Monday, 17 September 2012
Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012; Second Reading
I rise today to speak to the marriage equality bill that is before us. This bill, the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012, is the second marriage equality bill that I have spoken on in the past month. This is, of course, an issue that people are extremely passionate about in our Australian community. Here in this place we have taken quite some time to catch up with those out in the streets, around dinner tables at home, with friends, family and work colleagues who, across the country, have become far more passionate about this issue in the last decade. We know that other countries around the world have taken this step of removing discrimination in their marriage acts. They have shown a willingness to remove that discrimination and allow the institution of marriage to become inclusive, not exclusive, allowing same-sex couples the ability to have their love celebrated and their relationships accepted, understood and respected under their laws—countries like Catholic Spain, Belgium, Canada and various states in the United States. Recently there were celebrations on the streets of New York when New York allowed same-sex marriage and moved for marriage equality.
We also know that political leaders throughout the world have changed their views on this issue. The President of the United States, Barack Obama, despite being staunchly opposed in recent years to marriage equality, has now changed his view and become a key supporter because, as he put it, when his daughters asked him why such discrimination would exist and what difference it made to allow same-sex couples the same rights as everybody else, he found it difficult to explain that type of prejudice and discrimination to his own children. That is reminiscent of the change that many of us have seen, not just with political leaders but also, of course, in the way the general community has learnt that the time has come to remove discrimination, to allow equality and to push ahead for this important reform.
Here in this place we have had many debates about this particular issue. In 2009 in this place we debated my marriage equality bill for the first time. When that bill was finally put to a vote it was only the five Greens senators sitting right here in these seats that voted for that piece of legislation.
I think it is important for us to reflect on just how far we have come since then: to now see four bills for marriage equality across both houses, with a real willingness, passion and push from many people from all sides wanting to see this reform happen.
We know there are reforms happening in the states and territories across Australia because people are becoming sick and tired of waiting for the inevitable. Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, despite their personal views, remain steadfast in blocking true reform from happening. Tony Abbott, of course, is not letting his members have a free vote on this issue. I think that is shameful. I would like to think we could have this debate today and that, when this bill finally comes to a vote, every person in this house has the opportunity to vote for what they know is right. And, if that is indeed to remove this discrimination, people should have the opportunity to do that. I read in the papers this morning that it does not look as though Tony Abbott is going to change his mind, that he is going to keep his troops well and truly in their place.
But I am concerned too with the lack of leadership shown by Julia Gillard on this front. Despite continual insistence that she does not support marriage equality, she can never quite explain why. We will hear throughout this debate today, and in coming days, members in this place stand up and speak very passionately against removing this discrimination and they will base that on their long-held views of tradition and their religious convictions around marriage equality. I tend to disagree with their position, but I can understand the footing from which they have come to their views. Our own Prime Minister, however, is not able to articulate her opposition on this issue. I think it is disappointing to see the leader of our country unable to take this issue in both hands and drive the reform forward and because of that I believe Julia Gillard, like Tony Abbott, is standing in the way of this reform happening.
But it is inevitable; it will happen. The changes are inevitable. There are many, many Australians who want to see marriage equality become a reality. They want to see this discrimination removed. They do not want us to be left back in the dark ages where we thought that just because somebody was homosexual they deserved to be treated as a second-class citizen. This is modern Australia. This is 2012. It is time for us to rid our statute books of this type of discrimination.
I spoke several weeks ago on the marriage equality bill that is currently before this place in my name about how the institution of marriage should be embraced as an institution that is important not just to the state but to our communities; about how we understand the universal language of marriage and love and that we should be allowing this institution to be inclusive not exclusive. I spoke about how the institution and our understanding of it has changed over time. Back in the 1950s, before we had the federal Marriage Act, each of the states was responsible for governing the laws of the institution of marriage. Within some states there was active discrimination against people being able to marry because of their race. Some states had to sign off on the marriage between an Aboriginal man and a white woman or between an Aboriginal woman and a non-Aboriginal man. The institution was discriminatory based on whether somebody was indeed Aboriginal. When in this federal parliament it was decided to enact a federal marriage act, there was a big debate about how one of the best things about having a federal marriage act would be that it would overcome the discrimination embedded in some of the state jurisdictions on this issue. When the federal Marriage Act was established during the Menzies government, Menzies himself said that that type of discrimination had no place in what would become the new laws governing the institution of marriage and love. I think it was a pretty noble act to remove that discrimination and to accept that two people love each other and no-one else should have the right to say no simply because of who those people were.
So we got rid of that discrimination and we moved on, and we thought that was a fabulous and wonderful thing to do, except that this discrimination currently exists and it is time that we did something about it. Marriage as an institution has changed over time as our understanding as a community, as a people, as governments and as elected representatives has changed. Back in the 1950s, we thought it was wrong to discriminate against people because of their race, and it was; and it is wrong today, as it was wrong back then, to continue to discriminate against a couple simply because of their sexuality.
That is the point that so many Australians believe in so dearly: this institution is important and people should have the right to choose whether they want to marry, but it should not be the law itself that discriminates simply because it has always been that way. I have heard some opponents speaking about why they strongly believe that the Marriage Act should not be amended and that marriage equality should simply be brushed aside. They talk of not wanting to change the institution of marriage, that it cannot be changed, that it has always been like this and that, whether we like it or not, that discrimination exists and will continue to exist. Mr Deputy President, I put to you that, as society accepts that things must change, as we become wiser about the decisions we make in not discriminating against people based on their race, gender, ethnicity or sexuality, the laws that govern our country must change as well. Thankfully, the majority of Australians across all sectors agree—from the cities, to the suburbs, to the bush and to the regions there is an overwhelming feeling that, if people want to get married, who cares whether they are straight or gay?
I say that, remembering a T-shirt that I saw in a town I was visiting in rural Victoria during the election in 2010.
It was a young guy, and he was wearing a T-shirt that said: 'Some dudes love dudes. Get over it.' I thought: 'You know what? Well said.' It is true, Mr Deputy President. There are gay couples and lesbian couples in our community living in committed, loving, long-term relationships. They are couples who have families. They are somebody's daughter or son, sister or brother, and niece or nephew. They could also be somebody's mother or father, and these people deserve the same rights as everybody else. If they wish to get married, they should be able to.
The strongest support in this place that I have seen from marriage equality advocates over the last three years in particular has come overwhelmingly from the parents of gay and lesbian Australians. Organisations like PFLAG—Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays—have done a sterling job at bringing forward this issue into the light of the public realm. Right here in this place, the number of doors of parliamentarians they have knocked on has been phenomenal, and they do it because they love their sons and daughters. They want their now adult children to be accepted as equal and to see their relationships equally recognised. If their son or daughter wants to be able to marry the person that they love and are going to commit the rest of their life to, these parents believe they should. Why should parliamentarians in this place have the right to say no just because of the argument that this is the way the law has always been? It is a really hollow comeback. It is not a significant argument against why we would move to enable marriage and the institution of marriage to be more inclusive.
One of the other reasons, of course, that we hear from opponents on this issue is in relation to religious freedom. That is why, when the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010—which was subject to a debate here in this place only a couple of weeks ago—went through an extensive Senate inquiry, the most submissions ever received in a Senate inquiry were received on this piece of legislation. People believe that this is an important issue to debate. They want our parliamentarians to be talking about it. It became very clear that, while religious organisations already have the ability to make a decision about who they want to marry in their churches or by their particular celebrants and who they do not, they want it to be even clearer. That is why this piece of legislation that is currently before us makes it very clear: no-one is forcing anyone to be married, to marry somebody else or to oversee a marriage. It is all about removing the restrictions that say that people cannot if, indeed, they want to. It is an interesting point to make on that issue that actually the majority of weddings in Australia are conducted by civil celebrants. Over 60 per cent of Australian marriages are. People already make a choice about what type of ceremony, celebrant, wedding and marriage they are going to have. Those choices are there for celebrants, religious organisations and couples who are entering into that important institution.
As I have said several times here in this place, there is growing support in the Australian community for marriage equality, and it is only going to continue to grow.
I hope this legislation does pass in this place but I fear that, until there is true leadership from the political leaders of both the Labor Party and the coalition, it will not. This issue will not go away. It will continue to grow. When the legislation finally passed in New York last year there were celebrations in the streets that marriage equality was finally happening, but that vote on that piece of legislation did not finally get through until the third try. The issue did not go away. It kept coming back and, by the time political representatives and leaders in their parliament accepted that the change was inevitable and that the tide could not be stopped, it was on the third time that the legislation passed.
I believe that that is what will happen here too. This is important reform. Australians believe in it. It is part of our nature to give people a fair go, to not get hung up on the differences between us but to focus on the things that we all believe in dearly. If that means extending the institution of marriage, we should. (Time expired)
I want to turn to the arguments that Senator Hanson-Young has put forward in a moment but, before I do, I want to remind the chamber why it is that we have before us not merely a bill from Senator Sarah Hanson-Young but also a bill in the names of Senator Crossin, Senator Brown, Senator Pratt and Senator Marshall, four Labor Party senators, to substantially the same effect. The reason that is so, the reason that four Labor Party senators are jointly sponsoring a bill to change the definition of marriage, is that, once again, this Prime Minister and this Labor government shamelessly are in breach of an election promise.
At the 2010 election, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, made a clear and unambiguous commitment that, if the Labor Party were re-elected, there would be no move from the Labor Party to change the definition of marriage in this parliament. It was a commitment made by Julia Gillard on behalf of the Labor Party. It was a commitment made by Mr Tony Abbott on behalf of the coalition. And, as in so many things we have seen in the life of this parliament, Julia Gillard promised one thing and then manoeuvred to do the opposite. Infamously, Julia Gillard said in the week before the 2010 election, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government that I lead.' Then, a matter of mere months later, she introduced the world's biggest carbon tax into the parliament.
Labor members of the House of Representatives were cheering and slapping each other on the back and kissing each other when that legislation went through the House of Representatives because they were so pleased with themselves that they had so flagrantly broken a solemn undertaking to the public. That will never be forgotten.
It is the same story with the private health insurance rebate and so it is with the definition of marriage. A solemn promise not to interfere with the definition of marriage has been violated by the Prime Minister in this instance facilitating, through the Labor Party's conference, a conscience vote. So this is a very important issue. Some say it is an issue about discrimination. It is certainly a question about the meaning of marriage. But let us not forget the context here. It is also a debate about dishonesty. It is a debate about whether or not it is acceptable or moral for a political leader to seek re-election by promising one thing and then, having secured re-election, doing the very opposite. As on so many otherwise unrelated issues, that is the difference between our side—my side—and the Labor Party. We made a promise at the 2010 election that the definition of marriage would not be revisited or altered in the life of this parliament. We intend to stick to that promise and that is why the coalition is opposing these bills.
Let me turn to the substance and merits of the argument. I listened to Senator Sarah Hanson-Young carefully. Senator Hanson-Young says her bill, the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill, is about marriage equality as indeed the title says. Well, Senator Hanson-Young, your bill may be about marriage—no doubt about that—but in my view it is not a bill about equality. Equality, equal rights for same-sex people, insofar as the legislative reach of the Commonwealth parliament is concerned, was secured four years ago when the parliament passed the same-sex relationships, equal treatment in commonwealth laws, bill, which removed discriminatory provisions affecting same-sex couples. That bill was passed with the support of all parties in this Senate: your party, my party and the government. So, Senator Hanson-Young, I believe that was the point at which the proposition that people should not be discriminated against in their relationships because of their sexual preference was embraced by this Senate. You now seek, as others in the Labor Party seek, to take the position further and apply that principle to marriage and you commit, as it seems to me, a very elementary error. You think that by applying a word to an established institution you thereby change its character. Well, Senator Hanson-Young, through you, Mr Deputy President, it is true that marriage is defined by law but, equally and importantly, marriage is defined by custom. In the whole history of our civilisation there has never been a time at which marriage was understood to be other than a relationship between a man and a woman. I simply cannot grasp how you say that, with an institution which has always through the whole course of human history been understood to have a particular meaning, it is discriminatory not to alter that meaning.
I must say that I approach your argument, Senator Hanson-Young, with some cynicism, because people like you—people on the self-styled progressive Left—have for as long as I can remember, at least since the 1960s, mocked and derided the institution of marriage as being patriarchal, obsolete and illiberal. All of a sudden, within the last few years, this institution so derided by you has been rediscovered by you as the test of whether or not one cares about the issue of sexuality discrimination. Senator Hanson-Young, with all due respect, I have very, very great difficulty accepting your sincerity.
Equally, I refuse to accept the conceit that underlines your argument, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, that only your view of what a marriage ought to be—a view which would set aside the entire history of our civilisation up to this point, by the way—should be listened to in this debate, because while I freely acknowledge that there are many people in the Australian community who agree with you—
Many of whom are married—quite right, Senator Pratt. But equally there are many who do not, many of whom are unmarried. Everybody in this community is entitled to their view of what a marriage is. For you, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, to stand up and proclaim, 'My view of what a marriage is is the only legitimate view that should be listened to in this debate,' reeks of the posturing, conceited approach which the Greens and your fellow travellers have taken in this debate from the start. The fact is that if you change the definition of 'marriage' then that does affect people who have a more conservative view than your own. People who are married and for whom the marriage has a particular meaning have an interest in the way society defines 'marriage'. For you in your argument to eliminate their views—to say these views are not worthy of consideration because they are discriminatory against gay people—is a towering conceit.
I agree with Senator Hanson-Young that discrimination against people on the grounds of their sexuality is always wrong, but it does not follow from that proposition that every institution in society, for that reason, must be redefined. I might point out that, when it comes to taking the lead in eliminating sexuality based discrimination, my side of politics has at least as much to be proud of as the Labor Party or, for that matter, the Greens.
As I pointed out when the Senate considered the same-sex relationships equal treatment in Commonwealth laws bill in 2008, the very first measure to remove discrimination against gay people, or homosexual people—the term 'gay' had not then crept into the usage—was in fact initiated from within the Liberal Party in the South Australian parliament in 1972 by the late father of the former distinguished leader of the Liberal Party in this place, Mr Murray Hill, the first Australian parliamentarian who own behalf of the Liberal Party moved to decriminalise homosexuality. The first time the issue was raised in this parliament was on 18 October 1973, almost 40 years ago, when no less than a former Liberal Prime Minister of Australia, Sir John Gorton, proposed that homosexuality should be decriminalised in the ACT.
As I said before, the law which removed discrimination against people on the basis of their sexuality from all Commonwealth laws was passed through this Senate during the time of the Rudd government with the support of all parties. I acknowledge that that legislation was initiated by the Rudd government. Both sides of politics, the Liberal Party and the Labor Party, have been responsible for significant measures which have removed discrimination in this field. It is both uncharitable and historically ignorant to suggest that my party has not been to the forefront of many if not all of those measures.
In closing, let me merely say this. No decent person, in my view, would discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation. To do so would be as wicked as to discriminate against a person because of their race or because of their religion. But one can hold that belief, as I do, without saying that an institution defined by law and by custom and, at least in many senses, by religion requires to be redefined. That is what you seek to do. It is not, in my view, a genuine antidiscrimination measure. It is, so far as the Australian Labor Party is concerned, a measure with which I know a lot of Labor politicians—like Senator Farrell, who I see sitting in the minister's chair at the moment—feel deeply uncomfortable. And it is a measure brought before this parliament by the Greens facilitated by the Labor Party, in flagrant breach of an election promise. Let me conclude where I began: my side of politics, the coalition, went into the 2010 election promising not to redefine marriage in the life of this parliament. We will stick to that commitment and oppose the bill.
Today we are here to debate a bill which will remove the last remaining discrimination against gay and lesbian Australians from our federal law. This legislation, the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012, has been a long time coming. I think it is ironic that this last piece of discrimination to be removed should be the most recently introduced. I, like thousands of other Australians, was hurt and dismayed when the federal parliament back in 2004 took steps to entrench discrimination into our nation's Marriage Act. I have always worked for fairness and equal treatment for all Australians. That principle is at the core of my commitment to politics, and it is and always will be a touchstone for me.
I would support the removal of discrimination from the Marriage Act whether or not the act as it currently stands discriminated against me personally. But it would be disingenuous of me not to put on record that in this case the act does discriminate against me. I am one of those hundreds of thousands of Australian citizens who know that the laws of our nation hold our capacity for love and for commitment to be lesser because of the gender of our partner, one of the hundreds of thousands of Australian citizens who know that the laws of our nation say we are less deserving of rights, of respect and of recognition. And we know that those ideas are not true, and that the laws that reinforce them are not right. So this debate has a personal impact for me, in addition to the commitment I have always felt to end legal discrimination against any Australian. I have grown weary over the years of making that case over and over again that, yes, I am a person like everyone else and, yes, I deserve the same treatment under the law as everyone else. But I must say I have been strengthened, over and over, by the growing support in the Australian community to end discrimination once and for all. We can see in the history of this debate that about 38 per cent support for marriage equality in 2004 grew to more than 65 per cent of the Australian community today. What is more, more than 75 per cent of Australians believe that marriage equality in this nation is inevitable. And that is hardly surprising. The gradual reform of laws at a state, territory and federal level throughout recent decades has been accompanied by a growing realisation in our community that being gay, lesbian, trans or intersex is not something to be ashamed of, or something to be hidden.
As someone who has seen the laws that denied my rights fall, one by one, in my lifetime, as someone who came of age in an Australia where being who I am was, if not universally accepted, at least no longer a shameful secret and a source of fear, I want to put on record today how incredibly grateful I am to those men and women who went before us, those men and women who were brave enough to be open about their life and open about their love in a time when doing so put them at real risk of danger, who fought for our rights regardless of what it cost them, both personally and, for many, professionally. Without them, we would not be debating this bill today. Without them, I would not be here in this parliament at all. And without them, it would not now be the norm, rather than the exception, for gays and lesbians to live openly, to be accepted by their families, their workmates and their communities. Because of that openness, because of that acceptance, for many Australians today the question of marriage equality is not an abstract one—it is about equal rights for their daughter, or their brother, or their dad or their workmates, their teammates, their friends. And if there is one thing about the Australian character that we have always been able to rely on, it is about the commitment of Australians to a fair go for the people around them.
Support for marriage equality is, in my view, about that fair go. But, more importantly, it is about support for marriage itself—recognition of the importance of lasting, committed, loving relationships and the public recognition and display of that commitment. Historically, gay, lesbian and transgender people have been denied the opportunity to make that commitment in a public ceremony recognised by the laws of our nation in the community. I think it is one of the bitterest ironies of this debate that, historically, gay people have been stigmatised as promiscuous and immoral while being denied by the law the right to demonstrate the importance and consistency of their relationships in the way that any other Australian can. Think about that. If marriage is important to our society, if mutual commitment to a shared life is important and if it is valuable in and of itself—and I think it is—and for the strength it lends our community then we should be encouraged by the desire of so many non-heterosexual couples to enter into that lifelong bond.
The simple fact is that thousands of lesbian and gay couples are married here and abroad, and I take issue with Senator Brandis when he says this bill is in breach of custom. Take a look at Australia today. Take a look at the customs of Australia today. There are thousands of lesbian and gay couples who are married, in marriages like anybody else's. They have the same characteristics as any other, bar the official recognition of the law of our country.
I understand that some senators may be concerned, as some who made submissions to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee are concerned, that the removal of discrimination in the Marriage Act would force religious celebrants who feel same-sex marriage is against the principle of their religions to nonetheless preside over such marriages. But you only need to look at the facts of the Marriage Act today. The Marriage Act contains provisions that clearly and unequivocally protect ministers of religion from any obligation to conduct marriages that they believe do not accord with their religious beliefs.
So I will be voting for this bill, and I hope that all my Labor colleagues will be voting for this bill. I know the majority are. I believe that this bill fits with a sensible reform agenda and with the passion for fairness and equality that our party has always prized. I hope, too, that opposition senators on the other side of this chamber will be voting for this bill because they support the importance of marriage in our society. I believe that this bill fits with the Liberal Party's stated commitment to the rights and freedoms of equal opportunity for all Australians, and I remind National Party senators that a great many lesbian and gay Australians live in rural and regional Australia. They are your constituents too, and I ask you to recognise their rights.
I believe that this bill, as the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee recommended, should be the subject of a conscience vote for all federal senators and members. This in in fact consistent with the way the Marriage Act has been treated in the past. Australians believe that coalition senators and members should have a conscience vote on this question. This is not an issue that should divide left and right. It is not a conservative-versus-progressive issue. It is not a left-wing issue. It is not a progressive issue.
It is about our recognition of the importance—to individuals and our community—of people making together a mutual commitment to a shared life. It is about the importance of marriage in our society—the importance of marriage not to the few but to the broad breadth and depth of the Australia community. If we want marriage to remain an important institution in Australia — and I certainly do — then we must make this change.
I believe this bill is good policy. It is in line with principles of equality and in line with today's community expectations. I would support this bill, as many in this chamber and in the other place support it and as many in the community support it, if it did not affect me. But, this is a bill that personally affects me, because marriage discrimination affects same-sex couples and also affects people with intersex and transgender partners. I am sure many of you do not know that under the current law we see married couples, with children, forced to divorce against their will when one partner realises they are transgender in order to have their gender legally recognised. It is a disgrace that those in functional families with children are required to divorce so that someone can have their gender recognised. Under the current law, there are also Australians who have the legal right to marry no-one because they are legally and by biological fact intersex — that is, they are both male and female — irrespective of how they identify. The discrimination in the Marriage Act directly affects me, as well as thousands and thousands of other lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians. But it also directly affects many, many more Australians than those because legal discrimination against gay and lesbian Australians hurts not just us but our parents, our children, our brothers and sisters, our friends. It hurts everyone who loves us, just because of who we love.
So in closing my remarks in this debate, I ask senators in this chamber to remember, when they are deciding how to vote, we exist, we already exist, our relationships exist, our children exist, our families exist, our marriages exist and our love exists. All we ask is that you stop pretending that we don't. Stop pretending that our relationships are not as real as yours, our love not as true, our children not as cherished, our families not as precious—because they are. Removing this last vestige of legal discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians from federal law now has the support of the majority of the Australian community. It is my sincere hope that it also has the support of the majority of senators in this place.
I rise in the chamber today as a very proud and lucky husband of some 38 years, a father of three remarkable children and a grandfather a little man who has become the absolute light of the life of our family to oppose the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012 as introduced by Senators Crossin, Brown, Marshall and Pratt. The coalition supports the definition of marriage as prescribed in the Marriage Act 1961. It states that marriage is 'a union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life'. These words of course go back to the earliest known writings. In fact, they go back almost to our first studies of human societies and a point in common way back from the beginning of human society is the concept of the union of the man and the woman.
The coalition went to the last election supporting the definition of marriage as I have just stated and it will go to the next election on that platform. I quote from the shadow Attorney-General in his contribution on 23 August in this place on this subject:
Let me very briefly state to the Senate the coalition's position on the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010. The coalition made an undertaking to the Australian people at the 2010 election that we would support the existing definition of marriage and, having made that undertaking to the Australian people, we are not going to act at variance to it. The Labor Party has changed its position, because Julia Gillard gave a similar undertaking to the Australian people at the 2010 election but subsequently facilitated arrangements within the Labor Party to allow that undertaking to be vacated.
He concluded his comments by saying:
When we in the coalition give an undertaking to the public we stick by it, whether it be on the carbon tax, private health insurance, or any issue, and this is one such issue.
Let me distinguish between the terms discrimination, deprivation, disadvantage, difference and equality. The principle of equality requires treating all cases alike, so the judgement that same-sex and opposite sex unions are alike with respect to marriage and therefore should be treated alike by marriage law is of itself false.
It was in 2009 in this parliament that discrimination was removed in relation to same sex couples. There were four bills: the Same-sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—Superannuation) Bill 2008, the Family Law Amendment (De Facto Financial Matters and Other Measures) Bill 2008, the Evidence Amendment Bill 2008 and Same-sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—General Law Reform) Act 2008. They went through the parliament with bipartisan support. They were designed to remove discrimination against same-sex couples from a raft of Commonwealth legislation, including veterans' affairs, social security and income tax. The first of them amended some 14 acts of parliament in order to increase the coverage of same-sex couples and their children in superannuation and related matters, allowing super trustees to make same-sex couples and their children eligible for superannuation reversionary benefits. The first three I mentioned all include provisions to treat same-sex relationships in a similar manner to married and de facto relationships. So when we come into this place and we hear this continual cry of discrimination, it is against the law to discriminate against same-sex couples and those who feel they are discriminated against have got the full opportunity of the law in which to prosecute cases.
Let me turn to some common-sense examples. Whilst the law against discrimination is universal in this country, we would know that there are some communities who as yet have not enjoyed the full protection of the law. I give the example of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. Let us imagine if for one minute in this place today we could with a wand wipe away all disadvantage and discrimination against the Aboriginal people. Would it then be the case that Caucasian Australians, Asian Australians and African Australians could call ourselves Aboriginal or Torres Strait? The answer logically is no, we could not. We know that there are genetic and other factors to be taken into account in describing Aboriginality. Yet there would be those who would say, 'I want to be called Aboriginal. I have a circumstance' for whatever reason. We know very well that there are differences within the different communities in Australia. We are not all equal, we are not all entitled to refer to ourselves as Aboriginal.
There are 76 people in this nation who should know what a nonsense of an argument is being put forward by those who propose this legislation, and that is 76 senators in this parliament.
We all know the meaning of the term senator and we all value the need for its historic protection. We know that the term senator in historic terms takes us back, for example, to the Roman forum, in which there were senators who governed Rome at that time. We know the US Senate context and the US State context and, indeed, we know the Australian context. We are different from others in this country, but are others in this country less equal than the 76 senators? Of course they are not. Are they discriminated against, Madam Acting Deputy President? Are they disadvantaged? Indeed, are they deprived? Maybe some of our spouses would think that they are probably deprived by virtue of our being in the Senate.
The point I want to make is that we all know it is a nonsense for the rest of Australia to say: 'I'm disadvantaged. I'm discriminated against. It's unequal that I'm not called senator therefore I want to call myself senator.' We know, as we know in the marriage debate, that there are criteria by which Australians can aspire should they wish to become senators. They must be 18 years of age or older. They must be Australian and eligible to vote. They must subject themselves to preselection and they must get elected. Therefore, there are criteria by which people can refer to themselves as senator. In the same way there are criteria by which people can refer to themselves as married people—that is, a man and a woman who are able, in the event that they do not have close family or other relationships, to publicly place themselves before the community in a public event with public witnesses and go through the marriage process.
I could take the example of airline captains, or judges, or lawyers. Why can't I call myself 'Judge Back'? It is because at this moment I do not qualify. I do not meet the criteria. In terms of pilots, as we would all know, why can't I call myself 'Captain Back'? There is a public good associated with that event, and that is that the rest of the people on an aircraft who might be subject to my being in the cockpit would of course say, 'You are not qualified; you do not meet the criteria.' In the same way that those who are not married do not meet the criteria at this moment that is not to say that they are not eligible to do so in the future. I could even give the example of a Victoria Cross winner. Why can't I be called 'Back VC', or my colleague Senator Williams be called 'Williams VC'? It is because we all know that that is a venerable status which, of course, is accorded only to those of the highest levels of bravery. Are they more equal than the rest of the community? Am I discriminated against because Roberts-Smith is a VC? Of course I am not. We look upon that person with awe, as indeed I look upon married persons in the same way and as I look upon those friends of mine in same-sex relationships. Obviously they are people who have committed themselves to themselves and, therefore, I applaud that circumstance, but they are under this law not the subject of discrimination.
In fact, as I have observed this debate over the last few months, it has occurred to me that we are starting to see some of the elements of propaganda coming into the debate. Let me remind you of what propaganda relates to: an effort to mobilise community attitudes and opinion; directed at extending power and influencing how people think; a movement of control to achieve selfish ends; a persuasion for us to believe in something or do something we would not normally believe or do. As I look through the various techniques that are those of propaganda, I unfortunately see many of those applied in this debate.
Firstly, there is attacking one's opponents as opposed to attacking their arguments. We have heard in this chamber and we have heard in the wider community statements like: 'Let us put the dark pages of history behind us.' Attacking those with a view rather than the argument. Secondly, we have the tireless repetition of an idea or a simple slogan.
How many of us have had thousands of emails of exactly the same wording, simply continually putting a repetitious argument or a simple slogan? They say things like: 'I support marriage equality and I urge you to do the same,' or 'Same sex partners should not be treated differently in the law from opposite sex partners.' I have just pointed out in this contribution the four pieces of legislation, going back to 2009, that ensured that that very thing did not take place.
Thirdly, they appeal to fear or seek to build support by instilling anxieties and panic. Fourthly, they use loaded or emotive terms to attach value or moral goodness to believing the proposition, such as the comment that has just been made in the last few minutes that opposition to the bill is a denial of human rights; that the coalition is acting to limit the capacity of members and senators of the coalition to a conscience vote; and the statement that marriage as an institution—which has been understood to mean one particular thing for the entire history of humanity—is fundamentally an unjust institution. These are the sorts of emotive and loaded terms used to try to motivate and change people's views for purposes which I would say are selfish.
Fifthly, as another propaganda tool they invite those not already on the bandwagon to join those already on the road to certain victory, even, as in the contribution by Senator Pratt, stating some enormous percentage of the Australian community supporting the inevitability of gay marriage. Well, I have seen equal surveys supporting the opposite. I will quote again from the contribution of Senator Brandis on 23 August in this place:
After listening to Senator Sarah Hanson-Young's speech I am bound to say that one would have thought there was only one available view. Senator Hanson-Young—
he said, in turning to her—
I have to tell you that yours is not the only view. Much as those who advocate your view do so, I am sure, in good faith, you will not win this argument by seeking to silence alternative views.
Another of the principles of propaganda is presenting only two choices, with the product or idea being propagated as the better choice. We have seen in this, have we not, that supporters of the bill state their views in such a way that those of us with opposing views are not entitled to have our views, which we also hold with equal vigour. Even if these opposing views reflect the entire understanding in the entire course of human history of what marriage is, the supporters of this bill will pay no respect to those who do not agree with it.
The seventh principle is making individuals from opposing viewpoints appear to be out of touch with the reality of today, with statements like this in one of the many emails we have had:
A majority of Australians support marriage equality. This includes a majority of Australian Christians, a majority of rural and regional Australians, Labor and coalition voters, a majority of Australians with young children.
Let me say that (a) I dispute that fact and (b) I do not want that being presented as a reason I should oppose this bill. I hold my view as strongly and, hopefully, as eloquently as those who support it.
The eighth principle is using euphemisms, increasing the perceived quality, credibility or credence of a particular idea. The ninth is using generalities which are deliberately vague with the intention of moving the audience by undefined phrases without analysing their validity. An example is from the Harvard journal on public policy: 'Supporters of the gay marriage bill are very happy to state what they think marriage is not … but they have not developed a cogent argument about what marriage is. They find it easy to criticise the traditional view of marriage but don't construct a complete alternative,' going for simplistic statements, and they are 'very keen to focus on who should be allowed to marry, but not what marriage actually is'.
As one whose professional background is that of a veterinarian, I often go back to the hierarchy of life. When we go back to life in its most basic form—single cell organisms, amoebae—we know the two roles and objectives are nutrition and reproduction. Then when we go a little bit further up the hierarchical tree we come to hermaphrodite species, in which both gametes are in the body. As we proceed up the complexity of the pyramid of social life we come to two more features and factors, and they are social order and longevity.
Of course, then we move up to the mammalian, the primate and the human hierarchy of existence and we move to the point at which I wish to conclude my contribution, the rights and needs of children. This legislation is very adult-centric and it is egocentric but we all know that there are complementary but different roles for males and females in a relationship. They do not assume an equality in relationship but a complementary relationship. We all know, with some humour, some are from Venus and some are from Mars and of secret women's business. Those husbands among us would know we are the boss of the house and we have our wife's permission to say so! But what is overlooked in this legislation is that children themselves are critically important to the overall relationship and they have a right and are entitled to know their biological parents. We speak of the term, phenotype, which is the set of observable characteristics of an individual being a combination of their genotype, or their genetic make-up, and the environment in which they are raised. So in the human sense it is not just about birth but also about the development of the individual through to and beyond their stage of independence. There is overwhelming research, if you want to go back to research as others do, that a child's best interests are served when born into and brought up in a home which is provided by a husband and his wife in a long-term and loving relationship. That is what we should aspire to.
I say again that I have many friends in gay or lesbian relationships bringing children up and those children are loved and they are lucky, but it does not depart from the fact that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Marriage is far older than any laws about marriage. It has been understood, as I said earlier, by every society about which we have knowledge. It has never been a same-sex union even in societies where same-sex arrangements have been known and accepted. Marriage is two halves of humanity, being male and female. It is the union of two reproductive systems found in life and found in humanity, the two systems that are essential for the generation of children and the continuation of our species. We know this legislation covers the whole gamut, as Senator Pratt has said: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual relationships. Madam Acting Deputy President, the European Court of Human Rights says that it is not a right that gay marriage should exist; it is the union of a man and a woman that should exist. I say to you that any bill that impacts on children or society's base unit must undergo far more scrutiny with a family and a cultural impact study before we move towards any decision to change. I am firmly of the view that the legislation in this country ensures that discrimination against same-sex couples has been legislated out of existence. If in practice such people are discriminated against, they have got the full use of the law in which to examine it. But what I can say to you is that the marriage definition is as it should be and for others let them use any other definition—perhaps a civil union—(Time expired)
I rise today to support marriage equality in Australia, to support an ending to the discrimination that currently exists and that has no place in modern Australia. We have heard a lot today about what the traditional view of marriage is and has been but no acknowledgment that over time communities have changed their views about what marriage may or may not be. As my colleague Senator Hanson-Young mentioned earlier, there was a time in Australia when marriage between Aboriginal people and others was not permitted and that was under state law. Fortunately that has changed. It was discrimination on the basis of race and it had no place in marriage law in Australia. And yet there is no doubt that at the time that change was made there would have been many who stood up in parliament around the country saying this would be the end of marriage as we know it, that this was contrary to what people had argued for many years and so on. In fact, as a reminder from history, in 1968, the year after the United States Supreme Court struck down Virginia's anti-segregation law in Loving v. Virginia, 72 per cent of Americans disapproved of marriage between whites and nonwhites and only about 20 per cent approved. The same could have been said even a decade after earlier about marriage between Protestants and Catholics. Eventually culture changes, people change, communities change, and we are now at the point in Australia where the overwhelming majority of people do not think it is appropriate to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexuality, and that is what this is.
Senator Brandis and others stand up here and suggest that discrimination does not take place. The fact that it is not permitted, it is not legal, says that it does take place. People are being discriminated against in this country whereas in many others around the world they now have marriage equality. As we know, in New York earlier this year there was legislation for same-sex marriage but also 12 countries now have marriage equality. The first was the Netherlands in 2001. President Obama has now come to the point where he said in May 2012 that he would support same-sex marriage. In New Zealand there is a marriage equality bill before the parliament and it will be supported by the conservative prime minister, John Key. Scotland also has announced it will progress marriage equality later this year and it is likely to occur in France and Brazil as well. Even David Cameron, the Prime Minister in England, supports marriage equality, in his words, 'because he is a conservative'. In launching its consultation paper the government announced it will catch up with other countries—that is, in the UK. So we now have a situation where around the world there is a recognition that we need to get rid of discrimination, that we should not discriminate on the basis of sexuality and that marriage should be permitted between same-sex couples.
Let us go to the issue of why we have this continuing discrimination being proposed here in Australia by some members of the parliament. We have heard some examples of that this morning, one from Senator Back a moment ago in terms of male and female and ideal reproductive outcomes. It seems that Senator Back may not be aware of the last 30 years of massive technological changes in terms of reproductive technology. I have not heard Senator Back stand up in here and say that that should be illegal because it somehow is against the natural order of things in his view.
In terms of the rights of children and the needs of children, yes, it is true that children do have a right to know their genetic make-up, and there is nothing in the legislation that prohibits that from occurring. In fact, that is one of the furphies that is raised often in this debate. The fact of the matter is that at the age of 18 people will be entitled to know their genetic history and that is not to be precluded in terms of this legislation. The other furphy that often comes up is that religious proponents will not be able to refuse a marriage of same sex in their particular church or faith. That is untrue as well. There is no proposition whatsoever. In fact, in the Greens' bill of least it is specifically ruled out. So that is not true. Anyone of a particular religious faith or a proponent of that faith or someone who would conduct ceremonies in a particular religious faith will be in no way forced or required to recognise and conduct a same-sex marriage. That will be a choice of that particular faith or church. So let us get rid of that out of the way.
Why is it that we continue to have people proposing that in civil society non-religious ratings we would make a decision that people of same sex are not allowed to wed? We hear a lot about the rights of children and about their development as individuals; I ask, 'What about the rights and development of young gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender people? What about their rights as they are growing up?' Much has been said—and in a disgraceful way, I have to put forward here—in relation to the health of young gay and lesbian people. I find it extraordinary that there is so little acknowledgement of the mental health issues that occur because people are discriminated against. That is overwhelmingly the impact of one group of people saying to another group of people, 'You are to be excluded from something that the rest of society can access,' and that is marriage in Australia.
This is all part of the ongoing discrimination against people. That has a long-term emotional impact and that can translate into mental health issues and real self-esteem issues for young gay and lesbian people in Australia. I would like people to think about that pretty carefully. Young people growing up, and parents of young people growing up, want to believe that they or their children will have equal access and will not be discriminated against. For years it was women who were discriminated against, and that continues in some places; but we at least got to the point where we stopped discrimination on the basis of race. We should have stopped discrimination on the basis of religion, of gender and of sexuality. So let us get it straight: this is about antidiscrimination.
I want to go to the cynical reasons why we have this legislation being brought on by the government at this time. The Greens have had legislation in both houses of the federal parliament and around the country, and those debates go on. But why is it being brought forward now? The reason is very simple: this is an attempt by the government to get this issue off the agenda in the lead-up to the federal election next year. This is an attempt to bring it on, have the legislation defeated and then say, 'This is not an issue coming into the 2013 election'. I have to say that regardless of the outcome of this bill that the Greens bill will still stay on the books. It will continue to be an issue right into the 2013 election.
This goes to the heart of the Prime Minister's view on this issue. It has been a mystery to me for a long time as to why the Prime Minister takes the view that she does, especially since she has never articulated what philosophical view is behind her refusal to accept same-sex marriage. So I got very interested in the role of Joe de Bruyn, the national secretary and treasurer of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Union—a vice president of the ACTU and a person who is on the ALP national executive. I was particularly interested in his speech to the Australian Christian Lobby meeting on 16 October 2011, seven weeks before the Labor Party conference where it was expected that the Labor Party would not only embrace marriage equality but would actually see it out in this term, where the Greens are here to work with Labor to deliver it. What did Joe de Bruyn tell the Australian Christian Lobby? Let me tell you: 'If a free vote were given to delegates at the national conference, without any outside pressures placed upon them, my guess would be that 80 per cent would vote for such a change. This is a view of the key people in the Labor Party today, and the only way that this is not going to happen is if the Prime Minister makes it clear publicly that she will not accept it. She must put her authority on the line to say, "We are not going to do it." If she does this there is a reasonable chance that a sufficient number of delegates would say, "I would like to vote for it myself but the PM does not want it and we don't want to embarrass or overrule the Prime Minister, so we will go along with her view."' That was Joe de Bruyn, seven weeks before the Labor Party's conference.
He went on to say, 'The key thing to understand is that this issue is not one that is going to be won or lost in the Labor Party on the question of merit, because on an issue of merit we will go down 80-20. It's only going to be won in the Labor Party if it is perceived to be electoral suicide if they go ahead and change their policy, and this is where I think all of you really do have a role to play. The more we are out in the media'—'we' being Joe de Bruyn and the Australian Christian Lobby—'making the point that this is wrong and if any politician dares to express support for homosexual marriage they will wear the consequences at the next election.' He goes on to say to the Christian Lobby: 'There is a role for you in this ongoing battle that we can't afford to lose. We have to win it every single time. If we lose it once, we've lost it forever.' He went on to add: 'In the last couple of days I have seen evidence of people in the ALP who don't care about the issue or would be inclined to support gay marriage. Significant slabs of these 400 delegates, including some who have spoken publicly for it, are now saying behind closed doors they will vote against it because they can see the electoral consequence.'
Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting—
That is exactly what happened in the speech from Joe de Bruyn of the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, Vice President of the ACTU and on the ALP National Executive, before the ALP National Conference last year. That is exactly what happened. Out came the Prime Minister, just as Joe de Bruyn said would happen, making it clear that she would not accept it and that she wanted a conscience vote. What actually happened was, according to reports, that there were five delegates absent from the floor for the count on the MPs conscience vote motion. It is understood that a number of delegates shifted sides from their intended position to protect the Prime Minister from a humiliating defeat, and the count went the Prime Minister's way, 208 votes to 184. There we have it.
So let us not just pretend that this is a vote on the merits of marriage equality. As Joe de Bruyn has said here, if it were on the merits then 80 per cent to 20 per cent of the Labor Party would support marriage equality. What this is actually about is the power of Joe de Bruyn and the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association and the role of that union in the ALP National Executive in keeping the Prime Minister and the current structure in the Labor Party intact. That is what this is about. That is why it is being brought on now. That is why it has been pushed to a vote now: to try and get it off the agenda for the federal election year. That is the fact of the matter. It goes to the backroom faction, the boys in the Labor Party in the backroom, actually doing the numbers to defeat the overwhelming majority of delegates at the ALP national conference, who, without that kind of backroom manipulation going on, would have voted not only for the platform of marriage equality but not to support the conscience vote and to actually drive it through the parliament during this period when the ALP could have driven it through the parliament with the Greens. So therein lies the fact of the matter. You do not have to be a genius to see what has gone on here and to see a member of the ALP National Executive there working with the Christian Lobby to defeat the overwhelming majority of members at the—
Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting—
Senator Macdonald, order! Senator Milne is being heard in silence, and I think that is fair.
Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting—
Well, your members were heard in silence and I think it is only fair that we also hear Senator Milne in silence.
The tragedy of this is that, around the country, there are so many young people in the gay and lesbian community who were desperately hoping that this matter would be dealt with on its merits—that discrimination would end in this country and in this period of government. Clearly, if people were able to express their view in the way that they would like then we would actually be able to change it in this parliament such that, in years to come, people would look back and say: 'Oh, for goodness sake, what was that about? We have actually done what we needed to do. We had to get rid of that level of discrimination.' But, instead of that, young people around the country are scratching their heads, saying they cannot understand why the ALP has done what it has done on marriage equality: why they are pushing it to a vote; why they are trying to get it out of the public arena in the lead-up to the election. Well, all that should be pretty clear now. There is a very clear power-play going on in the ALP being led by this particular union leader from the National Executive. So that is the issue.
As to the leader of the coalition, Tony Abbott, he is also on the wrong side of history on this and he has to really answer the question why he will not allow his party members to express a conscience view on this matter. If other parties are allowed to express conscience views, why not the coalition parties? It was interesting to hear, from Senator Brandis in particular, talk about carbon pricing in the middle of a debate about marriage equality. What an odd thing that someone like Senator Brandis should focus on that in the middle of a marriage equality debate? I would have thought he may have quite strong views of his own in regard to this matter since he is often described as one of the more liberal members of the Liberal Party; although, to the extent that they have moved to the right of Genghis Khan, that is probably not a reference to liberalism in the way that people have understood liberalism in the past.
It is clear to me that the real debate that needs to be taking place in Australia is: why has the Labor Party tried to get this off the agenda before the federal election? That is the question. I think young people and the community around the country, parents, want to know what is going on and why we are not taking this opportunity to do the right thing by a whole lot of people in Australia who deserve to be able to access a marriage certificate in the same way as everybody else. They want to know why they are still discriminated against.
In Tasmania, when I moved for gay law reform in 1997, it was very hard argued and hard-fought issue, and the people who opposed it said all kinds of outrageous things about what would happen with levels of paedophilia and so on if this actually occurred in Tasmania. All that was a complete nonsense, and now people in Tasmania go, 'What was that about?' Tasmanians have changed their views to such an extent that we now have a piece of legislation brought in by the Greens and supported by Lara Giddings, the Labor Premier of Tasmania, to make marriage equality legal in Tasmania. That is a fantastic thing. I believe in South Australia there is also a bill before the parliament. Lynn MacLaren, a Greens member in Western Australia, has brought one into the Western Australian parliament. Because the Commonwealth will not move, we now have right around the country a number of efforts by state parliaments to deal with this issue. I am very proud of the fact that the legislation has passed the House of Assembly in Tasmania and, no doubt, there will now be quite a vigorous discussion in the Legislative Council. But, if you go back to 1997, there was a vigorous discussion then and the Tasmanian Legislative Council did pass it, with only one vote against it in the end in terms of being fair to people in Tasmania, where, at that time, you could be jailed for 21 years for being a homosexual. That was pretty disgraceful. We went from the worst to the best, and now it is Australia's opportunity as a nation to do the right thing by people who simply want to marry, who want to have the discrimination against them ended. In my view, it is absolutely time that we do this, and I think it is about time that Joe de Bruyn and the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Union and the ALP national executive actually explained to people what their problem is with this and the extent to which working together with the Christian lobby is preventing this outcome. (Time expired)
I had not originally intended to make a contribution to this debate, because my views are on the record. In fact there was a dissenting report by Labor senators published some months ago which arose out of a bill that had been referred to a committee. I was quite happy to sign up to that dissenting report so my views on this issue are known. One of my colleagues was unable to put off an appointment and he asked me to take his place, so I have come forward at relatively short notice.
Before I go to my more prepared comments, I must really respond to the argument led by Senator Milne, from the Greens, as to what she says is the inappropriate role led by Mr de Bruyn, in his own union, at the ACTU executive and at the national executive of the Australian Labor Party. I want to make one point for the public record and it really is indicative of the lack of truth in a lot of matters associated with this debate.
We know that Mr de Bruyn attended the Australian Christian conference because his speech was released, reported in the press and put on appropriate websites around Australia. We know of the deliberations of the ACTU interstate executive and we know of the deliberations of the ALP national executive. Indeed, we know in considerable detail of all of the deliberations of the national conference of the ALP because they are all reported in exquisite detail in very paper around Australia whenever those organisations or bodies meet. Indeed, it is all of the deliberations of those bodies, they being large public bodies that receive in some respects significant public funding. To every forum in every territory, state and national organisation of the Labor Party the press are invited to attend, they report on all debates, they mix freely with all delegates and they file ongoing reports as elected delegates to those conferences participate and make contributions to debate and eventually vote on proposed resolutions before the respective chairs.
We know all of that because, as I said, it is all reported in exquisite detail in the press. Compare that proper, open, democratic, public role pursued by the Australian Labor Party and the trade union movement since their foundations in the late 19th century with this modernist rabble at the end of the chamber, the Greens—this modernist rabble growing post 1988 when they came to power and to force on the death of the most totalitarian regime and ideology in history and yet they are proud to stand in this place and say they never ever admit the press and the public to any of their conferences. Like some useless, ignorant, backward Stalinist sect, they meet in private in little halls in the middle of nowhere. So there are 10, 15 or 20 people meeting in secret, discussing in secret, voting in secret, never allowing the press in. Yet this little group of Stalinists down here have the temerity to come into the Australian parliament and criticise union leaders and longstanding politicians because they have a considered, thought-out perspective, go to public forums, stand before hundreds of thousands of people, are on the TV every night and say what they think in their heart, their mind and their brain! But these useless Stalinists down here hide away and run away like little children ashamed and scared of their views and terrified they might be reported fully and openly and accurately. Useless Stalinists passed away in 1988 in Europe and useless Stalinists are sitting here now and criticising others because they openly participate in debate. What a terrible situation.
Let me now turn to the matter before the chair. What I wanted to discuss when I was considering and preparing my remarks in my office was three issues. They are issues of importance and priority, issues of equity, social justice and discrimination, and issues that go to the heart, the very nature, of the marriage relationship. Somewhat unusually for a senator with a heavy committee workload, I do an inordinate amount of campaigning and constituency work when I am back in Perth. I am duty Labor senator for three electorates we do not hold, Swan, Tangney and Pearce. So one of my responsibilities is to show our flag and, particularly in one, lead the charge to win them back to Labor at the next election. Those three seats cover city developed and established suburbs, developing outer suburbs, near rural areas and country towns with arguably close to 400,000 or 500,000 people in those growth corridors of Perth.
I checked my diary this morning and since July I have attended or been the principal guest at over 100 community functions in Perth—BER openings, TAFE training centre openings, immigration ceremonies, school openings, community centres, legal centres, council chambers, representational activities and university type functions. My office would handle up to 20 complaints per week on the issues of concern to ordinary people: childcare access and equity, immigration, boat people, fishing issues, education funding, utility bills, road funding, airport access, road trains, dental plans, veteran entitlement issues—the sorts of issues that individuals or groups want to raise and bring to the attention of a member of parliament. But the incidence of lobbying, meeting requests and discussions at public forums on the issue of gay marriage or related to gay marriage is absolutely minimal. I do not say nonexistent, but absolutely minimal—it is hardly raised at all. It is not on the horizon amongst all of those people in those three seats in Perth. I have received little lobbying at all. I have had the odd request for a discussion on this issue. I do not say that lobbying or correspondence is nonexistent but it is not on any significant scale at all. Frankly, this lack of interest, this lack of lobbying, has puzzled me for some time.
Personally, I have always had a very, very open mind on the issue of gay marriage. I do see it, at its heart, as a personal issue. Like everyone, I have friends, family and colleagues some of whom are gay, most are not. I treat them the same and they treat me the same. There are varying degrees of courtesy, cooperation, friendship, professionalism, love and attachment.
When I first sought preselection in 1994 for the Labor Party in the Senate it was a very interesting affair. In those days we had an electoral college of 218 persons. I eventually gained preselection in a very heavy contest by a margin of one vote, so it was very close. After the vote was concluded and the emotion had died down, I took the trouble to ring around and I went to see of a number of individuals and groups to thank them and ask them why they had voted for me, because they were not traditionally lined up with the people I associate with in the Labor Party; indeed, they were mostly in trenchant opposition. This was the gay and lesbian lobby in the ALP which became the Rainbow Alliance, but they voted to me and got me over the barrier for a win by one vote. I said to them, 'Why did you do that? They said: 'Mark, it wasn't difficult. You're just a right-winger in the ALP, you're not homophobic. It didn't really matter to us.' They had had a meeting, they said plenty of other people were no good, but they said, 'You're not homophobic, you're just a right-winger, it wasn't a problem.' So I got here on the basis of that vote. I have never identified the individuals involved, but those in the know are those in the know.
It this context, former Attorney-General McClelland brought a bill into the House and the Senate some three or four years ago to amend about 80 pieces of legislation. The intent and purpose was to outlaw discrimination against gay men or gay women in relation to benefits, entitlements or whatever the case may be, and I think it is readily agreed around this place that effective discrimination against men and women on the basis of their sexual orientation is illegal in this country. They can dispose of their property as they think appropriate. They can dispose of assets as they think appropriate. They can enter whatever retail, entertainment, business or commercial venue they want to and be treated in all respects equally and in the same way as everyone else.
I am very, very proud that the Attorney at that time forced the matters through our party, through our conference, converted them into principles and into legislation, and brought them into this place and put them through. In fact, those sorts of antidiscrimination measures, non-discrimination measures to enable individuals to get on with their lives without hindrance by the law or legal forms in any respect, go to the heart and soul of a modern Labor Party trenchantly opposed to discrimination.
People supportive of this bill support equity as a ground for this bill. What they seek to do is to extend individual rights to a social group or a social construct. In doing so, necessarily the extension of that right to a new social group, a new social construct—that is, gay couples—impinges on the rights of another group of individuals: children. Children, as we all know, in their formative years are at their most vulnerable, impressionable and uninformed and most in need of assistance and guidance, primarily from their parents but from the wider institutions in society. So, for me, it is an issue about the right of natural-born individuals, the products of a lawful marriage or relationship, and the social group or construct which, for the first time in history, seeks to alter the fundamental nature of past received social, legal, civil or religious forms of marriage. That becomes the heart of the debate expressed in this bill before the chair today.
I am not under any pressure at all; I do not have any personal skin in this debate. I do not have any particular personal objectives. In fact, my own private, social view—which I have expressed to colleagues and friends over the years on issues such as this—is: 'live and let live'. On social relationships: live and let live. I have been hardly lobbied at all. It has been minimally raised with me in my responsible duty electorate. So, accordingly—and I say this without any degree of intensity at all—it is not a high or major priority for me, in respect of my private life, my personal circumstances, my family and friendship relationships, my work and my duties as an activist in the Australian Labor Party for over 40 years. It is not for me an issue of discrimination. It is not a major priority. But if the rights of children as individuals are going to be held by me as being superior to those of other groups, then I am honour bound to give consideration to what is still important in this debate as far as the rights of gay people or gay couples are concerned.
In a modern, democratic, progressive, evolving community or society, laws do need to reflect legitimate aspiration, changing values and emergent viewpoints. I never say that new forms should be just ignored or held down or done away with simply because they are new. A lot of the aspirations of persons who describe themselves as gay and want to enter into formalised gay relationships and want to have the respect of society and the support of the law are not merely aspirational; they are entirely proper—entirely legitimate.
On one hand, this is not an extant legalised form that has existed for thousands of years for heterosexual couples, but because the pressure is now on there is growing demand in society for proper, legal, lawful recognition of those modern aspirations. In those circumstances it should not be for those supporters of traditional marriage to deny those legitimate aspirations of gay people and gay couples who want to enter into voluntary relationships to the exclusion of all others for the lives of the partners.
It seems to me that we have too great a divide on that. Merely to take, or copy, something that has been in one form since recorded civilisation existed and extend it in the second decade of the 21st century is a bridge too far. But I support the extension of those groups who seek to have lawful protection and legal means for same-sex arrangements. I think it is worthwhile that they should have civil unions to give effect to their heartfelt personal relationships, not just take or copy the extant rites of other groups that have been recognised for thousands of years across countries, civilisations and cultures. If this is going to result in ongoing division in our community and our society, it needs to be properly resolved.
In this country in particular the law has high status. It is respected across the board. The way we resolve our disputes and social dissidence in this country is often, and generally, through parliament and the passage of laws. This is not so much the case in Europe and it is certainly not the case in the United States, which has a different system and a much more significant judicial activist space for changing social values. Here we do it in parliament, and members of parliament respond to lobbying, to community issues and to community concerns to bring laws generally of a topical nature. It is done in the open and in public and, if rejected, the reasons are on the public record, and everyone knows why.
My contribution is quite limited. I simply say: I have not been persuaded by those who are prosecuting this debate that the nature of the change sought is justified or warranted for the reasons I have outlined in my debate. Nonetheless, I have heard the arguments and the viewpoints. As I said earlier, it being live and let live, people have viewpoints, relationships and social groupings, and it is not for the law to say, 'No, no, no,' because we can say it. For the law to remain pertinent and relevant, and important to all groups, those aspirations can be achieved in the way to which I referred. They can be achieved in legislating for the right to civil unions done in a secular society. That is entirely proper, and I would not have a problem going down that path. (Time expired)
Madam Acting Deputy President Crossin, I understand we are debating your bill today. I find it a very serious debate. In fact, to me it is one of the most serious debates that we have ever had to face in this parliament, because it will fundamentally affect the way Australia reacts as a society. In my party, one of the basic philosophies is that the family is the basic unit of society and without a family you do not have a society. I cannot imagine a more severe attack on the family than undermining marriage. It is what the whole of our society is based on. It is what the whole of society over centuries—probably from the start of man—has been based on: a man and a woman getting together to procreate children and for those children to stay together under the care of a mother and a father. Without that, what do you have? What is society? That all stands before us. Fortunately, the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012 is not going to get through, but I have been around long enough to know that this is only the first attempt.
But what I want to say to you, Madam Acting Deputy President, is: yes, in the inner city suburbs of West End, South Brisbane and Redfern, there might be a bit of support for this, but there is certainly no support for it out in the western suburbs among the blue-collar workers, where the families are strong. Among the different communities, whether they be Catholic, Muslim or Jewish, it is an anathema. It is an anathema with my party. Senator Bishop said that he has not been lobbied very much. I can tell you, Madam Acting Deputy President, that I have not been lobbied at all except to say to me, 'You stand up strongly for the basic unit of society, which is marriage and the family.'
I believe we now stand at the brink. We have to make a decision. Do we as a society turn away from everything we know and everything that our society is based on—the ideal that the family has been based on for thousands of years—or do we go the other way? Do we say, 'Near enough is good enough, because it does not really hurt anyone, it does not cost anything and people want to do it; why not?' and allow gay marriage and just give up on the ideal that the family is the basic unit of society and it gets there through marriage? We know from experience that the whole of the family—a marriage between a man and a woman—allows children to live in a safe, protected environment where they are allowed to grow into adults and pass strong values on to their children. The family is a continuum. We know this from experience, and therefore we continue with that ideal and look to uphold it.
I believe people have not thought this through. I think people in Australia do not give a lot of thought to these important issues, and we as members of parliament have to. From a distance, the issue of gay marriage looks a lot like other issues for Australian voters. From the outside it looks like it does not harm anyone, does not affect any individual who does not engage in it and does not seem to harbour any cost to the taxpayer or any other organisations. It seems relatively harmless—a relaxation of laws and conventions. If it does not hurt me and it does not hurt them, who does it hurt? It hurts society—that is who it hurts—and people have not thought it through.
What happens when the conventions are relaxed? What happens after the conventions have been removed? Marriage is based on a man and a woman, for the reason of having children. Two men and two women cannot conceive without some outside assistance. Marriage is not just a convention or a mere formality; it is a mechanism that was created by society to bring two sexes together and create a foundation of moral, social and legal protection and stability. Without this foundation, we are risking the lot. Like all things that have a foundation, society has a foundation. What is it based on? What is society based on? A man and a woman getting together, having children and then, in a broader sphere, an outer family of cousins, uncles and aunties, all providing support for the family, and that family fighting like crazy to make sure their kids get a good way of living, a good education and sometimes even the parents backing them into a home—people standing up for their family. The family is what people give their children. They send them to expensive schools and make great sacrifices for them because they believe in the family.
People think, 'How does it affect me—a man marrying another man?' If it is made legal they think it will not have an impact on their lives. But they have not considered the real harm that homosexual marriage can bring about, and there are three big harms in legalising homosexual marriage. It abolishes a child's birthright to have both a mother and a father. Marriage includes the right to start a family. Under article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to marry comes with the right to start a family. If two men are legally able to marry, they obtain the absolute right to have a child via surrogacy. After gay marriage is legalised, a child can henceforth be brought into the world without ever having the right to a mother and father. Sometimes this happens inadvertently—through desertion or death—but it is not something we plan for; it is not something we want.
Same-sex marriage says that a mother or a father does not matter to a child—and it does. Two mothers or two fathers cannot raise a child properly. Who takes a boy to football? Who tells him what is right from wrong? What does he do—go along with the two mums? How does he go camping and fishing? Yes, there might be some attempt by one of the mothers to fill in as a father figure but it will not work. It is defying nature. And what about a young girl changing from a teenager into a young woman? Is it fair to say to her, 'You don't have a mother; your mother can't take you shopping' or to not be able to help her understand how her body is changing? What are we trying to do here? Why are we trying to defy what has been the right thing for hundreds of thousands of years? What suddenly gives us the inspiration to think that we can have gay marriage and it will not affect anyone?
I say to the people who very narrowly think this through or who do not think it through: it is more than saying, 'It doesn't hurt me; it doesn't cost anything.' It is a lot more than that. Once you have gay marriage in law, you have normalised the law, you have normalised homosexual marriage in law, which forces the normalisation of homosexual behaviour in the wider culture—
Senator Hanson-Young interjecting—
I will not be drawn in, Senator—especially in the school curriculum. I ask the people of the Western Suburbs: if you have gay marriage and it is legal, how can a teacher discriminate between normal marriage and gay marriage? He has to explain both as part of the curriculum. How can a teacher explain one part of the law but not the other?
So I ask these people who think it does not hurt me: do they want their children to be taught about gay marriage?
That is the question—why not? You do not find it objectionable from your side of politics. My side of politics finds it abhorrent and does not want any part of it.
But that is what we have to face up to, because these things are like a salami slice. You start off thinking, 'It doesn't hurt anyone.' Then: 'Oh, little Freddy's got to go listen to why homosexual marriage has nothing wrong with it. Why is nothing wrong with it? Because it's legal. This parliament has made it legal.' I say to the people: do you want that for your children? Some of you will not object. Some will think it is a good thing. Certainly the progressive left will think it is wonderful. But I do not think they will think it wonderful in the western suburbs—the people who rely on the ALP to defend their jobs through the unions. That is why they are there. They are not there to have their kids taught about homosexual marriage versus traditional marriage. That is going to happen the very day this legislation gets in. Once you legalise something, you cannot discriminate against it. It is happening already in America, where homosexual marriage became law and the next thing in Massachusetts was the teachers teaching about homosexual marriage and traditional marriage.
I want to quote from the Australian Education Union. This is what the teachers said: 'If Australia normalises homosexual marriage, the Australian Education Union's 2006 gender identity policy would be implemented. Homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism and the intersexed need to be normalised. All curricula should be written in non-heterosexist language.' I suspect the Greens would not see any objection to that but I suspect the Labor people would go into meltdown, because this will be out there. This is what the teachers union have said—and why shouldn't they? If it is legal, they have to teach it. If it is legal, it has to be taught. You cannot just pick out what you want to teach and not teach.
If homosexual behaviour is legalised then schools will have to treat homosexual behaviour and marriage on the same basis as heterosexual behaviour and marriage. Parents will no longer have the right to object to these teachings. All conscientious objection to both gay marriage and the normalisation of homosexual behaviour in the school curriculum would be abolished. That is what those people who think, 'It doesn't hurt me, it doesn't cost me; if it doesn't, let's just let it go through' are opening up. Let's think a bit deeper because it is your society, your Australia that you are playing with.
I ask people, particularly from the Labor Party—and I admire the people who have had the courage to stand up over there: do you want your children to go into classrooms that give equal weight to heterosexuals and homosexuals? I do not think many of them do. There will be a few who support the Greens and think it is wonderful, but they are hugely in the minority. John Howard, whose views I admire and respect, said last year:
Changing the definition of marriage, which has lasted for time immemorial, is not an exercise in human rights and equality; it is an exercise in deauthorising the Judaeo-Christian influence in our society, and anybody who pretends otherwise is deluding themselves.
I agree with him. We are told there will be certain legislation that will respect churches and that, if they do not want to perform certain marriages, they will be excluded, but it does not take long for the antidiscrimination committee, instrumentalities, the Greens and GetUp! to start to wage a campaign.
If business or the churches object to hosting homosexual marriage or to blessing them, they will be hit. They will put up a defence, but it will only last for a certain time. They will be crushed by the anti-discrimination laws. We have already seen it happen in countries such as Denmark. The churches will have no choice but to facilitate homosexual marriage. We might push it out three years, four years or five years, but it will happen in the end. We have seen it happen with the abortion laws. You cannot walk away from them. You have to offer it or if you do not offer it then you have to find someone who will do the job. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that any church situated in a member state where same-sex marriage is legal must marry same-sex couples or be found guilty of discrimination. It will happen here.
Marriage is a social institution with a biological foundation. All society does with marriage is to reinforce this biological fact, to keep men with their mate and then help raise their children. Society merely recognises that marriage is the most important relationship in nature and works to reinforce it. It has no right to reinvent marriage. Politicians have no right to redefine marriage, only to reinforce the biological purpose of marriage. I recall when there was discrimination—when there was huge discrimination—that I had a phone call from a certain minister who said, 'We have just had a request for a gay doctor to bring his gay partner in and practice in a certain country community. We thought you would object, that you were the person most likely to object. If you let it go, it will go through.' I said, 'I could not possibly object to that, that would be discrimination.' I think it was in 2008 that Warren Entsch brought in, or agitated through the party, that all forms of discrimination be removed. There is absolutely no discrimination against gay people other than the discrimination between heterosexual and same-sex marriage. Frank Brennan, the former chair of the National Human Rights Consultation Committee, said:
I think we can ensure non-discrimination against same-sex couples while at the same time maintaining a commitment to children of future generations being born of and being reared by a father and a mother.
I want to talk about commitment now. This was a commitment given by both leaders before the last election: 'I won't have gay marriage'. Both leaders said they would not condone gay marriage. Tony Abbott has stuck to his word. He knows how important it is to many of those people out there—not only conservative people but also family people who believe in the family. They want to go fishing, they want to have a few beers and they do not want a carbon tax. They are in the Labor Party because they think the Labor Party will protect them in their job. (Time expired)
The Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012 and this issue are about a universal understanding of marriage, which is about love, commitment and relationships. That should be available to everybody, not just one set of couples. We really demean marriage when we use it in this way to discriminate and act prejudicially towards some members of our community. I was quite shocked to hear Senator Bishop from my home state of Western Australia this morning say in this chamber that he has not heard much talk about this in the community. He must be mixing with a different community to the one I mix with and the one I get emails from. If there is one issue that I have had an overwhelming number of emails about, it is this issue. This is important to Western Australians. This is important when you go out and talk to community groups. I have lost count of the number of rallies that have been held in Western Australia calling for marriage equality. I have heard countless stories of couples who have been discriminated against and felt discriminated against because they cannot marry and cannot have their loved ones, their parents and their children at their marriage.
When a similar debate was brought on under the former Howard government when it moved to disallow the ACT's Civil Unions Act, I asked a simple question at the time: show me how changing this institution has been undermined in any of the states around the world where common sense has prevailed and won over prejudice and discrimination, and where in fact they do have marriage equality? Of course, no-one has been able to that and that is because it does not undermine marriage; in fact, it strengthens the concept of marriage when everybody, if they choose to, is able to avail themselves of that institution.
That was in June 2006. Six years later, the same opponents of marriage equality still rely on the same smokescreen of unsupported, vague claims and still say that the institution of marriage will be threatened by changes to allow marriage equality. They are nonsense arguments. They are out of date and do not express community sentiment. I maintain that the institution of marriage will be strengthened when everybody is able to be married.
Support for marriage equality is at a high level of 64 per cent. Many church groups are in fact recognising marriage equality. Internationally, 12 countries now have marriage equality as do eight states in the USA. We are even seeing the leaders of other nations standing up and voicing their support for marriage equality. Other nations such as New Zealand, Scotland, France and Brazil are also taking action in this area.
When I spoke all those years ago on the debate at the time, I told a story with permission of Graham and Damian Douglas-Meyer, who said at the time that they want to demonstrate their commitment to each other in the same way as their siblings had demonstrated their commitment to their respective partners, that the symbolic and ceremonial aspects of their siblings' marriages were important to their families and that they felt strongly that they wanted the same.
They held a commitment ceremony in Perth in 2004 with all of their family and friends, and had the union blessed at the time by an Anglican priest. Even though this had no legal standing, to them and their families it was their wedding ceremony. However, they actually wanted the recognition of the wider community. They told me that all their siblings were married and had a state sanctioned contract to that effect. They could not do the same in Australia; however they could in Canada because at that time the country had recently changed its laws. So they travelled to Toronto in Canada and were legally married under Canadian law. Their marriage was registered on the central register of the province of Ontario in the exact same manner as heterosexual couples. There was no difference. On returning to Australia, the marriage was not recognised and that has severely depressed them since that date. They remain married because they were married in Canada.
In Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and various states of the US couples are married because their jurisdictions recognise same-sex marriage.
In those other countries I mentioned, they may also soon be recognised. In the eyes of their families and their friends and, most importantly, in their hearts, they are married. However, in Australia they are not recognised as married. I told this story six years ago. I am very happy to report that Damian and Graham are still together and still enjoy a very loving, supportive, caring relationship—just the same as many of my heterosexual friends are married and enjoy that same relationship. The difference for my heterosexual friends is that their marriages are recognised. Graham and Damian's is not, yet their love is just as true and committed. Their support for each other is just as true and committed as that of my heterosexual married friends. Why are they being discriminated against?
Unfortunately, the MPs in both this place and the other place, I suspect, are not reflecting what the community wants and the support for marriage equality in the broader community. As I said, 64 per cent of people now support marriage equality. Unfortunately, I doubt that that is going to be reflected in this chamber. Relationships have evolved through the years and so should our legal definition of marriage. The ban on same-sex marriages sends out the message that same-sex relationships are second rate. It is used to justify discrimination against people. Discrimination on marriage sends young gay people the wrong message. It says that they are less valuable members of society and that they can hope in vain that their love can be celebrated formally in marriage. It is no wonder that gay young men and women have such a toll on the mental health. It is because as a society we are sending them a message saying they are not equal—that their relationships, their loving, caring partnerships, are not able to be celebrated like others.
Parents, family and friends are denied the joy of seeing their loved ones wed. Their children are denied the security and recognition that comes with marriage. Being able to celebrate your love for your partner in front of the people you care about and to have that love legally recognised by the state is a right that Australians expect—all Australians. Not just one section of our community but all Australians expect that. That right is being denied to same-sex couples. It is not good enough that in 2012 we are still denying people that right. Australians want marriage equality. They want people to be able to demonstrate their love and commitment to each other. This is an inevitable evolution of our laws. In the same way all laws evolve, so too must our marriage laws. Our community expects leadership from our members of parliament. Where is that leadership? It is not being shown.
I am really pleased to see that some states of Australia are starting to lead the way in modern democratic progress in our society. Our society does have changing values. They have evolved. We should be supporting changes to our marriage laws to recognise that evolution. I think that was demonstrated when Senator Sarah Hanson-Young's Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010 went to a Senate inquiry. There were 75,000 submissions recorded—the highest on record for a Senate inquiry, I believe. Surely that sends a clear message that marriage equality's time has arrived, that there is support in the community and that it is every Australian's right to choose to marry. But it is not if you are gay.
Don't worry about it if you are gay. You cannot expect that same recognition under the law.
We demean the institution of marriage by allowing it to be used as a tool of discrimination and prejudice. It demeans the very meaning of marriage to do that, because that is saying: 'Your love is not valued. Your commitment to each other is not valued. It is not as real as heterosexual couples.' It is saying that you should not have children and you should not be able to bring up children. What a load of nonsense. I cannot believe that in 2012 we are still hearing those demeaning arguments.
I have many friends are in same-sex couples who are raising children and who have raised children. I have met the most amazing young people who have been raised in same-sex relationships. They are gorgeous, loving, generous, good-natured human beings. I really get upset when I hear people imply that same-sex couples cannot and should not be raising children. That demeans the relationships of families. Apparently they are not families. Apparently, they should not be included in the definition of families. Is that what people are trying to say? That is outrageous.
The Greens have brought bills into this place around marriage equality four times, I think, now. Each time, unfortunately, we have not seen the support for same-sex couples and marriage equality that is in our community reflected in this place. It is time that we moved on. It is time that we had marriage equality in this country so that every member of our community feels valued in their relationships and have their relationships recognised under the law.
While I hope this bill gets through, I suspect the numbers are agin us. But we will not stop to bring marriage equality to this country. It is time that this place supported what the community wants: marriage equality. It has said it time and time again. Nobody is going to stop fighting for marriage equality until it is achieved. Otherwise, you are denying every member of this community the right to be married; denying them the right to say 'I love you' in front of their community, their friends and their relatives; and denying them the right to enjoy the same as rights as heterosexual couples in this country.
Why is it that we deny one group of people that right? Other countries around the world have recognised it and—do you know what?—those societies have not fallen apart, families have not fallen apart—in fact, I reckon you have brighter, happier communities, because you do not have that section of your community being discriminated against, that is being told, 'You are second rate'. You have a place where young people can grow up knowing that they can marry the person they choose to, regardless of their sex. If we are really a fair, tolerant, caring, democratic country, we will allow that to occur, because that is what the community wants. That is what the people who have emailed me, come to my office, spoken to me in the street and spoken to me at rallies want. They want to be able to marry the person they love. What is so wrong with that and why should we be judging them? Why?
An honourable senator: Homophobia.
Exactly. Is it because they are homophobic? Yes, it is. Get over it—because the broader Australian community has got over it. Allow people to marry who the love—to show that love and commitment to the rest of Australia, to their family and to their friends—and do not make them have to go overseas to do it and then not recognise their marriage when they come back. Treat them equally. All we are asking for is to treat same-sex couples equally. That is why it is called marriage equality.
We will be supporting this bill because it is what Australians want and, in particular, because it is the right thing to do, so that the very important institution of marriage does not discriminate, does not judge, does not show prejudice against one section of our community. I will certainly be supporting this bill. I believe that our older political parties also need to be showing that leadership and supporting this bill.