Senate debates

Thursday, 16 November 2017


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

5:02 pm

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I'm afraid I may disappoint a few people today—not that that's going be a first!—because normally I don't refer to notes. Normally I'll just say what comes into my head and what I've picked up in my ventures to get here. But today I want to dignify my contribution by referring partly to some well-thought-out written notes. Some might have thought they'd cop the old mic drop from me like the last time I got up and spoke about marriage equality in this country. I came in to make a 20-minute contribution and I think I got to 48 seconds and thought, 'I've had a gutful of even talking about this, because it has been 10 years.' I just walked off after making some comment about: 'I'll be at the Royal Hotel in Queanbeyan. Give me a call when you get your act together.' Thank goodness the country's got its act together finally—and what a magnificent outcome!

I'd like to begin by echoing the words of Senator Penny Wong yesterday when she said: 'Australia, thank you. Thank you to the millions of Australians who participated in this process, and thank you for voting for equality. You have resoundingly told the parliament that equality matters, and that means the world not only to me but to the many, many Australians who want to have their relationship recognised by the law and to those who support marriage equality.'

I am especially proud of Western Australians, who returned the second-highest yes vote out of all the states in our nation yesterday, where 801,575 Western Aussies voted yes—63.7 per cent. I must say how proud I was to hear that every single Western Australian federal electorate, the whole 16 of them, voted yes—a clean sweep for that great state of Western Australia. I've always been proud to represent Western Australia in this place, but today I'm standing here even prouder, if that's possible. I was in the room yesterday with Senator Wong, Senator Pratt and other colleagues to hear the results read out. While we all were a little nervous leading into the announcement, the feeling in the room afterwards, I have to tell you, was electric.

Now, as a homosexual man—sorry, as a heterosexual man—and I didn't mean to do that. Mind you, it wouldn't worry me anyway; I'm so excited, I got my words mixed up. As a heterosexual man happily married with two adult kids and a wonderful grandson—and I dearly love the lot of them—I will never understand what it's like to be discriminated against because of who I love. Many of us in this chamber will never understand what that feels like—I couldn't possibly understand that—and to say that people didn't feel hurt or weren't victimised throughout this campaign is, sadly, absolute rubbish. But, when I was waiting for the result to come through yesterday, I sympathised with everyone in the room who was from the LGBTIQ community.

While the result was and is fantastic, it is still a shame that it had to come to this. It's a shame that we had to spend $122 million of taxpayers' money unnecessarily on a survey to tell the parliament what we already knew, and it's disingenuous to think that members of the Australian parliament, whether they be in the other chamber or here didn't know what the feeling was out there. This has been a barbecue conversation for at least 10 to 15 years. This is not a topic that just popped up in this parliament. Communities, organisations and families across the country were forced—or had the opportunity—to make a choice. Some of them were forced to pick a side and were instantly labelled, depending on the position they supported. In some cases, this did pit good friends against each other. It led to arguments around the dinner table—I've heard them—and it led to many hurtful discussions from one side of the campaign about people from the LGBTIQ community based purely on who they love. I ask: how wrong is that? This just shows how wide-ranging the impact of this survey was on the Australian public.

Watching the looks on the faces of people in that room prior to the announcement, including our leader in the Senate and our champion of this campaign, Senator Wong, was, at times, heartbreaking. The people in that room were tired, some of them were hurt, and they were worried that their love would once again be rejected. But, when the results were read out, I've got to tell you what a genuinely happy moment it was. My ears are still ringing from the cheering that was going on around that room. Seeing Senator Wong's reaction and the looks of relief on the faces of everyone around me really made me appreciate how much this meant to each and every member of the LGBTIQ community and their friends and their families. I say to you all: Australia has told you that you matter, Australia has told you that you and your relationship should be equal, and Australia has told you that they want marriage equality—and what a magnificent thing that is.

Watching the news coverage yesterday of all the different parties and community events across our nation celebrating the outcome was purely fantastic. It was a historic day for our country. I've been told that there was quite the street party in Braddon last night—and I know Braddon well; I used to live in Braddon. It was attended by some luminaries from all sides of politics. It explains some of the dreary faces I've seen around the building this morning. I can understand why they're dreary, and I hope you had a good celebration. One person who shall remain nameless—that's you, Ben—said to me that they didn't think there were that many people in Canberra, the crowds were that big. They also said that the feeling in Braddon was unbelievable. Everyone was happy, some were still crying, and there was a lot of dancing. Most people there were strangers to each other, but the one thing that drew them all together, the one thing that brought them all out to celebrate, was love—and that is what this is all about. Love wins. Love will always win. And that is what we saw yesterday.

Each of us, throughout the campaign, would have had interactions with people from both sides of the debate. While I really don't want to go into detail of some of the revolting, disgusting, hurtful and plain filthy emails I received—and a lot of people are brave at the other end of an email—criticising not only my support for marriage equality but those in the LGBTQI community, I am truly thankful to everyone who I met along the way during the campaign. Today, I can't help but think of all of you who I either met in person or had conversations with either on the phone or through Facebook. This bill is for each and every one of you. This is the good part—this is really good—I even got a few wedding invitations via Facebook from some of my followers. I'm looking forward to the day we make this legal, so that I can send back my RSVP. I also can't help but think of those close to me who this bill affects.

For Ben in my office, the result yesterday and this bill mean that people want his relationship to matter. They want it to be equal and they want people like Benny and his partner, James, to have the opportunity to get married—and I do too, mate. I've known Ben since he was 16—he stalked me from his school days!—and I consider him to be a great mate. But, when we were talking about the postal survey, when it first came up, I was a bit taken aback when Ben said that this was the first time that he had felt personally attacked or disadvantaged by politics. I thought, for someone who has been in the movement for 10 or so years, how could this be so? With all of the elections he's worked on with me and others, surely he would have picked up something that he was passionate about. But then I realised: this campaign was different. This argument wasn't about cuts to the pension, cuts to penalty rates or other important issues which didn't directly affect Ben but were issues he could sympathise with; this argument was deeply personal.

At the end of the day, the survey came to be because the Prime Minister, unfortunately, didn't have the bottle to bring the debate into the parliament. I could go on and on and on, but today is a day where we're going to celebrate the outcome. I don't think it would be a great thing to throw barbs across the chamber when we are celebrating, and I won't, but, unfortunately, some in the government did put the relationship of Ben and that of others up for public debate, and we mustn't forget that. The survey put Ben in a horrible position, because it made him feel like, unfortunately, his government didn't think that he or his relationship mattered. That's how Ben felt. I would be deeply offended if I knew that the country had a say on who I could or couldn't marry. I married my wife 35 years ago because she was the only one that would have me! No, it was because I loved her and still do dearly—she was the only one who would have me, but! Why should it be any different for Australians in the LGBTQI community? Hopefully, through the passage of this bill, it won't be different anymore. The hurt was felt by each and every Australian from the LGBTQI community, and for this I say sorry. What the community did have, however, was each other, and the result yesterday truly was a team effort. Despite the hurt and the pain, what an immensely proud feeling to know that a majority of Australians, when our government sadly failed to do it, have stood up for you. Yesterday's results speak to Ben, Louise and everyone in the LGBTQI community. You matter, your relationships matters, and the majority of the Australian public want you to feel equal.

I'd like to take this opportunity to recognise a few people. This campaign was not a few people—it was millions of people—but there are a few I'd like to recognise. To Senator Penny Wong and Senator Louise Pratt: congratulations. To Senator Dean Smith: a lot has been said and a lot will be said. Good on you, Dean. This has been hard fought, trying, tiring and difficult—but look where we are now as a nation! You've done it. To Bill, to Tanya and to the Labor family, who have been steadfast in this campaign, I say well done. Once again I say to Senator Dean Smith, who introduced this bill: mate, not enough words can be said about you, and they are all heartfelt. I commend your courage, mate, and your determination in writing this bill. You should be extremely proud. Tiernan, Tom, Anna, Alex and all from the Australian Marriage Equality Campaign—look what you've achieved. You and your team should be immensely proud of what you've done for our nation. But I say to Tom and Anna especially: it has been a privilege to get to know you both over the campaign. It must be so rewarding to see the outcome after all that you have worked so darned hard for.

When I spoke on this matter last year, I spoke of how proud I was to walk my daughter down the aisle at her wedding. And I said that every parent should have the same opportunity as I did with my child, regardless of their sexuality or who they choose to marry. Once we make this bill law—and hopefully we're only a couple of days away—all parents across our country will be able to do this. As Senator Pratt said earlier, this issue is not just about people from the LGBTQI community. It's about their friends, their families, their supporters and their loved ones. This result and this bill show them that their loved ones matter. This result and this bill show them that Australia wants them to be equal, regardless of their sexuality.

We have all made it through this postal survey. Australians have done what their government unfortunately didn't do. But Australians have made their decision. They have told the government that they want marriage equality. It's now up to us to make this happen. I am encouraged. I have to say that this time yesterday, or a little bit earlier, I had fears of how the debate could slide into an even worse position than what I thought it possibly could prior to the postal survey's results. I want to support Senator Griff's statements, but, sadly, I don't know what was going through Senator Paterson's head. Fortunately, whatever it was has fallen out. Fortunately, we're not going to have that shocking debate that Senator Paterson's bill had the ability to take us down into. I don't know how anyone in this chamber could try and qualify that we can shift the nastiness to another argument to attack our gay and lesbian communities with the nonsense that we were confronting through that piece of rubbish that's been thrown away. Thank goodness for that. I don't know if I could sit here and say we fought for years to eliminate discrimination, whether it be against our First Australians and now our LGBTQI communities or against workers, foreigners or women. I felt: 'What would be next? Should we start on fat people? Should we start on people who are bald?' That's just how stupid it could have got. So I congratulate the grown-ups within the coalition and the government who came to their senses and got rid of that nonsense.

I want to throw a challenge out to the LGBTQI community. It doesn't matter if you have to sink down on one knee, slip a ring in your partner's almond daiquiri—I don't know if anyone drinks almond daiquiris anymore!—or hire a skywriter to say, 'Please, marry me, Penny,' 'Marry me, Louise,' or 'Marry me, Ben,' or whatever their name is. Get out and do it. I did it 35 years ago. It's the greatest thing I've ever done, and I don't think that I should be the only one who should have the ability to say that they've been happily married for 35 years. Please, do it. Make the most of it—enjoy, rejoice, celebrate, brag. What a fantastic time for Australia; we've got ourselves out of the Dark Ages!

I do not look forward so much to the debate across the chamber that may come, but, when I heard Senator Bernardi's words, which were very, very dignified—and Senator Bernardi was one of the spear-chuckers for the 'no' campaign—I thought that, if Senator Bernardi can have the humility to say, 'Let's get this done and, if we have a difference of opinion, can we come to some arrangement?', we're in a pretty good place; there's no doubt about that. So to Dean, Penny, Louise and everyone in the community: congratulations! Congratulations, Australia. Thank you so much. Let's roll our sleeves up. Let's get into it. Let's just get it done.


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