Senate debates

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Bills

Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017; Second Reading

4:36 pm

Photo of Derryn HinchDerryn Hinch (Victoria, Derryn Hinch's Justice Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak, as a proud co-sponsor, in support of the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. My courageous colleague Dean Smith, who has been a brave point man on this historic amendment—which will pass or 'shall so hold', as the Prime Minister mispredicted about another matter—said in his speech earlier today that this 'is not revolutionary; it is evolutionary'. It reminded me that Gough Whitlam once told me this about a republic; he said a republic 'is evolutionary, not revolutionary'. That's what marriage equality is—evolutionary. But it has taken too bloody long, far too long. The same applies to a republic, but that's another issue for another day. Rachel Hunter, that actress from across the ditch, used to say, 'It won't heppen overnight, but it will heppen'. And now we know, after 61.6 per cent of Australia voted yes for marriage equality, it will 'heppen' here before Christmas—it must. The no supporters in this chamber and the other place must not use this debate as a filibuster or a Trojan horse. I will support the Attorney-General's amendments, flagged yesterday, to protect religious freedoms and to exempt marriage celebrants. But, if the same-sex marriage opponents try to block what is overwhelmingly the will of the Australian people with a slew of obstructive amendments, I will vote against them again and again and again.

Madam Acting Deputy President, may I ask for your indulgence today, in this unusual rainbow atmosphere of love and loyalty in the chamber, when I bend protocol a bit and pay tribute to the people here in this chamber most personally affected by the discrimination in the Marriage Act that John Howard so cruelly and calculatingly imposed on Australia 13 years ago in 2004, with the wrong-footed political acquiescence at the time of the Labor Party. To the people most affected, like Dean and Penny and Janet and Louise, I say: I'm sorry it has taken so long. I stood next to Senator Wong in the minutes before the result was announced. While the man from the ABS was doing his Rob Oakeshott impersonation, her inner tension was palpable. To me, that and her tears of relief, which were shared across this wide land yesterday, rammed home to me just what pressure and discrimination and unfair judgement LGBTQI Australians have lived under for decades, and for how long some of them have campaigned and struggled for this time to come.

Last night on Sky, on Paul Murray LIVE, I appeared with Professor Kerryn Phelps—the 'Kerryn and Derryn show'!—the former head of the AMA, whom I've interviewed a zillion times in a former life as a broadcaster. Kerryn Phelps said that she and her wife, Jackie, had been campaigning for marriage equality for 20 years. To be truly honest, if I had heard her back then, 20 years ago, talking about same-sex marriage, I would've said: 'No. What are you talking about? Marriage is between a man and a woman.' That's because, for years, for decades, I opposed same-sex marriage. That was 20 years ago, and it probably would've applied even 10 years ago. I stand here today as an Australian male who only a few years ago did think that that was the way the world was and should be—a neat and tidy status quo for heterosexuals. I'm sure that view was shared back then by a lot of Australians who voted yes in the postal ballot this time. I stand here today as a proud co-sponsor of this bill.

On this historic day, I want to go back to my road-to-Damascus moment, and maybe it will explain some things. I want to quote from something I wrote seven years ago for The Australian newspaper under the headline 'It was wrong of me to oppose gay marriage':

I WAS an opponent of gay marriage for years. I doggedly followed the ignorant, almost homophobic line without really thinking it through.

Marriage was only for men and women because that's just the way it was.

Forget the fact that loving relationships between same-sex couples lasted as long, if not longer, than many marriages, despite those couples swearing before God "til death us do part".

Only four years ago I wrote a book called You Are So Beautiful: the passion and the pain of relationships. There was a seemingly empathetic chapter called The Pink Revolution and in it I wrote: "Homosexual men and women have had, and many still have, added pressures in their relationships. There is the partner who won't come out of the closet. The partner who wants to keep it quiet because he (or she) doesn't know how to tell their parents. Even though you could usually bet money that a mother's intuition has already told her. A gay person whose lover won't-can't acknowledge their relationship must feel a bit like a mistress who doesn't exist in that partner's public world."

But when it came to voicing a strong opinion on gay marriage I wimped it. My editor, Anouska Jones, thought I should remove the whole chapter.

She said: 'Your attitude also comes across as ambivalent - as you openly admit - and I think that adds to the problem, as for the rest of the book you express definite, unswerving opinions on each theme that you tackle. For these reasons, I would advise not including it."

I did include it and eventually wrote: "I will admit that I have had difficulty coping with the non -traditional idea of a marriage between two men or two women but I am learning and I know that the day will come soon when it is as accepted and as protected as any other union." What a fence-sitting cop out.

It took two women - my wife and my ex-wife—

that is, my then wife, Chanel, and my ex-wife Jacki Weaver—

to convince me that my attitude was irrational and discriminatory.

And such discrimination is illegal because you cannot discriminate on the grounds of sex, religion or race. It is also morally reprehensible.

I also found my justifications increasingly hollow and unconvincing, even to me. It took me back to the days when my mother couldn't satisfactorily answer a question. After the third "Why?" she would respond: "Because it just is. That's why."

And that's about the best the opponents of gay marriage can come up with in 2010: it just is.

And that still applies in 2017. My article continued:

That is why I was surprised, disappointed and dismayed when Julia Gillard recently said that heterosexual marriage was not only her government's view but her personal view.

Now let me get this straight. And, I guess, straight is the operative word. Our new Prime Minister is an atheist. She doesn't believe in God, but she believes in the sanctity of God-blessed marriages except for gay people.

Sounds hypocritical to me. She lives with her partner Tim Mathieson, a condition the church would quaintly describe as "living in sin".

If the hairdresser with whom Gillard lives had been female I wonder if her views would be different? And where does Penny Wong stand on this? She is a cabinet member who has fewer civil rights than her colleagues, purely because of her sexuality.

But I did take in all of Senator Wong's sincere and intelligent comments today, and I now understand. I finally understand that she was right not to go out in what she called a brief blaze of glory—that's how she put it today. She decided to stay inside her party and lobby and fight for what we have ended up with today, and that is to her credit. It is a bill I'm thrilled to see her name on. My article from 2010 continued:

Gillard said: 'We believe the Marriage Act is appropriate in its current form, that it's recognising that marriage is between a man and a woman."

That statement came on the same day the female Prime Minister of Iceland married her female partner. In Mexico City, capital of a fiercely Catholic country, same-sex marriages and adoption by same-sex couples have been legal since March of this year.

In the US some states recognise same-sex marriages although those laws have been rolled back by referendum in places such as California. Closer to home—

as we heard from Senator Siewert—

the Labor-dominated territory government in Canberra legalised same sex marriages, but was overruled by the federal government, in the same way the Howard government blocked voluntary euthanasia in the Northern Territory. The Victorian Labor Party (Gillard's home state) supports gay marriage.

Gillard says her government (and Kevin Rudd's government) had taken steps to equalise treatment for gay couples over matters such as social security benefits.

That was true, but that was not enough. My article continued:

But she is not going to scare the voters, especially the religious Right …

I was right when I predicted way back then that she didn't want to advocate anything that would upset the Right, the religious Right and the conservatives. My article continued:

The Liberals and Nationals are even more locked in. After all, Tony Abbott has admitted he feels "threatened" by homosexuals. That's weird. What's also weird is the strident opposition when most marriages in Australia are these days conducted by celebrants and not in churches, only about 10 per cent of Australians are weekly churchgoers, two out of three marriages end in divorce, and one in three Australian children are born out of wedlock. What are people afraid of?

The only encouraging thing for gay people is that they know their day will come. Equality will prevail. One day.

In conclusion, I said, seven years ago:

The only encouraging thing for gay people is that they know their day will come. Equality will prevail. One day.

Remember, how many African-Americans living in Georgia in the 1960s could even dream of a Barack Obama in the White House.

So I say: Australia, this is our Barack Obama moment. To the 61.6 per cent of you who voted yes, I salute you, and, Australia, I thank you.

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