper care, reflecting the institutions' fundamental influence on our way of life. The plebiscite that we have all experienced was not just an extraordinary democratic event; it was the eventual form of a democratic event that was absolutely necessary to make durable and make acceptable this change to our most fundamental of institutions.
The foundational nature of marriage and the wide divergence of strongly held opinions about its proper form meant that a vote, a referendum, a plebiscite, a mass democratic movement—whatever you want to call it, however it was ultimately constituted—was always going to be the best and likely only way to settle this dispute in a broadly acceptable form to be enduring. The simple fact is that the party that was to facilitate this bill being brought before this House in a way that could secure its sustainable passage into law was always going to need the clearest authority of the people that truly own the institution of marriage. If this change, this progress, could have been easily achieved without an underpinning, direct democratic mandate—if it could have been simply achieved by parliamentary vote held without this foundation—then why did Labor not achieve that progress when they were in office for six years?
Opposition to a plebiscite itself is not beyond understanding. But I think that that opposition is made worthy of serious scrutiny by virtue of the efforts of many members opposite who became opponents of a plebiscite and who now characterise themselves as the chief architects of change. What should not pass without mention is that, when the coalition did take the risk of advancing this issue to a durable resolution by committing itself to a fair and broad democratic mechanism—a democratic process that was absolutely necessary to actually get this issue resolved—some Labor members did not merely oppose that democratic process but did so with a vigour that we rarely see in this place. They argued the debate would be intemperate, and the wild irony was that they put this argument in the most blisteringly intemperate way. There is no avoiding now the fact that Labor carefully cast predictions of rampant, widespread hate, chaos and harm, and that those predictions now look utterly absurd. The reality was that the generally civil, fair and temperate way the plebiscite was conducted merely displayed that excessive, intemperate activism is no more enlivened in debates to do with sexuality than it is, sadly, enlivened in any number of other issues.
Excessive activism on any issue is a sad reality and a fixture of some democracies. It should be called out and decried wherever its ugly head is raised, but its mere existence should never be a reason to not have a public debate, because that would be its ultimate victory. Far worse than the absurd predictions of calamitous, widespread hate with a calculated effort to undermine what now, clearly, was the necessary democratic path forward is by characterising the process as rigged. The member for Isaacs said:
This entire rigged exercise is designed to divide Australia and to encourage hateful words and arguments in order for the 'no' case to win.
The idea that the plebiscite was a conspiracy designed to rig a no vote is utterly absurd. Those statements were ridiculous before the outcome but, in the face of the actual outcome, they should be called out for the utter nonsense that they were. In fact, rarely has a conspiracy theory been proved so wrong in the outcome than that absolute howler from the member for Isaacs.
Over many years, there has been great effort to recast important progressions in Australian society as the exclusive province of Labor politics. It is often a surprise, particularly to young Australians, to learn that important social progressions were the result and actions of conservative governments. It was this side of politics that took on evergreen risks and the tough grinding work of advancing and making real, important policy changes to eliminate prejudice. It was a coalition government that abolished the White Australia policy and the same government that delivered the seminal 1967 referendum to include Indigenous Australians more completely in our nation. The modern rewriting of political history is perhaps most remarkable now for how quickly it occurs, so let's start by getting the history right, right from the start.
The plebiscite was an outstanding civil success of a truly voluntary democratic process. The coalition made a clear assessment that a plebiscite was critical to both parties and this chamber in being able to craft a broadly acceptable and enduring change to a foundation institution in our society. The coalition government, against enormous opposition, made the plebiscite happen and work. That the process was bitterly opposed by progressive politicians who themselves failed to progress the issue over their six long years, when they had their chance to do so, is now an undeniable fact. The Leader of the Opposition said about the plebiscite:
They have stacked the deck against young people, against expats, against Australians who support equality … The opponents of marriage equality have set this process up to fail.
It did not fail; it succeeded thoroughly, brilliantly and fairly.
The dictum made living by John F. Kennedy that success has a thousand fathers and failure is an orphan has never been truer than on the night of the plebiscite result. Some of the many people who celebrated the result of the process were people who did everything within their power to stop the process that brought us to this very point in this chamber right now. They said it was stacking the decks against young people. They said it was set up to bring about failure. They said it was rigged in order for the no case to win. The opposition leader said, 'I hold the PM responsible for every hurtful bit of filth this debate will unleash.' What the debate actually unleashed was the democratic will of the Australian people. It is a case study in the way the world's greatest democracy devised the best and most temperate way to resolve the most emotional, delicate and difficult of issues, and the progress that it catalysed is what the Prime Minister is responsible for. That is the legacy of this government and this coalition, and as we now head to consider amendments there are several protecting religious freedoms that I consider worthy of support, and I will be free to support them if I wish.
Members opposite, who may hold similar views to mine, will be gagged and bound in a collective exercise which will limit their conscience and free choice on this issue. The fundamental fact will always stand: Labor's role in the foundation of this progress was to oppose the critical democratic process that enabled it. The progress that we are now all engaged in was, in the ultimate event, achieved by this coalition for the simple reason that we trusted the Australian people, and in the face of overwhelming political and media criticism we made sure that their say was had.
I want to begin my remarks tonight by saying to all LGBTI Australians that I'm sorry. I'm sorry that the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 took so long. Every day that a person is forced to live in our society with lesser rights than their neighbour is an injustice. We perpetuated and perpetrated an injustice on LGBTIQ Australians for far, far too long.
It is right that the parliament will this week vote to extend equality before the law to LGBTIQ couples and their families. It is right that elected members of this place will vote to afford the most basic of dignities to LGBTIQ Australians: the recognition that their relationships are just as loving, that their relationships are just as meaningful and that their relationships are just as committed as anyone else's.
I'm sorry, too, for what this parliament put LGBTIQ Australians through to get to this vote. I take responsibility for the inaction of previous Labor governments on this issue during our time in office, recognising the efforts of the member for Whitlam in introducing the 2012 marriage equality private member's bill and the 42 members of parliament, including the Leader of the Opposition, who voted for it. I recognise also the extraordinary work of people like Senator Penny Wong, who worked assiduously within party forums for many years to change Labor Party policy on this issue so that when marriage equality passes in this parliament this week it will do so with more votes from the Labor Party than any other party—but recognising our responsibility for failing to get it done in the past.
I'm sorry that LGBTIQ Australians were forced by this parliament to submit themselves, to submit their rights as equal members of our society, to a national public debate and opinion poll before we could get them to this point in this place. For these reasons, while I'm glad to be able to vote for this bill, I cannot take joy from it. Historians will note the public celebrations following the announcement of the results of this survey, celebrations that the Prime Minister had the good sense to realise that he would not be welcome at. But, in doing so, they will miss a deeper truth of this period in our history. Australians who support justice, equality and human dignity celebrated this result because the alternative would have been unimaginably painful. We celebrate it because a process that inflicted totally unnecessary pain and suffering on LGBTIQ Australians and their families would have re-traumatised these Australians had the result been in the negative. We celebrate it because the next generation of LGBTIQ kids will not have to go through a similar national debate on the worth of themselves and their families.
But these celebrations obscured the hurt, confusion and anxiety that I saw my LGBTIQ friends and family had been put through in this ghoulish process. History should record the repulsion that many of us felt at seeing the Prime Minister take credit for these celebrations while denying the suffering that he chose to inflict on LGBTIQ Australians and their families. I want to give these deeply mixed feelings a voice in this debate today. To this end I want the Hansard to record for posterity the reflections of a comedian who I admire, Rebecca Shaw, and her experience of this process. Bec wrote:
I thought that hearing that the Yes side had won would make me feel happy; that perhaps the months of tension and anger that had built up in my body would dissipate. But the instant I heard those words, I felt my stomach knot further. I turned to my group, more subdued than most of the people around me. I hugged my friends, holding on quietly and for a long time. One looked at me from under her glasses; her face was solemn, but I saw tears streaming down her face. Another was shaking their head angrily. Around me, people were smiling and hugging; … I saw an old couple embrace tearfully. I cried a bit, then – how could I not? But the knot didn't budge.
I can't speak on the perspective of an LGBTIQ person myself, but I can feel this knot in my stomach in this debate today, and I could feel it coming in the lead-up to the results.
I knew I wouldn't be in the mood to celebrate on the day of the results, so I had accepted an invitation to speak at the graduation ceremony of my old high school on the day before. I was optimistic for my old school in regional Queensland, in Toowoomba, which, it was clear to me, was far more enlightened today than it was when I was there 20 years ago. The school now had LGBTIQ kids and transitioning kids, things that were simply denied when I was at the school. But my optimism turned to bitterness when, watching the results, a 'no' result was returned for the seat of Groom in the survey. I felt for those kids as the 'no' result was returned. How did this unnecessary public process of judgement make them feel, this public confirmation of their worst fears about the community that they lived in? What message does this send to an LGBTIQ kid in that community?
It is clear we still have a long path to walk to ensuring that all LGBTIQ Australians throughout our country are afforded recognition as fully equal members of our society. For those who inflicted this process on Australia, I can only express my hope that future governments have the good sense and the political courage not to let it loose on the human rights of other groups. Regardless, the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party will have to live with the question of why they forced LGBTIQ Australians to submit their rights, their equality as citizens, to a national debate when no other race or religious group has been forced to do the same without constitutional requirement. This is the Prime Minister's legacy in this debate.
All of us in this place should make amends for the way that we have failed LGBTIQ Australians leading up to this bill by ensuring that we do not perpetrate similar injustices in future, that we do not commit similar failures of empathy. The relationships of future generations of LGBTIQ Australians won't be subject to legal discrimination, but we will need to continue to ensure that they do not confront social and other forms of discrimination. The reactionaries in our society who seek to exploit and accentuate anxieties about people who are perceived to be different will move on to a new target.
The parliament and the public have so clearly rejected homophobia. The tiny minority of people who think that religion is like a toy plastic sheriff's badge to wave at other people rather than a source of personal moral reflection will be tutting their fingers at someone else soon enough. Indeed, it is clear from the way that the 'no' campaign desperately tried to make the marriage equality survey about anything other than marriage between LGBTIQ Australians that the reactionaries have already chosen their new target—trans kids. The disgracefully dishonest and fact-free campaign against the Safe Schools program comprehensively detailed by Ben Law in his tour de force quarterly essay is a sign of things to come on this front. So, to the MPs who are professing to a Damoclean conversion on marriage equality and recognising the equal human dignity of gay and lesbian Australians in the chamber this week: I implore you not to make the same mistake over again with trans Australians. To the trans Australians and their families watching this debate with trepidation, I want to say that I see you and I will not abandon you.
I have a few happier words to end on. I want to thank and pay tribute to all of the campaigners who ensured that Australia said yes in this survey. Thank you to The Equality Campaign, Australians for Marriage Equality, GetUp! and the Australian trade union movement, particularly the Victorian Trades Hall Council. I want to particularly acknowledge the work of a constituent of mine, Wil Stracke, who led the trades hall campaign and acquired the most famous fence in Australia in the process. Your mum would have been proud, mate. Also I want to thank Raymond Pham for coordinating my office's 'yes' campaign in Gellibrand. In a perfect world, we could have done without their good deeds, but we are thankful for them regardless.
Finally, I want to thank all of those LGBTIQ Australians who lost people that they loved during the long, long wait for this day. When the Western Bulldogs won the flag after a 62-year drought, one of the most common things that I heard at the family day at Whitten Oval the day after the premiership was people wishing that they could have shared this long-anticipated moment of happiness with a loved one who never got to see the day. Lovers, family and friends will be feeling the same way about the vote in this parliament: lovers who never got to propose to the person they love; parents who never got to walk their child down the aisle; children who didn't have a parent there to walk them down the aisle; and friends who never believed that this day of equality would come. The happiness of the breakthrough moment after so long makes the feeling of these losses freshly painful. Many people in the LGBTIQ community and their family members will be feeling this way at the moment. I know I'm feeling this way. I'm thinking of those members of my family who are in the same boat.
Since 2013 the issue of marriage equality has been of significance in one way or another in Gilmore. I have a number of friends who maintain same-sex relationships, some of whom have been supportive of the yes campaign as it evolved and others who said they didn't need a piece of paper to acknowledge their love for each other. In addition to that, I have other friends whose religious beliefs prevent them from accepting the need for or the validity of such relationships and others who, for no other reason than family tradition, are more supportive of the no aspect of the marriage equality debate.
Back in 2013, I truly believed that Gilmore was a fairly evenly divided electorate on this issue. Over time, I have seen the acceptance level grow. Initially, there was absolutely no appetite for a plebiscite from some parts of the electorate. There were gay marriage forums and the emotions were running high. I attended one of these, in particular, and Robbie and Shirley sat with me as they understood that this was not going to be an easy solution. They knew of the general community sentiment and they also knew I cared for them in their relationship. I had a questionnaire for the electorate, but then the decision was made to have a plebiscite, which eventually became the postal survey. The boundaries of my electorate changed so the result of the survey didn't even reflect the sentiment of the new voters, who I hoped to represent. Over time, and especially with the gentle and persuasive efforts of Dawn Hawkins, who happens to be here, from Marriage Equality Gilmore, there was a move in the community to social acceptance. Finally, on 15 November, the result was announced for Gilmore for the postal vote and the numbers reflected almost the same percentages as the national vote, around 80 per cent turnout, with around 62 per cent voting yes.
For many months, I have committed to the people of Gilmore that whatever they voted was the vote I would carry into the House of Representatives. So I reaffirm here that when the votes are counted, I will be voting yes. I am, however, very aware that 38 per cent of those who voted ticked the box marked 'no' on their survey. Dawn and I have had conversations as to how best move to move forward with everyone, knowing that their rights and freedoms are protected, and that truly means everyone. We will progress quietly, steadily and with all of the respect we have for everyone's point of view.
I take this opportunity to report here on some excerpts from emails from Gilmore residents that both inspire me and make me proud for the way everyone treated this issue. In the previous years, the emails were not quite as balanced or as pleasant to read. Dianne and Neville wrote:
We'd like you to act, at all available opportunities, on our behalf to promote same-sex marriage. We firmly believe it's in the best interests to have equality in this matter.
Noeline Bedford from PFLAG Illawarra Southern wrote:
It was a wonderful day for the community and many happy tears were shed from young and old alike.
Anne and Peter spoke lovingly of their daughter:
She is a long, long way from being the second-class citizen that some would have you think. She did not base that decision to save lives on the basis of who they married or loved. She just saved lives. She's a real leader.
Emma-Kate wrote some time ago after we met:
Thank you again for spending time with Flynn and I in Kiama last week to discuss marriage equality. Unfortunately, I now feel disheartened regarding the prospect of marrying Paula any time soon. I still feel strongly that we should be able to refer to our life-long commitment as 'marriage' rather than an alternative reference that is solely for same-sex commitments. This would make us feel that our relationship is normal, equal and accepted by society.
I wish Emma-Kate and her partner, Paula, all the very best, for I am sure they will get married.
Finally, by email over a number of different messages, I learned a little about Kate and her wife, Tara. We were not able to meet as she suggested—perhaps we can now as the shadow of marriage equality will be lifted—but here are some of the words she wrote:
Talking of moving forward I would like to invite you to meet our family, perhaps over lunch one weekend in Batemans Bay. You can meet a real transgendered individual. You can also meet a real same sex catholic couple who are married, genuinely married, in body and spirit. And you can meet our children, one who is 15 and dux of her school for the last 3 years—
I met this young girl at another function and she really is a star—
and our 9 yr old who is in her second Bay Theatre Players production and in just over a month will compete in the south coast public schools spelling bee challenge having won at her school, and our 6 year old who just started school and is having a great time. I think you may be surprised at not only how "normal" we are but more importantly the contributions we make to our local secular, faith, and professional communities.
Kate, I never doubted the encompassing love you all share.
But I must also make mention of words from the other section of my community. The following is not atypical:
We believe, first and foremost, that marriage must be defined as that between a man and a woman, without any alternative, for marriage to be marriage. We are also convinced that, despite so many failed marriages in society, the traditional marriage set-up provides the best environment in which to bring up children—
I am a little bit concerned about that one—
for their physical, social, mental and spiritual nurture and ongoing development. We are writing to you because we also uphold vigorously the Christian call to stand for that which will maintain wisdom and hope for us all. We are grateful to be able to express our opinions in this way and ask you to take these into account when you are called to vote on this crucial piece of legislation.
We have a different part of our community that needs to be considered.
If you are listening to or reading my words, then you will know that this was a difficult issue for Gilmore as a whole. There have been a number of key influencers, and I thank each and every one of them: Peter Pilt, for his continual spiritual guidance; my political mentors John Bennett and Jo Gash; Dawn Hawkins, for her gentle and persuasive efforts in the community; Robbie, Shirley and the girls, who have stood by me this entire time; my mates Albert and Tim, who are Latin dancers extraordinaire; Paul and Jason; Deb and Kim, strong women who are leaders in their respective fields; and all the residents who have written with respect on this issue, for they helped shape opinions. It is my deepest wish that whatever our differences we continue to respect each other's choices and live our lives according to the best of our collective principles and values.
The marriage equality postal survey asked just one question: 'Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?' The Central Coast said yes, and very soon I will vote yes. As an individual and a friend and supporter, with a strong belief in equal rights, I believe this change has been a long, long struggle. I am someone who has worked in mental health for 15 years and witnessed the effect of inequality on individuals in the LGBTIQ community and those they love. This change must happen.
Much has been said in this debate, and the time I have I am giving to my friend Josh, who has travelled from the Central Coast to be here today. Many people know Josh as a producer, director and one of the driving forces behind our dynamic youth theatre company Jopuka Productions. Josh's passion is to tell other people's stories, in their words, to give young people on the Central Coast, in our community, a voice and for our local stories to be heard. Now, with his permission, I'm going to tell Josh's story, in his own words. Josh has two mums—his birth mother and her partner of 15 years. In 2011, after several years fostering two girls, they became one of the first same-sex couples to adopt in New South Wales. Joshua says:
My sisters and I have known nothing but love, support, and compassion in our home. Our mothers have provided us with everything we could ever need.
They are quite possibly the strongest and most loving couple I've ever known.
Two strong women who have given everything to ensure my sisters and I know we are loved, cared for, and safe.
The only negative I've found so far having 2 mums is being stuck in an endless loop of "go ask your mother."
In August, following the announcement of the marriage equality postal survey, Josh wrote to the Prime Minister about the effects the postal survey could have on children in families like his. He said:
I was brought up to accept individualism; from a young age I had a strong understanding that each human is different, and this is what makes us all unique and special. I was never ashamed of my parents, I just didn't see any reason to be. When I first started at my new NSW school, people asked about my family and I would reply, "I have two mums who I live with, a birth father I choose not to see, and a stepfather who is my dad." It was simple for me and many of my peers to comprehend at age 10.
But it hasn't always been easy, and not everyone always got it.
When an episode of Play School aired in 2004 featuring a girl with same sex parents … I thought I finally had proof of just how normal my family was.
… … …
My parents did their best to protect me from the true extent of the national backlash, but they couldn't be in the classroom, and children can be cruel, even if they don't do it consciously, or even understand what they are saying. Conservative media outrage about a play school episode on inclusivity—
followed shortly by the Howard government's Marriage Act amendment to exclude his parents—
formed a sea of radio sound bites, news headlines and dinner table buzz-topics, all projected into the playground via the prism of preteen understanding. As the child of gay parents, I suddenly became a trip wire for all of it.
That set the tone for my teenage years. I was bullied for things that other kids are bullied for, such as … being the teacher's pet, but every time issues of equality came up in the media, it felt like someone had just hit 'repeat' on all that bullying.
However hurt I got, however upset I got, I never stood down in my support for my family, and others like us—
or in the fight for his parents to gain the same rights he would be granted by default when he turned 18. He continues:
It's the torch I still carry. I'm tired, it's heavy, but the flame is far from out. I still hope I'm a guiding light for other young 'gaybies' in regional areas, living in communities in which their existence may go unnoticed, or worse, noticed and unwanted.
Prime Minister, you've given us one of the longest campaign times in Australian history, and unlike an ordinary election where many issues are up for debate, the entire nation is focused completely on one issue, every cent of funding, every bit of energy, every fiber of people's beings are being channeled into 'yes' or 'no.'
You've re-created what I lived as a young child, however unwittingly, but this time you've placed it inside an envelope and stuck it in every mailbox, and there are going to be gaybies going to school over the coming months who will be subjected to the same bullying, incubated with the same warped access to the debate, that the kids at my primary school had.
Sadly some will say this letter provides more evidence that gay people can't and shouldn't raise children, it does neither, it's not the children's fault, or the parents', or even the bullies'. It is yours, Prime Minister; you have opened the floodgates once more to an avalanche of hate, with what appears to be little thought to the people, especially the children, who are on the receiving end.
Josh says when he posted this letter online he didn't expect many people to see it. It reached over two million people. Unfortunately, the debate wasn't always respectful. Josh received several death threats. I have heard from people whose windows were broken, and whose letterbox was vandalised and stuffed with anonymous and vile letters because they put up a marriage equality poster. As Josh says, those people who did such things got a vote, too. It was an ordeal that so many should not have had to endure, but our community's voice has been heard.
It's time to remove discrimination from the Marriage Act. I am proud to represent my community in this parliament and to support this bill on behalf of the 118,164 people on the Central Coast who, just like Josh, said yes to marriage equality. To those in my community who wrote to me or spoke to me about their concerns, I have listened. It is important to note that this bill both expands equality and protects religious freedoms. I am optimistic that all Australians will soon be able to marry the person they love in the country they love.
Josh's mums have been engaged for 13 years, but they have never allowed themselves to contemplate any serious wedding plans, wanting to wait for the law to be changed. But 15 November changed this mindset. While they haven't locked in a date, they finally have real grounds to look at plans seriously, knowing the law is days away from being changed. It's a time of tremendous joy within their immediate and extended family. This change is symbolic for Josh's mums in that it will celebrate not just their future but the past 15 years of partnership and combined love for their three children. I respect and admire gaybies like Josh for standing up for their parents' rights. I wish all rainbow families of the Central Coast and across Australia love and equality in the years to come. I commend the bill to the House.
We all have landed in a spot, but not all of us have travelled on the same road to get here with regard to the marriage amendment debate that has landed. Before I start my commentary this evening, I want to acknowledge those who are here in the gallery—the dwindling mob who are here. They were strong in numbers earlier on this afternoon. I just want to acknowledge you for the longevity that you have shown in your commitment to this cause. I don't know if you're going to like what I'm going to say, but hopefully you'll applaud me! When I was in the Speaker's chair, I was instructed to throw you all out for clapping, because it's against the standing orders. But you clap as hard as you want.
We all travelled to this place from a different spot. I come from a strong conservative electorate—an area from the Gold Coast hinterland over to Toowoomba. It's predominantly a farming area, where old Germans and old Scots tilled the land—Protestants, Catholics, hardworking. It is generational; there are streets named after them, with those heritages. The largest contributor to GDP in my electorate is agriculture. They all go to church.
On every marriage bill that has come into this place—every marriage bill—I have voted no, and I've led the charge on it, because my party, as part of party policy, said that the traditional definition of marriage was that it was between a man and a woman. That was my position.
When I stood for preselection as an LNP candidate, I stood out in front and was asked questions by no less than 200 preselectors. There were seven other candidates looking to stand in my seat. One was an ex-minister of the Howard government. When asked what my position on marriage was going to be, I said that I would uphold the party position and that it would be that marriage was between a man and a woman.
I'm a Catholic. I go to church. I have the fortunate privilege of catching up with the archbishop of our diocese occasionally. And, without telling you which diocese I'm in, he likes a scotch, and we will talk about these things. My Catholic priest in my electorate is a great mate of mine. When I'm getting communion, I ask him: 'Is the local Rugby League squad, the Fassifern Bombers, playing at home this weekend? If they are, come and pick me up after church. We'll go to the football. You drive my car; I will drink beer, and then you drop me home afterwards.' It's a great relationship.
So I'm in line with my party position. I'm in line with my church's position. What I'm not in line with is this. After the plebiscite, I'm not in line with the views of my greater constituency base. That has become the basis of my ethical dilemma. Who is my master? Is it my church and my God? And I've already established to you: they're great mates of mine. Is it the party to which I owe the privilege of being able to stand in this place? Are they my master?
Tonight I had a phone hook-up with no fewer than 10 of my executives throughout my electorate. My electorate has an area of just under 8,000 square kilometres and is very diverse. We have branches and hierarchical structures, and I had 10 of them on the phone tonight. I sought their counsel and said: 'This is my ethical dilemma. Where do I land?' The results from my electorate of Wright were that we had a participation rate just on 80 per cent, and it was 57 per cent yes and 43 per cent no. I would have backed, as confidently as I could have, that my electorate was going to say no, because that's the circle of friends I associate with. So I was surprised when the result came back the way it did. It makes me question my judgement now: am I a good member or not? I misread it because the blokes in the pub told me what their position was, and it was similar to mine. My people at church told me what their position was, and it was similar to mine. The people in the party told me. But I got it wrong. It came back the other way.
I drew counsel after speaking with my 10 executives. In my maiden speech, I made a commitment to the people of Wright, my electorate, that amongst other things I would be the voice of the silent majority, because so often, with the minority groups, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. I don't know if I said that wrong. I meant to say I would be the voice of the silent majority. The silent majority in this case have whispered in my ear. Some are passionate, and I tie it into the passion and commitment you have shown on your cause and your journey. For the benefit of Hansard, I refer to those in the gallery still. There will be some who have voted because they're just sick of hearing it and they want it dealt with; they just want the government to get on with business which has greater effect on their lives. I don't know what that percentage breakdown is. I don't know what the split is, but it doesn't matter; the number still stands.
I don't have any emotional story. I have a cousin who is part of the gay community. I don't have those tear-jerking stories; I just don't. I have my faith and I have my party. In the next day or two, I'm going to need to come into this chamber and cast my vote. My party have unleashed me. They have allowed me to vote in line with the electorate's wishes, because how can one be the voice of the electorate if you turn a deaf ear to what they are saying? How can one lead? Even though it is against my principles, I will come into this chamber and I will support it.
I have the caveat that I will try to get the protections—through minor amendments, not the complex amendments we saw in the Senate—for those religious freedoms. I'm going to speak briefly to the protection of religious freedoms, because everyone runs off in this crazy domain. I want to find the happy fulcrum between religious freedom and freedom of speech. At the moment, if you say one thing, you're in breach of the antidiscrimination act, and the freedom of speech is still untested in that space. I want to find some place where we land that omits Australia from the Supreme Court decision or decisions which will be handed down on a virtually identical case in the US—we should have those findings in the next day or two—and from a virtually identical case in the UK. I want to spare the communities here in Australia from those cases by making sure that we just grind our teeth and get it right to avoid that hardship.
I acknowledge the previous speaker's commentary on the hate that happens in certain areas, but in my area there was no hate speech. Country people are so respectful. They may not like you, but you'll always get a cup of tea and a scone. You'll always get a feed—absolutely. I acknowledge the electors of Wright, who have asked me to be their voice, to be their casting vote in this place.
Others have acknowledged many in this place; before I wrap up, I'm going to acknowledge two people, because I think without them we wouldn't be having this debate. I acknowledge Tony Abbott, the former Prime Minister, who made a contribution to this debate by giving a commitment that he would ask the Australian public for their opinion, because without that opinion I would've walked into this chamber every day of the week and voted no, without question. It's only because I have this solid data in front of me that I have found a different position. I acknowledge Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who could've taken a juxtaposed position to what the former Prime Minister did, because not all of their political ideologies are aligned—and they're not in this space—but the vehicle for passage, shifting my mind through the support of evidence, has got me to the place where I am.
I look forward to the days ahead, and I ask Labor, through my good friend and colleague from the seat of Perth, not to dismiss the journey I have taken to get here, when I try to find reason in my heart to get an amendment to protect that other 43 per cent, who are scared and frightened of this. Help me take them on the journey. Don't say no to the amendments; have a good look at them first. I'll debate you on the floor in good conscience, my friend.
I rise today to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. Twenty-one-and-a-half years ago, a smiling young Meryl Partridge stood next to the love of her life, Nick Swanson, in the Kurri Kurri Baptist Church and exchanged vows that allowed them to become husband and wife. My dad bet me on that day, knowing that I have an inclination to run late, as my staff will attest, that if I turned up on time at the church, he would buy me a canteen of cutlery. I wanted that cutlery very badly, and I got to that church on time. Our minister was a very well-known politician in local circles. He doubled as the Liberal state member for Maitland, Milton Morris—also known as Mr Maitland—and a Baptist minister, but I had worked with him for a number of years before Nick and I were engaged. When we were engaged, Milton Morris said to me, 'Meryl, it'd be my honour to marry you.' It was a remarkable time in my life, where I had an elder statesman of the Liberal Party, and my personal mentor, marrying me to my husband, who came from a very different set of life circumstances to me. He was a country boy from a wheat, sheep and beef farm in central New South Wales, marrying a coalminer's daughter. His family were Catholic and mine were Protestant. We were poles apart.
An honourable member: A mixed marriage!
Yes. As my father, Ben, walked his youngest daughter down the aisle in our family church that had been beautifully decorated by my mum with flowers from our garden, it was one of those moments in my life where I thought, 'Wow, this is amazing, and I'm getting that cutlery, because I'm on time!' At the time of my father's passing last October, my parents had been married for an incredible 65 years. They'd been known to each other, courting, for five years before that, so that makes 70.
Marriage is a very special thing, as so many of us know, and it can bring very odd couples together at times, as I am here to attest today. As I've often said, I was a small, ground-dwelling bird, a Partridge, before I got married, and then I married a Swanson. I have become slightly more elongated, I hope, and more elegant, perhaps—but that's for others to judge, certainly not me! Marriage is that legal statement of love and joy and commitment that has not been available to everyone in Australia, until now. We are on the cusp of something special in this country—and it's not before time, but it is time.
An interesting twist to my day and Nick's day was that one of my very best friends was also with us on that day. He had been my friend since year 7 in high school, when we met. He came from a different primary school to me. We met in English, probably in the first week or so of year 7. I knew he was different, but there was just something about him. He was just the most generous and fantastic person. When I rang him and said that I was getting engaged, he was so happy and delighted for me. I said, 'Will you be in the wedding?' and he said, 'Of course'. So he was one of Nick's groomsmen. I'm happy to say, if we can make a really fabulous decision in this place this week, he and his partner, almost 22 years after Nick and I were able to make our vows, will be able to make their vows. But it's not before time, and I have to say that these last few months have been an incredibly painful time for my high school friend and the love of his life. They've been together for almost as long as my husband and me.
So much pain and hurt has been relived in these last few months. I don't say that lightly and I'm not saying it to try to create a tear-jerking moment. I'm saying it out of truth and compassion and all of those things that come up for people who are different, when they have to face the obstacles of life and when they have to talk to their families about who they are and who they've known themselves to be since they were very young. My friend had that discussion with me often at school. He'd say to me, 'Meryl, if I could be different, I would be, but I'm gay.' I've lived with that and with that friendship since I was 13. It's taught me so much about acceptance. It's actually made me a better person.
So I want to apologise to the people of Australia who are in loving, wonderful relationships and have been through a torrid time these last few months. For many of you, the pain of other judgements in past years have been brought back to you. I'm sorry for that, but I stand here today saying that I am proud that the electorate of Paterson voted yes and I am proud that, even if it hadn't, I would have voted yes because, when I stood to become a member of parliament, through my life experience, I always said that I believed that treating people equally was the most important thing.
Indeed, the passage of marriage equality legislation through the Senate last week marked a historic day for Australia, and now it's up to us here in this House to take that final step. As many of my colleagues have said, taking such a significant step towards equality makes Australia a better place for everyone. The day on which Australia achieves marriage equality has been a long time coming. It's not here yet, but we are close. All that is needed is for this House to pass this marriage equality bill. I firmly believe that parliament is at its best when we work together for a common cause, and, just as we saw in the Senate last week, MPs from all sides of this House can work together to get this done. The bill that was passed in the Senate and comes to us was negotiated across party lines and belief lines. It reflects an appropriate balance, the right balance, between ensuring marriage equality for all Australians and protecting religious freedoms for all Australians. This law does matter to Australians. This law gives rights to Australians, but, more importantly, this law expresses the values of Australians.
I was incredibly proud of my electorate of Paterson when the results of the marriage equality plebiscite, or the survey, were declared. While the national 'yes' vote came in at 61.6 per cent, in the electorate of Paterson, my electorate, the 'yes' vote, was a resounding 65.5 per cent. Thank you, Paterson. That means that 60,915 people in the electorate of Paterson voted that the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. Nearly two out of every three voters said yes. The communities that make up the electorate of Paterson proved themselves to be communities that respect and value equality. For that, I'm immensely pleased and proud.
Of course, just as a percentage of people nationwide voted no, so did a percentage of people in the Paterson electorate. For various reasons those people chose not to extend marriage equality to all, and I respect that view. Some have criticised my support for marriage equality and some have questioned whether I truly represent them if I vote yes in this bill. To them I have to say today that I acknowledge the concerns that you have and I do not dismiss them. But I also say to you that more than 7.8 million Australians, 61.6 per cent of voters, voted yes for marriage equality. The overwhelmingly positive vote in every state and territory, and in my electorate of Paterson, cannot be avoided or ignored. The will of the people is clear and the parliament must work to ensure that their will becomes law.
I have made it clear from the outset of the debate on this issue that, like my Labor colleagues, I respect freedom of religion. I have also made it clear that I will support measures that are necessary to protect freedom of religion. I am satisfied that the protections for religious freedom in this bill are suitable and adequate. Those protections are based on the unanimous recommendations of the Senate committee, a multiparty Senate committee that examined the same-sex marriage bill. In preparing the report, the committee consulted extensively with the community and, with its cross-party members, it then worked very hard to reach the consensus position. Their position is shared by the vast majority of Australians.
I do respect that there are a range of views about the question of marriage equality and that there are a range of views on how religious freedoms should be protected, but I am confident that this bill goes far enough. It protects freedom of religion while allowing marriage equality. I support the provisions in the bill that preserve religious freedom in respect of the performance of the marriage ceremony and the provision of goods and services that are reasonably incidental to the marriage ceremony. But I do not and will never support measures that would effectively roll back hard-fought-for antidiscrimination laws. Like this bill, those antidiscrimination laws are far too important.
I would like to conclude by saying that we have shown the Australian people that respect for marriage equality is equally an important foundation of our diverse and harmonious society. One doesn't rule the other out, and those who would try to persuade us otherwise are simply pushing a barrow or fuelling political mischief. The legalisation of same-sex marriage in Australia does not warrant a repeal of any antidiscrimination laws. In fact, the sentiment—the value—contained in this legislation, that of equality for all, demands quite the opposite. It demands protection of antidiscrimination laws. This bill strikes a sensible and acceptable compromise between achieving marriage equality and protecting religious freedom.
Like many in this House, I have been contacted by many constituents since the 'yes' vote was declared and even more so since our colleagues in the Senate voted for marriage equality. Some have sent form letters, and we have seen several organised lobbies and campaigns. Others have sent individual responses, most expressing their personal heartfelt joy at the direction we are taking, but in some cases their personal and heartfelt concern, and in other cases, fear. This vote, this bill, has never been about political correctness or removing the rights of parents to control what their children learn at school. This bill has been about marriage equality. The people have spoken: love has won. Let's get this done. Thank you.
I welcome the opportunity to place on the public record my position and my views in relation to the issue of same-sex marriage. The coalition government made a commitment to the people of Australia to let them have their say on this important issue. I must say that at the time there was very significant debate about the merits of running a postal survey to ascertain the views of the Australian people, but the response to that survey was absolutely overwhelming, with some 79.5 per cent of people deciding to participate in that survey. This is an outstanding result by international standards when you compare it with, for example, the EU Brexit referendum, which came in at around 72.7 per cent. In the 2016 US presidential election, the participation rate was in the order of 60 per cent. In the British election the following year, it was around 70 per cent. So there was a huge amount of interest in this issue from Australians from all walks of life.
I must say that the debate that has ensued to this point in this House on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 has been respectful and heartfelt. I wish to record my position. Just as the participation in the survey was so overwhelming, so was the result, with some 61.6 per cent of Australians answering yes and 38.4 per cent answering no. That was broadly the response that was achieved in my electorate, with some 60 per cent answering yes and 40 per cent answering no. In the electorate of Cowper, which I'm privileged to represent, some 95,800 voters completed the survey. I have always been clear on my stance with regard to same-sex marriage that I personally don't support that, and in fact I recorded a no vote in that survey. But I certainly respect the decision of the Australian people, and I've always said that I will respect the decision made by the majority of the Australian people.
In this process, I've been communicating regularly with my constituents on this matter and I have received numerous representations on both sides of the argument. There have been a range of concerns raised about the issue of religious freedom, which has come up very regularly in this debate. There have been concerns in relation to the issue that the bill as currently drafted affords no protections to Christians who, for matters of conscience, would consider the provision of services to a same-sex marriage as making them complicit in an activity which contravenes their faith. That is their view. I certainly respect that view, and I'm certainly of the view that all Australians would respect those Christians who feel that way. I certainly welcome the announcement of the review of the expert panel into legal protections for religious freedom. The review is led by a very notable former member of this House, Philip Ruddock, with an expert panel consisting of the recently appointed President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM; the Hon. Dr Annabelle Bennett AO, SC; and Father Frank Brennan. They are great Australians who will look into that very important issue of religious freedom. During the course of the proceedings in this House, I will be supporting a number of amendments which I believe will improve this bill. However, should the amendments fail, I will be voting yes in accordance with the commitments that I have made.
I would like to conclude with a reflection on the debate that has occurred in my electorate. I must say that there have been issues raised by members in their contributions to this House about the treatment of some on either side of the debate. I must say that, within the electorate of Cowper, the debate has been conducted in a very fair, reasonable and respectful way, with people with very strongly held views on both sides of this question treating each other appropriately. I think that's part of coming from the country. The member for Wright indicated that you can disagree but then sit down and have a cup of tea afterwards. I think a very similar sentiment existed in the electorate of Cowper. To conclude, I welcome the opportunity to place my position on the public record, and I certainly look forward to a very successful conclusion to this issue after the debate within this House.
I rise to support the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 and, in so doing in this place, join the millions of Australians who voted for marriage equality. The bill that is before us does two things: it ensures that marriage from now on is 'the union of two people to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life'; and it expands religious freedoms. It has been a very long time coming.
Debate about marriage equality was part of the political discourse well before I came into this place in 2001. Initially, I was not a public supporter of marriage equality. Newly elected to a very marginal seat that had a long history of connection with and influence by the Catholic Church, I was, to my shame, nervous about being so. But it was the courage of LGBTIQ Australians—in particular, two lovely men who came to see me with their newly born daughter and shared with me their story and their love—that helped me to find my courage. At the end of the day, that is what carried this debate: the courage of people who have shared their personal stories, who have campaigned, who have quietly persuaded and who ultimately, when this vote is done, have prevailed—not just for them but for the nation, making us a better, stronger and more inclusive place.
It has not been without its toll. The postal survey has been a gruelling and emotional process, one that has done damage and has placed same-sex couples and their families in the invidious position of having their relationship subject to the scrutiny of an entire population. Mental health organisations across the country have been very clear: they have experienced a substantial rise in the number of people experiencing distress and needing their care. That was the process that the Prime Minister gave to the LGBTIQ community, and, frankly, they will never forgive him for it.
On the day that the survey results were announced, amongst all of the jubilation there was also an overwhelming sense of relief—of a burden being lifted. I don't think many realised how tightly held together people were. But you only had to see the image of my friend and colleague Penny, one of the toughest people I know, to see how hard it has been. I am sorry that you and your families have been put through that. So I say to all of the LGBTIQ members of our community: please be assured that this parliament will get this done. Now is the time for all of you to spend time with your families, caring for and nurturing each other and, in some cases, allowing hurts to heal. It is our job now to put this right. In the course of today and tomorrow, the burden of the argument rests with us in this place to resolve, and resolve it we will.
I've had numerous conversations with LGBTIQ couples in Ballarat over the past few weeks. I felt proud to stand alongside them and, hopefully, by using my voice to its fullest extent, provide a contrast to some of the hurt they have felt. I have been privileged to be asked to my first wedding; sent my first 'congratulations on your engagement' card to my friend Ben's mum, Fiona, and her partner, Ann; and, at the Clunes show recently, listened with joy to the wedding plans of two lovely community members whom I have known for years. I joined Anne and Eddie, who have been extraordinary national champions for marriage equality at the same time as campaigning ferociously for quality of life for people with dementia, as they celebrated their commitment ceremony while Eddie could still fully participate.
In every conversation, there has been a great sense of joy but also something else that I admit I wasn't expecting. I find it a little hard to explain, but the best I can come up with is a sense of rightness and of peace. I spoke with two women I have known for over 16 years, Helen and Sandy, at an event we were all at on Sunday. In the middle of telling me of their plans to marry in March next year in their beautiful garden, one thing Helen said to me struck me strongly. She said, 'I feel safer.' I don't think until that moment I had realised just how much this vote meant. The fact that same-sex couples have felt unsafe and, to some extent, have led hidden lives only truly known to those closest to them is deeply appalling to me. The fact that I had intellectually known that this was the case but had not fully understood the deep and abiding impact and hurt of this injustice humbled me.
I want to speak very briefly in this debate about the protection of religious freedoms that is contained in this bill. In addition to extending equality of marriage, this bill also broadens the protection of religious freedoms. It does so by protecting ministers of religion who refuse to solemnise marriage in conformity with their religious beliefs; creating a new category of religious celebrants who may also refuse; and protecting bodies created for religious purposes who refuse goods and services. They are appropriate and sufficient measures for religious freedoms within this bill.
There is now a view, largely driven by proponents of the 'no' vote, that there needs to be wider protection for religious freedoms. I acknowledge that the government has taken the decision to ask a former member of this place, Philip Ruddock, to lead a process for that discussion, but I want to make it very clear that I am a supporter of an expansion of rights and that those rights should be reflected more formally either by way of the Constitution or by way of a bill of rights. But we already have within the Constitution, in section 116, a freedom of religion, and the High Court has clearly determined the limits and balance of that freedom. The claims that religious freedoms should be extended to people being able to say and do things that amount to discrimination against LGBTIQ Australians is simply unacceptable to me, and I will not support such a move or such amendments here in this bill or in any other subsequent debate.
This bill sees the end of institutionalised discrimination against LGBTIQ Australians when it comes to marriage. I hope the courage of so many Australians in this campaign provides a strong message to young LGBTIQ Australians that you are loved, you are included and you belong, whoever you choose to love. I could not be prouder of my own community for the message of inclusion that it has sent.
In my own community, in my office and within the labour movement more broadly, we decided to campaign. We joined the Pride Hub—Kirsten, Cameron and others; Brett Edgington and his team from Ballarat Trades and Labour Council; state members of parliament; and local councillors. We ran an enrolment drive. We doorknocked. We phone banked. We rallied. We wrote to 10,000 young people explaining why we were voting yes. Most of all, we hoped. We saw 100 young people from the Ballarat Arts Academy at Federation Uni sing for marriage equality, and their video was shared thousands of times across the country. The result in my home town was 82 per cent participation, higher than the national average, with over 70 per cent saying yes to marriage equality, again higher than the national average.
So, when finally this debate is concluded and we cast our vote, I will do so for Helen and Sandy; for Anne and Edie; for Ben, Fiona and Anne; for Mark and his partner; and for my neighbour who lost her partner a few years ago. I'll cast my vote for all of those LGBTIQ Australians who have been so courageous throughout this debate and for the young people who have simply asked us to vote for love, to vote yes for marriage equality.
This is a historic moment in our nation's history, whatever your views have been or continue to be in relation to the definition of marriage. It's a historic moment that has arisen from the voice of the Australian people, not simply the voices of parliamentarians debating legislation in this place. Thanks to the postal survey, every Australian has had the opportunity to participate in the conversation, to have their say and to cast their vote on whether the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. As such, there is an enormous sense of legitimacy around the legislation that we are debating tonight, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, and I also believe there is an overwhelming respect for what is one of the most significant social reforms in our nation's history.
I want to pay tribute to everyone in the coalition party room—including the former Prime Minister, the member for Warringah, and the Prime Minister, the member for Wentworth—for holding firm to our commitment to allow all Australians to have their say on whether the law should be changed. This was despite all the public opposition, the dire predictions, the threats, the offensive comments and the claims that the Australian people could not be trusted to hold a respectful conversation about such an important social change. Despite all of that, we stayed true to our commitment to allow all Australians to have their say, and they have spoken. Despite my own beliefs, I accept the result and I commit to respecting and reflecting on the floor of parliament the outcome as I consistently pledged to do. Just like millions of other Australians, people on the Central Coast overwhelmingly had their say. Eight out of 10 people who were enrolled to vote took part in the postal survey, with 65.7 per cent of eligible voters voting yes and 34.3 per cent voting no.
Holding a plebiscite in the form of a postal survey meant that we were able to hear directly from everyone, from a family of six in Kariong to a grandmother in Terrigal to a shopkeeper in Kincumber and to a university student at Umina Beach. In fact, many of these locals have written to me, people like Amber at Daleys Point, who said, 'I would like to thank you for committing to support the outcome of the marriage equality survey. I would like to say that I appreciate the effort your team put in to having your opinion voiced in such a tumultuous period.' Even those who doubted the postal survey were respectful to those who were willing to listen to the outcome. Melanie from Woy Woy wrote a beautiful email to me. She said of the process, 'It gives me faith in our political system that you can put aside any personal prejudice on this issue in order to stand with the majority of your constituents.' Melanie also said, 'If I ever find the right girl to settle down with, you will be invited to my wedding.' To Melanie, I would be glad to receive your invitation.
Receiving notes like this reinforces, beyond just my own personal principles and the desire to fulfil a promise that I made to my community, the need to respect and reflect the outcome of the postal survey. I intend to vote yes in this place to enact a law to allow same-sex couples to marry, not, I should clarify, because I voted yes myself in the postal survey. I have been very open and honest in declaring that I did, in fact, vote no, and I have been very vocal in explaining my reasons why.
But I will support this legislation in whatever form it is decided upon by the parliament following our debate on amendments because the process enabled and supported by this government to hold a plebiscite has ensured that we have had the national debate we needed. This was a debate that we needed to fully explore the impact, the meaning and the potential consequences of redefining marriage in Australian law. We've helped those who stand by the view that marriage is between a man and a woman to have a legitimate vehicle for debate. Just as importantly, we provided the same platform to those who advocated for the change.
Sadly, the necessary respect for this process was not always embraced. Unfortunately, Labor and Labor's advocates on the Central Coast refused to accept a need for a plebiscite at all and continued to push a political agenda that had less to do with advocating a philosophical belief and more to do with attempting to delegitimise any process proposed by the coalition government to resolve the question of same-sex marriage. Unfortunately, in the course of the campaign, from advocates over the past few years, slogans like 'marriage equality' and 'love is love' became such powerful phrases that they were unfortunately sometimes used as emotional weapons against those who did not support changing the definition of marriage.
Those who dared to ask a question about whether there may be any unintended ramifications to same-sex marriage legislation ran the risk of being potentially branded a bigot or a homophobe. Even Labor senator Deborah O'Neill, herself once an outspoken advocate for traditional marriage, retreated to calling the plebiscite an unnecessary conversation and a glorified opinion poll and did not vote on this bill either way in the Senate. Labor's candidate for Robertson, Anne Charlton, the state member for Gosford in the New South Wales parliament, Liesl Tesch, and Labor aligned advocates used every opportunity they could to portray a sense that the only way to believe in equality was to change the way that our society had thought about families for centuries.
My response was that just as it was okay for them to say yes and it was also okay for me and millions of others to say no during the postal survey, during the debate that occurred over the last few months, I also said that it was okay to say no and at the same time to be able to believe in love, to believe in equality and to believe in commitment in relationships. With respect to the outcome that has led me to speak on this debate in the chamber tonight, if it was okay to say yes and okay to say no, it is also okay to respect the voice of millions of Australians who also expressed their deeply held beliefs in the importance of religion, freedom of speech and parental choice.
The Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill is what the title says: a bill about the definition of marriage and how that may impact on freedoms. So this means that it is right to explore what we want marriage to be, including the fact that under this legislation marriage is defined as a union of two people to the exclusion of all others. But it is also right to explore why it's equally important that our freedoms are protected.
My primary concern that I expressed during the plebiscite debate, both as an MP and as a mother, is one that has been raised with me by thousands of other people around the country. It's based around the notion that marriage is about more than love and equality. It's also a commitment that two parents will work together to the best of their ability to raise their children. That's not a view that I express lightly or without listening to the heartbeat of my community. Neville and Dawn in Ettalong Beach were among the hundreds who have contacted me. Neville and Dawn have a view that many share. They said that they believe in all people being respected, regarded and accepted equally, regardless of colour, race, religion, social beliefs or gender difference. But they said that to change the Marriage Act may have some ramifications. Fay and Michael from Erina raised concerns that these consequences would impact on the way that children saw their identity, while Alan from Narara was concerned about freedom of speech and religion being restricted. David from Koolewong believed that many are unaware of other possible unintended outcomes, like restrictions on choices, limits to actions and curbs on free speech. David said that the same fairness they thought they were sharing, they were giving away.
These are valid and real concerns in our community, so, regardless of my support for this legislation that is before the House, I still believe that it is important to ensure that we are not eroding freedoms that we now take for granted. This is especially true for our children and future generations, so that they are not subject, for instance, to the new ideology of gender neutrality which we are already seeing in programs like Safe Schools—at least not without first seeking parental consent.
The same-sex marriage debate was defined long before the postal survey as being about equality and love, but as a nation we have not yet settled the question of whether gender remains relevant for young Australians and for future generations of young Australians. So we should definitely be prepared to continue engaging in that conversation and to ask, respectfully, whether gender matters, and what the consequences of gender-neutral theory for young people may mean. After all, we have never had a generation of children that have grown up without gender as a reference point in their lives.
I am also seeking assurance, having looked closely at this bill and the suggested amendments, that changes being made to our marriage laws will not undermine the stability and freedom of faith and religious expression or impact detrimentally on important principles of freedom of speech. As such, I foreshadow my intention to vote in support of any sensible amendments that are proposed in this House that appropriately and properly deliver necessary safeguards to protect these important freedoms.
We need to ensure that legislation designed to provide equal rights for two persons to marry regardless of their gender does not inadvertently entrench a new inequality against those whose religious or conscientious beliefs align with a centuries-old framework of marriage. So while I will vote yes to the final bill, regardless of which amendments are adopted by this House, as the Treasurer and member for Cook said in this place, it is now time to pass a truly inclusive bill, one that recognises the views of 100 per cent of Australians and not just 61 per cent.
In closing, may I reflect on my first speech to this chamber. I said that I have a strong belief that the family is the bedrock of Australian society and that we need to do everything we can to strengthen those families. I still believe this holds true and that by supporting our families, in whatever form they may take, as the most fundamental institution for the development of the individual, we are taking care of our nation's future. It is my sincere hope that, with this legislation to allow same-sex couples to marry enacted in the Australian parliament, the focus for the Australian parliament and, indeed, for our nation becomes how we can continue to work on supporting and strengthening Australian families.
In the future, when each one of us has long since left this place, my hope is that the mark of our maturity as a nation will be our emphasis on honouring and strengthening our families and defending the freedoms which are so deeply ingrained in our national identity. It is a hope I believe we can build on firm foundations, and a hope in which I am personally convicted through my lifelong belief and faith in my God. To those for whom the postal survey was not the outcome they voted for, rest assured I will continue to fight to ensure that your freedoms are protected, and our families are strengthened to benefit our Australian society and our future. This is, indeed, an historic moment wherever you sit on the spectrum of views on same-sex marriage, and I thank the House for the opportunity to take part in the debate.
At the outset, I want to acknowledge two very dear friends of mine who are in the gallery this evening, Tom and James, because their experience very much informs where I come from in this debate. I remember being in Dubbo, some time ago now, walking the dogs with Tom when he told me he was going to get married. Of course, I was overwhelmed by joy that my friends were embarking on such a joyous occasion, but the reality very quickly set in for me: clearly that wedding wasn't going to take place in Australia. Fortunately, they found themselves some fabulous conservative member of parliament from Copenhagen who was able to marry them, and we got to celebrate here in Canberra many months later with all of their family and friends. But this bill that is before us tonight, this bill that was passed by the Senate last week, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, is going to ensure that every other LGBTI person in Australia doesn't have to go overseas, doesn't have to run from their communities, from their families, from their extended families and loved ones to take part in that moment that should be shared with everyone you love in your life at that time.
I feel the sense of history very much tonight in this House. The people of Australia have voted yes; they have made their intention very clear. The Senate, likewise, voted yes last week for marriage equality. Now it's really time for this House to do our job—a job that I think we should have done a long time ago, I might add—and make marriage equality law in Australia. By the end of this week we should be free of the last remaining piece of discriminatory law for LGBTIQ Australians. Finally, federal law will, in fact, reflect the basic truth that same-sex couples' love is just as real and that their relationships are just as valid as any other. Finally, people in same-sex relationships will be able to join in marriage, something that heterosexual couples have taken for granted for probably way too long. And finally, federal law will align with the values of the majority of Australians.
I could not be more proud to be the representative for the City of Newcastle in this chamber tonight because Newcastle was a city that returned an overwhelming 'yes' vote when the question was put. In fact, 74.8 per cent of my community in Newcastle voted yes. It was the highest-voting electorate in New South Wales outside of Sydney, and it was, indeed, the highest regional 'yes' vote in Australia.
I can't say that I was utterly surprised in the sense that it had long been the message I had gained from my community over many, many years debating this issue. I also know that Novocastrians have a deeply embedded sense of fairness. Even though a lot of people have approached the question of marriage equality from quite a lot of different angles, in Newcastle that sense of fairness and what is right was so palpable that when given the opportunity to say, 'Do you think people of same sex should have the right to marry like every other Australian?' almost without hesitation, I would say, people were voting yes. I knew that because, when I first stood as a candidate for parliament back in 2012, I attended many of the forums and community debates like we all do when we're running for elections. I can recall being asked time and again where I stood on the question of marriage equality, because in those days it wasn't party policy. It was a conscience vote for the Labor Party when I was first standing. I decided there and then that I would just have to be straight up with the electors of Newcastle that I couldn't compromise on a really fundamental principle.
Having spent my entire life fighting discrimination of one kind or another or being an advocate in that field, I could not for one moment contemplate not completing the job of this parliament. I acknowledge here the great work of the former Labor government in removing discrimination from some 85 separate pieces of legislation, but this marriage law was the one hurdle we hadn't got to. So it is absolutely time for this parliament to address this issue.
When I was asked where I stood and what my position was, I was very happy to look my electorate in the eyes at every rally and forum and say that, if ever I got the opportunity in the Australian parliament to cast a vote on this issue, I would vote a resounding yes. I have got to say that, even for that 25 per cent of Novocastrians who haven't cast a 'yes' vote, they nonetheless have respect for my position, for the majority position of the electorate and, indeed, for the fact that I have just been truthful and up-front about that position from day one. Novocastrians, like many people in Australia, I am sure, want to know you're going to be straight with them on any given issue. You can hold a different opinion, but you just need to be able to explain your position.
The only thing I regret is having just slightly missed out on making it into the top 10 count in the overall results for Australia, although I do acknowledge that I was pipped at the post by the member for Warringah's electorate, which came in that 10th position. That news was greeted with a peculiar kind of satisfaction for me, I guess. But I nonetheless was so extremely proud of the people of Newcastle.
In the time I have remaining tonight I wanted to acknowledge some of the really longstanding and fearless advocates who have been important people in my life, who have been champions in my community and who really laid the foundations for the legislation that comes before us tonight. I want to first acknowledge my deep and now late friend Paul O'Grady, who was the first elected openly gay man in any Australian parliament. Sadly, I lost Paul a few years ago, but he actually wasn't that fussed about marriage in itself. The love of his life had died several years beforehand. But Paul was nonetheless a fierce advocate of social justice, fairness, decency and democracy and stood up every time to be counted against discrimination.
You can't imagine what it would have been like being a young man in 1988 being elected into the New South Wales upper house on a platform of being openly gay. He told me stories that were just horrifying at the time, but he never, ever retreated from being that fearless advocate who looked discrimination straight in the eye and took it on.
I'd also like to make a special acknowledgement of my predecessor, the former member for Newcastle, Sharon Grierson, who was so rock-solid in her support for marriage equality. I don't know if she is listening in tonight, but I got to see her on the night of the results of the survey, and the smile on her face really said it all. On this issue she was well and truly ahead of her time, being the first parliamentarian to ever sign Australian Marriage Equality's charter of equality. At the time, I remember, I was a slightly younger member on her staff, and we were all like: 'Oh, my God! This is not ALP policy. You've just signed this pledge.' And she looked at me and said: 'Sharon, this is an issue I care deeply about. I am a member of the ALP. I'm a fierce and passionate Novocastrian, but I'm a human, and this is a human rights issue.' She had the courage to sign that charter at a time when very few did, I've got to say. Thankfully, that has changed now. She signed that charter in 2006, and she had to wait another six years to be able to cast a yes vote in this chamber. Regretfully, the time was not ripe, and that yes vote did not carry at that time. She's waited another five years for that yes to become a reality. I hope that we in the chamber tonight, or very soon, will give her great heart and encouragement that those initial steps she took really did help pave the way for those of us that came after.
I also want to give a shout out to a very dear friend, Michelle Lancey. I don't know if she is listening tonight, but I expect she will be. Michelle is a very strong Christian woman I've known for a very long time. Michelle has three kids, one of whom is gay. She has never for a moment doubted that every single one of her kids deserves the same rights as the others. She has been a fearless advocate in my community. She heads up PFLAG, the Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Along with her national spokesperson, Shelley Argent, she has led a formidable campaign for decades around this issue. So I want to pay a tribute to Michelle Lancey tonight.
I acknowledge the people of ACON Hunter and all of the advocates and warriors who have spent decades of their lives championing this cause. I think it is fit that we acknowledge those who come before us, which is why I've attempted to put on record some of that tonight.
Of course—in this chamber and in the house opposite—when I think about the journey that my friend and colleague Senator Penny Wong has been on, both within the Labor Party and in the Australian parliament, over such a long period of time, it is utterly unimaginable to have walked in her shoes through some pretty horrific times over the last decade or so in this parliament around this issue. But she never gave up. She never gave up. So, despite however tough it has seemed from time to time, I have never allowed myself the luxury of saying, 'This is too hard,' or ever thinking it wasn't worth pursuing, because the LGBTI community in Australia are relying on us to stand up here in this parliament and do the right thing now. They've waited a very, very long time, and the time really has come.
When I asked Tom earlier tonight, before they left Nyngan to join us in this debate, what message he might want to portray in this debate tonight, he said to me, 'Who would have known that a chance meeting 15 years ago in the Nyngan RSL would lead to me and James settling in that small country town?' He told me just how thankful they are that their friends and community have been so incredibly supportive and accepting of their relationship. But they made the point that I want to end on this evening: they were surprised themselves by the impact that this national postal survey had on them. Their retreat from social media for several weeks or months really matches many of the experiences of young men and women, in particular, in my community. When the 'yes' vote came in, there was an utter sense of relief more than anything that this perpetual judgement on their relationship would finally come to an end. (Time expired)
Eight years ago, on this very day, I was elected by the people of Higgins to serve them in this place, to represent their interests both big and small. It is a tremendous privilege. When I gave my first speech some months later, I spoke about how families are the bedrock of our society, come in all shapes and sizes, and anything we can do to strengthen families will strengthen our society. After all, families support each other emotionally, physically and financially, in good times and bad. I strongly believe that a change to the Marriage Act to give same-sex couples equality before the law will only strengthen families. The institution of marriage provides for a public declaration of love and commitment where promises are made and sanctioned by the state. This, and society's longstanding appreciation of it and its solemnness, gives marriage its special place and power in our society. This bill, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill, will strengthen families by building stronger bonds of commitment between two people regardless of their gender and sexual orientation.
The great Sir Robert Menzies said in his 'Forgotten people' speech in 1942:
I do not believe that the real life of this nation is to be found either in great luxury hotels and the petty gossip of so-called fashionable suburbs, or in the officialdom of the organised masses. It is to be found in the homes of people who are nameless and unadvertised, and who, whatever their individual religious conviction or dogma, see in their children their greatest contribution to the immortality of their race. The home is the foundation of sanity and sobriety; it is the indispensable condition of continuity; its health determines the health of society as a whole.
As a Liberal, I believe strongly in respecting our individual freedoms and treating everyone equally before the law. As Liberals, we have a proud history in ending all sorts of discrimination. In fact, one of my predecessors in the seat of Higgins, former Prime Minister John Gorton, played a pivotal role in the decriminalisation of homosexuality through his 1973 motion before this parliament. This change we are debating to the Marriage Act has been a long time coming, for many of us on both sides of this chamber. I know that there are many opposite who have been frustrated with how the Labor Party dealt with this issue during their time in government and since—just as I and others in my party also had frustrations with how the matter has progressed on our side of the chamber. Indeed, it is well known that, in the 2015 coalition party room meeting debate on same-sex marriage, I argued strongly both in favour of same-sex marriage and for a free vote for members of parliament in accordance with Liberal precedent under the Menzies, Gorton, McMahon, Fraser and Howard governments. Whilst the decision of the party room to conduct a plebiscite was not the one I had argued for, in the end I think that conducting a national plebiscite has allowed us to move forward with this important social change with greater unity and purpose.
Almost 80 per cent of all eligible Australians participated, with an overwhelming majority of Australians supporting a change to the Marriage Act. In my own electorate, we saw an exceptionally strong result of 78.3 per cent of residents supporting a change to the Marriage Act, the sixth highest electorate result in the country and the highest result for a Liberal held seat in Victoria. To have such an emphatic response in my community and more broadly across Victoria and across Australia is an affirmation of love, equality under the law, fairness and family.
Over the years, I have sat down with, spoken with and heard from so many of my constituents, who told me why they wanted a change to the Marriage Act and how the exclusion of same-sex couples from this important institution has impacted them and their partners, friends, children, parents and grandparents. Sue wrote to me, telling me how, in 2016, she attended her son's marriage to his husband in New York, where they could have such a ceremony. She wrote about how it was the happiest, most loving wedding she had ever been to, but told me about how every time she showed her mother—her son's grandmother—pictures and videos from the wedding, her mother teared up because she was not physically able to travel to New York to attend.
I've heard from Richard and his partner, who are renovating their home in preparation of welcoming their baby next year. They don't just want to have a commitment ceremony; they want to be married. They understand and want to join in the solemn institution of marriage. Richard wrote: 'When we signed the contracts to buy our home together, that house contract surprised me by how much I was struck with the symbolism of a commitment to each other—a joint venture. Marriage is legal and legal matters.'
I've also heard from another local, Robyn Whitaker, an ordained minister of the Uniting Church. Robyn wrote about her journey in relation to same-sex marriage. On reconciling her view with her religion, Robyn wrote: 'I am now a supporter of marriage equality, not despite my faith but precisely because my Christian faith demands that I treat others with compassion, justice and love. I believe that love and marriage are God's gift to us. Why would we not want those gifts to be available to every consenting adult?' These are just some of the many examples of the discussions, letters, emails and conversations that I have had.
I acknowledge that there are also a significant number of Australians who hold very sincere and genuine concerns about a change to the Marriage Act and its potential impact on religious freedoms. As a Liberal, I believe that it is important to preserve people's freedoms. Importantly, this bill will not prevent people from worshipping as they choose, nor will it prevent them from holding their beliefs or undertaking their religious practice. Churches, synagogues and mosques and their clergy, rabbis and imams will continue to be free to practise their faith in accordance with their doctrine and beliefs, just as they do today. The bill before us takes away none of these rights, nor should it. Just as the current framework of religious freedoms allows a minister of religion to refuse to solemnise a marriage, this bill will allow ministers of religion to refuse to solemnise a same-sex marriage if that refusal conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of the minister's religion—for example, where the minister's religion only allows heterosexual couples to marry.
This bill, however, will create a new category of religious marriage celebrants. This new category will include existing civil marriage celebrants wanting to perform marriages consistent with their religious beliefs. It will also allow bodies established for religious purpose to be able to refuse to make a facility available or provide goods and services for the purpose of or reasonably incidental to the solemnisation of a marriage. Nothing in this bill takes away a right that presently exists, nor does it diminish existing freedoms. Having said this, I will, of course, do my colleagues the courtesy of carefully looking at any potential amendments to this bill and consider them on their merits. I will not, however, support new forms of discrimination.
I think it's important to acknowledge my friends and colleagues who have played such a pivotal role in agitating for change to our party's policy on this issue. In particular, I'd like to acknowledge the leadership of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the first Australian Prime Minister to have advocated for and prosecuted this cause. I believe it will stand as one of the significant achievements of the Turnbull government. I would also like to acknowledge Senator Dean Smith for his relentless strength and leadership in seeing this bill brought before the parliament, along with others in this place like Trent Zimmerman, who is in the chamber now, who has worked so hard. I would also like to acknowledge the member for Leichhardt, Warren Entsch, who has probably done more than anyone in this place to advocate for change. His unwavering sense of decency in pursuit of a fair go for all Australians, no matter their gender and no matter who they love, is in stark contrast to his sometimes gruff exterior. I'd like to acknowledge the hard work and quiet determination of Senator Simon Birmingham, who marched alongside me into the offices of different prime ministers and senior ministers over a long period of time to make the case for change.
But it has not just been Liberals who have argued for this change. We have had colleagues in our Nationals party room who have done the same. I'd like to acknowledge Senator Scullion and the member for Gippsland, Darren Chester, who joined with Senator Birmingham and me as the parliamentary patrons for the Liberals and Nationals for Yes campaign. I commend all of those colleagues, staff, party members and volunteers who have worked so hard in pursuit of what I truly believe to be both a liberal and a conservative cause. There have been so many more—too many to list in one speech—but I thank them all, just as I thank the millions of Australians who have made their views known and have participated in this important survey and debate.
I am delighted to support the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. It is a bill that will see individuals choose to marry the individual they wish to marry. This bill reflects the will of the Australian people to amend the Marriage Act. It seeks to remove existing discrimination from the Marriage Act and to protect religious institutions and freedoms. I commend the bill to the House.
I have to say, I am absolutely thrilled to rise to support the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 today, as I have supported marriage equality previously in this place. This bill is well considered, it's well balanced and it's well overdue. Today I have the greatest privilege to stand in this place to speak on behalf of my electorate, 65.7 per cent of whom voted yes. I want to use my time to give voice to the words of some of the amazing people who campaigned for love, kindness and fairness in my local area.
This campaign was actively supported by me and my federal colleague the member for Whitlam, and by our state colleagues. Especially I want to note Paul Scully, the member for Wollongong, who opened his home to host phone-calling nights. Our Labor councillors also worked hard. Thanks to Tania Brown, Jenelle Rimmer, David Brown, Janice Kershaw and Vicky King. Thank you also to Young Labor. I want to acknowledge members of the Liberal Party and the Greens in my local area who also supported a 'yes' vote. A big thanks for a campaign video from former Illawarra Steelers captain, John Cross. I want to say thank you to my dedicated office team—Nathan, Alison, Idalina, Dionne and Donna—who did have some tough days on the phones in the office.
Now to the words of some wonderful locals. Richard Martin said:
While the survey is a waste of $100 million and it has hurt many people, finally 61% of Australians has said to me "I am now equal". After 58yrs of my life being like a second class citizen once the bill is passed I will be like ALL Australians. I never thought that day would come after all those years of fighting. Finally I am equal.
Roxee Horror said:
Being asked to be part of this campaign has been a crazy and fun journey. Originally I jumped on board for a night of fun and to put a few smiles on people's faces. But by doing this the whole yes campaign became such a close little project to my heart and when the overall vote came back as "YES" it just made everything so worth it! All the hard work that was put in has paid off.
We're one step close to equality. Seeing the work that everyone put in, donating things like time, food, and venues - all so willing to help each other out was so beautiful too see. The acceptance within the Illawarra, especially within the last few months, has been overwhelming to say the least. Not only on a level of community, but for myself, a personal level as well, Illawarra have embraced Roxee Horror and it's so surreal and humbling.
Chase Murray, who runs Alexander's Cafe in Dapto, which also hosted phone-banking nights, says:
The postal survey made me feel separated from the rest of the nation. Having my relationship and who I am as a person be probed and dissected made me feel alienated and hurt.
I am so happy that marriage equality is finally being put forward in the parliament and that the majority of the nation wants me and my partner to have equal rights.
This isn't just about marriage it is about LGBTQ people feeling valued and normal and our relationships and families being respected and embraced.
Caitlin Roodenrys says:
I was 11 when the Marriage Act was changed. I was 13 when I had my first crush on a girl. I didn't know what those feelings were, or why I was having them, or what I was meant to do. I only knew that I had an overwhelming feeling of being ashamed by them, that these were feelings that I had to hide.
That shame continued throughout high school, throughout every crush I had, and throughout the first time I fell in love.
It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that there is nothing wrong with me, that I am who I am and that's okay. That's also what this legislation says to me—that for the first time in my adult life, I can breathe freely knowing that my country recognised that there is nothing wrong with me.
I'm ecstatic that this legislation means I won't again in my adult life, feel ashamed of who I am. But more importantly, it means that 13 year old me knows that it's okay to be whoever you are, and that for every single 13 year old that grows up in Australia from now on, who feels different to their friends and isn't sure why, that they know that their country will support them to be whoever they are.
Jarrod Dellapina and Josh Talbot—these are their words:
We've been together for over five years now, and lived in Wollongong our entire lives. The postal survey made us experience feelings on insecurity, and a lack of self-worth. We wanted to make the LGBTIQ people of Albion Park feel welcomed and well represented, so we campaigned hard, letterbox dropped, door knocked, and put posters up around town. Every Thursday night we made phone calls with other equality campaigners to people all over Australia. We have to say a lot of the feedback was positive, however the low self worth and insecurity continued to stay, with people pulling down posters, and people screaming obscenities at us, before slamming the door shut.
However, we never stopped fighting for our equality, we worked together with Illawarra Rainbow Labor, and the Equality campaign to make equality a reality for all Australians. We would like to thank our federal members Stephen Jones and Sharon Bird, as well as Paul and Alison Scully, and the Illawarra's equality coordinator Simon Zulian for representing us, and fighting with us, and help making marriage equality a reality.
The day after the results were announced, we went away for our anniversary, and are now engaged, and couldn't be happier. Thank you, Australia for saying Yes.
The marriage equality debate caused pain and suffering where it wasn't deserved. For those of us who are passionate about building a nation where respect, love and equity are the foundations of our society it gave us a chance to be part of history—to work together to make change happen for the greater good. We did that, we organised, we marched, we sought to bring others with us. The vote for marriage equality was a vote for fairness, commitment, and love.
Renay Horten, who is a florist in Port Kembla, wanted to say:
Yes! A word I use every day without a thought of what it would mean to the people I love so dearly over the last few months. I have watched my family and friends who are educated, tax paying, volunteers to their communities, careers to love ones, everyday people go from day to day life to being torn emotional apart by vote that never needed to happen.
My mother when I was a child would tell me stories of her marching for human rights and equally in the 60's and 70's never in my thoughts as a child would I have thought that I would be marching and rallying for the same rights for my love ones 45 years later. The Yes vote is about human rights and we as human beings saying "YES" in 2017 we are seen as equal regardless of your sexuality.
Al Byrnes says:
When the postal vote survey was first announced I watched a number of my friends struggle and despair because their lives, their choices and their relationships would now be publicly judged by their friends, family and community—and not all of these judgements would be supportive.
My friends should not have to beg for equality and that's why I became so involved in the Yes campaign.
I want to thank my "Gold Star" mate Simon Zulian for coordinating the fight in the 'gong and for stepping up to fight this latest battle despite his vehement opposition to the survey. He led a great, united crew and ran an amazing and fabulous rainbow campaign to finally achieve marriage equality. I am sure Kane would be extremely proud of you and I am so very sad he is not here to celebrate with you.
Wendy Meyers says:
Not since the AIDS tragedy have I ever known my community under so much distress and attack. I have friends who live in the city and the country and all of them expressed deep disappointment that the Parliament put the vote out to the people. I have heard stories of family breakdowns where young GLBTIQ people have had falling outs with Grand Parents, Fathers fallen out with sons and young people in our community attempting suicide because they have had the identity crushed. Like any culture, the GLBTIQ community are proud of our heritage, our cultural and our celebrations. We have come a long way in the last 50 years in this country.
The day of the Yes vote was a celebration, but it was also the end of an exhausting few weeks of supporting each other to remain strong against the possibility of a No. A possibility that we would be lesser Australians. I was proud that our allies turned out to support the raising of the flag at Wollongong Council. Personally I fought for this so that young kids knew we had their back. When the Wollongong Lighthouse was lit up the night before the announcement many of my friends were too distressed to come, deeply nervous of the pending vote. For me, seeing the lighthouse in rainbow colours was a defining moment. I felt accepted once again by my community. If only for a brief moment.
Since the vote we have seen so much hate generated toward the GLBTIQ community. I follow the DIY Rainbow Group on Facebook and some men have had hate filled notes put in their letterbox, murals graffitied and the recent standoff over young people flying the rainbow flag from their home is deeply distressing. We stand today at a moment in history, a defining moment that generations will look back on. The vote has been cast. Our grandchildren's grandchildren, whether they are born Gay or Straight will learn of this moment. On looking back they won't be interested in the wording, I am sure future generations will refine the details. They will look back on how we came together, how we spoke as one voice and said lets finally get something the majority of Australian Citizens have wanted for many years finally done. Let's get the Marriage Equality Bill Passed.
I stand here as a member of this House who's been married as an Australian and as someone who's been in a long, committed relationship where I choose not to be married, and I am so glad that gay and lesbian couples in Australia now have exactly the same choice, as they should, as other Australians. Finally, I'm really pleased that Cunningham said yes.
The House transcript was published up to 22:00. The remainder of the transcript will be published progressively as it is completed.