Senate debates

Thursday, 12 November 2015


Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2013; Second Reading

9:31 am

Photo of Robert SimmsRobert Simms (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2013 aims to end discrimination under the Marriage Act by finally legislating for marriage equality in this country. It has been a long road to equality for same-sex couples, but the time has well and truly come for the parliament to resolve this matter and to recognise that love does not discriminate, and neither should our law.

When my colleague Sarah Hanson-Young first put this bill to the parliament back in 2008 on behalf of the Greens, momentum for marriage equality was building in this country. Since that time, momentum has continued to build. We had an opportunity then for Australia to be leaders, to support the growing international movement for equality. But now, unfortunately, we are on the wrong side of history, with countries like Ireland and the United States this year joining the mounting list of nations around the world in support of marriage equality. We are not just at risk of lagging behind; we are well and truly behind, and we need to catch up. Indeed, I note that, on Monday, Australia was subject to some criticism, and rightly so, on the international stage when members of the 23rd session of the Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review considered Australia's human rights record. Iceland, Ireland and the Netherlands all identified the need for Australia to take action on this issue, and they did so in their reports.

This parliament is severely lagging behind the international community. It is also lagging behind the community that we are elected to represent. Poll after poll shows that this reform enjoys not only majority support but support from a sizeable majority of the community here in Australia. Indeed, 72 per cent of Australians support marriage equality, according to the latest Crosby|Textor poll. Year after year, poll after poll shows that Australians support this. As thousands continue to march for equality in our nation, it is clear that this movement will not be silenced. The community is looking to the parliament to take action, it is looking to the parliament to legislate for this reform, and it is in our power to do so.

That is why this insistence that we need a plebiscite is so frustrating and, quite frankly, insulting to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in our country and their families and friends. John Howard did not need a plebiscite back in 2004, when he legislated to make it expressly clear that marriage could only be between a man and a woman. At that time, I did not hear conservatives up in arms, taking to the airwaves, jumping up and down and saying that this issue was so fundamental to democracy in our country that we needed a plebiscite, that it was so complex we needed to have a hugely expensive opinion poll to deal with the matter. Yet, apparently, when we are looking at removing discrimination, when we are looking at getting rid of that kind of homophobia, the matter is so complex that it needs to go to some kind of plebiscite. Apparently, it is in the too-hard basket, and it is too complex for this parliament to deal with matters of discrimination and love in that way. We do not accept that. What a slap in the face that is to same-sex couples in this country, and what a slap in the face it is to all Australians who believe in fairness and equality.

We recently had a Senate inquiry looking into this matter of a plebiscite, and it found that it was going to be very costly and potentially damaging to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Indeed, it would cost almost $160 million to hold a plebiscite outside an election; that is the advice of the AEC. It would cost $160 million to ask a question we already know the answer to. At a time when there are huge demands on the national budget, can anyone seriously suggest that we should be spending more than $100 million of taxpayer funds on asking a question we already know the answer to? Do Australians support marriage equality? Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison, the Greens can save you some money as you go to craft your next budget. The answer is yes. Yes, Australians do support this reform, and they want a vote in the parliament so that we can get it done.

The other thing that really concerns the Greens about this plebiscite approach is the implications for young same-sex-attracted people, and these were canvassed in the recent Senate inquiry. We should make no mistake: homophobia is still a big issue in our country. It is still a very big issue, and growing up dealing with those kinds of issues can be a difficult thing for young people here in Australia. It is an isolating time, and it is a very frightening time. I know; I have been in that position myself. The last thing I want is for other young people to go through that. The last thing I want is to see taxpayer money being spent on a divisive campaign against marriage equality—what, in effect, would become a state sanctioned, state funded hate campaign that would be levelled against gay, lesbian and transgender people, their families and their friends. Make no mistake: this is a campaign that would come.

There is a very small but vocal hate lobby in this country. They have a lot of money, and they are very good at creating a lot of misery and fanning the flames of unhappiness and division in this country. They peddle lies, they peddle misinformation, and they promote hatred and division. As an Adelaide city councillor, I experienced their wrath firsthand when, earlier this year, I dared to propose painting a strip of rainbow in the CBD to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in my home state of South Australia—one would think a positive initiative that we should be celebrating. But, as a result of this proposal, I received some truly revolting hateful emails levelled at myself and my council colleagues. There were some utterly bizarre suggestions that rainbows are somehow dangerous to children—that the very exposure to a rainbow would somehow expose children to some form of post-traumatic stress. These kinds of absurd claims give clutching at straws a whole new meaning, but they are an example of the desperation of these groups and of the lengths that they will go to oppose marriage equality and to oppose progress in this country.

In the City of Marion, residents' letterboxes were bombarded with homophobic filth after the council voted to fly a rainbow flag over its chambers to promote the gay and lesbian festival that is coming up this week in Adelaide. This is the same kind of nonsense that for many years has tormented South Australians on the streets of Adelaide as they go about their daily business—the so-called street preachers who think that it is somehow okay to carry signs that equate homosexuality with murder and rape. They have even carried these signs at gay and lesbian festivals and events, standing with megaphones, shouting at people and berating them, and telling us that we are going to hell—ugly hate speech. Imagine what these kinds of bigots, these kinds of hate merchants, will do if they get their hands on taxpayer funds to run a campaign against marriage equality. Imagine what they will do. I am scared about the harm that this will cause. I do not want to subject young people to that.

Feast Festival, as I mentioned, starts this weekend in Adelaide, and it has been an ongoing part of the social calendar in my state. I remember attending my first ever Feast Festival, when I was in my early 20s, and I remember seeing those street preachers standing there carrying signs that said that gay men were akin to murderers and rapists. It is hard not to be wounded by that. Let us consider for a moment the kind of impact that that kind of thing would have on a young person who is scared or confused, dealing with their own sexuality. I do not want that kind of disgusting homophobia to go national. The human rights of the lesbian, gay and transgender community in this country should not be tied to a national opinion poll. It is wrong to do that. It is wrong to do that when we have the power to change the law without subjecting people to that kind of debate.

Of course, the truly sad thing about this debate is that we spend so much time talking about the process that we sometimes forget what this is all about. Ultimately, this should not be a discussion about complicated processes and procedures; it is a debate about love and equality. It is about real people, and it is about their stories. I am reminded here of my good friends Ben and Iain, who I have known for many years. In fact, I met my friend Ben when I was at university; we were at law school together. Their story is similar to that of many of straight friends that I know who are now married. Ben was working at JB Hi-Fi in Adelaide when he met Iain, who came into the store as a customer. I guess that it is fair to say that a romance blossomed and they developed a relationship. They have been through various stages in their lives together, and they are now living in Melbourne. More than 10 years on, they are, in all intents and purposes, like a married couple, but, of course, they cannot get married, and they are denied the opportunity to have their love and commitment celebrated before their friends and family. Certainly, over the last 10 years, I have been to many marriages of close friends, heterosexual friends, who have been able to get married. It is galling, when you see a couple like Ben and Iain, who are denied the same opportunity. There is no reason for this, other than brazen discrimination in this country. We need to do better than that. Why are we denying couples like Ben and Iain the opportunity to have their love and commitment celebrated in front of their family and friends? Why are we denying that in 21st century Australia?

This is not just an issue that impacts directly on those couples that want to get married; it is also a much bigger issue of fairness and equality in our country. I talked in my first speech about the experiences that I had growing up as a gay man. Since making that speech, I have received a lot of positive messages from young people talking about their own journey with sexuality. They told me that my sharing my experience helped them. So that is a reminder to me that the work that we do does have a positive impact. We can choose here in this place to send a message of love and hope by supporting marriage equality. And I know that that will have a big impact.

I am proud to be a member of a political party that supports marriage equality in this parliament. The Greens support marriage equality every vote, every time. I commend this bill, and I encourage the chamber to join with the Greens in supporting it so that we can finally make marriage equality a reality in this country.

9:44 am

Photo of David FawcettDavid Fawcett (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to contribute to debate on the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2013. I would like to start by affirming the position that I have put in this chamber before, that I do not support same-sex marriage and I will not be supporting this bill. That does not, however, make me a homophobe. Nor does it mean that I speak with hate when I state my position. I respect Senator Simms for his view and for his support for this bill. The fact that I choose to disagree with him does not make me hateful and it does not make me homophobic.

I would like to go to some of the issues that were contained in Senator Simms's speech because I think it is important that we keep a broad perspective of what is happening around the world. We have been accused of lagging behind a number of countries. Ireland and the US in particular were quoted. But there are also other countries such as Austria, where the parliament recently voted overwhelmingly against motions on same-sex marriage. In other nations around the world, such as Italy and France, we are seeing large public protests around those laws.

Probably most specifically, though, in July last year the European Court of Human Rights, sitting as the Grand Chamber, dealing with a case that goes to the Convention on Human Rights, found that there was no consensus in Europe on allowing same-sex marriage. In the case which was being considered, they found that there was no violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court found it was 'not disproportionate' that a same-sex couple should be in a registered partnership, as opposed to a marriage. In fact, regarding article 8, the court reiterated its case law, which said the convention 'cannot be interpreted as imposing an obligation on contracting states to grant same-sex couples access to marriage'. They also said that article 12:

… secures the fundamental right of a man and woman to marry and to found a family. Article 12 expressly provides for the regulation of marriage by national law. It enshrines the traditional concept of marriage as being between a man and a woman …

According to the statements of Senator Simms and others in this debate, that anyone who opposes same-sex marriage is full of hate and homophobic, the European Court of Human Rights is homophobic and is issuing hate speech. But what it demonstrates is that you can have a debate around these issues. You can have a respectable difference of opinion. Any attempt to shut down opponents of a view is simply undemocratic. Australia is proud, as is much of the Western world, of the fact that we are a liberal, plural, secular democracy. 'Plural' means that you have a plurality of views. People are free to speak of different views. That does not mean that you hate those whose views you oppose or that you disrespect them personally. It means you have different views, and that is the basis of a plural society.

Senator Simms said in his speech that this movement 'will not be silenced'. That is fine. I am happy. That is their right, to not be silenced. But, likewise, it is the right of those who hold a different view to not be silenced. So I find it disturbing when I see attempts to silence those who hold a different view. That attempt occurs in different ways. Partly it is through labelling—calling people bigots—or making an assumption that, if you do not support same-sex marriage, you are homophobic or full of hate, right through to using legal proceedings.

I am not a Catholic, but I noticed the Catholic Church issuing a booklet which supported the traditional view of marriage and sending that to families who had enrolled their children in a Catholic school. Action from a discrimination perspective has been taken against the Church for putting forward their view of the traditional marriage, which is law. It is accepted, and yet legal proceedings are being taken against them. That is trying to silence people who hold a different view. In a plural society, where we value freedom of speech and in this case freedom of religion, we need to allow people to clearly articulate—respectfully, courteously but confidently—their views. To have labels put upon them that somehow they are bigots or homophobic or that their speech is hate speech just because they express a different point of view is trying to silence the debate.

From the coalition's perspective, we had a good example of how that debate can be conducted respectfully. We have people within the coalition who have differing views. We have very strong proponents of same-sex marriage. We have people who hold dearly to support for traditional marriage. And we had a long and respectful discussion in our party room where people from each side of the debate were able to stand and talk and put their points of view. I do not normally talk in public about things that occur in the party room, but in this case I will make an exception to say that there was no name-calling, there was no hate, there was no belittling and there was no disrespecting. People put forward their views, and that is the essence of a democratic society where we respect the fact that it is a plural society, which means there are groups with different views.

A plebiscite was where the party room came to. We decided at the end of the day that it would be best for the Australian people, given the deeply held views, to have that discussion. There is an assumption implicit in what Senator Simms said and what others have been saying in the last few days—in fact, since the plebiscite was announced—that the Australian community would descend into an orgy of hate and homophobic speech. I acknowledge that there are some people out there who hold what I would consider to be unhelpful and hateful views. I have seen some of those people with placards. Senator Simms, can I say I share your view. I do not think that is helpful or respectful. However, that does not represent the majority of Australians. Australia is a land of people who are decent and where there is common sense, and it is my experience that extremes tend to be suppressed and shouted down by the majority. You just have to look in recent days at sporting fans and name-calling and other things where we see the community moderate those extremes. There can be discussion and people can have their point of view put forward. At the end of the day, while Senator Simms says that we have had poll after poll, if we just accepted polls then we would never have elections. We would assume, based on today's poll, that the coalition should be in government, Labor should stay in opposition and the Greens should always stay a minor party. If we are going to take that logic, let us save some money and have no more elections. Let us just have Newspolls and not move forward.

But sometimes polling does not get it right, and that is why we have elections. The polls are an indication from a small group of people who have been rung by a pollster and who respond to particular questions that are put to them. Even on this issue of same-sex marriage, depending on the question you ask you can get different results. I do not accept the argument that just because polling indicates one thing we should therefore assume that is the will of the Australian people. A plebiscite gives an opportunity for the Australian people to have the discussion, to reach their own view. One of the things that we can decide as a parliament is how that plebiscite should be run, whether it is binding or not, whether everyone should participate or not. They are important things to get right. With the Irish referendum, because voting was not compulsory the number of people who turned out did not represent the whole population and so, whilst a majority of those who turned out voted for same-sex marriage, you cannot say that a majority of the Irish people supported it. Does that make that process invalid? It depends how you determine a referendum. But here in Australia we have the opportunity to say that the plebiscite should be compulsory and that it should be binding. I think that is what we should do.

The challenge, I would put to the Greens and to others who support the concept of same-sex marriage, is that if we have a plebiscite and it is binding and it says yes, then you would need to work with those who do not support same-sex marriage to put in appropriate protections for freedom of each speech, freedom of religion and the expression of those things. Equally, if the plebiscite said no, the challenge for the Greens and others would be to accept that and say that that is what the Australian people have said. You cannot have your cake and eat it too. If you want it binding in expectation that it will say yes, you also have to accept that if it says no then that is the will of the Australian people. I note that here in the Senate we have had motion after bill after motion put forward and time after time either it has not come to a vote or where it has it has been defeated, and yet they keep coming back. If there is a plebiscite and it says no, I would encourage those supporters to recognise that—just like the European Court of Human Rights has said that there is not an abuse of human rights, that there is an equality in terms of what people get through civil partnerships—that is a path we should explore and make sure people can be respected and valued within that framework.

Certainly from the coalition's perspective we have seen that we do not believe we are lagging behind. We believe that you can have a respectful discussion. Nobody in this debate should be silenced. A plebiscite is a way for us to allow the Australian people to answer the question about how they would like to proceed, how they would like to see marriage in this country. Currently the Marriage Act provides that ministers of religion, whether they belong to a recognised denomination or an independent religious body, are not obliged to solemnise any marriage. We need to make sure that those sorts of independent decisions can continue, not only for people in religious organisations but even for people of faith who run other businesses or services. Whilst it is true that a plebiscite, if conducted separately, would cost money, there are options for doing it in conjunction with other votes, with other elections. This is an issue that is clearly important to people in this place and to people in the community, and the concept of having a plebiscite involves giving to the people the opportunity to exercise that democratic right to have the discussion in a respectful way and to bring back to the Australian people, through a vote, which way they would like to see this nation go.

In conclusion, I will not be supporting this bill. This is one of a number of bills on this topic that I have not supported. I am a strong supporter of traditional marriage. That does not mean in any way that I am homophobic, or that I speak with hate. I know and deeply respect many people who I regard as friends who are same-sex attracted, but my world view is that marriage is between a man and a woman. On behalf of all those in Australia who hold that view, I state here again in this place that, just like the supporters of same-sex marriage do not want to be silenced, nor do those people who hold this view. This parliament should be rejecting any sense or emotion or discussion that those who hold a different view to the supporters of same-sex marriage are somehow full of hate or bigotry, because that is simply not true. I will not be supporting this bill.

9:58 am

Photo of Anne UrquhartAnne Urquhart (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It will come as no surprise to anyone in this place that I am an unshakeable supporter of marriage equality. This is an issue that is long overdue for legislation. The rest of the world is moving, and Australia is fast becoming an embarrassment and an international outlier. In June the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that same-sex couples could marry anywhere in the country. This progressive milestone comes on the back of another historic outcome in Ireland. Ireland is a deeply religious nation not known for its progressive values and actions, but last month it became the first country to put the issue of marriage equality to the people through a referendum. There was a great turnout for the vote. It even saw Irish ex-pats filing onto planes to head home and have their voices heard. The result of the vote was a decisive 62 per cent to 38 per cent in favour of marriage equality. If the vote in Ireland and the ruling in the United States have taught us anything, it is how far behind the rest of the world we are, and it has shown us how far Australia is now lagging behind, when the rest of the world has moved on. These milestones come on the back of the legalisation of same-sex marriage in many countries, including New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Brazil and Sweden.

This issue embeds all of the fundamental values that lie at the core of my belief system and at the heart of the labour movement—fairness, equality, respect and support for families in all their different forms, dignity, inclusiveness and compassion for all. These are some of the key principles that should frame how we see the world and drive how we respond to it. Marriage equality will be a crucial step towards full legal equality and social inclusion for same-sex couples and their families. It will allow more Australians to enjoy the benefits of marriage and to uphold its values of trust, love and commitment—values that make our society stronger. It is my belief that marriage is a commitment between two people who love each other and who wish to celebrate their commitment to one another in front of family and friends.

I support marriage equality because I am against discrimination and because I believe there is nothing to lose and everything to gain by allowing same-sex couples to choose the commitment and happiness that marriage represents. The great misnomer that I hear from people is that allowing two committed, loving individuals to marry somehow detracts from the institution of marriage. I would argue that it only strengthens marriage, as it allows all Australians to marry the person that they love. By not allowing two Australians to marry based on their gender diminishes the institution. This is the time to remove the last piece of legislated discrimination that fuels homophobia in this country.

The most frustrating thing is that we could deal with this next week. We could remove this discrimination once and for all. Do you know what would happen? More people who love each other would be able to get married. Full stop. The world would continue to turn and the sun would continue to rise. We know our Prime Minister supports marriage equality, but we also know that he has done a deal to stifle, stymie, stonewall and, as his far-Right colleagues hope, block the issue. We know that he has agreed to sell out his long-held personal beliefs in order to secure the top job, and, in doing so, he has sold out the millions of Australians that want this to happen.

I share the views of the vast majority of Australians that the time for marriage equality came long, long ago. While our previous Prime Minister was backward and, quite frankly, mean-minded in his belligerent blocking of marriage equality, at least he was true to his beliefs. While these beliefs unquestionably came from another century and unquestionably still belong there, Australia knew what they were getting. But in Mr Turnbull we have a man who has clearly put his personal career ambitions ahead of doing what he knows to be right. He is a man who has shunned the national good in favour of personal gain. He is a man who purports to be a progressive, modern policymaker but, when it comes down to it, he is willing to keep Australia in the Dark Ages when it comes to this important issue. But don't take my word for it. Here are Prime Minister Turnbull's own words.

In September last year he was asked:

Let's get on the record here; do you believe the party must have a vote of conscience, a free vote, on this actually very important social signal issue of gay marriage in Australia?

To which Mr Turnbull responded:

I certainly think we should have a free vote and I've been very public about that...

The journalist then asked:

And if the party goes against that will you still feel comfortable serving in the Abbott Government?

Mr Turnbull replied:

Well it's a team business Steven, I would be disappointed if we didn't have a free vote, I think we will by the way...

So, over a year ago, Mr Turnbull was expounding his heartfelt, personal support for a free vote. What is the point of having a more enlightened Prime Minister if we cannot take him at his word? Clearly, he has stumbled and fallen on his face when it comes to one of his first fundamental tests of integrity. Has there really been any change at all in this government if the policy remains the same and this entrenched inequality is to remain?

The Prime Minister continues to parrot the words of his predecessor that a plebiscite will be held in the next term of parliament—a plebiscite that has been estimated to force a $160 million hit to the budget bottom line. This is a hit Australia can ill afford, given that those opposite have already doubled the deficit and hiked the debt by more than that. Legislation is our job, and it is what we get paid for. There is absolutely no reason that we cannot legislate on this now. I notice those opposite have not talked about asking people for their feedback on massive cuts to family incomes. They certainly were not keen on asking the Australian people if they wanted to pay $100,000 for university degrees. Nor did they take a poll before cutting the pension. So why marriage equality? What makes it so different?

I will tell you what I think is happening. I think they want a plebiscite so that they can create a divisive national campaign that will divide the nation and, they hope, put paid to marriage equality in this country. This is not about going to the people to get their opinion. This is about manipulating the conversation and demonising a group in our society to create a predetermined outcome. Those opposite know that referendums have virtually no chance of passing without the full support of the government, and they know that this is the best way to manipulate the outcome. Our Prime Minister and his party are happy to spend $160 million of scarce taxpayer dollars to deny people their fundamental right to equality. It is an absolute outrage.

We know Australians want this to happen and we know that there is a very high chance the numbers exist in this place to make it happen. In fact, it could happen in the next sitting week. We have a crazy situation where the rest of the world is moving to make this happen in their countries, the Australian people want this to happen, the Prime Minister wants this to happen and there are the numbers in this place to make this happen. Yet Mr Turnbull still persists with the plan to stage a divisive and expensive national debate that stands in contradiction to his own beliefs and will only serve to inflame tensions in order to give the far Right their best shot at manipulating the outcome and blocking marriage equality for years to come—and for what? In order to secure his own naked career ambitions.

We should not let the Australian people forget that the Greens party were early supporters of Tony Abbott's plan for a plebiscite. Senator Rice sponsored the Marriage Equality Plebiscite Bill 2015, which would have established the plebiscite in law. This was a foolish decision by the Greens, which only served to legitimise Mr Abbott's cynical proposal at a critical stage of public debate. I am glad the Greens have finally come to their senses and accepted the wisdom of the Labor Party's position on the plebiscite.

Labor believe that it is our responsibility to create legislation, and there is absolutely no excuse for squibbing it. Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten has promised that, under a Shorten Labor government, a marriage equality bill will be introduced within 100 days of the next parliament.

This is the time to remove the last piece of legislated discrimination that fuels homophobia in this country. But instead Mr Turnbull has caved in to the hard Right of his own party to all but guarantee marriage equality cannot happen. Just like his strongly held convictions on climate change evaporated in an instant when the prime ministership was in his grasp, so his longstanding support for marriage equality was sacrificed in the pursuit of power. It is just not good enough. We should just get on with it and legislate.

10:08 am

Photo of David LeyonhjelmDavid Leyonhjelm (NSW, Liberal Democratic Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the Greens Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2013. I welcome the continuing efforts of various parliamentarians from the Greens, Labor, the coalition and the crossbench to push along freedom to marry. I support amending the Marriage Act to allow two people the freedom to marry regardless of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity. My support applies regardless of how this is achieved and who seeks to champion the cause.

People have a right to disapprove of same-sex marriage. They do not have a right to use the power of the state to impose that view on others. In the past, various states have denied Aborigines the freedom to marry who they like, for much of Australia's history. Sometimes there was disapproval of Aborigines marrying Aborigines, as this was thought to help sustain the purely Aboriginal population. And sometimes there was disapproval of Aborigines marrying non-Aborigines. Thankfully, such disapproval is no longer reflected in the law. When the disapproval of Aboriginal marriages was jettisoned from marriage law in our Federation, the concept of marriage was unharmed and, indeed, was bolstered. When we finally jettison disapproval of same-sex marriages from our marriage law, the concept of marriage will be bolstered further.

In a perfect world we would achieve same-sex marriage simply through this parliament amending the Marriage Act. Making decisions about such legislation is our job. However, for practical reasons I am not opposed to the issue of same-sex marriage being put to a plebiscite. I am confident it will be a thumping result in favour of same-sex marriage. And it could be that this approach delivers same-sex marriage sooner than relying on the two houses of parliament to reflect the views of the Australian community.

There are concerns about having the straight population voting on other people's rights, and the plebiscite will bring out a lot of vile campaigning. A file in my electorate office bulges with correspondence from individuals who opposed the Freedom to Marry Bill I introduced in the Senate last year. Some—but not much—provides polite arguments about the definition of marriage. Much more is vile abuse. Some has had to be referred to the authorities. Annabel Crabb planned to feature some of the fruitier correspondence I have received on this issue in one of the 'Letters from Constituents' episodes she did as part of the latest series of Kitchen Cabinet. This was not to be. I think I can guess why. Kitchen Cabinet is G-rated. My letters from constituents are not.

However, it is also true that, now Malcolm Turnbull is Prime Minister, my original fear—Tony Abbott sabotaging the plebiscite process—will not come to pass. I had visions of a question so convoluted it made no sense, or something absurd enough for a Monty Python sketch—perhaps from the hallowed halls of the Philosophy Department at the University of Woolloomooloo! Despite my reservations about voting on other people's rights, I do think that, if we are stuck with a plebiscite, we should hold it at the same time as the next federal election. Holding the plebiscite at the same time as the next election has two advantages. The first is that we save $160 million of taxpayers' money—what the AEC advises a stand-alone plebiscite would cost. The second is there will be less of a spotlight on the issue, and we can moderate the worst excesses of the people who have taken the time to write me so many lovely, lovely letters so far! Elections are always about a range of issues—same-sex marriage would be just one among many. I commend the bill to the Senate.

10:13 am

Photo of Sam DastyariSam Dastyari (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to begin by acknowledging that a lot of other senators have done a lot of work in this space over the past few years, especially in terms of different pieces of legislation and different approaches. I want to acknowledge that, as he pointed out, Senator Leyonhjelm had introduced a bill into this chamber. Others, including Senator Wong and cross-party people like Senator Hanson-Young, have done a lot of work in this space, and I think it should be acknowledged.

I commend Senator Simms for bringing this debate to us; it is an important debate for us to have. I want to reject this idea that says that we cannot have a sophisticated debate or that we should not have this debate simply because it is too divisive or it has already been said. I think this is an important part of social policy, and it is an important role of the Senate to talk about it.

I do want to put my views on record. I do not believe I have ever spoken publicly about my views on marriage equality. I have been reported and recorded in different kinds of lists that get emailed around as being a supporter of marriage equality. I certainly am, but I am also a very big supporter of an acknowledgement of the fact that there are a range of very different views. There are certainly a range of different views within my political party, the Australian Labor Party. For me, the notion that we would not support marriage equality is something that I find difficult to understand. I find the arguments against it difficult to understand. I think the case for marriage equality is there. I acknowledge there are others, however, who do not necessarily share those views. When we are talking about a debate like this, a debate that needs to be focused on understanding and tolerance, it is very important that we recognise that there are going to be so many different views out there.

I will be honest: I think a lot of this is a generational challenge and issue. It is a generational issue as well. The data and the research overwhelmingly demonstrate that younger Australians tend to have a much stronger view towards supporting marriage equality than older Australians. The challenge and opportunity will be, as this happens, for us to be able to build on that.

I support marriage equality. I support this bill. In doing so, I also support the Labor Party position, which is that we have to recognise and understand that not everyone shares the same view and that there are people who—even though I disagree with their arguments and I disagree with their judgement—have, through good faith, come to a different view. It is a fact that there is a changing debate out there in the community. The views of the community are starting to shift and have shifted dramatically on this issue. That is a positive thing and I believe and hope that, during my time in this chamber, there will be an opportunity to vote for a bill providing for marriage equality that will eventually be supported.

10:17 am

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to start off where Senator Dastyari left off: I think all views should be respected in this debate, and I certainly respect colleagues, friends and family who have a different view to my own—which is in support of traditional marriage. I also want to say, up-front, that I support the removal of any practical discrimination against homosexuals and same-sex couples. We should ensure that happens. I believe we have largely achieved that, over a period of time. However, if there are instances of discrimination against same-sex couples, they should be removed. Whether or not the definition of marriage in our existing legislation is discrimination itself is a matter for debate, in my view. It is a matter that we need to consider very clearly. We should consider it very clearly because the definition in our Marriage Act today has been the same for centuries—for millennia. Not just in our culture and not just in the religions that have been common in this country but in almost every culture in the world, over the span of millennia, marriage has been an institution that enshrines the union of a man and a woman, often with the intention of creating children.

I fully admit that, in modern times in this country and in developed countries generally, marriage has had a tough time of it in the last few decades. The experience and stability of many marriages has been more difficult, or less consistent, in the past few decades than previously in other generations and in other cultures. I believe that is unfortunate. It is a great tragedy when marriages break down, particularly where children are involved. I believe that firmly from my own personal experience, and I also believe that firmly from the evidence that exists about the importance of a child having a biological mother and father to raise them. Of course, that does not always happen and it cannot always happen. Tragedies occur and unfortunate things happen in our society, but just because we cannot make things perfect it does not mean that we should not strive for perfection. Just because something is good and not perfect it does not mean that we should make it the enemy of the perfect. I still believe that we should, regardless of what may happen to our marriage legislation in this country in the next few years, passionately defend and support the institution of family and passionately defend and support the importance of mothers and fathers staying together to look after the kids, because every time that that cannot happen it is a very difficult situation for the children involved.

As I said, I have come to this position not from a religious perspective but, in the first instance, from a personal perspective. My own father's father took off when my father was a little kid. I do not want to go into all the details, but my dad is a great bloke. I am very lucky to have been raised by my father. He is a courageous man and he has taught me a lot in my life, but he would still say it is a tragedy that he did not have a father himself for most of his life and did not have that support of his own father to guide him through life. While he is a great man, he has made mistakes in his life and it is unfortunate that he did not have the stability that he and Mum were able to provide for me and my brother and sister through our growing and formative years.

I myself have four sons. They are still in those formative years, and every day I try to maintain my relationship not just with my wife but with my sons. It is hard, in this job, to do that sometimes. It is hard to communicate with 10-year-old boys over the telephone or through Skype. You ask them what they did during the day and they usually say, 'Nothing.' You ask them what they learnt at school and they say, 'Stuff.' They are not particularly communicative. But I feel it is extremely important—my job as a dad is much more important than my job as a senator. I do my best to perform that role as a father because I think having a father and being a dad is extremely important. The combination of a mother and a father makes for a very nurturing and supportive environment for children. I want to say that it is not just my personal experience. The evidence on this is abundantly clear on the best outcome for children, on average. There are loving families of many different types but, on average, the best outcome for a child is for their biological mother and father to remain together, married, and support their development.

There is a very considered and meritorious sociologist in the United States, Dr Charles Murray, who wrote a book recently called Coming Apart. It is largely about the US and not about Australia. It is not just about marriage, but is about, more generally, the progress and development of white America. He has not included ethnic communities because they have other issues. He shows, very clearly, across a range of different measures, including delinquency in adolescent, sexual choices, teenagers and crime rates, that the outcome, on average, is best for children when they are raised by their biological mother and father who remain married.

Another very famous person in the United States, President Barack Obama, wrote a very moving book called Dreams from my Father where he very eloquently stated how much of a tragedy it was that his father did not remain with him for very long during his upbringing, and the great vacuum and hole that that put in his life. While President Obama obviously has a different view to me about the institution of marriage, regardless of what happens in this debate, we should not in any way downplay or diminish the importance of a mother and a father for children.

When we look at the institution of marriage and what it means, it has in fact almost always been about the creation of children. It is not actually an institution that is primarily a religious or Judeo-Christian one. In our Western European culture the word 'marriage' does not come from a Jewish route or a religious route; the word is actually a Latin word. It comes from the word 'matrimonium'. In Latin 'matrimonium' is a combination of two concepts, 'matri' meaning mother and 'monium' meaning the state of being or condition. The very word that we use today, 'marriage', actually has roots in our culture about the creation of children or of being a mother. That is what it was in Roman society, which was not a Christian society, not a Jewish Society and not a monotheist society. It was a society, of course, where homosexuality was accepted and was common practice, but it was also a society that had a very defined view, institution and word for marriage.

Marriage is important in many religions in the world as well. In many religions the sacrament of marriage is associated with the union of a man and a woman and is associated with becoming one flesh in terms that are often using Christianity. While we often, in modern times, take becoming one flesh as a metaphorical concept for the union of two people, its roots have a more direct and practical grounding in the creation of children. The creation of a child is literally the becoming of one flesh, the union of two people into one flesh, through the genetic diffusion of two people into one human being. I think that there is nothing much more miraculous in our world than the creation of children. This particular institution that we have, called 'marriage', has been established to nurture and support that phenomenon.

Like many of our institutions, which have been handed down to us over time, marriage is perhaps something that we do not conceive the importance of. In the world of science we have a wonderful, open, free, prosperous society because we stand on the shoulders of giants that went before us. Like Isaac Newton said, we are very lucky and fortunate because of what has happened before us and because of what has been created before us. Marriage is one of those things that has been created and protected over centuries before us. I worry that, if we were to tinker with what marriage means, we would lose something from our society. We would lose a cultural institution from our society that we would struggle to recapture.

In some respects I recognise that this particular debate is a semantic one. It is a debate about the definition of a word. What should the word 'marriage' mean? Should it mean, simply, the union of two people who love each other, or should it mean the union of two people who not only love each other but can create a child? While it is often said that semantic debates are important and it does not matter, I disagree. I think words are important. I think that language is important. Ludwig Wittgenstein said that, if I do not have a word to describe something, I cannot conceive of it. The limit of my world is the limit of my language.

I worry that, if we redefine the scope of what marriage means and is defined as, we will lose our ability as human beings to conceive of a very important, albeit, narrow human relationship which is the union of a man and a woman to create a child. That word is important to describe that particular relationship. That is not to denigrate or say that other types of human relationships are in any way inferior or superior, but that this particular relationship of a man and a woman coming together to create children is different. It is unique, it is diverse. Those other relationships—mother-father relationships, brother-sister relationships, homosexual relationships—are clearly very different from a relationship which comes together to create a child. I believe that we should have a separate institution that allows us to conceive of that particular relationship. We should have a word that describes that particular relationship, and if we change the definition of marriage to not describe that particular relationship, we will lose our ability to conceive of and protect that particular idea and institution. That is not to say that we could not find other ways in our society to do this. I am just concerned that we would rush to change an institution so quickly without any real plan or conception of how we are going to celebrate the diversity of heterosexual relationships—which are obviously, by definition, the only relationships that can create children.

Sometimes the proponents of a change to the Marriage Act in this debate say that marriage is all about love, and they say, 'How can you be against two people coming together and being in love?' I absolutely accept that love is a necessary condition for a successful marriage, but it is not a sufficient condition for a marriage as we define it now. Marriage is not only about love. It is also about sacrifice, because when you get married you cannot do certain things that you used to be able to do. It is also, as I have said comprehensively in this speech, about the creation of children. It is something different. It is something diverse. The proponents who want to change this particular act often say at the same time that they want to celebrate diversity. They say they want to celebrate different points of view, different cultures and different ideas; but, in fact, a change to the Marriage Act in the way that this bill seeks to do would not be a celebration of diversity but a celebration of uniformity, because it would make all relationships that simply involve love between two human beings the same. There would not be a celebration of diversity; there would not be an acceptance of different types of humanity and different types of human relationships, and I think that would reduce and remove some of the colour and imagination that goes with being a human being, and I hope that change is not made.

Regardless of how this debate evolves, I do hope that respect is given to different points of view in this debate. This week I have been attacked by some fellow senators and have been called a bigot for my views on this issue—by my follow senators. What I do not quite understand is that some of those senators who throw around these attributes would also say that they respect different religions and cultures and that they welcome migration to our country. They also say that they would protect the poorer in our society. I accept that at the moment there is popular support for a change, albeit the evidence is rather superficial, but there are also clearly many groups in our society who do not support a change. For example, if you look at the Australian National University survey on political views that is done after every election, only 15 per cent of people of the Muslim faith support a change to the Marriage Act. Are the 85 per cent of Muslims who do not support a change bigots? Are the 60-odd per cent of Catholics who do not support a change bigots? Are the majority of people on low incomes who do not support a change bigots as well?

The other striking thing about the evidence about who does and who does not support marriage in our community is that it is, in fact, a luxury good. The higher your income the more likely you are to support marriage. I do not know why that is the case; I can only surmise. But I would say that I grew up in a relatively low-socioeconomic area where divorce rates were quite high during my time as a child, and I had many friends whose parents' marriages did not last. Whereas, if you look at the evidence, if you were lucky enough to live in a leafy, well-to-do suburb in our society, it is most likely that your parents stayed married. In my view it is the working class areas of our communities that know and understand the importance of this institution, that know and understand the effects and consequences of a diminution in the importance of marriage and its effects on the wider family environment. I hope not only that views are respected in this debate but also that any change we may make to the law respects the different views. Looking at this particular bill, I do not believe that it duly respects those different views.

This bill does exempt ministers of religion from solemnising same-sex marriages but it does not extend that exemption to individual civil celebrants or to ministers of religion whose religion does not have a view on same-sex marriage or supports same-sex marriage. I do not think that is a sufficient protection of individual rights—and they are individual rights. These rights that we have, particularly the freedoms of religion and belief, are fundamental in our society. Those rights are not something that is held by the Catholic Church or an Islamic mosque or a Buddhist temple. Those rights reside in each individual. Each Australian has the right to hold a view about a particular issue and we should respect those views. For me, any change to the Marriage Act which does not duly respect those views would be a contravention of the fundamental rights of every Australian and would be in contravention of the international agreements on human rights that we have signed—one of which is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Article 23 of that covenant obliges signatories to protect and support the creation of families through marriage between a man and a woman. The interpretation of that provision by the UN Human Rights Committee has been that there is no obligation on states to change their marriage acts to include same-sex couples. In my view, because there is no obligation according to the United Nations, there is certainly no rationale for forcing Australians with a different view to solemnise same-sex marriages.

I look forward to a wider debate on this issue over the coming years. I will return to where I started. I hope that there can be a respectful debate, an informed debate, and that any change we make to an institution that has lasted centuries is made after such a debate.

10:37 am

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Women) Share this | | Hansard source

When I began speaking on marriage equality—the last time I spoke on this topic—I started by saying that it was an honour to be able to speak again on something about which I feel so strongly, and I feel that way again. It gave me the impetus to go back and look at the speeches I have made on four separate occasions in this place. Apart from the fact that it was interesting to see the environment in which those speeches were made and in which the debate we were having was taking place, it was reinforcing to see what I had previously put on record about this important issue. One of the things about working in this place is that you know that every time you make a contribution in this chamber it is on the record; it is part of history. So, you have to be sure and you have to be convinced about what you are saying.

I am relieved to say that my position is unchanged from the first time I spoke on this issue, which was under particularly difficult circumstances. It was during the debate when Prime Minister Howard as well as Labor's leader, Mr Latham, had made an agreement to insert the issue into the Marriage Act to ensure that the act would cover marriage between a man and a woman. At that time there was no conscience vote on this side of the chamber on the issue. I know there is now, but at that time there was not. For someone like me, who has always believed that two people who love each other—and I take the point that Senator Canavan made in his contribution, that love is but one attribute of forming a relationship—and make a strong commitment to each other that engages love as well as all the other aspects of any decision of this kind, such as respect and the sense of sacrifice that has to happen, and the true belief that they wish to form a partnership that is public in the community, would be blessed by their church if necessary but, most importantly, be protected by the legislation of their nation. If two people want to make that decision, they must have the right to do so.

I remember the deep trauma I had at the time I came into this debate, because I was not sure whether I was going to be able to get up and make a speech, because of the fact that there had been an agreement that the legislation that was then before the chamber would be passed and that our party would be part of a decision to entrench the restriction on any kind of same-sex marriage. I was wondering whether, given the way I felt, I could make a contribution to the debate. But I did, because I thought it was important to the people I cared about that I put on record how I felt, even though, in the final vote, our party would be voting in support of the Prime Minister's proposition. What I talked about that day was my deep concern about the level of vilification and hatred my office was receiving about the issue by email and mail. I was deeply troubled about that, and that trouble continues.

I am concerned that on this issue it seems that the discussion, the debate, the environment in which we operate is not an area in which people can exchange views reasonably and openly. When an issue is as sensitive as this one is, there is a great temptation for the arguments to degenerate into personal attack. Sometimes that happens in this place on other issues, but I have found, in the time I have been here, that this is one area that has caused great hurt, great pain and great difference of opinion which has gone not only to the expression of one's own opinion but has extended to attacking the people who do not share that opinion.

In my speech I talked about the fact that I was deeply worried about this view that people who have different views are not worthy of respect. I know it is a very dangerous thing to quote yourself, but I said:

The zeal of people and groups in promoting the belief in what they call traditional marriage has in some cases crossed into real vilification and personal attack. I have been deeply sickened by comments and public forums allegedly based on the reasonable effort to raise awareness or promote certain beliefs, often using the word `family'. As a community we genuinely value the concept of family, and when arguments are made or literature is distributed which focuses on love, trust and special relationships with children many people are attracted, feel an automatic warmth and are drawn to accepting the credentials and goodwill of those promoting the ideas and values.

Sadly, during the debate on the legislation there has been some confusion and even some deliberate attempts to demonise gay and lesbian people and to create an atmosphere and an environment where somehow it is acceptable to judge, exclude and hurt people whose relationships do not fit the definition of `marriage' that these people believe in.

That continues to be my concern, and the reason I am stressing that in this contribution is that quite recently, when we had a Senate inquiry into the plebiscite bill, those same fears and those same worries came into the discussion. Whether we need a plebiscite or not is another issue entirely, and I am sure that will be addressed in this process. But one of the arguments that came up during that very interesting inquiry was the fear, both from people who strongly support the need to change legislation to have a vote on same-sex marriage and from those who actually take a diametrically opposite position and say that there should be no change to the definition of marriage, that they would be harmed, that there would be attacks made on them, that there would be language used that was hurtful and that could damage them and the people who care for them. That same fear was expressed by both sides of this argument at that Senate inquiry.

That is a really worrying situation to be in when an issue is to be debated before this place—and that vote will happen, hopefully while I am still in the Senate. But for the proponents of each side of the argument to both express that they are fearful that, through the debate, there will be unacceptable levels of hate and attack and that they will be damaged—if that is the expression of fear created for both sides of the argument—we have to look strongly at our processes and ourselves to see why this view is so real. I do not understand it. It would be much easier if I did. I do not understand why this issue has generated such concern and fear.

Many nations across the world are looking at the definition of marriage and confronting the reality that many people who are gay want to form permanent—or as permanent as any marriage can be—relationships and to have those relationships accepted by the state. It is not just a debate in Australia. We know that. We have seen these situations in numerous other countries across the world. In some places legislation has passed to permit a change and in some it has not. Nonetheless, the debate continues.

In the plebiscite argument that we have had, there was a great deal of quite worrying evidence placed on record about the Irish situation. The Irish situation has been used extensively as an example. Ireland had a referendum, because their constitution demanded that there should be one, and the referendum resulted in a positive outcome for people who wanted to change the definition of marriage to allow gay people to marry. That has been used in a very positive way by those of us who support that change. What I was unaware of is that exactly the same kind of fear and concern existed in the Irish community during the campaign around their vote as exists in Australia. That did not come out in the euphoria of people who accepted that result or in the joy that was expressed so clearly in the public. No-one can debate the media coverage showing the sheer joy expressed by numerous people in Ireland at the time of that decision. Even more importantly, the leaders of that nation, including church leaders, then made public comment accepting the result of the referendum. That is the really important point—you have a difficult debate; you get a result; and then the people involved in that debate and campaign publicly say that they acknowledge the result, they are prepared to live with it and the world will go on.

However, what I was not aware of was that—as shown in evidence that we received during our Senate inquiry—the same attacks, the same vilification and the same lack of reasonable debate occurred in the Irish community leading up to the referendum as has occurred here. Again, because of the sensitivity of this issue, people's ability to debate, as opposed to fight, was weakened by how strongly they felt about the issue. As I have said a number of times, I would hope that we could be able to conduct this debate in the parliament and in the community in a way that would minimise that situation—but I am genuinely not convinced that we can. If the emails I have received are any indication of community spirit, we will not be able to. The arguments in emails that I receive inevitably end up talking about some people having a greater right than others. That really is not the intent of the legislation.

In this place, we have been talking about the issues of genuine rights and same-sex marriage for over 10 years. The debate continues to have much of the same content. I do not believe that in this morning's discussion we will hear any new evidence or any new argument. What will be reinforced is that there are genuine differences of opinion. All I can do is express how I feel. I believe quite strongly that in Australia people must be able to make the choice to marry and have a same-sex marriage.

I know that people will say—I have seen the arguments—that the various civil union arrangements in a number of states, as was the case in Queensland for a short time before the state government changed, should be, to quote directly from some of the emails, 'enough for those people'. I think that phrase in itself indicates a lack of understanding and true respect, because we are not talking about a group of people who can be dismissed. We are not talking about a group of people in our community who are defined, according to some of the correspondence I receive, as a small minority who want to take over the Australian community. We are talking about people—people who are gay and who want to form a family relationship. But I am not just talking about their immediate families; I am also talking about the wider families and the friends, of whom I am one, of gay people in our community who celebrate the joy of people who make this decision. As I said before, I come from a large Irish Catholic family who genuinely enjoy a good celebration. I have been fortunate enough to be part of a number of celebrations of same-sex relationships where, before we have any legal entitlement to call their situation a marriage, we have definitely called their situation a marriage and we have celebrated with the same joy as we have done in any gathering that celebrates the decision of two people to form a permanent relationship.

I could go through all the stats—they exist—about the results of various surveys that are on record across the country. My view of surveys is that, for every survey that one side of an argument puts up, the other side of the argument will find another that says a completely different thing. We know that the parliamentary process to this point has encouraged parliamentarians to go out and talk with their constituents about how they feel. I believe that has truly occurred. I know that many of us in this place and in the other place have made real efforts to go into the community to listen to the various issues and to listen to people about how they feel.

In that case, what will come back to this place is that people will have different views on the issue—and that is what happens so often on things that come before the parliament. But I truly believe that, on this issue, there has been a distinct societal change in the last 10 to 15 years. There has always been an acceptance that there are people in our community who are gay. I think no-one could ignore that reality and, over the years, that has become much more accepted and openly discussed. I also believe that over recent years, as this debate about the issues around same-sex marriage has come more into the popular view, there has been a growing acceptance that this is a reality. Certainly in the community in which I work, there is almost a situation where people just say: 'Why hasn't this happened? Why hasn't the parliament reflected the views of the community that say this is just another part of our life?'

Senator Caravan talked about the acceptance of diversity and somehow made the argument that wanting to have as same-sex marriage bill in this place is against diversity. I do not agree with that comment. I believe that acknowledging that there is a place for same-sex marriage and families that have a different make-up from what has been considered traditional is exactly an acceptance of celebration of diversity in our community. One of the things about this particular bill is that it forces no-one to take action against their own will. There is nothing in this bill that says we are forcing people to take any action.

I know there is an ongoing concern—and it came up during the plebiscite debate—about the issue of civil servants, civil celebrants and also people who work in business. My view there is that, for people who are being paid by the government, they are actually doing the work that the government has enshrined. And should there be an approval of same-sex marriage, as I hope there will be, marriage celebrants, who are actually entrusted by the government to have that work, will have that opportunity to perform marriages and will be required to perform same-sex marriages if they are asked to. Often in this place we talk about the market, and in this case, the market rules: you advertise the services you are going to provide and people can choose to go to you for services or not.

Overall, I think that is a smaller area of the argument as opposed to the core issue brought again into this place to say how we feel about the need for a parliamentary vote on saying that we want to have same-sex marriage in Australia. I think there needs to be a free vote in our parliament on this issue. I think people should have the ability to represent their community in taking their vote. I do not think that the plebiscite process, which we have discussed in this place, is the right way to go. I think it takes away from the activities of parliament. It also means that this issue is different from every other issue that comes before the parliament—and I do not believe it is. But I do believe it is an incredibly important issue and it does divide people in this place.

Again, if we could only take some of the judgement and the hate out of the discussion and get down to thinking about exactly what it would mean to have same-sex marriage in our community we would then be able to move forward. The speeches I made in 2004, 2010 and 2012 all talked about the degree of hate that comes into our community and bemoaned the fact that this issue seems to continue to focus on how we are different rather than how we can work together. I know that, in the future, there will be more opportunities to speak on this issue and I just hope that, at some time, I will be able to say yes, we have been able to speak together and have a debate without attacking each other and making judgements on people in our community.

10:57 am

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise proudly to support the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2013. In doing so, I congratulate Senator Hanson-Young for sponsoring this bill and continuing the Greens' extremely proud tradition of being the only political party in this country that can legitimately say every single one of our MPs in every single parliament where marriage equality has come up for debate has supported marriage equality. It is a proud tradition and we will continue to work incredibly hard with the gay and lesbian community, the broader Australian community and those people from other political parties who support marriage equality to see this reform pass into law.

This bill will strengthen the institution of marriage. It is an institution that has evolved over time to reflect the expectations of communities and there is no doubt that the Australian community is ready for marriage equality. Poll after poll after poll shows that a majority of Australians want this reform. This bill will also strengthen families. In strengthening families, it will also be beneficial for children who are part of those families. While our legislation in this country contains discriminatory provisions such as those in the Commonwealth Marriage Act it makes it very difficult or impossible for us to eliminate discrimination in our communities. It makes it difficult or impossible for us to address discrimination in schools, in sporting organisations, on the streets, in the pubs and in our families.

You need only look at the appallingly high suicide rate, particularly of young gay men, to understand the urgency of this debate. I want to speak today about the suicide of one young gay man called Nathan. I want to acknowledge his partner Ben Jago, who has bravely written about Nathan's death and Ben's subsequent experiences. In the article, published in The Examiner newspaper earlier this month, Ben writes that in January this year his partner Nathan took his own life in Hobart. He talks about how distraught and overwhelmed he was when he discovered Nathan's body. He talks about how, several hours after Nathan's death, Ben was interviewed by the police. The police told Ben that Nathan's mother would be recognised as next of kin and not Ben, and that Nathan's mother would be given custody of Ben's body.

Ben then contacted the coroner's office in Tasmania and was told that he, Ben, could only be considered next of kin if he went to the office of Births, Deaths and Marriages and registered their relationship. Of course, when he contacted the office of Births, Deaths and Marriages in Tasmania, he was told, quite rightly, that both parties had to agree to register a relationship. And, of course, that was not possible, given that Nathan was dead. It is absolutely extraordinary—the advice that he received from the coroner's office. As Ben points out in the article that he so bravely wrote for The Examiner, at every point in those terrible, traumatic hours following Nathan's death, what he was told was incorrect or misleading. Ben did not know at the time that, under Tasmanian law, he is deemed, and would have been deemed, to be Nathan's significant partner and next of kin, even without registering a relationship.

Then, as Ben says, events cascaded out of his control. He learned that Nathan would be buried in his home town of Ulverstone on Tasmania's north-west coast, against his express wish to be cremated in Hobart. He asked to see Nathan's body in hospital but was denied access to see the body of his long-term partner. By the time he found a lawyer to help him with that, the body had been released to Nathan's family. He found out when Nathan's funeral would be only through word of mouth and had to negotiate with Nathan's family. He was told that he could attend Nathan's funeral but only if he sat down the back and said nothing. Ben writes that the ceremony did not reflect Nathan's life and made no mention at all of their relationship. This was the man whom he regarded as his soul mate. They had planned to marry in New Zealand, having, unfortunately, of course, not had the opportunity to marry in this country. They had been engaged for more than a year.

Ben writes that he felt like he was treated like he meant nothing to Nathan and was not even a part of his life. He says that it left him feeling like part of this soul had been crushed into dust. He writes that he felt worthless as a person and had to question why he engaged with a society that does not protect his rights. He also writes that he believes that, if Nathan and he had been able to marry under Australian law, none of what he described in his article would have happened. He quite rightly points out that a marriage certificate would have put his legal rights beyond doubt, with no room left for prejudice or ignorance. Then he makes a crucial argument in favour of marriage equality. He says—and I will quote from his article:

Even if we hadn't planned to marry, the fact of being allowed to marry would have made a major difference to how we were seen.

Marriage equality will send a message to every estranged parent and indifferent official across Australia that they can no longer disregard and disrespect the equal rights of same-sex partners.

He also says:

I hope my story wakes up all those politicians who say 'gays have all the rights they need already' because clearly we don't really have these rights while they can be so easily ignored.

It is worth pointing out that some of the circumstances that Ben outlines are subject of an anti-discrimination case in Tasmania. As that is a live case, I will respect the process and not make any further comment on it.

That is a terrible story. It is an awful story of a traumatised man who was treated appallingly by officials in Tasmania. It should be cause for us all in this place to reflect on this very basic truth: while our country's laws discriminate against same-sex couples, it will be very difficult or impossible for us to eliminate that discrimination in our communities. Even if there were no other arguments in favour of marriage equality—and there are many—that one, of itself, is enough of an argument that this bill should be passed.

I want to go through a little bit of the history of the marriage equality debate in this country, particularly the parliamentary history of the marriage equality debate. It is really interesting that when the Greens in the Tasmanian parliament tabled this country's first ever suite of marriage equality legislation in 2005 we could not even get the support of the House of Assembly to refer those laws to a parliamentary committee for an inquiry. That was 10 years ago. The Tasmanian parliament would not even hold an inquiry into same-sex marriage legislation. How proud a day it was for Tasmania when in 2010 we became the first state to recognise overseas same-sex marriages through the provisions of our nation-leading Relationships Act. In 2011 the House of Assembly became the first house of any parliament in Australia to vote for in-principle support for marriage equality. Then, one of the proudest days in my political career was in 2012 when the House of Assembly in the Tasmanian parliament became the first chamber in any Australian parliament to pass marriage equality legislation.

I want to say here that it has always been the view of the Greens and it is also my view that this reform should happen through the Commonwealth parliament so that it applies to all states and territories in our country. But back in those days it was blindingly obvious that the Commonwealth parliament was not going to be prepared to step up and pass marriage equality through both of its houses. I want to acknowledge Professor George Williams, who provided me with an extremely robust piece of constitutional advice that we released publicly in support of our first marriage equality legislation in 2005. That advice made it very clear that, in the opinion of Professor Williams, the discriminatory amendments to the Commonwealth Marriage Act—supported, I have to point out, by both the Labor and Liberal parties at the time—which limited the scope of the Commonwealth Marriage Act to marriage between a man and woman provided the constitutional space in Australia for states to legislate for same-sex marriage, because section 51 powers in the Australian Constitution are concurrent powers. In fact, until halfway through the last century it was actually states that dealt with marriage in Australia, not the Commonwealth.

I thank Professor Williams for that advice. I know there are many members of state and territory parliaments around the country who are watching very carefully the way this debate is evolving at a national level. It is worth pointing out that if the Commonwealth parliament does not fulfil its responsibilities in this area I have no doubt that these debates will arise again in state and territory parliaments in the not too distant future, because this is an issue that needs to be resolved as quickly as possible, in part so that people like Ben Jago are less likely to go through the traumatic experiences that he did.

We do not need a plebiscite in Australia; we just need MPs to step up and do their job. We were elected to this parliament to legislate, to make the laws of this country. It is one of our most fundamental duties as members of the Commonwealth parliament, and we ought to be prepared to step up and fulfil those responsibilities that are entrusted to us by the Australian people and to address the issue through the parliamentary forum, as we are today.

I share the fears articulated by Senator Simms in his speech that there is a very real risk that the debate will be divisive in our community and that a small but well-resourced lobby will take the opportunity to use debate to demonise gay and lesbian people in this country. We have examples of how some powerful people in the Catholic Church have used their power and the authority and the reach that they have to distribute material that, in my opinion, clearly discriminates against same-sex couples—and I am talking about the Don't Mess With Marriage pamphlet that has been distributed to a number of Catholic schools around Australia and has been made available online. It is worth pointing out that that pamphlet itself is also the subject of anti-discrimination action in Tasmania, and I declare that that has been brought by Martine Delaney, a Greens candidate. It is so important that, firstly, that sort of what I believe is offensive material is not allowed to be distributed and, secondly, when it is distributed, those who distribute it, and particularly those who author it, are subject to the legal protections that I believe exist in Tasmania, at least, to ensure a respectful debate on this issue. It is our fear that a plebiscite will allow those who vocally oppose marriage equality to divide our country on the basis of this issue by smearing gay and lesbian people.

So, as I have said a couple of times, we in this parliament are leaders and we have a responsibility to show leadership. The time has actually long passed for marriage equality. But, while we still sit in a parliament and allow discriminatory laws to go unchallenged and to continue to exist on our nation's statute books, how can we go into our schools, pubs and sporting organisations and say: 'Don't discriminate against gay and lesbian people,' because we lose the moral authority to do so because we allow discriminatory statutes to continue to exist in this country. As I said, even if you ignore the many, many other legitimate and meaningful arguments in support of marriage equality, that alone ought to be enough of an argument to sway this parliament—this Senate and the House of Representatives—into supporting marriage equality legislation.

11:16 am

Jo Lindgren (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to contribute to the debate on the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2013. Those in this place who know me are very aware of my views on this topic. To those honourable senators who do not know me very well: I look forward to your understanding of my long-held beliefs and reasoning.

I hold the firm belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. The sanctity of this union between a man and a woman is a cherished institution and recognised in our Constitution. It is the core component of the family.

My beliefs are not drawn from discriminatory influences, from political innuendo or from a misunderstanding of the world in which we live today. Who we choose as a partner, the way we cohabit and the personal lives we lead are choices for every individual to make for themselves. Personal choice and responsibility are championed in this country, and I will continue to be an ardent supporter of them. Therefore, the beliefs that I hold and will continue to embrace dearly should, in return, be respected and championed by those who have differing views.

During the course of this debate, I have no doubt that I and others of the same view as me will be labelled as intolerant and narrow-minded, and the list may go on. I must question the strength of the argument of the same-sex marriage supporters when they have to resort to name-calling. Are we to be denied the right to voice an opinion—an opinion we can clearly articulate without resorting to personal denigration?

One of the interesting arguments of the same-sex marriage supporters is that two people should be allowed to love who they choose. I do not know of any argument or legislation that states that an adult cannot love another adult of their choice. Marriage does not suddenly allow someone to love; I know I loved my husband before he even proposed to me.

This is the tragedy of the debate. Yes, my views may differ from those who believe in same-sex marriage, but my belief remains as strong as the belief of those in this chamber who oppose my view. There is always a small number of bad apples in the crate driving extremism and pushing the boundary of offensive behaviour, and they should fall into the category of 'bigot', but that is not the case with the vast majority of people who support the definition of marriage as it stands and oppose same-sex marriage. Here is where their argument falls down. As I have already stated, I am an ardent supporter of personal choice and I respect and will continue to respect those who have views that are different from mine. This debate is not about the differing views of people. This is not a debate about the terms of equality and discrimination. It is about the definition of 'marriage' and why it should remain unchanged, and that the Marriage Act must be kept in place as a union of a man and a woman.

I grew up in a family with Catholic values and beliefs. Does my destiny relate directly to that religious influence in my life? No, but it does define a lot of what I stand for and believe in. What I term 'Christian values' are also held by the vast majority, including those that choose not to worship Christ or any other god. Those values are about caring, being kind, holding to strong moral compasses and being community-minded. Those same values are also defined by not participating in discrimination or practicing antisocial behaviour. One way that we can achieve this is by having a mature debate based on the principles of that in which we believe, and also that which is for the interests of those we represent.

Marriage blesses the union of man and a woman, and possible children to that marriage. It has done so throughout human history, and across all cultures and religions. As the Hon. Eric Abetz said, it predates parliaments. It is arguably our oldest institution.

Ask why this cause has suddenly gained some traction, while other have felt no need to bring it forward, yet now they are championing the cause. Why did others, when they had the chance to vote for same-sex marriage, vote no against same-sex marriage? Was it for political gain? I am going to repeat some of the words of Senator Wong. She said: 'On the issue of marriage, I think, in reality, there is a cultural, religious and historical view around it which we have to respect. I do respect the fact that that's how people view the institution.' Have others who once held this view had a change of heart also? So where is their sincerity?

I hope that those who champion same-sex marriage do this for the right reasons. I hope those who champion this cause champion it with good conscience and have regard for those who are hopeful of change. To those who are disappointed with my views: at least you know where I stand and know that I am not going to use your hopes for my political gain. I have taken the view that the public of Australia needs to be included in this decision. I ask those who support same-sex marriage: have you considered the full consequences of this idea? What will occur if this is successful? What will happen to the adoption laws? Will they too become equal?

With adoption waiting times being about five years, a traditional couple will not consider placing their names on the list unless they have a medical reason preventing them from having children naturally. This could be five years or more after marriage, depending on your age. They then generally wait and establish their marriage, home and, maybe, careers. After trying for a while they may seek medical assistance, then IVF, and then, after a time of trying to conceive, the body clock is ticking and due to the age of the woman her body starts working against her. They will then try adoption, only to find those who have not had to endure this pain are ahead of them on the adoption waiting list. This would easily be 10 to 15 years later.

A same sex couple, knowing they cannot bear children naturally, place themselves on this list at the time of marriage, or earlier. Do we then move traditional couples who have spent years and great expense to have a child, and failed, to the top of the list? If we did, I have no doubt that the howls of indignation and discrimination would be loud from some parts of this chamber.

Some have failed to consider what is next. What are the future consequences? Do we now expect women in traditional relationship to have children early to ensure they can have children, to put aside career aspirations, to race into relationships in case their body and the system works against them and adoption becomes harder? If you think I am wrong then go to the staff rooms of schools or the meal rooms of police stations and see how many are struggling to have children after establishing a career. As an educator, I have seen the results of fathers and mothers not being present in the upbringing of a child, and, to be frank, it is not good.

As a daughter, I know of the special relationship a daughter has with her father; no more than a male has with their mother. And, yes, I have also seen bad traditional families, but I do not wish to create further social issues that will need addressing in 10 to 20 years' time.

Some will ask why I, as an Indigenous woman who has firsthand knowledge and experience of discrimination, am supporting a form of discrimination? I am not supporting discrimination. I am supporting families. Families have throughout nature and history consisted of a male and a female, securing the future of their race and culture. In Indigenous cultures, children were seen as the clan's future and security, therefore traditional marriage was not just supported, it was needed. It was a matter of survival.

Please do not point to Ireland. It had 60 per cent of voters turning out, producing an actual support of just 37 per cent. But that is something they will have to accept and deal with, due to voter apathy. America's decision just does not cut it—a court decision, not one made by either the legislature or the people. Nine people to make a decision for a nation, with four dissenting. This does not represent a popular choice but rather the narrow choice of social elites.

Despite being a Senator for only a short period of time, the last count of emails I have received on this issue is in the thousands. They show that the vast majority of those who have contacted me oppose same sex marriage—it is approximately 22,000.

Why do some fear participative democracy? If those who want same-sex marriage are truly serious, then let them campaign for it. But first, let those within their own ranks who oppose it openly campaign against, as well.

11:25 am

Photo of Lisa SinghLisa Singh (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Shadow Attorney General) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to contribute my remarks to the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2013. I do thank Senator Simms for bringing this debate on today. I will indicate at the outset my support for this bill.

One of the most important and enduring values of Australian society is its respect for difference. It is respect for difference that is based on that inalienable dignity of every single person. When we talk about that dignity, it is about dignity that is equal amongst people, which means that it persists regardless of race, colour, creed, gender or sexuality or any other arbitrary distinction that we might make. We recognise this dignity by allowing all people to have an equal opportunity to realise their dreams, and equal access to community life—in cultural expression, in work and in the kind of ambitions people can pursue. However, when we look at the legal definition of marriage, as it stands, it denies same-sex couples, gays and lesbians, the dignity that Australian values would rightly accord them.

I want to go to where the Australian community currently stands on this issue, because there is an overwhelming amount of support for marriage equality in this country. The majority of Australian communities right across the country are calling for an end to this discrimination. I think something like 72 per cent, if not more, of Australians are supporting marriage equality. This may be something that we debate here in the parliament, and we express our own views according to conscience—that is as it currently stands at least for the Labor Party and, I think, for the coalition. I acknowledge that the Greens have a united position on this issue.

But regardless of our views in this place, the majority of Australia, the people we represent, the people we legislate for, are calling for marriage equality. That in itself means that we need to reflect on our own views and also reflect on the views of the people we represent, and listen to them.

One of the most important components of this bill, and of the outcome it seeks to achieve, is really about ending discrimination for gays and lesbians in Australia. That really goes to the heart of what this bill is about. I acknowledge the very heartfelt contributions that have been made by some senators in this place on that very issue—the ending of discrimination. When we talk about discrimination, a number of us share our own personal stories of people we know who may have suffered discrimination, or even ourselves. For me, it is the story of a dear friend of mine and his partner. Because of their sexuality, they have suffered discrimination from their neighbour for some seven years now. Their neighbour has left them frightened and intimidated. He has victimised them. He has discriminated against them on the basis of their sexual orientation. These friends of mine have been fighting this through the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal. It has been going on this year, but that is really the end point. It has actually been the last seven years that have been so horrific for them and in which they have suffered so dearly.

When we talk about marriage equality, yes, we are talking about the rights and freedoms for same-sex couples to marry—that is true—but we are also talking about something much more fundamental than that; we are talking about trying to end the discrimination that continues to take place in this country for gay and lesbian Australians, which has resulted in some devastating and terrible outcomes for them. So I stand to contribute in support of marriage equality to do just that—to end discrimination for gay and lesbian Australians. I understand that there are differing views and that some people may not support my view or the view of some of my colleagues—of Senator Simms, Senator McKim and others—but I ask them to recognise that times have changed, as recognised by the majority support for marriage equality in Australia. The institution of marriage has evolved. Marriage is a deeply personal and social institution. It is a commitment offered by a couple to each other through which the value and dignity of a couple's love is formally recognised by their community. In both cases it is a symbol of a loving union between two people, and this is the case regardless of sexual orientation.

In Australia and around the world, marriage equality has come a long way. The campaign in Australia for marriage equality has certainly come a long way. If we look around the world, the referendum in Ireland was an incredibly momentous outcome. The decision by the United States Supreme Court, again, has added vital morale and momentum, I think, to Australia's cause. The words of Justice Anthony Kennedy rang true here in Australia when he delivered the opinion of the United States Supreme Court upholding the constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry. He said that 'We continue to deny the dignity of gays and lesbian couples, and the dignity of their love, and I believe it is discriminatory and incompatible with the expectations of an equal society.' That really says it all for me. I remember the day that decision was handed down and those words of Justice Kennedy were shared and beamed all around the world. He very much touched on what I was remarking on earlier when I talked about discrimination, dignity and the need to be equal regardless of our sexuality, regardless of our race, regardless of our colour and regardless of our gender.

The successful referendum in Ireland, in what some would say is a staunchly Catholic nation, demonstrates the dramatic change in attitudes and the need in Australia for equality too. And, of course, our dear neighbours in New Zealand, and other countries, such as the UK, the Netherlands, South Africa, Denmark, Belgium, Brazil, France and many more, have also recognised the importance of marriage equality. Unfortunately, I did not get to go to a dear friend's wedding recently because he and his partner, his now husband, had to go to New Zealand for their marriage, and time did not permit me to be able to get on a plane to go to New Zealand to celebrate their wedding with them. It was another reminder that they should not have had to leave Australia to be married. They should have been able to be married here with their friends and their family.

I joined over 1,200 Tasmanians in Hobart in August to call on the government to allow our parliamentarians to bring marriage equality into Australia. That rally at the city hall in Hobart may have seemed small by mainland standards, but on a gusty Hobart day the city hall was packed and the sentiment rang through that very packed city hall with supporters spilling out onto the streets. Rodney Croome, from Australian Marriage Equality, spoke passionately that day on the need for change. He has been such a staunch advocate for so long to end discrimination for gay and lesbians in this country, and that also goes to his incredible support for marriage equality. He said:

It is time for us to stand in defence of values we hold dear: love, commitment, family, equality, fairness, belonging. Guided by those values, and standing together as we do here today, we will succeed.

I think everyone's heart was absolutely touched by Rodney's contribution that day. Senator McKim was there and contributed that day as well, as did the acclaimed singer and songwriter, Monique Brumby, who I am sure is familiar to a number of senators in this place. She spoke of her experience. She said:

Growing up in Tasmania as a gay woman, I felt very ashamed a lot of the time ... I was made to feel like I was not equal to other people and I felt depressed. And I see a lot of young people, people of all ages who feel like this today.

She went on to say:

I feel ... honoured and privileged to be a part of history-making in Australia where I feel we can get these laws changed, and the mere fact that we are all here and the fact that support for marriage equality in Australia is at 72% is very encouraging. Its an exciting time.

Support for marriage equality rings so strongly throughout the Australian community. The only thing blocking this from becoming a reality is certain people in this place not supporting it. I ask those people to reflect on their position and to listen to some of the contributions that have been made, not just by those in this place but by those like Monique Brumby, like Rodney Croome and like so many people in the broader Australian community—people who have even changed their views. There are people like the President of the United States, Barack Obama, who changed his view. They recognise that, yes, times have changed and this is about something else. It is about what Justice Kennedy described as 'the end of discrimination' and 'something incompatible with the expectations of an equal society'.

We have had activists, business leaders, unionists, sporting heroes, parents of gay and lesbian children, and so many more, voicing their support for equality. Seven hundred and sixty-five organisations have pledged their support for marriage equality. The negative message that is sent out by discrimination in marriage fosters prejudice. The unequal treatment against same-sex relationships in the wider community is something that I cannot stand by and continue to see happen in this country. This is a debate about real people, real families and real love. We must send a message of acceptance and of belonging to all Australians—to every kid who struggles with their sexuality, to every parent who is concerned that their child will bear the brunt of homophobia and to the children of same-sex couples themselves; to all of those who suffer from discrimination based on their sexuality.

I would like to acknowledge some of the blockers to this coming reality that were raised by Senator Simms in his contribution. One of those is what the government has put forward: having a plebiscite. I understand there was a Senate inquiry and that Senate inquiry show very clearly, among other things, that it would cost some $160 million of taxpayers' money to have a plebiscite when 70 per cent of the Australian community have already said that they want marriage equality. It is not a practicality; it is simply impractical to go down that pathway. We can get on and do this now. In fact, a lot of people—people who are perhaps not particularly interested in the institution of marriage—say to me, 'I just wish Australia would get on and do it. I just wish Australia would pass this legislation and get on with it.' That is really the attitude of a lot of people. They want us to move with the times and end this discrimination.

I conclude my remarks there. I would also like to acknowledge that, yes, it was the Tasmanian parliament that passed marriage equality laws. I congratulate Lara Giddings and Nick McKim for the work they did in that. But, yes, it is a federal piece of legislation, so it is up to us here to make it happen and I think now is the time that we should do that and support marriage equality in Australia.

11:42 am

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Like so many Australians, I find the ongoing refusal of this government to allow an immediate parliamentary vote on marriage equality utterly intolerable. I have listened to the arguments from those on the government benches who say that they do not discriminate against lesbian, gay or transgender people; they just do not believe that marriage should be changed to allow same-sex attracted people to be married. I am sorry: that is just not the case. If you do not support lesbian, gay or transgender people being able to marry, you are discriminating against them. You are not giving them the rights that are afforded to the rest of Australians. It is state sanctioned discrimination at its most basic. The arguments that marriage is sacred, immutable and unchangeable is clearly not true. It is codswallop because marriage has changed over the years; marriage has changed over the centuries. In previous times, the same arguments that are being used against same-sex marriage were used against interracial marriage—that, no, it is just not right for black people to marry white people. The same arguments were used against marriages of people of different religion—that, no, marriage should not occur between somebody who is Christian and somebody who is Muslim. In fact, the same arguments have been used for marriage between Catholics and Protestants. We got through all of that. We know that if people love each other they should be allowed to marry. Marriage is such an important part of our social structure, and to allow all Australians to be able to participate gives equality to all Australians.

It is intolerable that right now, in almost all jurisdictions across Australia, if you are a trans or gender-diverse person who is currently in a married, opposite-sex relationship and if you as a trans or gender-diverse person want to change your birth certificate to correctly identify your new gender, you must divorce your husband or wife to do so. Trans forced divorce is such a strong example of how outdated and discriminatory our current marriage laws are.

I am married to my wife, Penny. We married almost 30 years ago when she was Peter. She transitioned to her lived gender—her real gender as a woman—some 12 years ago, I think. Penny has chosen to not change her gender on her birth certificate. Her birth certificate still says she is male—when she knows, we know and the world now knows she is absolutely female. But she cannot change her birth certificate because, to change her birth certificate, under our current legislation we would have to divorce. So her birth certificate sits in a bottom drawer. Fortunately, she is able to get a passport in her real gender. Her passport says that she is female, so her birth certificate is totally irrelevant to her as an identity document. That is not how it should be. It is such an absurdity and it shows the discriminatory nature of our current laws. It shows the discrimination against transgendered people as well as against lesbian and gay people.

It is intolerable that today, in 2015, gender diverse, trans and intersex people who are in a same-sex relationship are not able to marry the person they love, the person they cherish and the person they want to create a solemn and binding relationship with. It is particularly intolerable that young trans and gender diverse people in same-sex relationships are constantly given the message, loud and clear, that their government refuses to allow them the respect and dignity of allowing them to marry and wants to take the issue of their personal love for another person to a national vote of some 16 million people. It is absolutely intolerable that every day around Australia people's lives, their families and their relationships are being torn apart by this brutal, heartless refusal of the Turnbull government to allow a parliamentary vote on marriage equality.

Sally Goldner, the Executive Director of Transgender Victoria, who was recently crowned the Victorian LGBTIQ Person of the Year in recognition of her advocacy, writes:

Article 16(2) of the UN Declaration of Human Rights states that "Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full (my emphasis) consent of the intending spouses." Would it be fair to imply from that article, marriage should equally be ended with the full consent too?

Sally, that is a very good question. TheResilient individuals: sexual orientation gender identity & intersex rights national consultation report 2015of the Australia Human Rights Commission was released this year. The report states:

To ensure all Australians are treated equally and fairly by the law and government, the following law reform should occur promptly at a state and territory level …


In the interests of preserving resilient families and marriages, all states and territories should remove the requirement that married couples get divorced in order for one partner that is transitioning their gender to have it acknowledged on official documentation.

The Australian Human Rights Commission report goes on to state that the impact of the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act 1961, as it presently stands, means:

3. An established married couple, one of whom is a trans person, is legally required to divorce in order for the trans person to amend their birth certificate.

4. A couple cannot access civil marriage if one party is legally recognised as a sex other than male or female.

5. Queensland case law suggests that irrespective of the sex marker on a birth certificate, some intersex people may not come within the definition of a man or a woman for the purposes of the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth), and therefore are denied access to civil marriage.

This is discrimination at its most basic. What more evidence does this government need? In New South Wales, in Tasmania, in Victoria and in South Australia the issue of trans forced divorce has been raised in state parliamentary reference groups, in state based reviews and by members of parliament. Hardworking volunteer advocacy groups, such as Transgender Victoria and other trans and gender diverse rights lobbies, are educating and raising awareness of these ridiculous and damaging legislative and regulatory inconsistencies.

The Australian Greens and I support the right of all trans, gender diverse, gender queer and intersex people to marry the person they love. We are in a position in this parliament to be able to legislate—to use our powers here as legislators to remove this discrimination and allow all Australians to marry the person they love. The Greens have proudly stood up for the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer communities for many, many years—well before marriage equality was even a thing. In parliaments all over the country, it has been Greens who have been advocating and working hard for the rights of LGBTIQ Australians for years and years. We are so close now. At the moment in Australia, the opinion polls show that 70 per cent of Australians want to see same-sex marriage. They want all Australians to be able to marry the person they love, and they cannot understand why we do not just get on with it. Why don't we just do it and allow these marriages to occur? They are such happy occasions. We will continue to fight to remove all forms of discrimination faced by our communities. And we will continue to call for a parliamentary vote as soon as possible—by the end of the year would be terrific—to bring on marriage equality. We can vote now to introduce marriage equality in Australia. Love does not discriminate, and neither should the law.

Debate adjourned.