Senate debates

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2009

Second Reading

3:34 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

The issue I rise to speak to this afternoon is one of great importance to all Australians who value fairness and justice: the right to have their love formally recognised by the state through marriage.

The Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2009 seeks to amend the Marriage Act by removing any discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Today is a monumental, momentous day. It is a historic day for us to be debating a particular piece of legislation that deals specifically with removing the discrimination that currently exists within the Marriage Act. It comes after an inquiry that received over 27,000 submissions from Australians wanting this issue to be discussed and debated in our federal parliament. It is clear that the community has strong views on this issue and they wanted it debated by their elected representatives. Thousands have taken to the streets in support of this bill, with this year earmarked as the national year of action on same-sex marriage. Only this coming weekend, thousands and thousands of people will line the streets of Sydney for the Sydney mardi gras—people gathering together because they want to celebrate equality.

The momentum for this bill is growing. The momentum for amongst the Australian community for removing this discrimination is growing every year. The polls—the support out there in the community—suggest that over 60 per cent of Australians want to see same-sex marriage legal in Australia. They do not want to see people discriminated against any longer.

The idea that consenting adults should have the right to celebrate their love and commitment as they see fit is such a simple principle, yet in this place it is still controversial. While a majority of Australians agree—let’s remove that discrimination; let’s insist on fairness and justice—we still have objections from both sides of the chamber. The old parties continue, based on party lines, to think that it is still appropriate for them to deny same-sex couples the same recognition as heterosexual couples.

My message to Mr Rudd and to Mr Abbott today is very clear: we have just begun the second decade of the 21st century; it is time for us to progress. Surely, it is time for us to have moved past the days when we discriminated against people based on their gender or their sexual orientation. That kind of discrimination belongs in the past. I must say—it may sound crass but it is true—that if Mr Rudd and Mr Abbott are so wedded to it, they too belong in the past. Let’s recognise the diversity of modern Australia by giving all committed and loving relationships between consenting adults the same rights and protections.

The same arguments that are being trotted out by those who oppose this bill have some historical parallels. I am sure that when our predecessors debated giving Indigenous people the right to be recognised as citizens of their own country or when women were given the right to vote the same eyebrows were raised. There were some people who argued that the sky would fall in. But we changed those laws because we knew it was right. We drew a line in the sand and said: ‘Let’s consign this kind of discrimination to the past.’ That is what this bill is asking us to do today. We know that the nay-sayers back then were wrong, and we know here today that the nay-sayers are wrong. Removing that kind of discrimination makes the fabric of our society stronger, not weaker. Today I am calling on the Senate to move past these outdated petty prejudices and to strengthen our democracy and our society by removing another form of discrimination that has lingered for way too long.

While Victoria, Tasmania, the ACT and, as recently this week, New South Wales have established relationship registration and civil partnership schemes for same-sex couples, these schemes should not be used by the federal government as an excuse to not accept that what we need is true equality for marriage. These schemes continue to fall short of equal legal recognition enjoyed by heterosexual relationships and must not be used as a substitute for marriage. It is important for us to remember that this is not just an issue for same-sex couples but for all of us who believe in justice, fairness and the ultimate of human rights. It is a human rights issue. It is about the legitimacy of the institution of marriage not being undermined by discrimination.

We must also remember that this is not just a religious issue. We know that 65 per cent of marriages in Australia are conducted by civil celebrants, not religious celebrants. We know that 65 per cent of marriages do not occur within the institutions of the church. We know that 65 per cent of marriages in Australia are conducted by people and for people who want their relationship recognised not just by their loved ones, not just by their families and each other but by the state as well. The difference for same-sex couples is that currently under the Marriage Act they simply do not have the choice to marry. We need to be able to remove that discrimination and give them that choice today.

The Prime Minister of the day and the Leader of the Opposition should not have the power to ensure that their members in this place vote based on their own ideological and conservative views. Let us be honest: we know that in this place and in the other place there are people on all sides of the chamber who fundamentally believe that this type of discrimination should be removed. Hopefully, today we will get to a vote on this bill. I would like to see us vote according to our conscience. If we look at the issue and at fairness and justice and want to vote according to what is right, we will want to remove that discrimination.

Throughout the Senate inquiry into this bill, numerous people submitted their personal stories suggesting how changing this bill would positively affect them. We heard mothers and fathers talking about how they longed for their children to have their relationships recognised. We heard from one mother who has two sons; one’s relationship is recognised because he is straight and the other’s relationship is not recognised because he is gay. The Prime Minister has been asked to consider why one of this woman’s sons is a second-class citizen. We need to remove this type of discrimination. We need to embrace equality for all—equal love.

The sky has not fallen in in places like Belgium, Sweden, Canada, South America, South Africa and various states of the United States because they have changed the laws to reflect an acceptance that same-sex couples have the same rights as heterosexual couples. In fact, I would argue that the sun is shining brighter in those places. We should not be in a situation where Australian citizens have to leave our country to have their relationships recognised through marriages in Canada, only to arrive back in Australia, step off the plane at Sydney International Airport and know that all of a sudden their marriage is invalid. It is time for us to move forward. It is time for us to progress. It is time for this parliament to discuss this issue and to think very carefully about what type of discrimination we want to leave future generations of Australians. How can we say, ‘All people are equal but some are more equal than others’? It simply does not make sense. I commend the bill to the Senate, and I look forward to the debate.

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