Senate debates

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2009

Second Reading

3:53 pm

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

I table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill and a petitioning document entitled Equal rights for all: support same-sex marriage, end legal discrimination, signed by over 30,000 petitioners and I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2009 will remove all discrimination from the Marriage Act 1961 on the basis of sexuality and gender identity, to permit marriage regardless of sex, sexuality and gender identity.

The Australian Greens believe that discrimination such as that espoused by the current Marriage Act 1961 must be overturned to ensure that freedom of sexuality and gender identity are recognised as fundamental human rights, and that acceptance and celebration of diversity are essential components for genuine social justice and equality to exist.

Only last week, a new poll, commissioned by Australian Marriage Equality, and conducted by Galaxy, highlighted that  three in five Australians are in support of the right of same-sex couples to marry, with 58 per cent arguing that  Australian law should recognise same-sex marriages that are legal in other countries.

Surely the argument espoused by many that marriage equality does not have the support of the majority of Australian’s is now redundant.

It is clear that it is time for the federal parliament to catch up with public opinion and move to make same-sex marriage legal.

Forward thinking companies, such as Westpac, Telstra, the Commonwealth Bank, Qantas, IBM and Seek have all extended benefits and entitlements to all employees, regardless of their partner’s gender, including the recognition of same-sex marriage.

So why the delay from a Government who should be leading the progression of social policy, not floundering well behind?

Two years ago, former Greens Senator Kerry Nettle, introduced the Marriage (Relationships Equality) Amendment Bill 2007, on which this Bill is based, aiming to remove from the Marriage Act 1961 discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender identity, and to permit marriage regardless of sexuality and gender identity.

The purpose of the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill is to recognise that freedom of sexuality and gender identity are fundamental human rights, as well as promoting acceptance and the celebration of diversity. 

Those opposed to same-sex unions argue that it would destroy the ‘sanctity’ of the institution. In countries which have recognised same-sex unions for a reasonable period of time, heterosexual marriage still exists and the institution has not fallen into disarray.

Despite some old-style criticism based on discrimination, the sky has not fallen in.

Many other Western countries, such as Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, Norway, Spain, South Africa, and many states in the United States already recognise same-sex marriage as a reality, proving that Australia would not be the first to take this step, instead we would be following a global trend in ensuring that marriage is available to all—regardless of one’s sexuality.

It is outrageous to think that someone who was legally married in Canada can step off the plane at Sydney International Airport and no longer be considered married under Australian law.

Recently a couple from Victoria, who have been together for nine years, wrote to my office in support of the Greens’ moves to introduce a Bill to remove discrimination from the Marriage Act, highlighting the importance of being able to marry here in Australia.

The following is an excerpt from Rodney and Jeff’s story:

“We will marry. That we are certain of. Unfortunately, it won’t be in Australia.  Unfortunately, it won’t be recognised by our Government. Marriage equality is needed in Australia to meet the obligation that all members of Parliament claim, that is equality. 

I urge that you pass this message on to your colleagues in the House and Senate, and remind them that we are real people, with real families, we pay real taxes and contribute to our community … and we deserve equality.”

Jen and Julia have also expressed their support for the Greens pursuing marriage equality, voicing their distress at not being legally recognised as a couple in their home country.

“In Canada, we will be legal spouses, but once we return to Australia our marriage ceases to be acknowledged for all legalities as defined in the Australian Marriage Act.

Canada and Australia are as rich as they are culturally diverse.  It is our hope that Australia follows Canada’s Civil Marriage Act and redefines civil marriage rights to same-sex couples living in this country, so our marriage can be celebrated and recognised in Australian law, as it is in our second home ‘Canada’.”

These two stories, along with thousands of others, highlight just how discriminatory the Marriage Act can be for those same-sex couples who are engaged in a loving and committed relationship, voluntarily entered into for life, and denied the basic right afforded to married heterosexual couples.

While in the past year there have been some historic leaps forward in terms of removing discrimination against same-sex couples in Australian law, there remains one glaring omission from those advances—marriage.

It is time for the Government to start sending the message that all Australians are to be treated fairly and equally, regardless of their sexual orientation.

The community are streets ahead of the legislature in recognising the rights of same-sex couples to marry, and it is time for the major parties to listen to the voters of Australia, and finally extend the legal right to marry to all.

I commend the Bill to the Senate.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.