Thursday, 16 November 2017
Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017; Second Reading
Before I call Senator Smith, I remind senators of the procedural order under which this bill is being considered. We have two hours and 20 minutes of debate this morning, and the bill will be called on again this afternoon from not later than 4.30 pm. There will not be a vote on the bill today. The vote on the bill's second reading and consideration of amendments will occur in the next sitting week.
The votes of the Australian people were tallied, and the Australian people have voted yes to changing the Marriage Act of our country. I know many people questioned the original plebiscite. I did. I know many opposed the postal survey. I did. Many gay and lesbian people felt uncomfortable asking for equal rights before the law because why should you supplicate for the same rights and responsibility as others? Nevertheless, we must acknowledge with awe and gratitude the willingness of our country men and women to stand beside us, to affirm us and to join us in voting yes. On behalf of gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and intersex Australians and their families, I say, with humility and with gratitude, thank you.
Yesterday we saw a glimpse of the country we all yearn for, a country that is fair minded, generous and accepting. We saw a country that was willing to embrace its hopes rather than hold onto its fears. Many of us across this chamber have seen something of that great Australian story that compelled us into public life. For the Liberals and conservatives who yearned for change, we see in this result the shining city on a hill with more freedom, more acceptance and more grace. For those opposite, they have lived out Ben Chifley's magnificent call to fight for the right so that truth and justice will prevail.
In many cases, Australians voted for someone they knew, and in just as many they voted for someone they didn't. The wonder of this result is that it brings together young and old, gay and straight, conservative and progressive, immigrant and Indigenous, in the most unifying Australian coalition. True, some wanted a 15-year debate to be over so that we could move on to other pressing issues, but mostly there was an understanding by our fellow citizens that the life path for a young gay or lesbian teenager or young adult is harder than their heterosexual brothers' and sisters'. Australians voted to make that path easier. It wasn't just a vote of acceptance; it was that deep, loving embrace of a big family.
Every time we stand in this chamber, we do so as representatives of the people. In amending the Marriage Act, we do so knowing that we have the full confidence of the Australian people. The senators from Tasmania know that 63.6 per cent of Tasmanians voted yes. The senators from Queensland know that 60.7 per cent of Queenslanders voted yes. The senators from this fine Capital Territory know that 74 per cent of Canberrans voted yes. The senators from New South Wales know that 57.8 per cent of Australia's most populous state voted yes. The senators from Victoria know that 64.9 per cent of Victorian residents voted yes. The senators from the rugged Top End know that 60.6 per cent of Territorians voted yes. The senators from SA know that 62.5 per cent of electors voted yes, and my 11 brothers and sisters, senators from that great state of WA, know that our home state delivered a resounding 63.7 per cent yes vote. If ever there was a vote that took us back to being the states' house, I think this is it. We should also note that 133 electoral divisions out of 150 delivered a yes vote. In WA it was a clean sweep: 16 seats out of 16 seats voted yes.
This was not just a vote about a law but a vote about who we are as a people. I have listened to hundreds, if not thousands of LGBTI Australians in past years. Many have written, emailed, Facebooked, tweeted, spoken to me in airports and at functions or simply picked up the phone. There is a commonality in all these conversations and in all of our lives: it is that of rejection and acceptance, isolation and inclusion—but, acutely, of shame and pride. It is the silent chord that runs through all of our lives, but acutely through the lives of LGBTI Australians. All too often the biggest hurdle for so many is that of self-acceptance and finding that path where we can honestly reconcile who we are with the hopes and dreams we have for our own lives and what we think are the expectations of others.
I've been fortunate: I have an accepting, embracing and loving family. The heartbeat of their love for me didn't skip a beat. Not everyone is that fortunate. My own journey of acceptance has been greatly influenced by a book I read as a younger man. The book was Coming Out Conservative by Marvin Liebman. It helped answer that question we all face: what must I do to live an honest and authentic life? It's a book that has sustained me through good times and through bad. Liebman writes: 'If I have learnt anything about life, it is to be yourself. Be what you are, no matter who you are or how you were born. Don't try to be what others want you to be. Accept the difference of others, include them in your lives. By shutting others out merely because they are different, you diminish your own life and that of your children.'
The decision of the Australian people to allow same-sex couples to marry is an offered hand to those deep chords within gay and lesbian Australians' lives. Nothing speaks more of acceptance than marriage. Marriage is also the way that we admit adult members to our loving families. As Paul Ritchie wrote in that beautiful book Faith, Love and Australia: the Conservative Case for Same-Sex Marriage: 'Marriage can be a powerful affirmation of our lives. A wedding is the day we see our parents' joyful tears and receive their blessing. It is when we hear our best friend's speech, with love hidden in the humour, and it is when the love of our life is admitted to our family and we to theirs. It is the day we are blessed by our families.' Because of this bill, that blessing will no longer be denied to our LGBTI children.
One of the reasons this bill is so vital is that it reflects the deepest of liberal and conservative ideals: liberal because it advances the sum of freedoms and conservative because it nurtures our families, affirms a vital institution and strengthens the social fabric which is the sum of all of our human relationships. Today I think of John Gorton, the only Prime Minister to come from the Senate, who 44 years ago moved a motion calling for the decriminalisation of homosexuality. In him we saw a liberalism that was empathetic and a man who even after achieving the highest office was still willing to walk a mile in another man's shoes. Gorton's mantle was taken up by hundreds of Liberal and National Party members who lent their names to the Libs and Nats for Yes campaign. To all I say: thank you.
Jack Kennedy once said with more than a touch of irony:
Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.
When I look at this victory and the thousands who made it possible, I keep thinking of one man: the one who carried the torch well before there were any LGBTI members of the coalition. That man is the member for Leichhardt, Warren Entsch. Like John Gorton, he is a wonderful mix of gruffness and empathy that makes him the most unexpected but compelling of warriors. This bill is more Warren's than anyone's. We simply walk in the tracks that he's laid for us.
The Australian people have voted to change the Marriage Act. Now we must move decisively on their behalf. The postal survey was a vote on amending the Marriage Act, full stop. Yes, there are other worthy debates about freedom of expression and living out our shared values and, yes, I'll be a willing and enthusiastic participant in those debates. But those matters cannot be part of the Marriage Act. They can live for another day. This bill, in keeping with the express will of the Australian people, is solely about amending the Marriage Act. I believe this is a comprehensive bill and I'm willing to engage in the substantive issues the bill addresses.
This bill seeks to remove existing discrimination from the Marriage Act and protect religious institutions and does not reintroduce commercial discrimination. Let me be clear: amendments that seek to address other issues or seek to deny gay and lesbian Australians the full rights, responsibilities and privileges that they already have will be strenuously opposed. Australians did not vote for equality before the law so that equality before the law that has already been gained could be stripped away.
This is a fair bill. This bill recognises the special place of marriage that transcends our civic and religious life. In many ways the undercurrent debate over recent years has been the question: is marriage a holy secular institution or a wholly secular institution? My message is that it can still be both without curtailing our civic or religious freedoms.
This bill advances the civic rights of all Australians and provides protection for religious institutions to continue to be guided by their own tenets of their own faith. Nothing in this bill takes away an existing right, nor does any of it diminish an existing civil freedom. The change proposed in this bill is not revolutionary; it is evolutionary. Yesterday's decisive outcome after a 15-year debate is a reflection of Edmund Burke's admonition:
Time is required to produce that union of minds which alone can produce all the good we aim at. Our patience will achieve more than our force.
Whether we admit it or not, we all bring our full selves to this place. All of us are a product of our families, our histories, our connections and the parties and communities from which we come. It is the strength and wonder of being a representative body.
I've spoken this morning very much as a gay Australian, but let me also say a few words as someone who is also a Christian Australian. It is as much a part of who I am as my nationality or indeed my sexuality, and it is in part why I wrestled with this issue for so long. Being true to self is often as much about being true to the people who loved us and nurtured us, and that equally applies to me. My faith is not a platform; it's a refuge. It's why on my desk there stands a crucifix. It gives me strength when there appear to be difficult times ahead of me. So I want to acknowledge the very genuine concerns some Christians and religious people around Australia have expressed during this postal survey and give a voice to them. People voted no not because they had a particular problem with gay and lesbian Australians but because they felt it was the easiest expression of their fear about the change in Australian culture towards people of religious faith. The no advocates spoke much about religious freedom but couldn't point to exactly what freedom was being lost. That's because what religious people fear has little to do with laws but everything to do with culture.
Let me express the fears that many people of faith have in our modern world. Many Australians voted no because they fear a world where they won't be able to live their identity, where they can't fully express who they are. They fear a world where they will be shamed for who they are. They fear a world where their faith will be questioned by internet mobs and government tribunals. They fear a world where they mightn't be promoted at work if people knew what they believed or how they lived. They fear a world of ostracism for who they are and what god they follow. They fear a world where violence might be directed against them by a mad few for no reason other than the faith they profess, the place in which they choose to worship. I understand these fears because they are reflections of the fears LGBTI citizens have felt through our country's history: fears about acceptance, fears about jobs, fears about hiding a part of you and, yes, fears about violence. This vote is not about replacing one persecuted minority with another or giving one hope to one group while inflicting fear on another group; it must be about advancing the hopes and dreams of all citizens, no matter their sexuality, ethnicity or religion.
As Australians we have a shared inheritance. Sir Robert Menzies, using the beautiful words of Saint Paul, said that, as Australians, we are members of one family—and indeed we are. The error of our times is that all too often in this chamber we seek to advance the base that elected us rather than the nation that needs us; we play to one group rather than to advance all. Yes, this is a great day for our democracy and our country, but it is also a day when we reaffirm our commitment to affirm the different identities of all our citizens and pledge ourselves to protect them all.
As a young man I never believed I could serve as a senior adviser to a Prime Minister or a Premier, because I was a gay man; John Howard and Richard Court both proved me wrong. I never believed that I could be preselected to be a Liberal Party candidate or senator; the Liberal Party proved me wrong. I didn't believe my name would ever be accepted by the people at an election; the people of Western Australia proved me wrong. And I never believed the day would come when my relationship would be judged by my country to be as meaningful and valued as any other; the Australian people have proven me wrong. To those who want and believe in change and to those who seek to frustrate it, I simply say: don't underestimate Australia, don't underestimate the Australian people, don't underestimate our country's sense of fairness, its sense of decency and its willingness to be a country for all of us. Not only does our country live these values; it votes for them as well. Thank you.
I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. Today is a proud day for Australia: a day of joy and a day of grace; a day for all Australians to be proud of themselves and of our nation, a nation that has shown itself to be as generous and as big-hearted as we had hoped; a day when the nation's parliament has an opportunity to reaffirm the Australian values of fairness and equality; a day when the nation's parliament can do what we have been asked to do, because this is exactly what Australians want. Australians have voted overwhelmingly in favour of changing the law to remove discrimination in our Marriage Act. Every state and every territory voted yes. The yes vote was higher than any national two-party-preferred vote in the nation's history. And it is the most conclusive national vote in the nation's history. Australians have made their views clear, and they want everyone to be treated equally before the law. The Australian people have done their part, and now it is our turn, as parliamentarians, to do ours.
For too long, some Australians have been deprived of the fair go. We've been deprived of equality before the law for no reason other than who we are and who we love. For LGBTIQ Australians, the message conveyed by the discrimination in our nation's marriage laws has been clear. It is a message that we are lesser. It is a message that we are less valued as citizens. It is a message that our relationships and our children matter less. And it is a message that, because of who we love, our love is worth less.
For others, those who fear difference, the message conveyed by the exclusion in our nation's marriage laws has also been clear. It is a message that it is acceptable to discriminate on the basis of sexuality; a message for some that they are right to fear us and to hate us; that it is acceptable to target and abuse us; that it is acceptable to marginalise us.
The impact of this abuse and discrimination on LGBTIQ Australians is not abstract. It is real and it is part of our daily lives. And its impact can be very harmful. The rate of suicide for our community is higher than for the general population. LGBTIQ Australians are at higher risk for a range of mental diagnoses and are significantly more likely to have depression or anxiety. When the LGBTIQ community is diminished in this way, the entire Australian community is diminished. Indeed, when any in our community are diminished in this way, be they our First Australians, people of different ethnicities, people of different religions or people of different sexualities, the whole Australian community is diminished—because we are one people, because we stand together to uphold the principle of a fair go, because the rule of law applies to all of us equally.
Our laws reflect the values of our nation and shape the behaviour of our people. My formative experience of prejudice and discrimination was not on the basis of sexuality but because of my race. Moving to Australia from Malaysia as an eight-year-old, I felt out of place. At primary school, I was the only Asian face and I was often made to feel different and excluded. Neighbours rejected me for my difference for no reason other than the colour of my skin, the colour of my hair, the shape of my eyes. It was this experience growing up in a predominantly white Australia that taught me the impact of fear and of prejudice, and it is from this experience that I am driven to remove discrimination and embed equality.
In 2004, the Howard government moved to amend the Marriage Act explicitly to exclude same-sex couples from the institution of marriage. It was a deliberate political tactic, and, in speaking to my Labor colleagues then, I argued that, were the restriction of rights proposed on the basis of race or age or class or religious belief or gender or any other attribute, there would not be a person in the caucus who would countenance it. But the sad fact is we have long been familiar with discrimination against some loving couples. Laws once prevented loving couples from being able to marry on the basis of race. In June this year, we saw the 50th anniversary of the US Supreme Court decision in Loving v Virginia. In his judgement, Justice Warren said that the law deprived the Lovings of liberty of the freedom to marry, which 'has long been recognised as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness'. The decision saw the end to anti-miscegenation laws which had for centuries sought to prevent people of different races from mixing. And it wasn't just in America that such laws applied. They applied in South Africa and they applied in Australia, where the rights of Indigenous people to marry were restricted. My mother, the third daughter of a farmer from the Adelaide Hills, married a Chinese man at a time when the White Australia policy was still in place. My parents, just like the Lovings, point to a history of those who have not accepted prejudice and have not accepted discrimination.
Almost four decades after the anti-miscegenation laws were declared invalid by the US Supreme Court, the Australian parliament was legislating to discriminate against loving couples, not on the basis of race but on the basis of sexuality. It was a dark moment in the history of this parliament. For me, Labor's support for the Howard government's amendment meant I voted for discrimination against myself and the people whom I loved. I had a choice at that time. I could go out in a blaze of publicity, take a public stand against my party and become an outsider in a pretty dramatic way. I decided to fight this discrimination from within the political system and I chose to stay and accept the solidarity to which I had signed up as a member of a collective political party. I was convinced that Labor, as the party of equality, would one day be a driving force for reversing the discrimination that the parliament had legislated.
The Labor Party is the party of equality. We once understood inequality through the lens of economic inequality and we fought to achieve equality by securing decent wages and conditions. Over time, we came to realise the importance of driving wider equality in the workplace and in the community, and that Australians should be protected from discrimination, regardless of gender, race, physical abilities, religion, gender and sexual identity. Labor has a proud history of removing discrimination and extending equality. It was Labor governments that finally abolished the White Australia policy and that legislated against discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, age and disability. It was Labor that removed discrimination against same-sex couples in more than 80 areas of law. Just as the Australian community has been on a journey, so, too, has my party; and, like the Australian community, Labor's journey has been driven by activists, by people who know discrimination, by members of the LGBTIQ community, by our friends in the Indigenous community, by immigrant communities, by people with disabilities and by others who know what discrimination feels like—and we have all worked together to change hearts and minds.
In 2011, we achieved a change in the Labor Party platform to support legislating for marriage equality. But the change didn't just appear out of nowhere. Change happened because of champions like Penny Sharpe, who has worked to build momentum for change in our party. Change happened because of representatives like Anthony Albanese, one of our most committed and fearless allies, who was willing to fight for the rights of our community before it was an accepted principle; Tanya Plibersek, who has fought tirelessly for equality; and so many others. Change happened because of Rainbow Labor activists who campaigned within the party, moving motions at sub-branches, lobbying members and representatives, and working at state and national conferences to advance the rights of LGBTIQ Australians.
Equality never comes easy. It must be fought for, and it must be won. It was true of women fighting for suffrage; it was true of workers fighting for decent wages; it was and remains true of women fighting for wage equality, as it was for married women fighting for the right to remain in paid employment; it is true of Australia's first peoples, who have fought to be truly recognised as citizens of our nation; and it has been true for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians fighting for equality before the law. I take this moment to acknowledge all the brave champions who have gone before, some who are with us and some no longer. We thank you for your courage and for your persistence.
For decades, we have been fighting for equality in our workplaces and in our communities, and we have come a long way. We have worked to remove discrimination and to extend protections against discrimination, and our fight has been a long one. It was over 40 years ago that my state of South Australia became the first state to decriminalise homosexuality, and it took another two decades for Tasmania to become the last. But, above all, we have worked to change hearts and minds. In 2004, when the Howard government moved to explicitly exclude LGBTIQ Australians from the institution of marriage, just 38 per cent of Australians supported marriage equality, with 44 per cent against. By 2007, 57 per cent were in favour of marriage equality, and support increased to 60 per cent in 2009. The Australian community has shifted. In 2004, many considered it untenable to support marriage equality. Now it is untenable to oppose it. For a decade the majority of Australians have supported marriage equality, and for a decade the parliament has lagged the Australian community, and the community is, frankly, over the negativity and the delay.
Labor opposed the Turnbull government's proposed plebiscite on marriage equality because we believed it was unnecessary, costly and divisive. Recall that it was a proposal first discussed in the marathon meeting of the coalition party room, dreamt up by the very people who oppose equality and designed to further delay progress towards equality, and in November last year the Senate rejected the plebiscite. It was after another government party room meeting in August that the idea of a postal survey emerged, and we opposed that too. We opposed it for the same reasons we opposed the proposed plebiscite, in addition to the fact that the survey risked disenfranchising whole sections of the Australian community.
But we knew—we realised—that, if the postal survey was to proceed, we had to fight it and we had to win it. So Labor, under the leadership of Bill Shorten, committed wholeheartedly to campaign for yes. We knew that ignoring this process or boycotting it would only play into the hands of those who oppose equality. So I thank Bill, Tanya, Mark Dreyfus, Terri Butler, Tony Burke, the LGBTIQ caucus members—Senator Pratt and Julian Hill—and the whole Labor team for their commitment to a yes vote.
For those of us fighting for our own equality, this has been a deeply personal debate, as I demonstrated quite publicly yesterday. Our very identity has been the subject of public scrutiny and public debate. Through this campaign, we have seen the best of our country and also the worst. Our fears of the kind of hate and misinformation a public vote on equality would lead to have been shown to be well placed. Our community has been forced to endure public pronouncements about why our relationships and our families are lesser, and assaults on and self-harm by LGBTIQ Australians have increased.
But we've also seen an outpouring of support for our community. Neil took a home-made yes sign around the shearing sheds of the Liverpool Plains because he said gay people had suffered for too long. There was that wonderful video of 104-year-old Alex telling us he voted yes because, after being happily married for 45 years, he thought his grandson Paul should have the same rights and privileges. Ben voted yes for his mums, reminding us that children in LGBTIQ families are here and they love as they are loved.
The outcome of the postal survey is a reflection of the decency of the Australian people and the commitment of all who value fairness and equality, but the victory hasn't come easily. It is because so many of us campaigned and were supported by our friends, our families, our colleagues and our neighbours—allies all, and we thank you. We have all been lifted by the support from unions, from business leaders, from farmers, miners and professionals, from working men and women, from the national sporting clubs and their leading stars to the local clubs in towns and cities across Australia. We've been lifted by support from the local cafes with 'vote yes' signs in the windows—my daughter always tried to count them: 'How many yes signs do we see today?'—the yes signs in airlines and airports decorated with rainbows.
The Equality Campaign led our collective effort. I want to acknowledge the wonderful Tim Gartrell, also the executive director, Tiernan Brady, and co-chairs Anna Brown, Tom Snow, Janine Middleton and Alex Greenwich. The commitment to fighting a positive campaign in the face of all we saw from the other side is a demonstration of the kind of Australia our nation is and that we want it to be.
This bill is the best path to legislate marriage equality. I acknowledge Senator Smith for his work in bringing this bill to the parliament. He has shown tremendous integrity and personal courage, and the broad support from across the chamber for this bill demonstrates this. This bill is the 23rd marriage equality bill to be introduced into the Australian parliament, but it is the first that I have co-sponsored. I chose to put my name in support of this bill because I believe this is the bill that can pass the parliament. It is a bill based on the consensus report of a cross-party Senate select committee, a committee which undertook extensive consultations with groups supportive of and opposed to marriage equality, and its recommendations sought to balance these interests. I again reiterate: Australians voted to remove discrimination, not to extend it. This bill strikes a balance between achieving marriage equality and protecting the rights of religious institutions whose doctrines and teachings do not enable them to support marriage equality, all of this consistent with Australia's hard-won and well-established antidiscrimination laws.
This is a proud day for Australia. It's a day when this parliament has an opportunity to reaffirm those Australian values of fairness and equality, a day when this parliament can recommit to the ideal of Australia as the land of the fair go. Australians voted yes for equality, and this is a profoundly important statement to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer Australians that we are accepted for who we are, that we too belong, that our love is equal and our families are equal. Australians have recognised that our lives are no different to others. We have the same hopes and aspirations, and our desire to make a public and lasting commitment to the person we love is as important and meaningful as everyone else's.
This bill isn't just important for LGBTIQ Australians; it's important for all Australians. Imagine if the message of discrimination, fear and intolerance that we saw during this campaign had won. Imagine what that would have said about the kind of nation we had become. But our nation chose a different path—a path of hope, a path of acceptance, a path of respect—and for that I thank you all. The Australian community has repudiated the nay-sayers, just as it has reaffirmed the principle of equality that underpins the rule of law in our nation. The yes vote is a statement about the kind of nation we are: a nation in which fairness and equality—those values—grow ever stronger, a nation in which acceptance and respect mean that all members of our community feel safe and welcome.
This is the most personal of debates, because it is about the people who matter most to us. It is about the people we love. So I say to Sophie: thank you for you love and commitment and for all you do. And I say to our beautiful daughters, Alexandra and Hannah: I work for and fight for the world I want for you.
Australians have voted for equality. They have done their part; now it's time for us to do ours. It's time for us to get on with it. It's time for us to remove discrimination from our Marriage Act. It's time to legislate for marriage equality.
'Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high, there's a land that I heard of once in a lullaby. Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue, and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.' These lyrics are so fitting for the debate we're having right now. For so long lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people have only been able to dream of marriage and equality under the law. Marriage has been out of reach. Marriage has been denied. Equality has not been granted in our country's laws. I am almost overwhelmed that this dream is on the cusp of becoming a reality, because Australians voted yes. I thank them so much for doing so. To my family and me, and to so many LGBTIQ Australians, it means that our dreams will soon come true. It means that our love, our relationships and our families will be equal under the law. It means that LGBTIQ people will feel safer to hold the hand of their partner when they walk down the street. It means that LGBTIQ couples will be able to get married and to celebrate their love in front of family and friends. And it means that young LGBTIQ people will feel safer to come out, knowing that their community said yes and that who they are and who they love is respected by law.
This process of achieving marriage equality has not been easy or fast. There have been many, many LGBTIQ campaigners and their allies whose commitment and determination has led us to this point over decades. I pay tribute to the community's leaders, campaigners, families and friends who paved the way, especially when it was far more dangerous and difficult to do so. I thank especially the campaigners who have campaigned so hard over the last years, the last months and in particular the last two months. I thank the magnificent campaigners of Australian Marriage Equality Alex Greenwich, Tom Snow, Anna Brown, Tiernan Brady, Lee Carnie, Francis Voon, who is not here today, and all the rest of the amazing team. I thank Rodney Croome and Shelley Argent, from Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. I thank Felicity Marlowe, Ivan Hinton-Teoh, Corey Irlam and so many other campaigners whose work has led to the magnificent result that we got yesterday. But there are so many campaigners who aren't with us now, who have passed on prior to today, who have missed out on the joy of hearing Australians resoundingly say yes to our lives and our loves. We achieve this reform with them in mind and with their memories in our hearts.
And I want to thank those who came before me in this place and who stood for equality, especially when it was not so widely supported. I'm proud to be in a party that has unequivocally stood with LGBTIQ people to say yes to equality over the entire history of our party. Thank you, Bob Brown, Michael Organ, Kerry Nettle, Christine Milne, Robert Simms and all of our Greens forebears in this place. Our party room today continues on your work, proudly, and we build on your work—especially Sarah, who stewarded this portfolio for the Greens for many years.
It's been a long road to be here. It's been frustrating, to say the least, over the last few years to have a Prime Minister who didn't have the courage to stand up to those who want to continue to discriminate. We didn't need to have this postal survey. Parliament could have done its job way before now.
The last two months have been hard for LGBTIQ people. They have been so hard. Our identities, our relationships and our lives have been dissected and analysed and talked about. We've been told that we're not normal; our relationships are not normal; our families are not normal. For my wife, Penny, and me, people's blatant transphobia was on full display, with people challenging Penny's trans identity and with offensive attacks on our marriage and our love.
But we didn't need a yes vote to know that we are worthy of equality. Our community is one of the strongest that there is. We're more resilient than you know. We stand here on the shoulders of our LGBTIQ elders, in power and in love. We have endured.
And now Australians have said yes. They agree with us. They have demonstrated that they think everyone should be treated equally under the law, and that includes being able to marry the person that they love. We must fix the wrongs of the past and the present with this legislation. While LGBTIQ people will carry scars of discrimination, we can look forward to a brighter future with our country coming together to celebrate LGBTIQ people, our relationships and our families.
So I am really looking forward to just getting on with it. It is time for parliament to do its job. The bill before the chamber today, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, is the result of a long and deliberative process, one that I've been proud to be a part of. It began with the establishment of a Senate select committee at the end of 2016, inquiring into the exposure draft of the government's proposed marriage bill. In that inquiry, we took the government's draft bill on marriage equality, which it released with its original plebiscite legislation, as a starting point. We considered issues and ideas raised by faith groups, LGBTIQ peak bodies and community voices, civil liberties groups, legal experts, human rights organisations, marriage celebrants, doctors, scientists, local councils, state and territory governments and many Australian residents as individuals.
Senators from across the parliament considered many issues, including the definition of marriage, exemptions for ministers of religion, exemptions for marriage celebrants, exemptions for religious bodies and organisations, international jurisprudence on the introduction of same-sex marriage, goods and services, and the protection of the right to freedom of conscience and religion. There are a number of these areas where my views and those of the Greens do not align with those of my colleagues across the Senate, but we came to the table and we hashed it out. And the final report from that inquiry outlined a path forward which considered the issues falling out of a change to the Marriage Act and which responded to the considerations put by the full range of organisations that we heard from. These findings are reflected in this bill.
If passed, this bill will remove discrimination in marriage and allow all LGBTIQ people to marry the person they love. It would change the definition of marriage from being between a man and a woman to being between two people, and this would finally give not only gay and lesbian Australians but bisexual, trans and gender diverse Australians, intersex Australians—all Australians on the rainbow spectrum—the right to claim their fundamental right to that institution.
I do want to focus on the concerns from the LGBTIQ community that we have heard from the time of the Senate inquiry through until now, that they want to see marriage legislation that does not add new discriminations to our existing law. Our current law gives exemptions to religious organisations, and there is deep concern about expanding these exemptions to individuals on the basis of their personal religious beliefs. We've heard concerns about attempts to expand the scope of what the existing religious exemptions allow religious organisations to do. The Greens are acting in good faith in this debate. We want to see a bill passed by this parliament that reflects both the principles of equality and freedom from discrimination and the ability of people to act in accordance with the tenets, doctrines and beliefs of their religion. We are considering some amendments that we believe will improve the bill in this regard.
It's important, though, to make clear that this bill has already built in concessions from the Greens. This is not the bill that we would have introduced if it were up to us alone, but through the Senate committee process and through working with my colleagues across the chamber it has become apparent that this is the bill that can win the support of the parliament and finally enshrine equal marriage into law. It appears that in the committee stage debate in the week after next we will see many amendments moved by those seeking to expand the right to discriminate. I want to be clear: this is not what the Australian people voted on. This is not in keeping with the principles of equality and not what is being recommended by the legal community.
We already have a set of exemptions in Australian discrimination law that religious organisations can access if they choose not to wed a same-sex or gender-diverse couple, if they choose not to provide the use of their goods and services or if they choose not to be part of any practice or action that they believe disagrees with their doctrines, tenets or beliefs. The Greens actually think that these laws go too far, but this is not the appropriate place for anyone to add to or unwind these laws. We believe that any changes to those laws should be part of a comprehensive review of the scope and functioning of our national antidiscrimination laws and do not have to occur as part of amending our marriage laws.
The Greens support the call of the UN Human Rights Committee for Australia to replace its patchwork antidiscrimination laws with a human rights act that would provide a legal framework for protecting human rights that balances these competing rights. But that is not for this week, and achieving marriage equality does not have to wait for this reform. It's way past time for waiting.
I said a few weeks ago in this chamber that the government has been playing games with the lives, loves and relationships of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, and we have had enough. The game is over. I say to the conservative members of this chamber, and indeed, in the House of Representatives: you demanded this plebiscite, and Australia voted. Respect that vote. Respect that result. Australians voted to remove discrimination, not to entrench it. Australians voted for love. They voted yes, so these right-wing crusaders must accept the result.
Because this is all about love. Everyone deserves to be able to celebrate their relationship, their love, in front of their family and friends—to feel cherished and that they belong. Everyone deserves to be able to have their relationship recognised by society in the eyes of the law. I want to share some love stories with you, stories of LGBTIQ people for whom marriage equality is deeply personal and powerful.
I'm going to mix up the LGBTIQ acronym and celebrate the BITQ first, because they have been forgotten too often in this debate. I will start with both the T and the B: Penny's and my story, a story I've shared many times over the last three years. As it seems the whole country knows by now, Penny and I have been married for 31 years. We have two wonderful sons. For the first half of our marriage, we fitted the stereotype—a perfect couple with a perfect family—but, 17 years after we first married, Penny transitioned, affirming her identity as a woman, and I still loved her. I affirmed my sexuality as bisexual. We went from being the perfect family in the eyes of others to being weird, and we started being discriminated against. Where we used to hold hands or kiss in public, we self-censored.
You don't know the pain of having to let go of your partner's hand because you're not sure of the reaction you might get from people around you. Will it be a disgusted look? Will it be some abuse yelled at you from a car driving past? Will it be a violent attack? This is the reality for so many LGBTIQ people. This was the reality for us. But we know that our relationship hasn't changed. Our love is still the same as it was 31 years go, and our two sons have become wonderful, well-adjusted young men. They are living proof that the hatred and attacks on same-sex couples and the wellbeing of our children are groundless. They are based in nothing but hatred. We are looking forward to our laws changing so that Penny will be able to affirm her gender on her birth certificate without our being forced to divorce. It's going to take a change in state laws too, so, Victoria, you are on notice! I know that our story is replicated so many times across the country.
Let's move on to the I: intersex—people whose sex characteristics don't fit the typical binary notions of male or female bodies. It's profoundly important to them that this legislation allows any two people to marry, that it not just be same-sex marriage but any two adults. My friend Tony Briffa wasn't able to marry in Australia. Tony was raised as a girl, then lived for a time as a man, and now chooses to live as both female and male. Tony and his wife, Manja, had to travel to New Zealand to marry in 2013. It's way past time that we caught up with New Zealand for people like Tony.
There is the Q: the queer, the questioning, the non-straight, the gender fluid, the gender diverse. I'll quote the reaction of the amazing, inspirational StarLady to the yes vote yesterday:
YESSSS! When the postal survey was first announced I tried to remember how I'd survived past homo/bi/transphobic era's. In the 90's when the streets weren't safe I first became a queer superhero, Starpower, I wanted to change the world. I thought today of all occasions I'd head back to my roots and celebrate my own queer history. I've moved beyond Supergirl and Wonder Woman now but they helped me along the way. Happy YES day!!!!
Let's move on to the L: lesbian couples. I know so many friends, so many gorgeous loving couples, some of whom will be lining up to get married as soon as they can, and some who won't, who just want to know that they can, that their relationships finally will be accepted as equal. My friend Suzanne shared some reflections yesterday too:
I have hated the whole idea of this stupid [swearword] plebiscite, and I regard marriage as a patriarchal institution in general, and yet still today the remarkable voting results have hit my whole body in the strangest way, like crying but something way more. I guess it's the accumulation of decades and indeed a lifetime of never really being affirmed as a lesbian.
Finally there is G: gay. Earlier this year I spoke about a gay couple, Peter and Bon, who had been together for 50 years. I even delivered a letter to the Prime Minister on their behalf, calling on him to allow a free vote in parliament that would let them to celebrate their remarkable 50 years together. They didn't have much time. Bon was diagnosed with aggressive cancer two years ago. They couldn't wait. Unfortunately, they were denied this most basic right. Bon died on 19 May, and it saddens me so much. This is such a tragedy and so unnecessary. There are many, many couples like Peter and Bon, where the ability for legal recognition was denied, and now it's too late. The huge win yesterday and the bill we're debating now will, no doubt, be a bittersweet moment for Peter. Peter, I'm sorry it came too late for you and Bon, but this is for you and Bon.
It's so simple. This is about love. I say to people who voted no: I invite you to get to know us—get to know LGBTI people. I invite you to open your minds and your hearts to us. Nobody is going to be forced to marry someone they don't want to. No religious institution will be forced to marry an LGBTIQ couple. It's not about changing any of your rights or your relationships. It's about adding more love and more equality to our social fabric.
The word 'yes' has now been transformed into the definition of acceptance and love. The meaning of 'yes' is one that differs from person to person but, through this campaign, has blossomed into a universal sign of hope. And this is truly how we are going to move forward. It's time that we get this done. It's time for politicians to do our job. It's time to let those dreams of millions of Australians come true. Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue, and the dreams that you dared to dream—they really do come true.
We don't often enough acknowledge, in this place, in our country, that we live in extraordinarily fortunate times. We are fortunate to live in 2017 in Australia. We enjoy, as a people, overwhelmingly, standards of living that those who went before us could never have dreamt of. We enjoy life expectancies that those who went before us could never have dreamt of. We enjoy freedoms and tolerances that those who went before us would never have dreamt of. These are things that we ought to celebrate. We ought to spend more time dwelling a little on the positives that we have in our lives today—and, particularly, perhaps, in this place, we ought to spend more time doing so.
I—like, I think, everybody here—live a most fortunate life. Perhaps the most fortunate gift of all was to have been born in Australia, in these most fortunate of times—to have been born in an era in which, despite the conflict that exists, we face none of the real threats that prior generations have faced, in terms of their lives and their being dragged to war. I've been fortunate in terms of my upbringing. Not all of it was without its bumps: the divorce of my parents when I was two; the death of my father when I was 12—all bumps in the road of life. But I was fortunate to have still had a very supportive, loving family, who helped me to achieve and to do the things that I dreamt of doing. I am fortunate to have had and to be enjoying a career that I love. The opportunity to be here is of course one of the greatest gifts that any of the handful of individuals who've served in our parliament can ever have received.
But the greatest fortune, no doubt, in my life today is my wife, Courtney. My wife—who is, of course, my life partner, the mother of our two gorgeous little girls, two girls almost the same age as Penny and Sophie's two little girls, and a mother who works so hard in her career—is my greatest advocate and, equally, my greatest interrogator, in her challenging of me. It is nearly nine years since we wed, and I still have extraordinarily vivid memories of our wedding day. We welcomed our family—with family members, like all families, who don't always get along with each other as much as you might wish. We welcomed them together with our friends and our colleagues, Senator Payne being one of them on that occasion. We welcomed them all with a glass of champagne to a winery in the Adelaide Hills where, indeed, we celebrated all afternoon and well into the night. We affirmed our love and our commitment to each other. We did so in front of those friends and family. It meant much to us. It still means much to us. It, of course, was one of the most seminal moments in my life. We have been blessed in the following nearly nine years to have welcomed two beautiful children, to have enjoyed further twists and turns of life but to have been able to do so together, and to know that when we hit the bumps along the way we could turn to one another for support and for stability.
Over the years, as I have spoken out in favour of marriage equality, many have asked: 'Why, Simon? It doesn't affect you. You're a heterosexual man in a happy marriage going about living your life. Why have you done so?' The answers are fairly simple: to provide the same opportunity for all Australians to enjoy the love and commitment to one another that Courtney and I enjoy. Everyone should be able to share their life, to share in the mutual vow of marriage, to share their commitment to the person they love. They are simple propositions—simple propositions that I am pleased this parliament is now moving to provide to one another. I equally do so for good policy reasons: not just the policy of equality, which is spoken of much in this debate, but the policy of stability. I was taken many years ago by an editorial in The Economist magazine—hardly a source of fluffy love and literature, but a hard-nosed policy-thinking journal. That editorial said:
Marriage remains an economic bulwark. Single people … are economically vulnerable, and much more likely to fall into the arms of the welfare state. Furthermore, they call sooner upon public support when they need care—and, indeed, are likelier to fall ill (married people, the numbers show, are not only happier but considerably healthier). Not least important, marriage is a great social stabiliser …
Homosexuals need emotional and economic stability no less than heterosexuals—and society surely benefits when they have it.
… … …
For society, the real choice is between homosexual marriage and homosexual alienation. No social interest is served by choosing the latter.
That editorial was written in 1996 in The Economist magazine. It has been a very, very long journey to get to this change.
We have already heard in this chamber of the 2004 legislative change to the Marriage Act. It was a bipartisan change, but I join those opposite in reflecting that it was wrong. It was the wrong thing to do at the time. It was wrong then, and it is even—if I can say inelegantly so—more wrong today. It has been quite a path to right that wrong: a long and winding path for this parliament, for the parties within this parliament and for this country. Senator Wong spoke of the path within the Labor Party. We ought to remember that, yes, the 2004 change was bipartisan and that a decade ago the policy position of both parties was not to vary that change. Senator Wong and others in the Labor Party worked to change the position within their party. They had fights to do so, and they had to make sure that, ultimately, they prevailed.
On this side, too, many have worked to ensure change in our position, and it has been a long process. I was reminded last night of the 12 November 2010 media story in which I first spoke publicly about my views that marriage equality was something that should be delivered in Australia and that the Liberal Party ought to have a conscience vote—a free vote—in delivering it. I said at the time that there was a certain inevitability to it occurring. Labor at that stage were still debating whether they should have a conscience vote. Indeed, in the same article the now Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten, was quoted as saying he was not yet sure whether he supported a conscience vote. We know that the parliament did indeed have a subsequent vote and that many Labor members who voted against marriage equality then will vote for it now—just as many Liberals who then were bound to vote against marriage equality, if they were to accord to our party policy position, will now vote for it.
I've been proud, ever since that moment in 2010, to argue for change to our party policy, and to do so both internally and publicly. I've been proud to do so in a way that has delivered us to this final position albeit not in the way I would have liked us to get there. There have been many allies along the journey. Senator Smith spoke about the longstanding commitment of the member for Leichhardt, Warren Entsch, to equality and his championing of equal rights back in the era of the Howard government—indeed, his delivery within Commonwealth law of equality of recognition and support in legal treatment.
The outstanding element there, the one that had been left behind, was of course marriage. Warren, like me, kept up that fight. There have been many conversions along the journey to join us. Indeed, Senator Smith himself was a conversion early in 2015. That was a turning point in the debate within the Liberal Party, for we had a champion who wasn't just somebody like me, arguing from a position of believing it was right, but somebody for whom it directly impacted on their life. In the arguments that Dean put, it meant that anybody who looked Dean in the eye and argued against him was arguing that he did not deserve the right of marriage equality. It was no longer an esoteric or theoretical policy argument; it was a real and live one.
Subsequently, Dean was joined in his championing by the member for North Sydney, Trent Zimmerman; the member for Brisbane, Trevor Evans; and the member for Goldstein, Tim Wilson. All of them, of course, further agitating and pushing to see change, and all of them showing, particularly in this parliament, enormous courage in their commitment to make that change happen. But they were not alone, and I and the member for Leichhardt were not alone in that battle. I acknowledge in particular Kelly O'Dwyer for her work and for her advocacy over pretty much the same period of time that I was frequently agitating—as I marched into the offices of different prime ministers and said, 'Change needs to occur,' Kelly would be by my side. We didn't always win those arguments—that's obvious for all to see—but we did manage to shift the position over time. I also acknowledge the staunch work of the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis, to deliver the equality that Mr Entsch had championed, and, internally, his work to shift our position—along with Senator Payne, Mr Frydenberg and, of course, our current Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull.
None of us preferred the postal survey that was undertaken. But the postal survey has proven to be a means to an end. And I like to think it was a much more positive means to an end than perhaps many had expected it to be. I hope that despite the misgivings that so many Australians had, and particularly gay and lesbian Australians, the actual result of the postal survey will for them be a real affirmation of their rights, of their place in Australia and of the fact that Australia views them equally and that they are no more and no less than any of the rest of us. Of course, it is that equality that they have fought so hard for, that they deserve and that, happily, the overwhelming majority of Australians gave their seal of approval to.
Despite the misgivings of many, one of the consequences of that postal survey will be that when this legislation passes this parliament before Christmas—for it will pass this parliament before Christmas—it will do so not by a narrow margin in this parliament but by a comprehensive margin in this parliament. It will do so not in a way where Australians contest the validity of it because only one or two votes got it there but where Australians accept and embrace the result, for it has not just the legal legitimacy of passage through the parliament but the seal of approval of the Australian people. That, I trust, will make it a much more positive change than perhaps otherwise would have been the case.
I want to touch on those who voted no, the reasons they voted no and the fears that caused them to vote no. There will be many, many reasons that those Australians who chose to vote no did so but, obviously, profound amongst those reasons are matters of religious rights and freedoms. As Senator Smith rightly identified, the bill before us takes away no rights. People will still be free to worship as they choose and to hold the beliefs that they hold dear in their religious practice. Their churches, their synagogues, their mosques and their ministers of religion will still be free to practise their faith in accordance with their faith and their doctrines. There is no direct threat posed to any religious practices as a result of this legislation. It will not undermine the rights or freedoms of any Australians; it will simply extend the right of marriage to those of all genders and all sexualities. To those who have concerns, I urge you to take the time to understand that your liberties will not be compromised. When this bill passes, my marriage to Courtney will be the same then as it is today. When this bill passes, no other relationship will be compromised; it is only that those of gay and lesbian Australians will be enhanced. When this bill passes, we will have taken a great step on the path to equality.
There will, of course, be further debates in this chamber about particular amendments, and I will reserve my right until I see the nature of those amendments. But I will not be supporting any amendments that extend inequality or discrimination when we as a government are opposed to such discrimination. I will not be supporting any amendments that extend discrimination when the Australian people have spoken so comprehensively in their voice that we ought to end discrimination by providing for marriage equality. I want us to make sure that the bill we pass through this parliament achieves the simple aim of giving to loving Australians the equality that they deserve, regardless of their sexuality; the simple aim of ensuring it does so in a manner consistent with all of us who already enjoy the right to marriage; and the simple aim of ensuring that it doesn't undermine anybody's religious freedoms but nor does it compromise other freedoms to protect anybody's religious freedoms. This should be able to be achieved quite simply. I believe it is achieved by the bill that is before us, and I pay tribute to those who have worked so hard on this bill to get it to this point.
As a parliament, we will be much better for having dealt with this issue. Many Australians will breathe an enormous sigh of relief when it's all done and dusted. Many are, frankly, fed up with the debate. Some argued to me that perhaps the greatest campaign slogan for the yes case could have been 'Just get it over and done with!' But there was a bigger picture at play and Australians responded to that bigger message in support of equality, in support of love, in support of respect for one another across our nation. I am thrilled that we have come to this point where we will vote together as a parliament, where we will act on the will of the Australian people, where we will deliver the equality that Australians deserve. I am incredibly proud today to commend this bill to this Senate.
It is high time to deliver marriage equality for our nation. We across the country have absolutely campaigned our hearts out and Australia is ready. We didn't need a postal survey to tell us that. We've long been ready and we've long had majority support for it in our nation—for a decade at least. So this place must now finally do its job. I have to say that, like thousands of other Australians, I was dismayed and hurt back in 2004 when the federal parliament, including my own party, entrenched discrimination in our nation's Marriage Act. Back then, the LGBTI community were starting to organise to seek to access marriage and test the Marriage Act through the courts, and we were doing that because the groundswell of support had begun back then.
However, I have always believed in equal treatment for all Australians. It's a political touchstone for me and it comes in part from my own experience of discrimination. I have to say, it's been hard work going head-to-head with the no campaign and going door-to-door to ask for the right to marry in the postal survey. It's of no surprise to me that calls to mental health helplines increased in recent months. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Australians endured this, and for that our community needs to be commended. It has been a long and difficult campaign where we've been subjected to a great deal of lies and misinformation about our families and our lives. I'm very proud to be part of a party—especially proud of Senator Penny Wong, Bill and Tanya—who've given this campaign their all.
I have to say, though, that I have been dismayed at the lack of recognition coming from the government on the impacts of this hurtful campaign on the LGBTI community. The spikes that we've experienced in mental health lines and support are real and it will take our community some time to heal, as joyous as yesterday was. There has been no extra funding for mental health services, and I ask the government for that funding now. I know firsthand the hurt that people experienced. I saw the vandalism and graffiti. I heard stories like that of the five-year-old boy who came home and told his mums he needed a new family. Also that of another mum, who's a good friend of mine, whose son was on the couch late at night with her after he woke from a nightmare, and on came an ad about same-sex parents while she's trying to calm her child. I am just very glad that my own son is too young to understand. Yesterday, his dads told me that he was happily talking about equality transformers.
Let's be clear, there's nothing wrong with being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer or questioning. There's nothing wrong with being a lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, queer or questioning parent. Australians know that and they showed that overwhelmingly in the result of the survey. It's a great relief, and it's humbling that Australians have stood up for us. It is, after all, not our identities but stigma and discrimination that affect peoples' mental health.
To the yes campaign: I'm very proud of you all. You made more than 100,000 doorknocks and a million phone calls. That is absolutely epic. You should be so proud of this result, and I humbly thank all of you and your allies who campaigned your hearts out. You have made this legislation real. This legislation rights these wrongs. Our love is real, our relationships are true, our children are cherished, we exist and our love exists, and your campaigning efforts mean that finally our nation's laws will recognise this. I pay tribute to the thousands of 'yes' campaigners led by a formidable team, many of whom are in the chamber today: Alex, Tom, Tiernan, Anna, Corey, Lee and so many others: PFLAG and Rodney Croome. I want to say a special thanks to Nita, who has been one of our field campaigners in Queensland; Jacob in the ACT—what an outstanding result here—Emma in Western Australia; and the fantastic efforts of Rainbow Labor right around the nation. I'm especially proud, as you will be, Mr Acting Deputy President Sterle, of the strong result in our home state in Western Australia where, sometimes, we're mistakenly called conservative, but our result at 63.7 per cent is the second-strongest state. As I have championed LGBTI issues in my home state, this strong result is not a surprise to me. I was proud, for example, to be part of a state that legislated to allow same-sex couples to adopt back in 2001. All that changed back then was that more children who needed a stable, loving home could have one.
Today, we ask this chamber that couples who love each other, regardless of gender, be able to marry. So many have campaigned their hearts out across the nation, and I want to thank you all. I have been fighting for equality since I was 22 years old, and I especially want to pay tribute to all those who campaigned in much, much harder times when our identities were still criminalised and silenced. Without decades of their visibility and activism, we would not be here today with this bill before parliament. I'm very proud to have been part of the development of Dean Smith's bill and the committee processes. I thank Dean humbly. It's terrific that Western Australia has such a proud history of electing gay members of parliament, like Brian Greig before us, who was one of this place's first champions on these issues.
The bill we have put forward is the right bill. The logic of this bill, formed after the inquiry, is very sound. It upholds the rights of all couples to marry and it does this at the same time as upholding the right of religious institutions to continue to define marriage according to their own doctrines. We have taken great care on these points. The bill before us does not embed further discrimination in the Marriage Act, and we must take great care not to in any further amendments. Australians didn't vote for people to have the right to refuse services to a same-sex couple seeking to get married any more than they voted to refuse service to an interfaith-heterosexual couple or an interracial couple. Australians voted for equality, not for more discrimination. To legislate to give people a right to discriminate on the provision of goods and services would simply go too far.
On that note, I again reflect on the fact that this has been a long and difficult campaign. We've been subjected to lies and misinformation about our families. I want to be clear, though—and those in the chamber who've joined us from the yes campaign will understand this—the no side is right about one thing: marriage is not the only issue we care about. Marriage equality is not the only issue of interest to the LGBTI community. There are issues like the rights of young people to access treatment for gender dysphoria without going to court, the rights of LGBTI people to be safe from bullying at school and the rights of intersex people to be protected from surgery to which they have not consented. These issues have been under-recognised, in part because we have had to spend all this time and energy campaigning on marriage.
While the no campaign went out of their way to campaign on issues that had nothing to do with marriage—in the attacks that they launched on transgender people, vulnerable kids in schools and same-sex couples raising children—in order to prosecute their anti-marriage-equality agenda, the result is a resounding rejection of those arguments, and the result is a victory for all in the LGBTI community. Those arguments hurt our community. They hurt young people, trans people, children and families who weren't really at the centre of the substantive debate about what a mutual commitment is between two people who want to marry each other. The results of the survey show that they did not win the arguments about marriage; they did not win the arguments about schools; and they did not win the arguments about children—and any forthcoming amendments on those grounds must be rejected. If this legislation is amended to single out same-sex couples or our children for discrimination in any way, that is not marriage equality. I look forward, finally, to real marriage equality in this nation, and the bill before us can and will, with the good grace of the members of this place and the other place, deliver that.
Finally, I want to say that this is a hard week to be away from my own family, my partner and my son. We all watched yesterday on the television as loving couples shared terrific moments and their joy, but, for LGBTI members of this place who are away from our loved ones, it was a hard thing to do. But I know I've got a job to do in order that my family can have the recognition it deserves. I look forward to people in my own family being able to have their marriages recognised. To Stephen and Dennis: you were civil unioned in Ireland and married for a short time in Canberra, and, finally, I'm pleased that you will be able to have your commitment to each other recognised in your own country and your own community. My beloved partner, Bek, and I also want to marry. And I know we share the feelings of other same-sex couples who look forward to the focus turning from a massive public debate about our lives and our identities and turning towards each other, for the love we share for each other and for our children. We look forward to celebrating our love and having it recognised in front of our family, our friends, and our community. Today we are a step closer to that moment, and I thank you.
When Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced on 8 May 2016 that there would be an election on 2 July, resulting in the longest campaign in history, the whole of Australia let out a sigh, and rightly so. It was a long and exhausting campaign, but it was a campaign to elect the government of our nation; it was not a public survey on the human rights of members of our community; and, while campaigning for the election was rough, it was nothing compared to what the LGBTIQ people have experienced simply seeking the equal right to marry. No-one here can say they haven't seen or heard about the level of vitriol directed at LGBTIQ people who are open about their sexuality and their families and friends. Nor can we plead ignorance about the impact this has had on the mental health of the LGBTIQ community as the nation decided whether they were worthy of a human right. Yesterday, as I stood in a room with my parliamentary colleagues, the anticipation of the result was palpable. When the TV froze for a moment, the room seemed to inhale and let out a collective sob. With the number of LGBTIQ people in the room, it seemed symbolic of the weight of the world on their shoulders during the campaign.
I want to recognise the courage of my colleagues for whom this was a deeply personal campaign. They have stood in this place, in front of the nation, exposing their personal lives to advance the legal rights of others. We wouldn't be here today without you. Thank you.
I've said previously when speaking on same-sex marriage that, for most of us in this place, we can only imagine what it feels like to have our personal lives subjected to a public vote. But over the past few weeks my imagination has become more vivid as I've seen the effects firsthand. Initially, there was a tremendous focus on the Abbott family, like they were the only family dealing with conflicting views, but, throughout the country, conversations about how one would vote were going on between hundreds of thousands of families and households. Included in those families were people who hadn't disclosed their sexuality—same-sex attracted people who were being told by a family member that they oppose same-sex marriage and would be voting no. Imagine knowing you were same-sex attracted and hadn't told anyone and a public debate about your rights, your personal relationships, was in full swing and your family were voting against you, before you'd had the opportunity to be honest with them and to tell them who you were. I'm told it feels like a knot in the stomach that won't go away, like you might throw up but it wouldn't be enough to stop you feeling sick or feeling fear. I'm told it feels like the words just won't come out, because what if they look at you differently? What if you're treated differently?
If we think this debate is just about whether two people of the same sex can marry, then we are mistaken. This debate has been about our acceptance of human beings of the same sex loving each other and how we treat them as a nation. We've labelled and classified our family members, friends, colleagues and members of our community based on who they're attracted to and who they love, and we've decided they get fewer rights than the rest of us. And there's not been one single convincing argument during this campaign for why this should be the case. I'll run quickly through some of these main arguments: religion—or, as Macklemore would say, a book written 3,500 years ago; children of same-sex couples would be disadvantaged; so-called gay agendas would fill our schools; and cake bakers and florists would be forced to provide their services for same-sex weddings, which they may oppose. Yes, these arguments are put simply, but they can also be refuted quite simply.
It's widely accepted by parliamentarians that religious institutions will be protected under any bill that amends the Marriage Act. Children are more disadvantaged by the level of hate in this debate, by the lack of acceptance of LGBTIQ people and by being raised in households where there is no love. Marriage equality does not equal a school curriculum with a gay agenda and it's misleading to say so.
Allowing wedding service providers to discriminate on the basis of a person's sexuality is fundamentally wrong. How do same-sex couples determine if the cake baker is opposed to their marriage? A sign out the front of the door? Or do they wait to be asked and then have to be told to their face that their custom is refused because they happen to want to marry a person who happens to be of the same sex? What an awful situation to confront! It was heartening to read yesterday that the Baking Association of Australia has said that they don't want to be involved in this debate, asking, 'What cake baker in their right mind wouldn't bake someone a cake?'
Such positive statements are so heartening, because the survey has been awful enough. That Australia has held what was essentially a mass opinion poll on human rights, and on a matter which will have no real effect on the vast majority of voters, is an indictment on this government. In 2004 the then Prime Minister John Howard amended the Marriage Act without such a poll. In fact, less than hour after he announced the proposed changes, which included banning gay couples from adopting children from overseas, the government rushed the legislation into parliament.
While we are walking down memory lane, there were many noteworthy movements of historical changes to marriage laws in Australia. In 1918 the Aboriginals Ordinance was passed to restrict marriage between Indigenous women and non-Indigenous men in the Northern Territory, and other state laws were in place to control marriage for Indigenous Australians. Until 1942, the minimum age of marriage was 12 for women and 14 for men. It was subsequently raised to 16 and 18 respectively.
Uniform marriage laws across Australia were established in 1961 through the Commonwealth Marriage Act, which made the minimum marriageable age 18. Until 1966 married women couldn't be employed in the Commonwealth Public Service so that they didn't steal men's jobs and instead boosted the birth rate. Many women kept their marriages a secret as a result. No-fault divorce was legislated in 1975. No longer did couples have to prove wrongdoing and, as a result, the divorce rate temporarily skyrocketed.
While not Australian history, but perhaps as a symbol of just how far behind we are in this country, in 2001 the Netherlands became the first country to legalise same-sex marriage. Just three years later John Howard legislated specifically to prohibit same-sex couples marrying here. Twenty-five countries followed the Netherlands' lead; only Ireland put the issue to a referendum. Australia held a non-compulsory non-binding survey. How embarrassing!
I'm proud to say, though, that in my home state of South Australia 79.7 per cent of eligible voters participated in the survey, returning a yes vote of 62.5 per cent, higher than the national figure of 61.6 per cent. As the youngest female member of the 45th Parliament—and I will give my age away: I'm 31!—I've been acutely aware of the perception that young people do not care about politics. How amazing is it then that this survey activated young people to register to vote and to turn out in droves to cast their votes. The future is bright for that reason alone.
So, here we are, having gone backwards as a country on this issue and now with an unprecedented national survey producing an overwhelming yes vote in support of changing the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry. I had the opportunity to participate in the Senate inquiry into what is known as the 'Dean Smith bill', which is the bill before us today. On this bill, the Nick Xenophon Team agrees with the comments made by the Law Council's Fiona McLeod, who said:
The Smith Bill supports the protection of religious freedoms in two key ways. It permits ministers of religion and religious marriage celebrants to refuse to solemnise a marriage and it allows bodies established for religious purposes to refuse to provide goods or services for the purposes of the solemnisation of a marriage.
While the Law Council does not endorse every detail of the Smith Bill it represents a better balance from a human rights perspective and represents greater fairness, including those affected by winding back anti-discrimination laws.
On human rights, the explanatory memorandum of the bill says that it enacts Australia's international obligations in respect of the human rights of freedom of expression, association, thought and conscience, and the rights of the child. What it doesn't do is permit conduct which is unlawful discrimination under the Sex Discrimination Act. It protects only genuine beliefs which are not fictitious, capricious or an artifice. In removing one form of discrimination we must not, as legislators, replace it with another or, as some would propose, a more expanded form of discrimination.
Just as John Howard amended the Marriage Act in 2004 without delay, the 45th Parliament must amend it now because we have already been too slow, because the debate has caused too much harm, because we have a bill that has been through the Senate committee process and has had the appropriate level of scrutiny, because those opposed are playing with people's lives and it's time to say enough is enough. The very direct outcome of this debate can be and should be marriage equality, but the indirect consequences are vast. For those who are same-sex attracted and who couldn't change even if they wanted to, their stories and indeed their lives may just be that bit easier. Once this task is done, we can move on to the other injustices in the law which relate to the LGBTIQ people in this country. We must keep moving forward so that same-sex attracted people no longer feel scared or sick or like they matter less and deserve fewer rights than other Australians. The government committed to passing a bill for marriage equality. Let's get on with it. There can be no further reason for delay. They have all well and truly been exhausted. To borrow the words of Bob Dylan, stop criticising what you don't understand. Love has won. Let's hand it its reward.
I too rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. Firstly, I must commend my close friend and Western Australian Senate colleague Senator Dean Smith. Dean and I have been friends for over 30 years and his magnificent speech this morning moved me to tears. There are no words to describe just how proud I am of him today. I'm proud of Senator Smith's courage, his commitment and his perseverance. I'm proud of his eloquence and compassion.
We asked Australians to have their say and, by heaven, they have. It is now up to us to respect their will and pass this bill this year. This is why I was very proud and honoured to co-sponsor the motion to bring on this bill to start the debate today, the day after the results were known. As Liberals, we cherish and fight to preserve freedoms of parliamentary democracy: the freedoms of thought, worship, speech and association. For me, this debate has always been about preserving and balancing two potentially competing democratic principles: equality and the freedoms of religion and speech.
In Australia, there is no more valued principle than equality—that all Australians are equal, but they must also be treated equally under the law and have an equality of opportunity in all aspects of their life. That of course includes the legal right to marry. Yesterday's results and historic participation rate demonstrate that Australians are also invested in legal equality in marriage. As a Christian, I also believe we must ensure that we continue to cherish and preserve religious freedoms and the freedoms of speech and of association. As Senator Smith observed this morning, they are two different but equally important principles.
I believe that this bill provides legal equality for all Australians in relation to marriage without diminishing existing religious or speech freedoms. That said, I have reserved and continue to reserve my right to support amendments in this or in any other subsequent bills that strengthen these freedoms as long as they do not conversely restrict the freedoms of others. I also think it is important, noting what those on the other side of this chamber have said, that all of my colleagues in this place have the opportunity to have their say on this issue and also have the opportunity to move amendments that they believe would strengthen religious protections.
This debate has also caused me to reflect on the role of us in this chamber. As we know, probably more so in this chamber than in most other places, in any democracy we always have to balance freedoms, and no freedoms are ever truly free. Therefore, it is our responsibility to have robust debate to work out where we and where the community see those balances to the infringement of our democratic freedoms. With almost every bill that we introduce and pass in this place, we do trade off in some way individual freedoms for the collective good. This is one of the most important responsibilities for all of us, and it is something that I addressed in my first speech and that I remain very cognisant of. It is also, I would note, one of the greatest sources of ideological friction in positions on policy in this place, but I think that is a good thing. It is a good thing for Australia and it is a good thing for our democracy.
But, since becoming a senator, I have regularly observed this balance should never be achieved through force, through coercion or through community apathy or lack of engagement. To preserve our democracy and our society, we have to retain ways of hearing things that make us all uncomfortable and then be able to robustly and respectfully debate the issues. How else can we in this chamber preserve what is of value to those we represent and to our community?
Quite often in this place I have reflected somewhat despairingly that I believe we as a society sometimes appear to be in danger of losing this ability to robustly and respectfully debate the issues of the day. But, whatever your personal opinions of the survey, we promised the Australian people we would seek their opinions and attitudes on this, and we have. Whatever you personally think about this, one of the, I think, most unexpected but absolutely wonderful outcomes of this is that it has been demonstrated that, if we ask Australians for their opinion on things that they care deeply about, they will have their say and they will clearly let us know what they want.
I think that is so important for us here in this place for a number of reasons—first of all, that there are still ways of engaging the Australian community on issues that are of importance to them and making them feel that their voice counts and they are not as disenfranchised as they may have thought in our democracy. Over the course of my career, I've had the great privilege to work for many Australian and international democratic institutions, and I've often had cause to reflect on the nature and health of our own democracy. I have seen all too often, globally, what others sacrifice, including their lives, to realise and achieve the same democratic rights and responsibilities we have here in Australia and, all too often now, take for granted. In fact, not only do many Australians take our democratic rights and responsibilities for granted but they're increasingly ambivalent and disillusioned with the way our democracy runs. So one of the many wonderful outcomes of this survey is that this proves that that is not always the case. Maybe the reason that people are so disillusioned with politics is that, as politicians, we haven't gone back and asked people their opinions often enough. While we are responsible for making those decisions ultimately, finding ways to more regularly engage and really listen to what's important to the Australian people is a prospect that I and, I'm sure, others in this place relish pursuing. So yesterday was a significant victory for our democracy because, as I said, it demonstrates that people can be invested in the democracy and the decision-making processes.
One thing that struck me, particularly over the last 12 months, as I've engaged with a number of bright, articulate, passionate younger Australians, is that I keep hearing them say 'I want to be heard'. I say to them: 'Well, here I am. What do you want to tell me? I'm a senator.' You can almost hear the crickets chirp, and they'll say, 'But I want to be heard,' and I say, 'Yes, but what about?' So one of the other wonderful things is that this has given the next generation of Australian citizens and voters an opportunity to demonstrate that they still care about issues but perhaps we just haven't been listening to them in the right ways. I think this survey again has given us an indication not of having surveys every year but of finding new ways of engaging people and giving them a voice, because if they didn't know what they actually wanted to tell us then this has given us a great idea. The level of engagement is something that, again, is a wonderful news story in this, and I think the nearly 80 per cent has defied the expectations of even the most optimistic proponents of this survey.
Another thing I'm very proud of is that I participated in the party room debate two years ago. I heard there was an opportunity for our party to put forward and to realise what we've got to here today. Despite the vehement opposition of those opposite to go ahead with a plebiscite or a survey, I hope even the most sceptical of those opposite would at least acknowledge that we were right in going to the people and giving them a say, and that it has resulted in this outcome. I'm particularly proud of this outcome, as a Liberal and as a Liberal-National coalition government, and I'm proud that it's largely through the efforts and perseverance of Senator Smith, whose bill we are dealing with here today.
I'd like to go through some of the participation figures because I think they are highly significant. So 79.5 per cent of all Australians had their say. This is higher than the turnouts for the British general election, the French presidential election and the Irish referendum, which were 68 per cent, 74 per cent and 60 per cent respectively. This is a triumph. In fact, the highest vote in a national Australian plebiscite before this was in the 1917 conscription referendum 100 years ago, where the no case secured 53.8 per cent of the vote. The highest 2PP vote in a federal election was 56.9 per cent in 1966 and the second biggest majority in parliamentary history was secured by John Howard in 1996, with 53.6 per cent of the two-party preferred vote. What this means is that with 62 per cent, the yes case has secured the strongest possible mandate on an issue for parliament to action on their behalf—more than any other vote or survey in this nation's history. I also agree with Senator Smith that Australians have not voted for equality before the law so that equality before the law in other areas can be deliberately or inadvertently stripped away.
For many years, we've had numerous debates both in and outside of this place on the merits and implications of same-sex marriage. A central pillar of those arguments, both for and against, has been predicting the attitudes of the Australian people. As we well know, there have been many and varied numbers bandied around in that debate over the years. While I do agree in principle that under the responsible system of government that we have it is ultimately our responsibility to make these decisions, I think that the turnout and the response and the definitive numbers that we now have indicate that this was an important exception to that general rule and that Australians have appreciated being asked. To again quote Senator Smith—I thought what he said this morning was very profound:
To those who want and believe in change and to those who seek to frustrate it, I simply say: don't underestimate Australia, don't underestimate the Australian people—
how right you are—
don't underestimate our country's sense of fairness, its sense of decency and its willingness to be a country for all of us.
Of all the things that we as a nation should be very proud of today, it is that point. What it does demonstrate is that not only does our country live these values, but it now also votes for them as well. I'd like to share the words of Winston Churchill, and I think his views on this are quite fitting for this debate. He said:
The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.
Since the yes and no campaigns commenced in response to the government's postal survey, parliamentarians, and indeed all Australians, have heard a range of views on what same-sex marriage should look like in this country. We've also had the time to inquire into and reflect upon the appropriate way to amend the Marriage Act and related legislation in a way that respects the will of the Australian people and also acknowledges the concerns of those who support the traditional definitions of marriage. I know that all in this place understand that there is a need to respect those in our society who do hold deep religious beliefs and are unable to preside over, or conscientiously opposed to presiding over, same-sex ceremonies because of these beliefs.
I commend all of those who participated in the inquiry and those who drafted the bill. It is a considered and comprehensive response to the issue of same-sex marriage. It has consciously used the work of the Senate Select Committee on the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill as the basis for the development of this particular bill. I think it's important to go back and reflect now on what this committee said. It found there was a wideranging desire, amongst groups supportive and non-supportive of same-sex marriage, to protect religious freedoms in any future legislation. What we have before us today does represent a bipartisan and sensible way forward on the matter of same-sex marriage, and I believe it does achieve the intent of those who voted yes in this survey.
The Senate Select Committee on the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill reported in February this year, as I've said, and did deliver a consensus report. The committee was chaired by my colleague the very well-considered and well-respected Liberal Senator David Fawcett and, as you know, included Liberal Senators Dean Smith and James Paterson, Labor Senators Louise Pratt and Kimberley Kitching, Greens Senator Janet Rice and NXT Senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore. The committee received over 400 submissions from a wide range of submitters, including leaders of many faiths. Their report identified a broad desire and willingness from parties to protect religious freedom in respect of marriage in any future same-sex marriage legislation. The consensus nature of that report was the primary focus of debate when the report was tabled in this place. Senator Fawcett remarked that the report was a good example of parliamentarians working well together and identifying those fundamental rights that must be carefully considered, respected and balanced in future same-sex legislation.
I reiterate that I look forward to hearing the opinions of all of my colleagues in this place. But I also look forward to hearing their recommended amendments in the committee stage, because I think it is important that we have this robust debate here. I'm certain that, throughout that process in the next week, the bipartisanship and the goodwill that has been exhibited so wonderfully across this chamber in this debate will continue. And to be part of that, I could not be prouder.
My thanks to the millions of Australians who came out and voted. We have heard you very loudly and clearly, and we will, in this chamber, respect your will.
It's a great pleasure to rise to speak on this historic legislation today. The Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 aims to deliver what we know a majority of Australians want, and that is equality for every Australian. Before speaking today, I was thinking about my own childhood. As a young person growing up, one of the fascinations I had was reading and learning about the civil rights struggle, in America particularly, in the 1960s—something that was reflected here in the battles for the rights of Indigenous people in our own country. I was really fascinated to think of a time before I was born when people in the United States, in Australia and in many other countries around the world were treated poorly and were actively discriminated against on the basis of their race. We know that that continues to go on, and that is something that remains to be addressed. As a young person growing up in Brisbane, I just could not comprehend a world in which people were so actively discriminated against on the basis of their race. I remember taking pleasure in the fact that at least the country that I grew up in, at that point in time, was not quite so bigoted. Unfortunately, what this debate and the battle over the last few years has highlighted is that there are many quarters in Australian society where discrimination does occur against people and that we still have so much more to do. I never expected when I was young to be participating in a debate about legislation designed to knock over overt discrimination, which is something that continues to occur each and every day to LGBTI Australians. I cannot say how pleased I am to have even a very small role in trying to eliminate this discrimination once and for all.
Despite the discrimination of the past and present, today is a great day when we take another step towards addressing inequality, particularly on ground of sexuality. I have been a long-time supporter of marriage equality. As a member of the Queensland state parliament, I supported the establishment of civil unions in Queensland in 2011. Six years later, although I am disappointed that it has taken so long for us to get here, I'm really proud to be able to be supporting this bill here today. The time for delay is over. The time for marriage equality is right now.
I will address the process that has led us here today. It is unfortunate that we have had to undertake this lengthy and delayed process, particularly the Turnbull government's divisive, expensive and unnecessary postal survey. No-one wants to look back too much, and today is a positive day when we are concentrating on moving forward, but it is important to set the record straight about how we got here. When the government first proposed the plebiscite my Labor colleagues and I stood with the LGBTI community and said that we didn't want a divisive, expensive opinion poll to tell the government what they should have already known, and that is that every Australian should be equal. That is something that all of us elected to this chamber should have within our fibre and our bones but, unfortunately, that is not the case. We on this side of the chamber argued that a plebiscite—any plebiscite—was not the right way to do the right thing. We argued that it would be hurtful and harmful to vulnerable Australians, and I have to say we were right. Despite the overwhelming yes victory, we can never undo the damage the postal survey has done. I remember conversations that I've had over the last few weeks with mental health services on the Gold Coast, where my office is based, and they were reporting, as so many other mental health services across Australia have reported, increased demand for their services, particularly from younger gay and lesbian people. That damage will take a very long time to undo.
Let's be very clear about one thing. Instead of just having parliament do its job, Prime Minister Turnbull and Senator Brandis said to Australia that they would rather waste $122 million and put lives at risk than have a debate and a discussion about equality that would expose the deep divisions that exist within their own party room. The government said to all Australians, especially LGBTI Australians: 'You must endure a two-month campaign about whether the love that you have, your family has or your son or daughter has for their partner is equal.' The government would have you believe that the participation rates and the yes result vindicate the postal survey. They do not. I sat next to volunteers from the yes campaign as they were making calls to other Australians to ask them to vote on their own equality, so I can tell you what they were feeling and what the turn-out numbers really mean. I will never forget the faces of those volunteers as I sat around the table calling potential voters, call after call. On some occasions they would be overjoyed by the reaction they got from someone who intended to vote yes, but I will never forget the look of rejection and shame that they felt every time they struck a voter who was intending to vote no, against their own equality and against their own worth as an individual. That is something that no Australian should ever have had to be put through. The participation rates in this survey are a testament to the brave work of those volunteers. They are not a vote of confidence in the Turnbull government's actions to get here today. Australians voted for equality not because of this government but despite this government, and they will never forget who forced them to go down this humiliating path.
I don't want to dwell overly on the negative aspects of this debate, because this is a very important reform that we should be celebrating. But I do also just want to address the issue of proposed amendments or the prospect of any procedures in this place being used to delay the passage of this bill. Prime Minister Turnbull promised respectful debate during this postal survey, and we know that that didn't occur. Senators in this chamber have called for a respectful debate during the passage of this legislation, and I agree with them, but the most disrespectful thing that the government or any senator in this place can do, now that Australians have voted so overwhelmingly to support equality, is to use this bill as another opportunity to create new forms of discrimination and to attempt to delay the passage of this legislation in any way. That is not what Australians want, and it is time that we listened.
We know now that a majority of Australians emphatically support marriage equality. I am extremely proud to say that my home state of Queensland voted overwhelmingly in support of a yes result, with more than 60 per cent of Queenslanders doing so. Unfortunately, Queensland has had a difficult history when it comes to recognising the rights of our LGBTI community, and that is why this outcome is particularly remarkable and signifies a significant shift in Queensland's history. It was interesting last night, being at the celebration in Lonsdale Street in Braddon, the number of people I ran into who, yet again, wanted to wheel out the old stereotypes of Queensland. I'm sure, Senator Smith, that's probably happened to you in relation to Western Australia as well. Unfortunately, many of our southern comrades have yet to learn that the frontier states of Queensland and Western Australia have changed and voted strongly in favour of the yes case. One of these days people will understand that they are not the places they used to be.
But the truth is that some of these stereotypes do linger, particularly because of the actions of the Bjelke-Petersen government back in the seventies and eighties in my home state. That was a really dark time for transparency, accountability and civil rights in Queensland. No-one knows that more than our LGBTI community in Queensland. Their treatment was absolutely horrendous and it will leave a black cloud over Queensland for many years to come. It's so pleasing that the Queensland Labor government has taken steps in the past few years to right these wrongs and to reverse discrimination that is still embedded in many Queensland laws. After being elected in 2015 the Palaszczuk Labor government reinstated civil unions, which had been removed by the Newman government, legislated to enable same-sex couples to adopt in Queensland, restored funding to LGBTI advocacy groups and equalled the age of consent—something that the government that I was a part of only a few years before had thought was just too difficult politically. Finally, only a few months ago the Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, on behalf of the Queensland parliament, made a formal apology to people charged under historical antihomosexuality laws and introduced an expungement scheme, something that we've seen across many states of Australia. That's what equality looks like: dismantling discrimination and righting wrongs.
Now, from Coolangatta to Capricornia and all the way up to Cape York, Queenslanders have sent a clear message: they don't want to go back to the dark days where businesses could refuse service to people based on their race, sex or religion; they want to move forward and give equality to all Australians, and any party who is not ready to move on with them will be left behind. This is particularly the case on the Gold Coast, where in every federal electorate over 60 per cent of people have voted for marriage equality. This is an overwhelming result and shows that the Gold Coast as a whole supports equality, fairness and love for all. Queensland is a big state with a big heart. We welcome every gay and lesbian couple from all around Australia who wants to come to our state for their weddings and their honeymoons. Our tourist industry on the Gold Coast, in Cairns and everywhere in between is ready to celebrate with you.
Before I wrap up, I want to pay tribute to the members of Rainbow Labor Queensland and the many LGBTIQ activists in Queensland. Not only over recent months but over many years you fought hard and you never gave up. I want to make a special mention of my mate, LGBTI elder Phil Carswell. Phil is an Order of Australia honouree for his work fighting the HIV epidemic back in the 1980s. He played a crucial role in supporting the establishment of the Queensland AIDS Council. Phil started dialysis earlier this month. His health isn't the best these days. He married his partner in New York a few years ago, because he got sick of waiting for all of us to do the right thing. All he wanted was for marriage equality to pass before it was too late for him. Phil, we're almost there. Thank you to you and your community. Phil, I haven't forgotten the many conversations we've had over the years where you've reminded me that marriage equality isn't the end of the road for true equality for LGBTI people. There are still so many other issues, whether we're talking about health, employment status or the many other things where we still have room to move.
I also want to take a moment to thank those members of this chamber who've contributed to the drafting and introduction of this bill. To Senator Smith, Senator Rice and members of every political party who've supported this bill, I thank you on behalf of Queenslanders. You've demonstrated to this country what can be achieved when we work together to deliver important reform. Just today, while I was grabbing a coffee, I was talking to someone who noted the fact that this is a reform that really has been driven by the grassroots—by ordinary Australian people speaking up for what they want. I think that's a model that we can take on board for the future as we try to address other important reforms. I especially pay tribute to my friends and colleagues Senator Wong and Senator Pratt, who have led the way for Labor in this fight for equality in this chamber. I can't imagine what your families have had to endure during this time. You are both brave, incredible women and Australia is richer and better because of your leadership.
There's one other brave, incredible woman who I want to thank, and that's my chief of staff, Nita Green. Nita is a fabulous person who I first met several years ago on a federal election campaign. As I often tell her, the thing that grabbed my attention was that twinkle in her eye as she sat down and campaigned incredibly hard on these issues and many other issues back in that campaign, where we got absolutely demolished, in 2013. From that day forward, it's been absolutely fantastic watching Nita's growth as a person and as a campaigner. There has been no greater time that she has demonstrated those qualities than over the last few weeks, when she took leave from my office to be the field director of the equality campaign in Queensland. She can take a lot of credit for that incredible result in Queensland. Congratulations to you, Nita. You're an inspiration to me and many other people each and every day.
I support marriage equality because love is about two people and those two people only. Marriage is about love. Families should be about love—and that is it, plain and simple. I love my family. There's nothing better than our Christmas mornings together, our Saturdays spent at the soccer field or our trips to the beach. For too long in this country, a part of our community has been denied the right to call their families and their relationships equal to mine, and that is not good enough. If we pass this legislation, it will have a profound effect on those Australians who have always felt devalued because of their sexuality. If we pass this legislation, it will have a profound effect on our country. Finally, LGBTI Australians will become full members of our community, but, more importantly, there will be a generation of young Australians who will grow up feeling free to be completely themselves and to love whoever they want.
Sadly, inequality does remain in Australia on many fronts. There are still too many LGBTI Australians suffering discrimination. Our Indigenous brothers and sisters suffer on a whole range of fronts. Rural and remote Australians suffer worse health outcomes and, if you come from a poor family, your life chances are still likely to be poorer. But today is a great step forward for equality. One of the many photos that were circulated as the celebrations ensued yesterday was a photo of a number of Labor senators celebrating this as the news came out. I was looking at that photo and at the centre of it, as she rightly should have been, was Senator Wong breaking down in tears, as she did in many photos that day. I looked at the photo and at who was around her. We had a gay, Asian woman, a gay Caucasian woman, Senator Pratt, an Aboriginal elder, Senator Dodson, a mischievous young Iranian migrant, Senator Dastyari, and lots of straight, white Aussies standing around celebrating. I thought to myself: that's Australia. That's modern Australia and this bill reflects modern Australia.
Australia is a fair and tolerant country. We take care of each other and we stand up for what's right. It's time this parliament delivers this important reform and rights this wrong. No more delays—it's time for celebration; it's time for equality. Let's get this done.
I know there's only a little bit of time and I will be in continuance. I rise today to speak to the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 with joy in my heart. I have risen many times in this place to talk about marriage equality. It's such a joy to be able to talk about a bill that we're going to get through, folks! It really is a momentous day. I'm really strongly thinking of Senator Bob Brown as I stand here—all the work he did and continued to do when he was a lone voice in this chamber for the Greens. We have been carrying the standard since then. It really is a pleasure.
I thought I'd read a text that I got from one of my friends yesterday—it's part of a stream. He was one of my husband's bridesmaids when we got married. He said: 'You know it has been a surprisingly teary day for me and many others in the LGBTI community. I got a lovely text from my brother this morning, before the announcement, saying how proud he was of me and my gay rights campaigning over the years and how much he loved me. When I tried to read it to two of our friends, I burst into tears. I don't think I realised how fundamentally important this issue is and how much the negative campaigning had affected me.' And there's a little emoji with a tear and an emoji with hearts in its eyes.
This has affected so many people. When we were waiting for the result yesterday, my heart was literally thumping. I think part of that was the nervousness for the result, but also I think I was carrying the love and support of, and feelings for, so many of my LGBTIQ friends and loved ones. When the announcement came, I was one of the ones also doing the numbers. I was, going, 'He said it's this many,' and I was trying to work out the percentage.