Senate debates

Monday, 27 November 2017


Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017

10:06 am

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

At this juncture, I'd like to make a big call-out to my home state of Tasmania, where nearly two out of three people voted for marriage equality. I'm very proud of Tasmania. I'm very proud of my home electorate of Bass, where nearly 61 per cent of people voted in support of equal marriage. But it's a point of concern for me that not a single Liberal member of parliament at state or federal level supported or campaigned for the 'yes' vote. It may have been a coincidence that, within a few days of the release of the postal plebiscite, Liberal ex-Premier Robin Gray, who's no friend of the Greens, called for Senator Abetz to retire because he's so completely out of touch, as is the Liberal Party in Tasmania. Some of my Liberal colleagues are here today. In their speeches, they may want to address the issue of why no-one campaigned for the 'yes' vote yet nearly two-thirds of the state came out in support of equal marriage.

As someone who's been married nearly 20 years, I would like every Australian, no matter what their sexual preference, to be able to enjoy what I've enjoyed. There's no reason at all that we should be discriminating against people on any basis, let alone on the basis of their sexual preference. I would like to highlight that I have very close friends who are LGBTIQ and there are members of my family who are LGBTIQ. In 2012, when I first started as a senator, I met a fantastic young man, Andrew Greene, at a marriage equality barbecue. Andrew is based in Launceston. I've got to know Andrew over the years. I've even worked with him on an art project around this. It's people like Andrew that I stand here to represent today. I know how much he's suffered and how difficult his life has been.

I talked last week about the pressure that LGBTIQ people have been under for decades. I've chosen to finish my speech in this debate with the words of two very famous LGBTIQ people—in fact, some of the more famous in the world—David Bowie and Freddie Mercury, of course long since departed. One of my all-time favourite songs, 'Under Pressure', is an anthem for the LGBTIQ community. This song was released by Queen, and it talks about the pressure that young homosexual men were under to come out and talk to their family and friends about their sexual preferences and the discrimination that they felt. This was nearly 40 years ago, and yet we still face the very same problem. Although it's quite hard to read the words of a song that you love really well, I would recommend that people, if they are listening to this speech or they read it afterwards, to download it, crank up the volume and have a listen to it. It is a really, really powerful song. I am going to pinch some words from various verses, from both David Bowie and Freddie Mercury, and it starts with this:

Pressure, pushing down on me

pressing down on you no man ask for

Under pressure that burns a building down

Splits a family in two

Puts people on the streets

…   …   …

It's the terror of knowing

What the world is about

Watching some good friends

Screaming Let me out

Pray tomorrow gets me higher gets me higher

Pressure on people people on the streets

I turned away from it all like a blind man

sat on a fence but it don't work

Keep coming up with love but it's so slashed and torn

Why, why, why?

Love love love

Insanity laughs under pressure we're breaking

Can't we give ourselves one more chance

Why can't we give love one more chance

…   …   …

'Cause love's such an old-fashioned word

and love dares you to care for the people

People on the streets for people on the edge of the night

And love dares you to change your way of

Caring about ourselves

This is our last dance

This is our last dance

This is ourselves

Under pressure

Under pressure

Under pressure

Now, we're all under pressure. We're all under pressure to actually do something historic here, and that is to end discrimination in this country. We've already spoken many words; there have been over 10 attempts to actually legislate this in parliaments across this country. The people of Australia have now spoken and they've spoken very clearly. Let's get on with passing this legislation in the Senate. I trust that we pass it in the House. I will make it very clear, the Greens won't be supporting any amendments that attempt to legislate to further entrench discrimination. We will also be moving our own amendments to improve the bill and, as I said at the beginning of my speech, Senator Rice, Senator McKim and Senator Hanson-Young especially, and previously Senators Bob Brown and Christine Milne, have campaigned so hard for so long to achieve this outcome, and we are here to do it. Every single time, we have voted to end discrimination, and we will be standing up for LGBTIQ people in the Senate.

10:13 am

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

I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment Bill 2017. I have spoken on marriage equality in this place on, what I would say, too many occasions, but today, hopefully, will be one of the last. Finally, this week, we will do our part to change the law. We will allow any two adults to choose to enter into a marriage and make a public affirmation of their love and commitment to each other. I believe that this change will strengthen the institution of marriage, it will strengthen families and it will strengthen communities.

For me, the ideal bill before us this week would be one that simply removes the gender-specific language that has plagued the Marriage Act since 2004—that is, that we go from defining a marriage as a union of a man and a woman, back to simply, a union of two people. But I'm willing to compromise, and I'm willing to accept the further amendments included this bill. Aside from the creation of religious civil celebrants, the majority of the amendments clarify the existing circumstances. I'm not convinced of the need to further water down this historic bill with any other amendments. I'm not prepared to see this bill fail through attempts from either side to create a bill that those in the middle cannot support. What we're doing here this week is recognising that love is love, that commitment and family are the bedrocks of our society and that more love, commitment and strong families can only make our communities better.

Getting to this place today has been a long, long road. I congratulate the LGBTIQ Australians and their allies for their hard work and patience. It has been a decades-long campaign: first to decriminalise homosexuality and then to end all forms of discrimination within our laws. I also congratulate the millions of Australians who have changed their mindsets about LGBTIQ relationships and LGBTIQ families. While prejudice breeds prejudice, we each have our own moral code, and, with every conversation and every story of love and commitment, mindsets are changed and tolerance increases as people realise that public declarations of love between two others are not going to impact on their lives in any way.

This week is the culmination of the years of hard campaigning, of deeply personal campaigning, where LGBTIQ Australians have been forced to campaign for equal rights, have been forced to put their relationships up for judgement—indeed, have been forced to put their very identities up for judgement—and have been forced to endure some of the worst, most hateful and most disgusting comments from people who, quite frankly, should know better. This cruel campaigning was amplified during the recent postal survey, a postal survey that was voluntary for Australians to participate in and non-binding on this parliament. This survey and the plebiscite proposal before it were the absolute worst way to bring this issue to a head. Instead of recognising what we all knew to be the case—that the opinions and views of Australians had changed, that the people had moved—the weakest Prime Minister we have seen caved into the extreme conservatives in his party and their attempt to delay a parliamentary debate.

The result from the simple question that this government asked the Australian people was overwhelming. It was the opponents of marriage equality who wanted a plebiscite. It was the opponents of marriage equality who proposed the postal survey. It was this government that set the question. And even with the near two-to-one result in favour of marriage equality and with the concessions around religious freedom already made in drafting this bill, many of those opposed to marriage equality want more concessions, more delays and more watering down. I say to the opponents of marriage equality: enough is enough.

This nation is proudly a secular state. We tolerate and accept people of all religions. We also tolerate and accept people who choose not to adhere to formal religion. Despite the constant harping from those who will do anything and everything to frustrate change, there is no absolute, universal, historical definition of marriage. There are people of all faiths and people who choose not to follow a formal faith who believe that any two adults should be allowed to marry. So, when opponents say that, beyond the compromises included in this bill, we need sweeping changes to, quite frankly, allow for people to discriminate against LGBTIQ people, it needs to be called out for what it is: perpetuating discrimination.

This bill actually provides more significant religious freedoms than many people are comfortable with. While it is already the case that a minister of religion may refuse to solemnise a marriage for any reason, this bill extends the provisions for religious protection not just to ministers of religion but also to civil celebrants who register as religious celebrants. It also formally extends religious protection in the Marriage Act such that all bodies established for religious purposes can refuse to host a wedding ceremony if the marriage is against their religion's doctrine, tenets or beliefs or it is necessary to avoid injury to the feelings of their religious community. This is a big change, and the bill also amends the Sex Discrimination Act to give effect to these religious protections.

These protections are surely enough. These protections are landmark reforms in themselves. No longer is the right to refuse limited just to ministers of religion, with registered religious celebrants also eligible to refuse to marry a couple on whatever grounds. The formal protections afforded to religious bodies to refuse to provide any goods or services for the purposes reasonably incidental to the solemnisation of a marriage is a big concession. 'Reasonably incidental' is not defined. 'Religious bodies' is not defined. These are very strong religious protections that are not afforded to anyone else, and they operate in one direction—the right to refuse LGBTIQ people. As I just said, there are many people of faith, including ministers, who support marriage equality, and the current Marriage Act clearly limits their freedoms to marry, to be married and to support friends and family as a witness at a wedding.

One issue that this bill does not address that I hope religious bodies can resolve within their own walls is disputes between a local congregation that is in support of marriage equality and a central administration that is opposed. Quite clearly, while it is important to allow religious bodies protection from solemnising certain marriages to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of their congregation, on the opposite note it is equally important that religious bodies ensure their actions avoid injury to those members of their congregation who see nothing within the religion's doctrines, tenets or beliefs that should prevent a marriage between two consenting adults. And, as I've just said, the best place for these discussions is within each religious body; these things should not be prescribed in this bill.

Likewise, amendments that only promote the beliefs of opponents of marriage equality do nothing to improve this bill, do nothing to improve the community debate and do nothing to bring people together. It was prudent that last week in the face of the barrage of opposition from within his own government, the Prime Minister announced the creation of a panel to review protections for religious freedom in Australia. It was, however, ironic that the Prime Minister chose Philip Ruddock as the chair of this panel. Mr Ruddock as Attorney-General in 2004 introduced the change to the Marriage Act to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. Mr Ruddock's record on LGBTIQ rights as Attorney-General includes lowlights such as denying a gay World War II veteran's partner a spousal pension and refusing to provide a gay man with a certificate of no impediment to marriage. With all respect to the high-calibre Australians who have been appointed to the panel, the Prime Minister has failed to include an LGBTIQ Australian. Why? There are many impartial esteemed LGBTIQ Australian lawyers who could fill an important role on this panel. I implore the Prime Minister to revisit the creation of this panel and include an LGBTIQ Australian. Despite this criticism, the creation of this panel is a good step for public debate and ensuring marriage equality passes the parliament this year.

During the postal survey campaign, the principal of a local independent school in north-west Tasmania wrote to me with concerns about the school community's freedoms in the event marriage equality passes the parliament. I responded that I personally believe that such protections are not needed but that a national conversation is needed after the Marriage Act is amended. I said that with respect to religious freedom I would expect that even at present a religious institution would provide impartial pastoral care based on modern psychological best practice to a student who was questioning their sexuality or who needed help in coming out to their friends, family and community. I would expect that religious institutions are currently able to counsel students in a professional way that supports the students to be comfortable, confident and proud with their sexuality. Where it is appropriate to draw on guidance from the Bible then that is legitimate, but if a specific interpretation of the Bible may cause psychological harm to a child then surely that is best left unsaid. I believe it is important to balance the rights of parents to educate their children in a certain manner with the child's rights to receive impartial pastoral care.

It is also vital that we look at the experience of legislating for marriage equality around the world and examine how other jurisdictions protect religious freedoms while also protecting LGBTIQ people. I note that there is currently an inquiry before the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. Members and senators participating in the inquiry, and indeed all senators listening today, will be interested to read a recent comparative analysis from University of Tasmania law academics Dr Gogarty and Ms Hilkemeijer published on The Conversation website yesterday. The article titled 'Conservative amendments to same-sex marriage bill would make Australia’s laws the world’s weakest' found that the amendments proposed in Senator Paterson's bill would see Australia become the only country in the world to wind back laws prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination, after legislating to protect them. Whilst Senator Paterson has withdrawn his bill, the spirit of some of his amendments live on in the public comments and proposed amendments of some in this place.

The University of Tasmania academics found that, of the jurisdictions that allow LGBTIQ couples to marry, only Portugal, South Africa and the US state of North Carolina allow civil celebrants to refuse to solemnise a marriage, that only a handful of states in the United States allow service refusal—and that's around bakers and florists—and that only the US states of Florida and New Hampshire allow parents to withdraw their children from classes on the ground of gender preference education. I trust that we do not want to see Australia legislate for marriage equality only for it to become the least equal of all countries in the world with respect to rights for LGBTIQ people. I trust that opponents of marriage equality will respect the Prime Minister's decision to push the religious freedoms matter off to the Ruddock-led panel and that we will see the bill moved quickly through this place this week.

I would also like to touch on my home state of Tasmania. First, congratulations to everyone who campaigned so hard for this change. Legislating for marriage equality is one of the final steps in ensuring equality for LGBTIQ people, and it comes just 20 years after we decriminalised homosexual relations between two men. Despite this shameful past, LGBTIQ Tasmanians and their allies have campaigned respectfully and tirelessly for change. They have worked across all sides of politics and in the city and in all of our country towns to convince Tasmanians of the need to respect LGBTIQ people and of the need for change. With every conversation and every story of love and commitment, mindsets are changed and tolerance increases as people realise that public declarations of love between two people are not going to impact on their life in any way.

I was always confident of the result of the postal survey, but I'm so proud to put on the record in this place that Tasmania recorded a 'yes' result of 63.6 per cent—two percentage points above the national average—and all five electorates recorded a 'yes' result. Tasmania was the first state in Australia to introduce a register of 'Significant Relationships' that was open to all couples. This step in 2003 ensured LGBTIQ Tasmanians had equal rights in superannuation, taxation, insurance, wills, health care and employment conditions. It was the forerunner to the reforms federal Labor made in 2008, which ended discrimination against LGBTIQ Australians in all but the Marriage Act. In 2012 and 2013, the Tasmanian parliament amended laws to allow for surrogacy, adoption and parenting rights. This year the Tasmanian parliament expunged historical gay sex convictions. But the major reform that is outstanding is marriage equality.

I believe that Labor made a mistake in 2004 in supporting John Howard and Philip Ruddock's amendment to introduce gender into the Marriage Act. It took years of effort by many committed activists within Rainbow Labor and across the broader union movement to see the party change its position. I will never forget the mood in the room at the Tasmanian Labor Party state conference in 2009 when we were the first state Labor Party branch to change our position to support marriage equality. We are again leading the nation. One by one, other states slowly followed. Finally, at our most recent national conference, the Labor Party committed to a national platform which would unequivocally change the Marriage Act.

In concluding my remarks today, I want to pay tribute to those people whose stories I have shared in this place: Sandra, Lee, Jenny, Jen, Peter, Martine, Maxine, Robbie, Matt and Lochsley. I implore colleagues to let this bill pass without amendments. All that will happen after this bill is passed is that more people will be able to get married. In no way does this bill lessen the value of or harm any existing marriage. In no way does this bill cause harm to any person or couple, and in no way are your precious freedoms restricted or impacted. This week we are saying that more publicly recognised committed partnerships will make our households stronger, which in turn will make our communities and our broader society stronger. We are saying to lesbian, gay, transgender, intersex, bisexual and queer Australians that your relationships are completely valid, that your relationships are special and important and that everyone has the freedom to marry whoever they want to. I commend this bill to the Senate.

10:30 am

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. The rainbow is the symbol of the LGBTIQ movement. Rainbows appear when there's both sunshine and rain, and over the last few months we've seen plenty of both. LGBTIQ people have had to spend recent months enduring a storm of abuse unleashed by the unprecedented decision to decide marriage equality via a postal survey, but the insults that rained down during those few months have been broken by the blinding sunshine of a resounding 'yes' vote by the Australian people, and I thank them.

Subjecting questions of civil rights to opinion polls sets a dangerous precedent, and it's not one that should ever be repeated. My thoughts are with the thousands and thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians and their families who have had the essential, loving nature of their relationships under intense public scrutiny over the last few months. Indeed, over the course of the two-month survey, there've been reports of spikes in calls to helplines from young people who've been subject to homophobic abuse in their neighbourhoods, in the media and online—abuse that has been whipped up through this so-called respectful debate. We've heard reports of damage to cars and homes where rainbow flags and 'yes' material were displayed. People have been assaulted in the street. We all knew this would happen, yet the government pressed ahead.

People like Amanda Gordon, clinical psychologist and founder of National Psychology Week, were deeply critical of a process that asked people to take sides rather than to engage in a respectful discussion. ReachOut youth mental health service saw a 40 per cent jump in demand for their services over the period of the survey. Like so many other health professionals, they hold concerns about the long-term effects of the survey on people's mental health, particularly if the opponents of marriage equality continue in the manner in which the 'no' campaign has already been conducted. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has an underspend now of $22 million from this postal survey, and I've written to the Prime Minister to commit those funds to enhance counselling and support services for the LGBTIQ community.

It's now time to end the damaging debate. Enough is enough—enough of the distractions, enough of the delays, enough of the damaging lies. Australia said yes to marriage equality and they said it emphatically—61 per cent of Australians said yes. Every state and territory returned a 'yes' result. Every electorate in Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, Northern Territory and the ACT returned a 'yes' result; 27 out of 30 electorates in Queensland, 35 out of 47 in New South Wales and 35 out of 37 in Victoria said yes. Let me thank each and every person in the country who voted yes. I want to thank the 'yes' campaign volunteers for knocking on doors, making phone calls, engaging in conversations and distributing material. I want to thank them for having hard conversations, difficult conversations. I want to thank them because they came from all walks of life—people like my mum. One wouldn't expect my mum to be a traditional advocate for marriage equality, having been brought up in a Roman Catholic household with a conservative upbringing. But she is always someone with a strong sense of social justice. She worked with me to help make a video advocating her support for marriage equality, recognising that the love between all peoples should be treated equally.

I want to thank her and those many millions of Australians who had those conversations and engaged with this debate. I want to thank you for reminding us, in the words of a tweet that I read recently, that Australia is not The Daily Telegraph; it's not the Murdoch press. It's not Sydney talkback, it's not Alan Jones or Miranda Devine. Indeed, it's not Senator Bernardi, Tony Abbott or Pauline Hanson. It's none of those things. It's sure as hell not the Australian Christian Lobby. Australians are much more generous and much more decent than that.

So the task now rests on us to change the law and to change it quickly. The singular purpose of legislation now before us is to ensure that marriage becomes an inclusive institution. Some opponents of marriage equality have now shifted their focus to expanding religious freedoms and to use this debate as a Trojan horse for their own narrow agenda. But they must remember that the resounding 'yes' vote was a call to end discrimination, not to entrench it. If these freedom warriors are genuinely committed to notions of liberty and justice, then we welcome that. We would absolutely welcome their support for the Greens' call for a national bill or charter of rights, something we have campaigned on now for many, many years. We look forward to their support on our proposal. And let's have that debate next. Let's have it after we settle the question of marriage equality. Let's not use it to muddy the waters on marriage equality when the instruction from the Australian people was so clear.

The marriage law that we're debating in this country is a product of our secular society. Marriage is a deeply symbolic and public show of commitment between loving couples, but it's also a legal arrangement. We're debating both the deep symbolism of including every loving couple in the institution of marriage but also the legal certainty that flows from it. Through this debate, I've talked with many LGBTIQ Australians, right across the country. Not all of them want to get married. Some of them believe that the institution of marriage is flawed, that it's deeply conservative, that it's patriarchal. Yet, almost all of them still support this change because, for them, and so many other Australians, this is about equality not marriage.

We've also heard from so many faith communities. I know that there's diversity across religious communities in our country. I know, for example, that many Christians don't believe that the views of the Australian Christian Lobby reflect their views. I met Reverend Ric Holland from St Michael's Uniting Church in Melbourne recently. He's a proud advocate for marriage equality and he seeks to be the first church to solemnise a same-sex wedding. I wish him luck. We've also heard about the Australian Council of Hindu Clergy supporting the 'yes' campaign and the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, who overwhelmingly passed a motion calling for equal treatment under Australian law to same-sex couples who choose to marry. During the survey, we saw the Muslims for Marriage Equality group emerge. Nail Aykan, the Executive Director of the Islamic Council of Victoria, told the media that he had spoken to a number of Muslims and many of them—a significant proportion—voted yes in the postal survey. Faith communities are diverse. They're not homogenous. They have always had, and will continue to have, the freedom to determine and celebrate unions between couples in whatever they choose. There is an important distinction to make, though. When those religious institutions turn to face the wider community, to trade in goods and services for profit or benefit or to seek government taxpayer funding for their activities, they should expect to be held to standards of fairness, respect and non-discrimination, which is why we will never support any legislation in this place that changes that important principle.

I'm again wearing those rainbow sneakers that I wore when the 'yes' vote was delivered. They were a gift by Reverend Holland's daughter, Primrose, and I want to thank her for such a wonderful gift. I'm wearing them today for three reasons. Firstly, I wear them as a show of solidarity with people from LGBTIQ communities. I also wear them to remind us that support for a change to the Marriage Act comes from all corners of the Australian community, including from faith communities. And I wear them to take inspiration from the change that we're creating with our LGBTIQ communities to go on and work harder and continue to pound the pavement for equality and justice with other communities that experience discrimination. When in the future I recall the resounding 'yes' vote and I look at these sneakers I will know that change is possible, that if we can achieve justice on this issue there is no reason that we can't achieve justice for so many other Australians who are struggling right now and that we as a nation are better when we're working towards fairness, respect and compassion.

The bill before the Senate's not perfect. It's certainly not the bill that the Greens would have introduced, if it were up to us. We're concerned that it perpetuates exemptions from antidiscrimination protections, certainly something the Greens don't support. But we also recognise that this bill is the product of a cross-party consensus, following the report of the select committee on the exposure draft of the marriage amendment bill in February. My colleague Senator Janet Rice worked in good faith with many other members of this parliament across party lines to deliver a consensus bill. We are now ready for a debate in good faith that honours the message from the Australian people to our parliament and that honours that process.

Through the course of this debate, I have heard from people who say that they actually support same-sex relationships but that they want to use a word other than 'marriage' to recognise those relationships. To them I say: I know you mean well, but you're missing the point. When you choose to use another word, that is an admission that you don't believe that those relationships have the same value, that they are equal. We simply can't have a society that holds up an institution like marriage as being a bedrock to its values but then say we're only going to make it available to some and not all. We simply can't half do human rights. We have to complete this now because it is a matter of human rights, of equal rights, and because the reality is that today's discrimination is hurting people and hurting families. We can make this change and in so doing go that bit further in creating a society that does not treat an entire community as though their rights do not matter.

When I was born, homosexuality was considered a sin, a crime and an illness. Priests would rail against sins of the flesh. People were arrested for consensual sex. Doctors would strap electrodes to people's genitals in an effort to cure them. Here we are 47 years later, and the moral authority of the Catholic Church and its views on sexuality are in tatters. Laws criminalising homosexuality have been overturned. And the DSM, the Bible for medical diagnoses, no longer lists homosexuality as a psychiatric condition.

I say these things because it is important to remind ourselves that we have made progress. And I say them also to acknowledge those who have made that progress possible. For many, their activism was not simply about equality; it was about survival—those pioneers and activists who fought so hard for so many years. Many of them, lost to the HIV epidemic, are no longer with us. I take a moment to honour their memory. Many from the LGBTI community were so harmed by our prejudice that they took their own lives. I honour their memory. Some have simply passed on while our parliament has dragged its feet. I honour their memory. For them, we are too late. Honouring them means achieving this reform without further delay.

I want a future for my two boys where they grow up and thrive, where all people are treated fairly and with respect. I was talking to my younger son a few weeks ago about my job here in parliament. 'Have you made any laws in parliament today, Dad?' 'Well, soon we're going to change the law so that two men or two women can get married,' I said to him. 'Can't they already do that?' he said. It just didn't make sense to him. 'Not yet, mate.' 'Well, I'm going to marry Jesse when I grow up' was his response. It doesn't matter to me whether he does or doesn't—that's not the point. What's important for him is that he understands that love is love. In those words, what I heard was a young boy who hasn't had the years of prejudice and discrimination seep into him to cloud the way he sees the world. Let's hope that's the future we're creating for generations to come after us. What matters to me now is not only that he has that choice but that he lives in a society that says: if that's the choice he makes, he's valued, he's accepted and he's loved.

We are at the beginning of the end of the fight for marriage equality. I'm so proud of the response from the Australian people, who have turned something so awful into something beautiful, something wonderful, something incredible. It is a statement of values about the Australian nation. An Australia with marriage equality is a stronger, healthier, more loving country—one to grow up in and one to grow old in. Our campaign will continue until we get this done and until we end discrimination once and for all. This is a vote for optimism; it's a vote for hope; it's a vote for a better future. The movement for love is unstoppable.

10:48 am

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

I rise in support of this bill for marriage equality, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. Two weeks ago the Australian people delivered a strong statement about equality by voting emphatically in favour of legalising same-sex marriage in Australia. It was a momentous statement to the LGBTI Australians that the broader Australian community accepts them for who they are. I say to my friends and colleagues and all those Australians for whom this decision represents a massive, strongly fought for milestone: I'm overjoyed that Australia has said yes. This was truly a wonderful moment for Australia. I want to thank the Australian people. I want to thank all those across this great country who voted yes, who campaigned for marriage equality and who made their voices heard on this important issue.

I cannot imagine the relief and joy that members of the LGBTI community in Australia must have felt when the announcement was made on 15 November. It was a proud day for Australia. Here in Parliament House as the Senate was sitting those in favour of a 'yes' outcome gathered in a committee room to watch the results come in from the ABS Australian Statistician. It was, indeed, a really uplifting and emotional occasion when finally he read out the results, albeit he did take his time. We had cakes, tears, champagne and cheers.

I want to echo the sentiment of Senator Wong that this result is a profoundly important statement to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer Australians that they are accepted for who they are, that they too belong and that their love and families are equal. Unfortunately, the remarkable and joyous occasion of the 'yes' verdict does not detract from the long and difficult journey that the Australian LGBTI community have gone through. This has been a hard time for the LGBTI community, and we have all heard not just the personal stories of abuse but the stories of families fractured because of their different views.

Now that the postal survey has finally finished and the result has been an overwhelming and emphatic yes, it is time for the opponents of same-sex marriage to get out of the way and let us do what is right. For too long Australia's LGBTI community has been denied a fair go. There are no more excuses for inaction. Everyone deserves the right to marry the person they love. Now we have the responsibility here in this parliament to make that happen.

In my home state of Tasmania 20 years ago homosexuality was actually a criminal offence. We were the last state in Australia to have such a law. Only 20 years ago that changed and it was decriminalised. It took a challenge to the United Nations Human Rights Committee by Rodney Croome and his then partner, Nick Toonen, before we became the last state to remove our homophobic criminal laws. How far our state has come since then: in 1999 Tasmania enacted laws protecting LGBTI people from discrimination through our landmark Anti-Discrimination Act; in 2003 we established a same-sex relationship register as a precursor to marriage; and in 2013 Tasmania legislated to give full adoption rights to same-sex couples. This all happened under state Labor governments.

Now today as a Tasmanian Labor senator I will vote in favour of same-sex marriage in the Australian Senate. In voting for marriage equality I vote representing Tasmanians who overwhelmingly responded in support of same-sex marriage in the voluntary postal survey. In Tasmania the result of the postal survey was a landslide—191,948 Tasmanians voted yes. Of all Tasmanian responders 63.6 per cent voted yes, putting us ahead of the national average of 61.6 per cent. The love and respect for equality for all that has been demonstrated by Tasmanians in their support, in their strong turnout and in their strong 'yes' vote is indeed remarkable. I'm proud to say that more than 45,000 people in my electorate of Denison responded yes, which represents 73.8 per cent. This result was almost on par with the 'yes' vote here in Canberra and was the 14th best across all Australian electorates. Throughout Tasmania the result was an overwhelming yes. I'm beyond proud that every single electorate in my state voted in favour of same-sex marriage.

So how far Tasmania has come! Twenty years ago homosexuality was still illegal in Tasmania; it was indeed a crime. Today we can state unequivocally that the vast majority of Tasmanians support equality for LGBTI Tasmanians. The 'yes' campaign in Tasmania was principled, positive and inclusive. Volunteers came from all walks of life to stand for equality. In Hobart, local businesses had 'yes' posters in their shop windows, pubs hosted events, and I even saw rainbow colours on cats and dogs. This result is a profound statement of love and acceptance by Australians. It is a clear mandate to end discrimination and to end it now. The Labor Party has a long history of bringing an end to discrimination. It was under Labor governments that the White Australia policy was finally abolished, that legislation against discrimination based on race, sex and disability was introduced, and that discrimination against same-sex couples in many areas of law was also removed.

These changes never come easy. Equality only comes with a fight, and it is important to thank those who fight tirelessly to achieve it. Labor fought fiercely against the Turnbull government's proposal for a plebiscite on marriage equality. We knew it would be divisive for Australians, but once it was guaranteed to proceed Labor knew it was necessary to fight and to win. Labor owes its efforts over the past few months to the tireless work of strong figures in the Labor Party like Penny Wong, Tanya Plibersek, Bill Shorten, Louise Pratt and the many others who worked and fought tirelessly for equality. While the results of the postal survey have been overwhelming, let us not forget the terrible thing this survey has done. This survey has divided Australians and provided a voice for the worst and most despicable homophobic abuse. We've seen the 'no' campaign run a campaign that has attacked parents and alienated children. They didn't tackle the issue of marriage. Instead, they ran a fear campaign that had nothing to do with marriage. Their actions have harmed all Australians. Senator Wong said it well when she said:

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.

So, my heart goes out to the LGBTI community who have been subjected to the questioning and judgement of their relationships. They have shown incredible courage and resilience not just over the last few months but over decades, campaigning for recognition and the basic rights that we—each of us—take for granted. To my friends that have had to travel to New Zealand to get married, that have themselves experienced that discrimination here in Australia and that have fought for change, today I stand in this place in support of you and your rights for equality.

Not only has this survey been deeply hurtful for LGBTI Australians; it has been a blatant abdication of this government's responsibility and a waste of $100 million of taxpayers' money—money that could have been better spent on mental health services for the LGBTI community, a group that we know is more likely to be at risk of mental illness and suicide as a result of the entrenched discrimination that they face. Or it could have been better spent tackling homelessness on our streets, or supporting other important social services. It was the parliament where this should have been voted on and legislated. It was not necessary to have this postal survey, and making Australians go through this process was an abdication by the government of its responsibilities. Despite that, the government has been told loud and clear what I think most of us in this place already knew—that Australians want marriage equality.

It has also been disheartening to witness the actions of conservatives who have attempted to use this momentous occasion to legislate protections not against discrimination but in favour of it. This is an opportunity for love, not hate. We need to be focusing on how we can reduce and remove discrimination in Australia, not finding new ways to entrench it. It beggars belief that, under Prime Minister Turnbull's weak leadership, the conservative members of the coalition have controlled every step of this process. They are the ones that pushed for the disingenuous postal plebiscite that we didn't want or need, and now they're trying to use this predictable and overwhelming result in favour of same-sex marriage to try to push us backwards. The Prime Minister continues to let them lead the government, and that is an absolute shame. Australia will not accept that. Australians have spoken, and they have said loudly and clearly that they want less discrimination, that they want same-sex marriage to be legislated by this parliament.

I recognise that there is a small percentage of Australians that have reservations, but I say to them that this bill provides the appropriate protections for them and those people. This bill is already a compromise. This bill has gone through a cross-party support process, through a Senate inquiry, that has come out with a report, which this bill follows from, not including provisions which are inconsistent with existing antidiscrimination law. It is so important to recognise that the Senate inquiry into this bill that we are debating and voting on already settled on a compromise. The compromise is already there. It does not need to be amended with further compromises to entrench further discrimination.

On that, I think it is very important to recognise that we are trying here to legislate for marriage equality while preserving important antidiscrimination protections for LGBTI Australians, not entrenching them further. Fiona McLeod, the Law Council of Australia president, said very clearly:

The people of Australia were asked if they wanted same-sex couples to marry and they have delivered a resounding 'yes'. They have not been asked if Australians' anti-discrimination protections should be wound back. This important distinction should be front of mind to all Parliamentarians.

Ms McLeod went on to say:

Australians have voted for marriage equality, they have not voted to erode anti-discrimination protections.

Freedom from discrimination is a fundamental human right.

Discrimination on arbitrary grounds, including sexual orientation is contrary to Australia’s international human rights obligations.

I ask senators who want to come into this place and move amendments to recognise those words from the president of the Law Council of Australia and to recognise the rigorous process that this bill has already gone through in the Senate committee inquiry. I call on them to think before they come into this place and try to attempt to wind back the protections against discrimination to LGBTI Australians that we currently have—that is not what this is about—and to also recognise what Australians have voted for in this marriage postal survey.

Australia stands on the brink of joining some 24 or more other nations in the world, representing more than 840 million people, in legalising same-sex marriage. It is disappointing that, having led the world on so many progressive issues, we are the ones who have lagged behind on this issue. But, finally, we have a piece of legislation that I hope will pass—and that I look forward to passing—this parliament. I want to recognise the work of Senator Dean Smith, and that of other senators who have joined his bill, in ensuring that we have a piece of legislation that can pass this parliament, that does provide the balance needed to pass this parliament, to provide marriage equality for Australians and to provide the protections that get that balance right. And it is that bill that we need to pass, not any watered-down, amended form.

Now it's time to finally join the right side of history on this issue and to demonstrate our nation's love and acceptance for Australians, regardless of gender, identity or sexuality. There are no more hurdles; there are no more excuses for delay. Australians have made their opinions clear. The Australian people have embraced acceptance and respect for our differences. We will not allow ourselves to be diminished as a country by discrimination. Now it is time for parliament to do its job. It's time for marriage equality.

11:06 am

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

I rise today to speak to this bill, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, with such joy and excitement. I've spoken on this issue a number of times in this place, as many of us have. Despite the fact that the law has been changed now for 13 or so years, people in Australia and people in this place knew from the beginning that the Marriage Act should not exclude people but should instead remain inclusive of all Australians and of all loving couples.

And look how far we have come. I want to give a shout-out to my home state of South Australia because South Australia was the first state in the nation to decriminalise homosexuality, 42 years ago. It led the way when it came to issues of adoption by same-sex couples. As states right around the country followed suit, we heard a grumbling from here in Canberra when the conservatives, led by the former Prime Minister John Howard, decided to stand up and block this progress towards equality and to outlaw love. In 2004, when the government of former Prime Minister John Howard pushed through legislation in this place to insert the words 'man and woman' into the Marriage Act, it was the stamp of ugliness on something that is meant to be about love and commitment, and something that is meant to be engulfed with joy and celebration. Yet we had a Prime Minister of our country wanting to actively exclude Australian loving couples. It was the wrong decision in 2004. In listening to the speeches in this place over the last few days of debate, it is heartening to hear that even some people in this place who voted for that amendment in 2004 have now come to the realisation that it was the wrong thing to do. It was a bitter thing to do. It has now taken up to 12 years to reverse. No long-winded debates and no postal survey were required when former Prime Minister John Howard decided that he would single-handedly outlaw love.

On 12 August 2004, that bill was voted 38 votes to six. The six people who voted against that bill, Madam Acting Deputy President Reynolds, were three members of the Australian Greens and three members of the Democrats. Of course, the leader of the Greens at that time was former senator Bob Brown, a man who has always stood for the rights and equal treatment of others, and stood proudly in both the Tasmanian parliament and in the Australian parliament as a gay man. When Bob retired, in 2012, I said to him, 'Bob, I'm really sorry that we weren't able to reverse that awful law before your time was up.' Today I stand here with my Greens colleagues, finishing the job that Bob Brown started. Boy, this parliament has come such a long way. Twenty bills in this parliament have been introduced to reverse this awful law, seven of them embarrassingly so in my name. Twenty June 2013 was a turning point in this place. It was on that day in June 2013 when former senator Sue Boyce, a member of the Liberal Party from Queensland, decided to do what was right and be the first Liberal in this place to cross the floor. I hope, today and when we finally vote on this bill, that Sue is very proud of what she did, because it was an important break in the rhetoric of the debate in this place and the other that reform couldn't happen. Well, it can, it must, and it is.

We now have the bill before us introduced by Senator Dean Smith, which is a fantastic demonstration of progress and how fighting for what is right will eventually win. Millions of Australians have fought for this reform to happen: inquiry after inquiry, protesting on the streets, meetings with members of parliament, lobbying in workplaces and voting yes. It is now time for the Senate to do its job and to get this done without the muddying of the waters from those who have always been opposed to equal love. The growth of the movement has been so strong and so profound, from activists gathering in pubs, meeting in community centres and organising amongst their friends, to cities and airports being lit up with lights.

But why is this so important? It's because discrimination to some demeans us all; because equality is a symbol of a fair, caring and progressive society; because people know that equality in one's family is as important as equality in a country; and because we all have members of our families, our friends and our workplaces who deserve to be treated equally—equally under the law and in the eyes of society. Some may say that marriage is simply symbolic and that that doesn't matter. They've missed the point. Marriage is one of the most important symbols of our society. When two people, under law, agree that they will look after each other and that they will be committed to each other and they ask their friends, their family and their nation to back them and help them in doing that, that is the strongest commitment to another person that they can make.

I grew up in a small country town of 1,200 people, so difference stuck out like a sore thumb. Everyone knew everyone else's business. In my small high school, one of my best friends was gay and he struggled for a long time. I remember thinking that I never did quite enough to have his back. He was one of my best friends and when we hung out every now and again I would tell people to bugger off when they tried to pick on him. But I didn't quite feel like it was enough. It was just, 'Well, that's the way you are, so that's the way people are going to treat you.' Young people in Australia deserve better than that. The 'yes' vote that occurred two weeks ago is so important for sending a message to these young people right around the country, young people just like Jonathan that it's not good enough that you're just treated differently. The resounding 'yes' vote across the country is a symbol to every young person in this country that, it doesn't matter who you are, who you like, who you might have a crush on or who you fall in love with, the nation has your back; you are equal and you are loved.

A lot of people have fought long and hard for this reform. I remember when I first became a member of parliament that, within my first two weeks of being in this place—I didn't even have proper furniture in my office—I was visited by a number of activists: Rodney Croome, Corey Irlam and Alex Greenwich. They came and visited me and said: 'Look, Sarah, we know that you care about looking after people. We know that you care about human rights. We would really like you to have a look at this Marriage Act thing.' They told me their stories, and I said, 'All right; let's do this.' That was in 2008. My first private member's bill was to remove the discrimination in the Marriage Act, to remove those words 'man and woman' and replace them with 'consenting adults'. I want to pay tribute, in particular, to Alex. Alex opened my eyes to the fact that this reform, as much as it made sense to me, was not inevitable, that we would have to fight for this, that we would have to come together and fight to have it changed. We made a promise to each other that we wouldn't give up until we had won. Thank you for being here today, Alex. It is his birthday tomorrow, so I'm hoping we can have a vote on the second reading as a birthday present for him. This reform would not have happened if it weren't for people, like Alex Greenwich, who tirelessly fought and put their own lives on hold for this reform. The movement is lucky to have your leadership, Alex, and the people of Sydney are very lucky to have you as their local member. I'm sure they're looking forward to having you back a bit more after this debate and campaign is over. And I'm very lucky to have you as my friend.

The 15th of November 2017 will go down in history as the day our nation repaired its broken heart. It will go down as the day when progressive reform was seen as achievable in this country. The street parties that happened across the country on the day and the night of 15 November were so joyful that you could feel the buzz and the excitement in the air. There was a huge sense of relief. People who had fought for this reform for so long had been vindicated. People who had wished a 'yes' result for their friends and family felt proud that they had been a part of it. The nation repaired its broken heart, which had been damaged by former Prime Minister John Howard's bill. It is now up to this place to make sure that we get the job done and finished properly.

Every state and territory across the country voted yes, and in 133 electorates the vote was an overwhelming yes. There has never been a greater political mandate in this country than the one today for marriage equality. Yet, unfortunately, we have a handful of ultraconservative right-wing MPs and senators who are trying to spoil the celebration and ignore the will of the people. Well, it is to their downfall and peril if they try to disrupt this progress now. They are like that annoying relative whom you invited to the wedding and you wished you bloody hadn't! Go away. Sit down. Let the rest of us get on with the party. If you don't have anything nice to say about anybody, please keep it to yourself. Fortunately, however, they are a shrinking rump in this place, and they won't get their way. The Australian people have spoken. They have voted. They demand that the parliament get this done and get it done as quickly as possible.

So many people have fought long and hard for this reform: Bob Brown, a former Leader of the Australian Greens; and Christine Milne, also a former Leader of the Australian Greens. Janet Rice, my colleague here in the chamber, today speaks passionately about how this impacts on her in a very direct and personal way. I'm so proud, Janet, that we're going to be able to do this with you, and for you and Penny. Nick McKim, former Leader of the Tasmanian Greens, fought extremely hard in Tasmania over these issues and must be very chuffed with the results in Tasmania. Former senator Robert Simms wasn't here for long, but when he was here he had fire in his belly for this issue. I want to acknowledge Senator Simon Birmingham. You've always been on the right side of history on this issue. I want to acknowledge the Leader of the Opposition, Penny Wong. This must have been an awful battle to have to weather, and kudos to you for your grace and determination.

We will get this done. We will stare down the haters. The Australian people have had their say and they want marriage equality delivered this year—no buts, no ifs, no excuses. As I said, discrimination against some demeans us all, and above all else, love is love and love matters, more than anything else in the world.

11:26 am

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have to agree with many of the speakers that have gone before me that this debate on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 is an extremely important one; it's a historic one. And there is no denying that the Australian people have been absolutely clear in their verdict on this issue. That is something that cannot be disputed whatsoever. Having said that, though, I don't intend to take up a great deal of the Senate's time today. I think there's been much said out in the greater community but also in this building over many number of years, and so I will get straight to the point about my views on this issue.

Like many others in this chamber, I spend a great deal of time out on the ground in the community working with and for Tasmanians on issues that they feel are important to them, and this issue was no exception, especially when the matter of the postal survey was out on the ground and in people's mailboxes. It certainly piqued people's minds as to how they felt about this issue, and it was something that many people in small communities and in large towns right across the state wanted to discuss with me. For the most part, I have to say it was a respectful debate that took place in Tasmania. Sadly, of course, we're always going to see elements on either side of the spectrum who go a little bit further than common sense would dictate and conduct themselves in an unbecoming way. People were able to raise their concerns and express their views in a very civil way. People came to me and said they were for it or they were against it and told me the reasons they held those views.

During my conduct of community consultation on this issue, I came across two people I wanted to make mention of in this debate—a same-sex couple I met. I toured a farm in the picturesque Derwent Valley in the southern part of Tasmania run by a young same-sex couple by the name of Bec Tudor and Bec Lynd. I went to tour their farm, see their works and listen to their proposals for the future to provide opportunities for further education for young Tasmanians who wanted to get into field of primary production, particularly in beef grazing and butchery. It was great having a look around Bec and Bec's farm. I should also mention that Bec Lynd was the Tasmanian Rural Woman of the Year and the Tasmanian finalist in the Australian Farmer of the Year. Looking around their farm and hearing about their great ideas for the future was a wonderful thing to do. At the end of the tour, though, the item that they wanted to discuss was, of course, marriage equality—something that was incredibly important to them, something that they felt very strongly about for obvious reasons. We were able to have a very, very respectful discussion about an issue that, as I say, was very clearly important to them.

The reason that I mention Bec and Bec, people I've come to know fairly well through the activities they're pursuing in our community, is that I think they typify what is good about Australia—something I have consistently said in this place and publicly about how Australians will conduct themselves, for the most part, in a public debate on an issue as sensitive and important as this one. Bec and Bec were very respectful. They heard where I was coming from and we were able to exchange views, and I was able to take home, from a very moving conversation, exactly how they felt and why they felt that way. I think they typify Australia as an innately good country, a mature country, a tolerant country and an inclusive nation.

Sadly, though, it's not always the case that people do conduct themselves in a mature and becoming way. We have our keyboard warriors who, in the time of social media, like to use the anonymity of the keyboard, internet and all sorts of social media platforms to have their say, to be spiteful and to be not at all constructive in the debate. But, thankfully, they are very much the minority. It is sad, though, that in this country some people don't want to front up and have their say face-to-face.

I made my position clear on this issue early in the debate. It's one that I held not because of fear, not because of hate—as some have characterised it—but out of love for my God and my faith. That's something I feel very strongly about. But I've also said from the outset of the debate that, if my home state of Tasmania were to vote in favour of changing the laws around the definition of marriage, we should obey the will of the Tasmanian people. So that's what I intend to do: to give effect to what the Tasmanian people clearly said they wanted done right here in the Senate.

Of course, this debate is going to be a long and involved one. It's one that's going to be canvassing a great many changes that have been proposed by various senators in this chamber. I do believe, as is the case with every piece of legislation that we consider in this place, that it's our job to ensure that the end result is the best piece of legislation, the best law, possible. We have to make sure that there are no unintended consequences. We have to make sure that concerns are heard and that, where possible, we address them. That's what we're paid to do in this place and that's what we should be doing through this debate, as long as it may take—but hopefully it doesn't take too long.

We know that senators have indicated that they will introduce amendments and so we will be considering them. We can't pretend that we're not going to be considering amendments in this debate. We need to do it, and I hope it is a respectful debate. But the job we have is to make sure that, at the end of this debate, the final product that we send off to the House of Representatives, the other place, is the best possible piece of legislation to do exactly what we need it to do and that it doesn't have any unintended consequences, whatever form that actually takes.

I want to touch on a paragraph in the speech made by my good friend and colleague Senator Dean Smith, the proposer of this bill. Towards the end of his speech, Senator Smith said:

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.

Senator Smith then went on to eloquently outline how what he'd just explained—with reference to the fears and the concerns held by those who voted no in the postal survey—mirrored the fears and anguish that the LGBTI community have experienced in the many years leading to this point in time. That is why it's so important in this debate and the debate that will take place in the other place that we ensure that this discrimination against any part of our community—any minority—is not repeated in any way. We have to listen to the concerns that have been raised by members of our community—the people who did vote no. We have to hear them. We can't ignore them. We need to make sure that, in completing debate on this legislation and in sending something off to the House of Representatives, we do so with a package that is inclusive and that does deal with the issue of discrimination, as we promised it would when we began this debate.

11:35 am

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is a lot that is worth saying about marriage. But there is also a lot that has already been said in the almost 50 hours of debate on this issue across the last two parliaments. Accordingly, as someone who has spoken on the issue in this place on quite a number of occasions in the last couple of years, I intend to keep my remarks very brief.

After the celebrations and the relief over the result of the postal survey last week, we now have a responsibility to deliver on the very clear mandate that we've been given. It's clear that the people of Australia overwhelmingly support marriage equality. There is no hidden army of social conservatives. Years of polling were right. The belief in marriage equality is a belief that unites us, not one that divides us. Senior members of this government have given a commitment that marriage equality will now be legislated swiftly and fairly. And I hope so. It is what the Australian people expect and it's what the LGBTI community deserve.

The LGBTI community has spent generations struggling for equality. It's been a very long road from criminalisation to tolerance and from tolerance to acceptance and respect. That struggle has asked a lot. It has asked a lot of the LGBTI community and it has taken a lot from them. The campaign during the postal survey has been no exception. The past few months have been bruising and hurtful for the LGBTI community. As the chair of the Senate committee looking into the conduct of the postal survey, I have seen much of the material that's been produced and distributed over the course of the campaign. This is material that has been put into people's letterboxes, sent to them on Facebook and spray-painted on their homes. It has been cruel, it has been crude and it has been spiteful. What this material tells us is that there are still a small number of people out there—a very small number, I believe—who are highly motivated and who wish to roll back the rights that have been acquired by gay and lesbian Australians. Harm to the gay community is not merely an unfortunate collateral of their campaign. It was one of their primary goals. And this is the context that, I think, we need to keep in mind when we consider the consequences of some of the changes to the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 that have been floated in public debate.

I am conscious that a number of senators have flagged amendments to this bill in their public comments. While we're yet to see the detail of some of the amendments, I think what is proposed is to radically extend the reach of conventional interpretations of freedom of religion. In anticipation of seeing these amendments, I would like to make a few observations from a first-principles basis about how we might approach them. Many arguments have hinged on article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It's the article that provides for freedom of religion. I want to make two observations about that article. The first is this: it provides some quite helpful guidance, I think, about how we might think about this notion of freedom of religion. It states that everyone shall have the freedom of thought, conscience and religion. And that, of course, is something that we all accept and ought to embrace in the chamber. It goes on to say:

This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

Those things are important. But it doesn't make mention of commerce. It doesn't make mention of decisions around employment. It doesn't make mention of decisions about rent or providing accommodation. It's very specific, in fact, about the kinds of activities that we might ordinarily understand to be involved in the exercise of freedom of religion.

The second observation I'd make is that the covenant specifically acknowledges that freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. It's a reminder that we can't just pick and choose those articles of the covenant that we choose to engage with. We need to read it as a whole and we need to understand that this right to freedom of religion must be balanced against the other fundamental human rights that are contained in the covenant. Australia's antidiscrimination laws already reflect a settlement of this kind. They reflect a conversation we've had publicly over many decades. They prohibit discrimination on a range of grounds. But they do provide exemptions for religious institutions to conduct their own affairs consistent with their own religious beliefs, and the bill that's before us today also represents a settlement of this kind—settled, I should indicate, unanimously in a committee process that was populated by senators from both sides of the aisle.

Specifically, the bill exempts religious organisations from the obligation to recognise same-sex marriage. To those who might seek to extend these exemptions to allow individuals to discriminate in other domains—in commerce, in employment and perhaps in housing—I say: you really ought to proceed with caution. Australian history provides many examples of discrimination that was arguably grounded in religious belief. As a Protestant, living and working in Queensland, my grandfather complained bitterly about Catholic preferment in parts of the Queensland Public Service. Now, lest anyone here be concerned that I seek to reprosecute this grievance on some sectarian basis, I can provide some reassurance: I don't seek to do that. In fact, I'm absolutely confident that a similar or perhaps worse grievance might have been heard in Catholic households in Queensland in the same period. It wasn't unknown for job advertisements to be placed stipulating that no Catholics need apply, and it was quite ordinary in job applications for applicants to be asked for their religious affiliation as part of the interview process.

We should welcome a decline of sectarianism of this kind and its associated discrimination. This decline actually provides some indication of the boundaries we've set for ourselves as a society. Australians accept that we are all free to practise our faith, but we're rightly cautious about an interpretation of the obligations of faith that would seek to justify discrimination in every area of public life. So I say to those senators opposite who are considering amendments around religious freedom: we ought to think very carefully about how religious freedoms interact with other important freedoms that are found in the international covenant but also found to have been settled in sensible ways in Australian political history.

I want to conclude by acknowledging the hard work of all those who have fought for marriage equality. There are, of course, many people in this chamber and many people in the other place who have put their own lives into the public domain and opened them up for discussion in the pursuit of change. But I think the real heroes are those many people—not elected to parliament, living ordinary lives—who have borne the brunt of discrimination and who have nonetheless chosen to stand up and say: 'This is fair. I wish to marry the person that I love. I want that love to be recognised, and I want it to be recognised not just in the community but in law.' I'm extremely proud that the Australian community has endorsed that position and I look forward to such a law being made in this parliament in the very near future.

11:45 am

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. This is, as we all know, an important bill and an important debate. It's one we've been having for some time in this country. It's important to go over how we got here. In the 2016 election the coalition took to the Australian people a clear commitment to give them their say on whether or not to change the Marriage Act to allow same-sex marriage. We have honoured that promise. We did it because giving people their say reflects the fact that the question of marriage is about the nature of one of the most foundational institutions not only in our society but in societies and cultures throughout the world. We should also note that advocates here in this place and indeed around the country said that this should just be left to the parliament. It's worth reflecting that the parliament has actually considered this issue four separate times between 2010 and 2013, and every time a bill to allow same-sex marriage failed.

Let's not forget as we debate this bill today that there are people in this very chamber who in the past have called their opponents bigots or suggested that those opposed to same-sex marriage hold those views. Those very same people will celebrate what they say is a great victory, knowing full well that in many cases, when given the opportunity, they said no in the parliament as well. We are reminded of Senator Wong's words in 2010 on the issue of marriage:

… I think the reality is there is a cultural, religious, historical view around that which we have to respect.

Now, of course, Senator Wong is entitled to change her views, as is anyone else. But I make the point, as I made during much of the discussion, that simply because some people have changed their views—and even a majority, as we found in the survey—it does not mean that the millions of Australians who hold a different view are somehow doing it as a result of bigotry, any more than Senator Wong was doing it as a result of bigotry in 2010. Former PM Julia Gillard has also changed her views subsequent to being in political life. It's important that we don't let the Labor Party rewrite history. They were in government when those bills came before the parliament, and many of their members and senators said no.

We pursued the option to give Australians a say—firstly, through a plebiscite and, then, because we weren't able to get support for that in the Senate because of Labor and the Greens opposition, through a postal survey to give Australians their say. I should note of course that this all could have been over with nearly 12 months ago had we had a plebiscite from the outset. With a turnout near enough to 80 per cent, it's clear that Australians did indeed want to have their say and they embraced the process.

I believe it was a largely respectful conversation. Unfortunately, despite that, there were some ugly examples of extremism. I was concerned to see at the University of Sydney a group of students who offered a free barbecue and an invitation to engage in conversation about these issues from the 'no' perspective physically and verbally abused and shouted down by 'yes' campaigners and the police needing to be involved to calm the situation. Heidi McIvor, one of the mums who featured in the 'no' campaign TV advertisements, received threats to burn down her church, the City Builders Church in Sale, where Heidi and her husband are both pastors. Their names and phone numbers were splashed all over Facebook and her husband was targeted with a steady stream of abuse. Dr Pansy Lai, who featured in the 'no' campaign TV advertisements, was targeted by a petition calling for her medical registration to be reviewed. She was threatened by people who called her medical clinic and said that they would turn up at her practice and that she had better ring security. A launch event in Melbourne was interrupted by gay marriage protesters yelling, 'Crucify the Christians,' and waving a banner declaring 'Burn churches not queers'.

I understand that there were examples of extremism by some people opposed to the change, and we saw a few examples of that. Can I say, though, that I didn't see during the debate any organisations arguing against the 'no' campaign in any way employing some of those tactics that groups like GetUp!, when it came to Pansy Lai, engaged in. I think that was an unfortunate part of some people's response. But, that said, the vast majority of Australian people didn't engage in that kind of behaviour, didn't engage in that kind of speech. In fact, the Prime Minister was absolutely right when he said we trusted the Australian people to have a respectful debate, to do the right thing. There will always be fringe elements in our society who, regardless of what the debate is, regardless of the legal framework, will unfortunately do the wrong thing. But we do have faith in the Australian people.

Personally, my views on marriage are well-known and on the record. I supported the 'no' campaign and, while I remain firm in my convictions, I will, as I have said all along, accept the will of the Australian people, and the law will now be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. My views on marriage have been well-known for a long time. While all legal protections and rights should be afforded to same-sex couples, as the parliament has previously done, there is a place for preserving the unique nature of marriage between a man and a woman as the ideal situation to raise children. I said in an opinion piece early in the campaign that that doesn't mean that other families aren't able to provide stable and loving homes for their kids, or that married men and women aren't sometimes neglectful or abusive. But there is a uniqueness to the male-female relationship that as of today is still expressed in Australian law. It soon won't be as a result of this survey. In the end, I disagree with that. I voted no in the survey, but at the outset I said I would respect the will of the Australian people. If we are going to go to the trouble of asking them what their view is on this very important issue, we need to respect it.

I acknowledge that a little over 60 per cent of Australians expressed a view in favour of changing the definition. I said before the plebiscite that if the Australian people voted to change the definition of marriage I would honour that in the parliament. I will, therefore, be voting yes at the second reading stage to allow the bill to go forward. I will then be supporting amendments which strengthen the legislation, because I firmly believe that this cannot be a blank cheque—changing this legislation does have consequences. The reality is that in countries where the definition of marriage has changed there have been flow-on effects on education, parental choice, freedom of speech and freedom of religion. These are the facts, but those on the 'yes' campaign have assured us throughout this debate that changing the Marriage Act will have no implications beyond marriage. I would hope that to be the case, but that hasn't always been the case in other places.

After same-sex marriage was legalised in the UK we saw the Vishnitz Girls School, an orthodox Jewish school, fail three inspections by the education authority, Ofsted, and face closure because they refused to teach their students a Safe Schools type of curriculum. Once this became more public we saw lobby groups saying it was an untrue claim. However, an Ofsted spokesperson confirmed that they later amended the report on the school so it did not make any references to sexual orientation and gender reassignment, even though it initially had. In Canada, referring to a person other than by their preferred gender pronoun is now punishable by law. In Canada, programs like Safe Schools were optional before same-sex marriage was legalised but now have become compulsory, even for faith-based schools. There was a famous legal battle starting in 2010 involving Canadian parent Steve Tourloukis's request to exclude his children from these programs. This was rejected by the school because the programs were embedded in the curriculum. The Ontario Superior Court acknowledged his parental rights were being infringed upon but sided with the school and refused his request. In Canada, the Law Society of Upper Canada refuses to recognise law degrees of graduates from Trinity Western University because the students sign a personal agreement to reserve their own sexual activity for heterosexual marriage. In 2016, in Ontario, the All Families Are Equal Act of 2016 has replaced all references to 'mother' or 'father' in the law to 'parent', and birth certificates now enable up to four parents with equal rights to the child to be included.

Some would say that just because this has happened overseas doesn't necessarily mean it will happen here. That may be the case but that has often been the push. The question for us going forward will be: will we put in place protections to ensure that that sort of thing doesn't happen? I think that that's a very reasonable discussion for us to have. There'd be very few people who would defend many of those instances. There would be very few people who would want to see a situation where, in Australia, if you have a traditional view of marriage, you would somehow no longer be able to practise law. Those sorts of things would be a real concern if we saw the imposing of this view on the entire community. We can look at some concerning examples here in Australia which have happened before the law has changed, and we can consider whether or not those situations will get worse or better once the law is in fact changed here in the next couple of weeks.

During the campaign, we've seen activists and 'yes' advocates try to bully people into silence and threaten the jobs and livelihoods of people who believe marriage is between a man and a woman. Here in Canberra, we had the story of Madeline the kid's party entertainer who was fired because of a Facebook post saying she would vote no. We had the ACT education minister threaten the freedom of speech and religion of Brindabella Christian College because they advocated for traditional marriage during this campaign. We saw activists associated with GetUp! attempt to deregister Dr Pansy Lai after she appeared in an ad by the Coalition for Marriage. And, before this process began, we saw the attempt to drag Archbishop Julian Porteous before a tribunal because, as a Catholic bishop, he advocated for the Catholic view on marriage in a Catholic-school context. We must recall that Archbishop Porteous was expressing not just his faith but also the law of the land. His case is a stark example of the need to add protections into this bill to ensure freedom of speech and religion are protected. Of course, some of the efforts to silence people in Australia have thankfully failed. This has all happened before the law has changed, and advocates and activists have shown their intentions. Most people who voted yes don't want to see activists using the law to stop people from expressing their views. Most 'yes' voters don't fall into that category. But examples, both here in Australia and overseas, show that this fact doesn't necessarily stop the activists from seeking to do exactly that.

As we now consider this change in legislation, I think it is time for those who want this change to make good on all those assurances they have given in the last three months—that is, that this change in the definition of marriage will have no impacts on personal freedom of conscience, religion and speech. This vote has shown that over 4.8 million Australians voted against this change, and, if we are to be a truly representative body in this parliament, we do need to take their concerns seriously as well as the views of the majority who voted yes. The 'yes' side campaigned on a platform that was very clear: there would be no consequences to this change. Their mandate is to deliver this change, ensuring there is no deterioration of religious freedom and freedom of speech, nor changes to parents' choice in how their kids are educated.

Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus told a group of same-sex marriage advocates that Labor would be happy to water down religious freedom protections in a same-sex marriage bill, or certainly seemed to suggest that in the comments that were publicised. I haven't heard whether he's retracted those comments, but I would welcome it if he has. I think this is completely out of step with the Australian public, because it is interesting that the Newspoll, which pretty accurately predicted how people would vote on the same-sex marriage survey, also, at the same time, asked about religious freedom protections, and 62 per cent of those polled said that parliament should provide guarantees in law for freedom of conscience, belief and religion if it legislates for same-sex marriage. Importantly, many people were undecided. Only 18 per cent in that Newspoll said that they didn't want to see those kinds of protections. The very same poll that suggested Australians would vote roughly 60-40 in favour of same-sex marriage had those very same people saying that they thought, if that change happened, they did want to see protections for religion and speech and parental rights. I call on those in the Labor Party and, indeed, others in the place who support changing the Marriage Act to repudiate these statements and stand by their commitment to protect religious freedom.

I note this bill includes protections for religious ministers so they cannot be forced to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. There are protections relating to church buildings and halls. I welcome these protections. I know that in the committee stage further amendments will be introduced to extend these protections. These will be welcome and, I believe, should be supported by senators because these freedoms are fundamental to any democratic and free society, and they apply to everyone.

As experience overseas has clearly demonstrated, it's not sufficient to take the narrow view of these rights and apply them only to ministers of religion and to church buildings. Freedom of religion and conscience is also important for what schools teach. It's important for people who take a different view to what the law says about marriage to not have to suffer discrimination or detriment as a result of those views. These are practical concerns, and legislation in this parliament needs to be clear about protecting those people as well.

In particular, experience overseas has shown that with same-sex marriage comes issues around parental choice, and I have highlighted some of those already. I firmly believe, and I think it should be relatively uncontroversial to say, that most Australian mums and dads believe that they get to have a say in what their kids are taught about values, about sex education, about gender and relationships. I think we should protect that. I think that parents would agree that, if a school is introducing a program that teaches gender fluidity, they should be informed; they should know about it. They should have the ability to not have their kids taught those kinds of programs. The Safe Schools program was in many cases introduced into schools without parents being aware of its contents. It taught about sexuality and gender in a way that most parents would not be comfortable with, and of course this happened before the laws were changed. We've now got a situation where the law will be changed. In other countries we have seen flow-on impacts, and it's been harder for those individual parents who object to be able to object, as I've pointed out. Again, those in the 'yes' campaign said there wouldn't be flow-on effects in education, so I think it's important that we back that up, that we don't just necessarily take it on trust, that we look at experience overseas and we look to avoid that. As I mentioned, in an orthodox Jewish school in the UK and in schools in Canada, we have seen those kinds of impacts.

In conclusion, I think that, overall, going to the Australian people and asking for their views on such an important issue—which, let's face it, parliament had been deadlocked on in the past—was the right thing to do. I think that showing respect to the Australian people as a result of that is also necessary. I think, in respecting the views of the majority, who voted yes, we shouldn't completely reject the views of the millions of Australians—the nearly 40 per cent—who voted no. Likewise, we shouldn't be ignoring the fact that many voted yes expressing the very strong view that they wanted to see these kinds of protections; they wanted to see these additional protections beefed up.

We now have a choice, as this parliament considers this bill. This bill will go through the parliament. The question for us will be: will this be a unifying moment for us as a nation or will it be one where the views of millions of 'no' voters, and in fact many 'yes' voters, are simply cast aside because the numbers are there to do it? I would commend senators to consider very carefully those amendments so that we can in fact have a unifying moment here in this parliament and not one that simply brushes aside the millions and millions of Australians who have a different view or are concerned about what these kinds of changes could mean.

12:03 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. I want to say at the outset that I'm extremely proud to do so. I've spoken in this chamber many times before of my absolute, 100 per cent, support for changing the Marriage Act to enable LGBTIQ people in Australia to be able to marry, if that's their choosing, the person that they love. We know, and certainly those of us that have advocated strongly for same-sex marriage know, that love is love and it should not discriminate. It's only recently been discriminatory in this country. We know that, under Prime Minister Howard, the Marriage Act was changed to insert the definition of 'a man and a woman'. As many of us noted in this chamber before, that was done without any kerfuffle, with no public consultation; it was simply done and it became the law. Sadly, that simple act made many Australians feel like somewhat second-class citizens.

I want to focus on that for a little bit because whether the Marriage Act is changed or not makes no difference to me, none whatsoever. I have a choice right now about whether I choose marriage or not. In my own personal circumstance, I've chosen marriage twice and I'm choosing, in my long-term relationship right now, not to choose it a third time. That's always been my choice, but sadly it has not been the choice of many dear friends of mine. Whilst I think that marriage is a somewhat outdated, old-fashioned concept, I nevertheless accept that to deny people the opportunity to make that choice for themselves—to choose to marry the one that they love—is a deeply personal and discriminatory matter. What has well and truly opened my eyes over the last few years, and particularly during this debate, is how personally that issue of not being able to marry the one that you love—of having that choice—resonates with people.

My very dear friends Carolyn and Dee have been in a committed relationship for more than 20 years. They are some of my best and closest friends, and I love them dearly. Recently we celebrated a milestone in their relationship. They don't actually want to get married, but the fact that they've been denied that opportunity has made them feel like second-class citizens. That's what has hurt me throughout this debate. I'm someone who stands for fairness and equality, and I'll fight to the bitter end for things to be fair and equal. I really had no understanding of how LGBTIQ people in our community felt, but I was standing with Carolyn and Dee when the decision came down a couple of Wednesdays ago and both of them cried. In her day job, Carolyn is a tough union official. She's the secretary of United Voice in Western Australia, and every day she's confronted with unfairness and she's out there advocating fiercely for the rights of workers. Rarely have I seen Carolyn cry, but on that Wednesday morning—it was 7 am in Perth when we got the decision; it was nice to get it so early—she cried, not, as I said at the outset, because she personally wants to get down on bended knee and ask Dee to marry her but because it lifted that view that she felt had been imposed upon her that somehow she was a second-class citizen. I know that many of my LGBTIQ friends who are in the same circumstances have also felt that.

Whilst Labor fought the survey bitterly—it wasn't where we wanted to go, but, once we were in the fight, we were determined to campaign really hard and to make sure that we got a very strong 'yes' vote—this survey result has meant something much more to many Australians in our community. It has finally said to them: 'You are equal.' I can't believe that someone as smart and sassy and as strong a fighter as my friend Carolyn would feel like that, but she did. At the Labor Party conference this year, she gave the most amazing personal speech. She shouldn't have had to do that. I haven't had to stand up and talk about all of the awful trials and tribulations that I had as a 15-year-old. But we expected that, and people in same-sex relationships have done that right across Australia. Those personal stories have been heartfelt and deeply, deeply personal, as it was for Carolyn. She talked about the struggles she had as a teenager. She gave a very powerful personal account of all of the issues she had faced—disappointing her parents, outing herself and acknowledging that she would be an outcast in society and that some people would judge her because of her sexual preference. All of that was deeply personal. So, when the 'yes' vote came down, for people like Carolyn, who, as I say, is not going to choose marriage, it said to people like Carolyn and Dee: 'You are equal. We live in a fair society. We believe that you should have the same rights as everyone else.'

The other person that really struck me during this debate was Jennifer Westacott. I listened to her in an interview on radio. Jennifer Westacott is not someone I would normally agree with. She heads up the Business Council. She has supported penalty rate cuts. She is not very fond of unions. She doesn't really align with my values. Jennifer Westacott, who I would certainly acknowledge is someone who has done very well for herself in her life, as she has been at the forefront of business in Australia, described the feeling that she had all her life as one of being an outsider. Jennifer Westacott, who is central to what happens in business in this country, who lobbies the government and the opposition about a whole range of issues and who comes across as very confident and able—of course, she is very accomplished—said she has felt like an outsider her whole life because of her same-sex relationship. She felt that her relationship was treated without the respect and legitimacy given to married couples. That interview—probably about six or seven weeks ago on Radio National on the Breakfast program—was quite astounding. I sat and listened and thought, 'Wow, if someone like Jennifer Westacott and someone like Carolyn Smith at United Voice can say how they have felt like second-class citizens in this country, that's really saying something.'

When that 'yes' vote came down so overwhelmingly a couple of Wednesdays ago, it just lifted that cloud. That's a really profound thing. It's not really something that we have celebrated in this country. Yes, all people who love one another should have the right to get married if that's their choice, but this other deeply profound lifting of that shroud of people feeling, personally, that they are no longer second-class in our country is something much greater. The fact that that's now a reality is something that really pleases me. It's something that I'm very proud of.

The other thing that I'm proud of is that I come from the state of Western Australia. Sometimes, we're a bit conservative in the west. We don't always jump on board. We had the Liberals at their recent conference—thankfully, they have backed away from that now—saying that we should secede and become our own state. But they've put that to one side, thankfully. We're a long way from the east coast and we now have a three-hour time difference. So, sometimes, we feel a bit left out, a bit unloved and a bit neglected. But, in my state of Western Australia, we had a really high participation rate, with 78.4 per cent of Western Australians taking the opportunity to vote—and we voted yes overwhelmingly. Every electorate in Western Australia, from the south of Western Australia to the north, voted yes overwhelmingly. I was so proud. Western Australians, you outdid me.

Before I go on to talk some more about that, I just want to mention my dad. He passed away a couple of weeks ago. He was 95 years old. He was a wonderful dad. I loved him deeply and I'm very sad that he's gone. One of the last things that he did was vote yes. I was a little bit scared to broach the conversation with him, but, as an advocate for marriage equality, we were being urged to have that conversation with our family members. So I plucked up the courage—it's not that dad was a scary person; he wasn't; but it was pretty personal to ask him how he was going to vote—and I said, 'Dad, how are you going to vote in the same-sex postal survey?' He said to me, 'I'm voting yes because the time has come.' So, for me, that pretty much summed up the view of a lot of West Australians—that the time had come. One of the last things my dad did before he passed away was to vote yes in the same-sex postal survey. I'm proud of my dad, anyway, but I'm very proud that he did that. He came out of hospital, got his ballot paper out, marked it up and sent it off.

I'm also proud of the work that our team did in our duty electorates. As Labor senators, we have electorates that we are responsible for across the country, and my electorates are Curtin, Moore and Swan. I have to say I'm taking some credit for the 'yes' vote in those electorates. They had outstanding results—certainly amongst the highest across the country. I'm very pleased to say that if we look at the seat of Moore—which is held by Mr Ian Goodenough, who has been a very public 'no' campaigner in this debate—84 per cent of the electorate of Moore participated and, overwhelmingly, they voted yes. In the seat of Swan, which is the seat that I live in, our member is Mr Steve Irons. I'm not quite sure of his views on marriage equality—and I say that as a voter in Swan—because he certainly never shared them with the electorate. So I don't really know whether Mr Irons supports yes or no. I know that very early on he advocated a 'no' vote, but I'm not going to hold that up as his view now, because I don't know. But the fact that, as a voter of Swan, I don't know his views says something about his inability or lack of initiative to get out there and campaign. Nonetheless, I campaigned in Swan. We campaigned very strongly for a 'yes' vote and that's what we got: a very strong 'yes' vote in Swan, my own electorate that I live in. I'm very pleased to report that.

The last electorate we worked hard in was Curtin, which is held by Ms Bishop, our foreign minister. She came out at the eleventh hour and said that she was supporting a 'yes' vote, but, to the best of my knowledge, she certainly didn't campaign in Curtin. By the time she came out and said yes it was a little bit late, but Curtin recorded a very high participation rate. Something like 84 per cent of voters in Curtin participated in the postal survey, and we recorded a 'yes' vote there. I wore my heart on my sleeve. I do that a lot, but over this issue I was proud to. I went out in Moore, which is considered to be quite a conservative electorate, and pushed the 'yes' vote. I pushed the 'yes' vote in Swan and in Curtin, and Western Australians agreed with me and voted overwhelmingly, in those three electorates, to change the Marriage Act.

The other electorates in Western Australia held by the Liberals have been disappointing. We have heard very little in Durack, very little in O'Connor and very little in the seat of Canning, which is held by Mr Hastie, another very strong opponent of same-sex marriage. Canning is an interesting electorate. It is often conservative, but it voted, I think, above the national average in favour of same-sex marriage. In the seat of Forrest, we heard very little from Ms Marino about her views on same-sex marriage, yet it, like every other electorate in Western Australia, returned a 'yes' vote.

Normally in this country we say that 50 per cent plus one is enough, and that's democracy. In this case we got a much higher vote than that, so I'm somewhat perplexed and disappointed that we are still having a debate about same-sex marriage. It is time for us to get on with the job. Our job, as legislators in this place, is to legislate for fairness, to legislate for equality and to legislate so that Carolyn and Dee and people like Jennifer Westacott no longer feel like second-class citizens in their own country. That's the job before us. There is no proof that anyone who voted no—which was their absolute right to do so—held any other views. Indeed, we know that religion in this country is on the wane. The number of people in the last census who said they held a religious view dropped. So to suddenly take the 'no' vote—as some are doing in this place—and say, 'People who voted no meant this and they meant that, and they want further religious freedoms,' is an absolute nonsense. In the same way that I couldn't say they didn't vote that way, others surely cannot say they did vote that way because they wanted a certain outcome. People were given a choice in a non-binding postal survey to vote one way or the other on the question of whether the Marriage Act should be changed. That's what we were given the opportunity to vote on, and, overwhelmingly, Australians voted yes. That's because we still are an egalitarian country. That's because in our hearts we believe in fairness. That's because in our hearts we believe in equality. It's that simple. It has nothing to do with what's taught at schools—goodness me!

When my kids were at school, I wanted them to have a good education; that's what I wanted. Yes, I was an active parent and, from time to time, would have a bit of a barney with the teachers. There were some things in the curriculum that I disagreed with, but it was the curriculum and I wanted my children to have a balanced education, not necessarily to pick up the left-wing Labor views of their mother—even though I'd like them to. They had to be free to make up their own minds; that's how our education system is in this country. Yes, bullying at school is a big issue. It's a big issue if you're slightly different, if the colour of your skin is different, if the shape of your eyes is different or if your sexual orientation is different. So, surely, we as fair Australians and Australians who believe in equality want our schools to teach about not judging people because they look a bit different to you, have a different political view or have different point of view—that is what our education system does. As for this nonsense about bakers, I'm seriously not going to go there. I can't believe that we've had any time in the media devoted to giving exemptions to bakers. I mean, please, that makes us look like a joke!

It is time in this parliament, finally, for us to just get this done. In the words of our leader, Mr Shorten, a couple of Wednesdays ago, 'Today is the day that we celebrate and tomorrow is the day that we legislate.' I'm really proud to have had this moment in the Senate today to say, 'Let's get on with this.' Let's make marriage a reality for anyone who loves their partner deeply enough to want to make that commitment. But, more than that, let's remove the stigma for the Jennifer Westacotts, the Carolyns and the Dees of the world, and the thousands and thousands of other couples who currently feel like they are second-class Australians. Regardless of where you stand in this debate, no-one wants that, and there's one way to avoid that, and that's to get on with same-sex marriage—to get it done and to make it a reality.

12:22 pm

Photo of Lee RhiannonLee Rhiannon (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

To Senator Dean Smith: thank you so much for your speech. I found it incredibly moving and it captured the unique circumstances that are about to deliver marriage equality. To senators Janet Rice, Penny Wong, Louise Pratt and Sarah Hanson-Young: your speeches also took us into the intensity of this issue in terms of people's feelings and the long road that it has taken to get us to this point. Thank you so much for your words and actions. I found them extremely moving.

As we all know, the people of Australia came to support marriage equality long before parliament did. Achieving marriage equality is another clear example of the importance of social movements, how the actions of people push our MPs to stand up and vote for what is right. For years, the tireless efforts of countless LGBTQI and community groups have kept the issue of marriage equality on the national agenda and swayed public opinion in strong favour of marriage equality—thanks to the numerous rallies regularly held across the country; to the Mardi Gras and other forms of pride marches held around the country; to the lobbying efforts; to all of those efforts in schools and universities; to dinners with friends and having all of those conversations that built up such wonderful, colourful, loving actions; and to a strong movement coming forward. Yes, at times there was a difference in tactics, but there was always a united and clear purpose: that marriage equality was well overdue to be passed into legislation.

There will be MPs and political parties who will try and claim this win as their own, but this win sits squarely with the LGBTI community and their supporters across Australia. In Australia, we can trace this issue back to a Saturday night, 24 June 1978, when a group of people marched down Sydney's Oxford Street towards Hyde Park, dancing, singing, skipping and walking to the sounds of 'Glad to Be Gay' and 'Ode to a Gym Teacher'. The music was blaring out of a sound system on a truck. The group chanted to passers-by and people in nearby pubs and clubs: 'Out of the bars and into the streets!' Despite receiving permission from the police for the march, upon arriving at Hyde Park the police confiscated the truck and the sound system. Undeterred, the crowd continued marching. They went up to Kings Cross, and there things changed—the atmosphere changed. It was very wrong what the police executed that night. The revellers were met with violent repression—53 people were arrested and many injured. These marchers these days are known as the '78ers, and that march was the very first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. It was arguably this night and those people that kickstarted the mainstream LGBTQI movement in Australia, a movement which has just celebrated a momentous victory. That's why I wanted to bring these things together. Maybe on that night they didn't talk about marriage. They probably couldn't have imagined that that's where things would come to, but we really do trace what is happening here today back to what happened on that day in Sydney in 1978.

In 2004, then Prime Minister John Howard saw the writing on the wall as more countries started to legislate for marriage equality. In a calculated and what I would call a hateful move, the Prime Minister sought to amend the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act legislation to be explicitly between a man and a woman. It was totally unnecessary, but he did it, for really wrong and very dangerous reasons. This amendment, sadly, was supported in parliament not only by the Liberals and Nationals but also by Labor at the time. It was the Greens and Democrats who voted together to oppose that amendment. LGBTQI Australians were betrayed on that day. It has been a long history and, for many, I acknowledge, a very painful journey to this point.

Since 2004, there has been an ongoing diverse and beautiful movement to achieve marriage equality. Like all social movements, there have been peaks and troughs, a variety in tactics and strategies. There have been fallouts and bitter disappointments, but a campaign that at its core was about the right to equality and love was always going to win—and it is, and it has. In April 2005, in Tasmania, Greens MP—now Senator—Nick McKim introduced into the Tasmanian parliament the first marriage equality bill presented to a parliament in Australia. It was backed by the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group and, after the first stage of the debate, the bill was sent to an inquiry. I was fortunate in that I was in the New South Wales state parliament at that time. Senator McKim rang me up and explained what he had done, and we discussed doing it in the New South Wales parliament. I was in the position to be able to come forward with a New South Wales application of that bill. That was discussed with our New South Wales Greens LGBTI working group, and I was able to introduce the bill into the upper house. Neither of these bills were successful because again, sadly, the Liberals, Labor and the Nationals were in lock step to deny Australians the right to marry. But, again, because of the pressure of public opinion, because of the rise of a very creative and hardworking social movement, it's changed, and we're seeing that play out here today. We still have some final stages to go through, but the momentum is with us. You can see that change is in the air.

This win sits with the Community Action Against Homophobia, which has organised countless rallies and actions in support of marriage equality and other issues experienced by the LGBTI community going back nearly two decades. There is an incredible history of strength there. This win also sits with the queer collectives at university campuses across Australia that provide a safe, nurturing and educating environment for LGBTQI youth. This win also sits with the '78ers, whom I just mentioned, whose bold and brave march on that Saturday night so many years ago inspired so many, gave courage to so many and is a legacy that we can be so proud of. This win sits with Equal Love, an organisation that has been fighting for marriage equality for over a decade and which hasn't been afraid to push the envelope for LGBTQI rights. This win sits with Democracy in Colour, Muslims for Marriage Equality, the Asian Australian Alliance and other community groups who reached out to culturally and linguistically diverse communities. This win sits with ACON, Australians for Equality, Australian Marriage Equality and GetUp! and, of course, this win sits with the thousands of people and organisations who worked together these past few months to bring home a 'yes' result.

In our celebrations at the recent 'yes' result, we must pay heartfelt homage to the countless community groups, activists and LGBTQI communities whose tireless, often painful, efforts across decades allowed a 'yes' outcome to be achieved. I would be remiss if I failed to mention the immense contribution of the union movement in achieving the 'yes' result. Around the world, the labour movement and the LGBTQI movement have a long history of supporting each other's struggles. Here in Australia, there has been a similar history of support.

I often speak of the green bans as one of the great social movements in Australian history. During this time, in 1973, a student was expelled from student accommodation at Macquarie University because he was gay. The student representative council turned to the Builders Labourers Federation, now a union called the CFMEU. They asked for assistance. Macquarie University at the time had a whole lot of building under construction. The workers met, they discussed the issue and then they refused to finish the job until the enrolment of the young man—Jeremy Fisher—was reinstated. That was actually courageous. It was courageous for any group of people to take action, and here you had building workers at the university standing up for a young man who had been victimised and lost his enrolment. He got back in university because of their action. That was an example of a green ban at the time. Some people called it a 'pink ban'. But it was unionists standing with the LGBTQI community.

This support and solidarity between the union movement and the LGBTQI community has been out in force again in the past months. During the marriage equality survey, the union movement showed immense support for and solidarity with the LGBTIQ community. I quote here from a poster designed and disseminated from the Victorian Trades Hall Council. These are their words:

99% of the work we do as union members is about fighting for our right to decent, safe, well-paying work. But that's one fight in a larger battle to build a just and fair society for everyone.

We can't build a just and fair society for everyone while our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) workmates are treated differently to other workers. They have the same right to happiness as every other union member and the same right to have their loving, committed relationships treated equally.

We stand up and fight for all workers, because equality is union business.

I would like to make a special mention of the Victorian Trades Hall Council. Their work was outstanding. That leaflet was so significant. I will also mention other peak bodies and unions who were involved in the marriage equality campaign but, as I said, the Victorian Trades Hall Council went above and beyond expectations. They produced beautifully designed action guides, conversation guides, campaign guides, T-shirts, posters, fantastic social media graphics and so much more, including possibly the largest rainbow flag I have ever seen fluttering across the Victorian Trades Hall Council. I was so fortunate I was in Melbourne and so fortunate I went down the right street and there it was.

The Victorian Trades Hall Council organised phone backing, doorknocking and union member turn-outs for rallies. They organised the huge 'yes' marriage result street party outside Victorian Trades Hall. I was in Canberra, obviously, that week and I was able to join the Canberra street party. That was fantastic! But I would have so loved to have been outside Victorian Trades Hall Council and I would have so loved to have been on Oxford Street. But, still, I had the privilege to be in parliament to see the happiness and the joy that so many people experienced when that announcement came through and I had the privilege to join the street party that night.

Many other unions and peak bodies, including the ACTU, put time, money, staff and resources into the marriage equality campaign. For that, I thank them most sincerely—and, I know, so many people do. The union movement has shown fantastic support and solidarity during the marriage equality survey, all the while continuing to undergo shocking attacks from the Turnbull government. We know how often anti-union legislation is being pushed through this place. The marriage equality survey has once again shown that we are stronger together. I hope that other progressive movements and political parties show as much support and solidarity for the union movement in its fight against a war on workers as the union movement has shown for the marriage equality campaign.

We need to also consider the flawed process of the marriage equality survey. Rather than show leadership and bring on legislation in this parliament, the Prime Minister forced Australia to do his job for him. The cost was not only the $122 million spent but the fallout of an unregulated and vicious campaign that spread unchecked information and entrenched unnecessary and unacceptable divides in our community. As we celebrate the 'yes' result, we must acknowledge that a 'no' result was returned in some parts of Australia. In my state of New South Wales, we had the lowest 'yes' result, with 57.8 per cent responding yes and 42.2 per cent responding no. That 42 per cent of New South Wales residents who participated in the survey and responded no is, understandably, worrying for the LGBTQI community. I can't help but wonder how further along our society would be if the Turnbull government had, instead, used that money to run an education campaign on what changes the marriage legislation would actually mean for Australia—that nobody would be impacted unless they chose to get married, that, if they were a same-sex couple, they would be able to get married and that, after that, nobody was going to be detrimentally impacted. There really did need to be so much more work done by the government, but the Prime Minister shirked it. We measure a moral government by how it treats vulnerable members of society. Many in the LGBTQI community are vulnerable. As with many other issues, the Turnbull government failed in this.

A lot has been said about the high prevalence of 'no' responses in Western Sydney. As often accompanies conversations about Western Sydney, there was an immediate, uncritical reaction from many to lay blame with migrant communities. This, of course, is lazy, incorrect, and xenophobic. But would we have ended up in this divisive situation if the government had, instead, provided the public with a rational and clear case for equality? Had the government simply done its job, the divides in our society would not have been further entrenched and, maybe, not all sides of the debate would feel persecuted. Especially because of these circumstances, I would like to acknowledge and thank the important contributions of writers, political commentators, activists and LGBTQI residents of Western Sydney who have responded to these xenophobic, perfunctory claims so articulately and passionately. I would like to acknowledge and thank Greens New South Wales members Rachael Jacobs and Denise Abou Hamad, who wrote in the Huffington Post about the many complexities that resulted in the 'no' result in parts of Western Sydney, and the need for campaigners and allies to work in Western Sydney in solidarity with the LGBTQI community there and to help with work of informing people about equality and LGBTQI rights.

I would like to acknowledge and thank Democracy in Colour—in particular, Carrie Hou and Divinia Blanca, who undertook incredibly important work engaging with culturally and linguistically diverse communities during the marriage equality campaign. Carrie wrote an important analysis of why parts of Western Sydney returned a 'no' result, in particular highlighting that the 'no' camp campaigned aggressively in parts of Western Sydney, while the 'yes' campaign largely focused on other areas. I would like to acknowledge and thank Junkee political editor Osman Faruqi, who succinctly pointed out that all the comments about 'Muslims being to blame for the "no" vote', were not only incredibly Islamophobic but also statistically impossible. I would like to acknowledge and thank Western Sydney writer Albert Santos, who highlighted in Junkee that the majority of people scapegoating migrant communities for the 'no' result in parts of Western Sydney have most likely never stepped foot in Western Sydney and are relying on lazy stereotypes and a complete lack of understanding of the region to take their analysis. There is no doubt there is a lot of work to be done to achieve true equality and build broader support for LGBTI rights. We need to stand with the LGBTQI communities who live in areas that returned a 'no' result and help to make them feel safe in their own suburbs and regions.

To everyone who has paraded in the Mardi Gras, marched at marriage equality or Safe Schools rallies, been involved in queer collectives on campus or held a fundraiser, film screening or information night, this win is for and because of you. To everyone who has been arrested, been the target of police brutality or been attacked on the street for expressing their sexuality, this win is for and because of you. To everyone who has kissed a partner in public in defiance of strange looks, who has educated a co-worker who used derogatory language about sexuality, who has stood up to a homophobic relative at a family dinner, this win is for and because of you. To everyone who campaigned for LGBTQI rights, from the dismantling of homophobic laws to calling for the rights of LGBTQI refugees on Manus and Nauru, from Safe Schools to LGBTQI homelessness and everything in between, this win is for and because of you. I would like to acknowledge the entire LGBTI community, who have experienced blatant homophobia over the past months because of the way the Prime Minister chose to conduct this.

Our work here isn't done. Let's take the energy and the alliances we've established, bring the legislation home in parliament, leave our safe bubbles and campaign in areas with 'no' results and build strong campaigns tackling the high rates of homelessness and suicide in LGBTI communities, stopping the violence— (Time expired)

12:43 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Marriage as a social unit pre-existed the nation-state and parliaments. It is common to all cultures. Its very rationale was about the best way for raising and socialising the next generation, providing the certainty and stability of their biological parents and the diversity of a female and male role model. In its variations between cultures, the 'man, woman, children' element of marriage is the common denominator. It is about not the adults but the potential children. It is 'other' focused, not 'self' focused. As even the atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell opined:

… it is through children alone that sexual relations became of importance to society, and worthy to be taken cognisance of by a legal institution.

Our own Australian Law Reform Commission noted that marriage in Indigenous communities is a central feature of traditional Aboriginal societies, and the union was considered to be strengthened by the birth of the first child. So, here, too, we have marriage and raising of children inextricably interlinked.

It's not surprising that the UN in its charter acknowledges as a fundamental human right the right of marriage to men and women to, you've guessed it, form a family—in other words, to have children. Same-sex marriage is not a recognised human right such as freedom of speech, marriage between a man and a woman, and freedom of religion, amongst others. That, of course, of itself does not stop parliaments from legislating for it, and I suspect at the end of this process Australia will have changed its law on marriage. It's a change I regret for the sake of our children, but I recognise Australians voted for such a change. But let's be clear: what were Australians asked in the postal survey? They were asked: 'Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?' The legislation before us is not restricted to same-sex couples; it goes a lot further. The explanatory memorandum tells us, under item 3, on the definition of marriage, at paragraph 13, that same-sex couples—and others—will be able to marry. It goes on:

For example, this would include an intersex person … and a gender diverse person who is legally recognised as having a non-specific gender.

The bill therefore goes further than that which was approved by the Australian people and adopts the ideology of gender fluidity, which is part of the much discredited and rightly reviled and Orwellianly misnamed Safe Schools program. If gender fluidity had been part of the campaign, the result may well have been different. If this was always intended then the question should have been explicit. Australians deserve an explanation as to why it wasn't.

So much for a simple amendment to allow gays to marry. The gender agenda is already being stretched and the bill goes a lot further than that for which the Australian people gave their approval. Many 'yes' voting Australians rightly feel betrayed that we are debating changes for which they did not vote. During the lead-up to the postal survey, we were told by 'yes' advocates that nothing would change other than gay people would be allowed to marry. We now know that to be incorrect. When our fellow Australians engaged in the consequences argument, there was a shift in popular sentiment. From an alleged consensus position of over 70 per cent in support, we saw a 10 per cent collapse to 60 per cent in the actual survey result. To staunch the collapse in support, Australians were told by 'yes' advocates that religious freedoms would be protected. Indeed, one promised their support for religious freedom was stronger than their support for changing the Marriage Act. Yet now we are being asked to wave through the changes without any substantial protection to freedoms, such as parents' rights to guide the moral education of their children, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, all of which are fundamental, well-established, internationally accepted rights enshrined in treaties and covenants—rights which are inalienable to each of us; rights which government can neither take away nor give, because they are inalienable.

As a direct result of the consequences argument in this debate, we are now to have a full inquiry into religious freedoms—but after this bill. Having been told religious freedoms are more important it seems strange we should deal with these matters in reverse order. Further, we were told by a 'yes' advocate: 'The key question is who do you trust—a coalition government that respects the rights and liberties of the individual or Labor and the Greens, who don't care about religious liberty?' And here we are with a bill, that Labor and the Greens have accepted as a starting point, that does restrict freedoms. Even Mr Shorten said he wouldn't support legislation which impinges on religious freedoms. Well, it's time to deliver on that promise. Given the Australian people were told that these freedoms would not be assaulted or compromised, one would have expected full agreement with the proposed Paterson bill. Yet, regrettably, the vehemence of the opposition from some quarters exposes that there are consequences and they actually want the rights-restricting consequences—consequences which are there for all to see in other countries that have changed the definition of marriage: consequences threatening private schools, closure of charities and parental rights.

These are not imaginary. For example, in the UK, the Charities Commission for England and Wales removed the charitable status of 19 Catholic adoption and foster agencies because they preferred not to adopt or foster to same-sex couples. In Johns v Derby City Council [2011], the English High Court supported a local council decision that a Christian couple with traditional views on sexual ethics who had very successfully fostered many children would not make suitable foster carers anymore because they would not be open to promoting or accepting a homosexual lifestyle. In Washington state, Barronelle Stutzman was successfully sued in the Benton County Superior Court for declining a request to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding. Flowers had been provided previously to the complainant, so what caused the issue for the florist was not the person's attribute but the particular activity. In the United Kingdom, the Vishnitz Jewish girls primary school failed its school assessment on one criterion, which was its inadequate promotion of homosexuality and gender reassignment—in a primary school.

There is no doubt there are consequences—consequences which sacrifice long-established rights on the altar of an aggressive, politically correct agenda. We can avoid this travesty in Australia by acknowledging the reality of these disturbing examples from overseas and providing the protections needed. The substantial 'no' vote, at 38.4 per cent, cannot be arrogantly dismissed as of no consequence. It is, in fact, three to four times the Greens vote. To assert that, because the 'no' vote lost, its voice should be obliterated from the public discourse is a display of ugly hubris. The parliament has an opportunity to deliver for the 'yes' voter, by changing the definition of marriage, and for the 'no' voter, by alleviating and ameliorating some of their very valid concerns.

'No' voters are good, decent Australians. They voted for fairness and love, amongst other things, just as much as 'yes' voters. To deliberately alienate 38 per cent of your population is never wise. Indeed, most statesmen, on winning an election, reach out and recognise that not everyone voted for them, and they will seek to govern for all. Similarly, on this occasion, where a victory has been won for the 'yes' case, it is important to recognise the concerns of the 'no' campaigners and voters. Having spoken with literally thousands of them, I know them to be decent, loving, concerned Australians. Indeed, two 'no' advocates I know, when facing abuse from a 'yes' voter, invited them for coffee and a chat, which saw both 'yes' voters break down, cry and apologise.

'No' voters and campaigners are people that live next door. They are at the next workstation. They served you your coffee or lunch. They are inherently good people who were willing to embark on a campaign where the odds were stacked against them from the beginning. The media and celebrities were relentless, yet the 'no' campaigners held their course. They had to go to work passing 'yes' propaganda in their very own offices or physically work under the so-called rainbow flag.

I take this opportunity to salute and thank all those who helped the 'no' campaign through advocacy and donations. Their efforts saw a substantial change in public sentiment. I place on record my sincere thanks to the thousands of volunteer campaigners who advocated for marriage, especially when they knew from the beginning it would be a difficult campaign. They put principle before populism and made the case for marriage in a calm and respectful way. I pay particular tribute to Lyle Shelton, Karina Okotel, Sophie York, Damian Wyld—along with 'the mothers' and 'the tradie' who were the public face of the campaign—and Israel Folau. I also pay tribute to all those involved at senior levels behind the scenes in the marriage campaign, including Tim James and Steve Doyle, amongst many others. From a Tasmanian perspective, I want to thank the hundreds of Tasmanian volunteers, as well as the leadership in the Tasmanian campaign, including Mark Brown and Alex Sidhu, and the coordinators and those who letterboxed, doorknocked, made advocacy calls, engaged in letters to the editors and social media advocacy. I thank Karen Dickson.

The actual evidence in favour of retaining marriage as a man-woman-children construct, which saw overwhelming support for marriage in this parliament in 2004, has not changed; the windsock of public opinion has. To remain true to your beliefs in the face of changing public sentiment, vitriol and threats displays character and integrity. For parliamentarians, I suspect the public will have a higher regard for those who are willing to take a stand on an issue of principle. The public knows there is backbone, principle and integrity and that the latest opinion poll doesn't determine one's morality, principles or policy. Indeed, I am reminded of the republic campaign, where the electorate that John Howard represented voted yes, yet he remained a staunch monarchist, and the electorate of Mr Kim Beazley, the then Labor leader, voted no, yet he remained a staunch republican. The electorates re-elected both gentlemen at the next election. So I think that the electorate can distinguish between a particular point of view on an issue and their high regard for their parliamentary representative. As someone told me the other day, it's only dead fish that go with the flow; it's only the live fish that have the capacity to swim against the current.

It would be incongruous if the parliament, in establishing a new right in relation to marriage, jettisoned, threw overboard and trashed the long-established rights of parental control of their children's moral education, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of conscientious objection. Given the unequivocal promises made by both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, I trust the parliament will have no difficulty in supporting the suite of amendments moved by my colleagues Senators Fawcett and Paterson—amendments which will allow the definition of 'marriage' to be altered, while providing the protections which were guaranteed. A failure to do so will be rightly judged harshly against us by our fellow Australians.

The postal survey result does not provide a licence for the parliament to trample on our long-established and accepted rights. Many 'yes' voters will, in particular, feel betrayed, having voted yes on the strength of guarantees from both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, as will others who accepted that nothing else would change and those who voted yes simply to get rid of the issue. For the 20 per cent who didn't vote, I suspect the denial of fundamental freedoms may well arouse them from their slumber and awaken their political interest. The same polls predicting a 'yes' vote also gave overwhelming support to protecting our long-held and deeply cherished liberties of parental stewardship over children and freedom of speech, religion and conscience.

As for my position, I have no doubt that I'm currently in a minority amongst my fellow Australians on the definition of 'marriage'. Similarly, I'm in no doubt that I'm in the majority amongst my fellow Australians in my advocacy for the protection of their long-held and deeply cherished freedoms. The parliament's challenge is to deliver on both same-sex marriage and the full protection of our freedoms.

12:59 pm

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

I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. In August 2004, which was not too long after I was elected, I stood in this place in a very worried way. At that stage, my party had agreed with the proposal being put forward by the government to define marriage as being 'only between a man and a woman'. That has never been my personal opinion, but, being part of the process, I acknowledge that the decision was made by the caucus and that the debate was going to be had. I worried about whether I should say something, particularly at a time when I was so disturbed by a whole range of issues around that process. I came to the conclusion that I should.

I don't regularly go back to read past speeches, but I did have a look at this one, and I liked it. What I talked about was my concern about the fear, the arguments and the elements of distrust that had been placed in our community around that debate. If people remember, this place was packed; the whole gallery was full. There was an atmosphere of enthusiasm for the change that was before the parliament. There was also, for me, a deep disappointment not just at the position but also at what had led up to this position being taken. I talked about the way that the debate had occurred. I talked about the hundreds and hundreds of emails that I'd received which talked about real division and real distress in the community that hinged, at times, on elements of hatred.

As we know, that vote was successful and we then had a definition of marriage in our nation limiting marriage to a man and a woman. But, as I said in 2004, the argument did not go away; the debate did not go away. I'm sorry to say that, for a long period of this time, the fear has not gone away either. What we have are allegations about motivation, allegations of lifestyle and allegations of future activities. What we haven't seen until relatively recently is an opportunity for people to have an open discussion about the issue without judgement—an openness to learn about people who feel differently and an openness to learn about issues and questions you may not have thought of before. There has been an increase in that process.

I feel that the debate we're having around this piece of legislation in 2017 is distinctly different to that which we had in 2004. There is more openness and there is a wider acceptance of change, and we also have an overwhelming feeling in the community that change will occur; that this time we will acknowledge that one strong level of discrimination in our community is about to be removed. It has taken way too long, but we have an opportunity now, in the next couple of weeks, to ensure that overt discrimination against people who choose to live and love together will be removed. It's been far too long, and so many of the issues I've heard now about how we have to have protections into the future and we have to ensure that no-one is forgotten—surely, those discussions have to take place. But I've been thinking, as I've been listening to some of the contributions, that those discussions probably happened in the past around other groups that were not accepted by the wider community.

In terms of issues around women's rights, I know there were whole areas that women were not allowed to be active or public in. There were fears about the way that the world would change if discrimination against women in a whole range of areas was removed. And yet governments across the world did take up that challenge. Maybe there are some that need to do it more overtly now, but we no longer have signage, we no longer have reduced employment opportunities, and we no longer have locations which are not able to be accessed by women. Similarly, we no longer have signage about racism. We no longer have preclusions on where people of different races can go. We never see that there is discrimination against people choosing to marry and to love interracially, yet there was. There was strong rejection of that right, and families were not able to be formed between people of different races. That was by law, but it has changed. There is also, in the area of disabilities, much more understanding and openness about this. But, for so long in our community, the law has not caught up with, I think, the views of many, many people to ensure that we have genuine marriage equality in this country.

A whole range of other legislation has been passed which says that there will be no discrimination against people who are homosexual. That legislation has been passed, and people have celebrated it. However, there has always been this lingering area of marriage that, for a long time, wasn't talked about. In 2004, it was actually legislated that there would be no same-sex marriage in this country. We've moved beyond that now: we are able to say as a nation that we reject that discrimination.

I know many senators have talked about the number of other countries that have already made this change and, every time a nation makes a decision of this kind, it is more affirmation and a celebration for people to have their freedom and a statement that their community respects them. For many reasons—not just here in Australia where I am so pleased that we are now at this stage of the debate—the decision that we will be making over the next few weeks, and I know it will happen, is a message for other countries who have not reached this level of maturity as yet. We know that active discrimination against homosexual people is practised in the most horrific ways in some areas of our globe. We stand up, as a nation—we speak out against it in all kinds of fora saying that we reject this kind of discrimination. But there is a certain irony in that we talk about atrocities that are happening to gay people in other parts of the world whilst we have not taken that step, as the Australian community, to say: we want equality and to ensure that same-sex marriage is entrenched in Australian law. We have the opportunity to do that now, and we also have affirmation from a large number of our community, through the survey—and, really, we didn't need that survey to know that, but we now have the figures.

Isn't it funny? Now that we have the figures, people are trying to distort them. It never ceases to amaze me. Now that the count is in and Australians have said yes, people who wanted to have this survey, plebiscite or count so badly are trying to manipulate the survey results to prove that not that many people voted that way and, if they did, they didn't know what they were doing—they actually made a mistake, because they did not know what they were doing. I think more highly of the community: I think people had a range of motivations when they ticked that form on the box, as they do on most decisions. Many thought it was about time that we had genuine equality, marriage equality, in our country.

We've heard a lot from speakers about the need for protections in this legislation. My view is that we should always listen to a range of views. No matter what views people wish to put forward, we need, as a parliament, to respect those arguments and listen to them. My own view is that we have antidiscrimination legislation in our nation at both state and federal levels. Debates around discrimination and protection should be in conjunction with that legislation. We have a job to do in parliament, which is to ensure that the limitation from 2004 is removed from the legislation. That's our job. We need to listen to the concerns being raised to see what stacks up and what does not, and come up with a response to that. But we shouldn't be hiding behind the fear that I talked about in 2004. We shouldn't be generating that fear any longer. We should be looking beyond that fear so that there can be genuine openness and looking at the real issues, moving away from the sense of other—as long as we continue to have a sense of other we will not be us; we will not be together.

Many people have talked about acknowledgement. I'm thinking today of some of my friends whose ceremonies I have attended. We had no doubt when we attended those ceremonies that we were watching a genuine commitment and an exchange of love and that these people were married. They now can be, and that joy and expectation we had when we were celebrating those unions will now be able to be officially shared by the community and they will be able to have a piece of paper that says 'marriage certificate'. I think that's a really important statement, because from 2017 onwards that marriage certificate will be able to be shared by consenting adults who want to make that commitment to each other. I think that is an extraordinarily positive element for our community.

In 2004, I said that discussions would continue—and they will. The vote in this place and over in the green area in the next couple of weeks won't end the discussion, it won't end the debate and certainly I don't think it will end all the fear. But it will be a positive statement by the Australian parliament that we reject fear-mongering, we reject labelling and we reject any sense that this debate is dominated by any kind of false motives. I do want to pay respect to Dean—he must be getting concerned about so many people saying such wonderful things about him—and the other members of the parliament who have worked together on this process. There always needs to be someone who drives it, and I think Senator Smith has shown courage, has shown resilience and has shown humour when not often is anyone exposed to this much personal 'focus'. I think that is the right word. Congratulations to you, Senator Smith, and to so many others who have maintained the decision and maintained the commitment that we, as a parliament, can do this.

Being a part of this process is extraordinarily exciting. We should enjoy the feeling and we should venerate the people who have stayed so loyal to this debate when it has been difficult. Senator Abetz talked about rejecting the views of others. We do not reject or trample or ignore people who disagree with our views. What we need to do is engage with them to ensure that views are respected, but we will not run away from the core business, which must be, and will be, ensuring that we have marriage equality in Australia in 2017.

1:12 pm

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to reiterate Senator Moore's comments in regard to Senator Smith. Senator Smith, you have shown great courage in bringing this matter forward and I do congratulate you on that. You have done an amazing thing for so many people within Australia. I think you'll go down in history—and I'm proud for you to do that. So there you go!

It's clear to the vast majority of Australians that it's time that marriage equality was finally legislated. We have seen this issue delayed by the government for far too long. Too many people have had their rights denied for too long and too many people have been hurt by this debate. On 15 November 2017 the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed that over 60 per cent of Australians supported a change in the law to allow same-sex couples to marry, and the results of the survey confirmed what we already knew from a string of published opinion polls—that Australians overwhelming supported an end to discrimination of same-sex couples when it comes to our marriage law. Not only did the government waste over $100 million on telling parliament something that we already knew but they also ignored warnings about how holding a national plebiscite or survey would encourage homophobic hate speech and increase anxiety for LGBTIQ Australians.

Labor warned the government that there would be consequences from this wasteful and expensive public opinion poll, and we warned that it would lead to an increase in anxiety and mental health issues for LGBTIQ Australians. There was already evidence of this experience from the polls held in other jurisdictions such as the Republic of Ireland and certain states of the US. We had the warnings from mental health experts, such as Dr Patrick McGorry. As expected, the LGBTIQ services reported a spike in calls, with young people, in particular, expressing anxiety over the possible results of the survey. I had young people talk to me about concerns they had right from the moment that this survey was put into action in regard to them being bullied or treated unfairly. They were serious concerns. People had friends who were talking about committing suicide. I think this has been one of the most devastating actions that I've seen in the time that I've been in this parliament. I don't think the government really understood what was going to happen. The national mental health organisation ReachOut reported a 20 per cent increase in people accessing their LGBTIQ support services, with young people asking questions like, 'Am I a freak?', and, 'Will I be accepted?' If those opposite think that the outcome of the survey and the high participation rate vindicate their decision to hold the poll, then I think they need to think again.

In preparation for my contribution on this bill, I had a look back at my speech on the plebiscite bill in 2016 and the things I said then about the government's proposed plebiscite. In that speech, I pointed out that despite the expectation that many Australians would conduct the debate in a respectful manner it would serve as a platform for hateful and divisive comments that call into question the legitimacy of same-sex relationships. And it did. I said it would lead to an increase in anxiety and mental health problems for LGBTIQ Australians. And it did. I said it would waste millions of dollars on telling us something that we already knew from a series of published opinion polls—the view of mainstream Australia. And guess what? It did. Like many other Australians who answered yes, I completed and sent my form in not because I believed the survey was a useful exercise but because there was a need to send a strong message to my colleagues across the chamber that the Australian public truly wanted change.

I'm very excited and really pleased that 61 per cent of Australians who completed the survey voted to end discrimination against LGBTIQ couples. I'm proud and pleased to live in an Australia that embraces same-sex couples, gives legitimacy to their relationships, upholds their rights and recognises that their love is love—that their love is equal to the love I have for my husband. I'm proud to live in an Australia that rejects the idea that LGBTIQ people should be treated as second-class citizens. I'm also proud to represent a state, my home state of Tasmania, which returned a 'yes' response of 63.6 per cent, which was higher that the national average.

While the result of the survey was a proud moment for Australia, I still say the exercise itself was a shameful one for the Turnbull government. It showed that we have a divided government with a weak leader. Let's not forget that the reason we had that survey was the leader—the leader who would outsource the decision-making on a reform that he had already expressed personal support for, because he lacked the courage and the authority to stand up to the conservatives in his party. But I am pleased that we're finally on the verge of legislating for marriage equality. We've taken far too long to get here and we could have done it without that survey.

During my time in this place, I've had the opportunity to debate two other bills to legislate for marriage equality. I also participated in the debate on the government's plebiscite bill. The first marriage equality bill I debated was in 2012. Since that time, a number of senators in this place and members in the other place have publicly declared that they have changed their position from one of opposition to marriage equality to one of support. I'm really proud to say today—and I've said it previously; people have known for a long time now—that I am one of those senators. I came to the view, after a very long period of consultation and some deep contemplation, that marriage equality is a necessary reform. I did not take my decision lightly. Marriage equality is one of the issues I've received the most correspondence on. It has given me an opportunity to read detailed arguments both in favour and against. I've also had the opportunity to talk to family and friends—some of whom would be affected by this change—and to hear what marriage equality means to them. So I'm no longer convinced by the argument that marriage is some immutable institution that has stood the test of time; it is one that should reflect the values of contemporary society.

In the brief history of Australia since colonisation, there have been shifts in our attitudes to marriage rights. I recently came across an article published on ABC online by prominent Tasmanian and LGBTIQ rights activist Rodney Croome AM, who came to see me in my office last week. We had a great meeting about the issues here this week. Rodney outlined Australia's history of marriage discrimination. For example, certain governors of Australia's penal colony used permission to marry as a reward for convicts who conformed to certain behaviours. After the end of World War II, Australian servicemen in occupied Japan were denied permission to marry Japanese women, because they would be unable to return to Australia with their Japanese wives due to the White Australia policy. In 1959, while the House of Representatives was debating Australia's first Marriage Act, they erupted at news that the Protector of Aborigines in Darwin had refused an Aboriginal woman permission to marry her white fiance, leading the Menzies government to promise that such discrimination would never be written into marriage law.

These examples of discrimination, which I know would be abhorrent to all of us today, show that we have accepted change to our law and our understanding of the institution of marriage over time. I believe the shift in attitudes on marriage equality by members and senators in this parliament is symptomatic of a shift in the attitude of society as a whole. The 2004 amendment to Australia's Marriage Act, defining marriage as the union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, was only considered after it was suggested that the word 'marriage' could mean anything else. Up until then, a definition had not been considered, because, for many decades, society had simply assumed without question that marriage was an exclusively heterosexual institution. I doubt that the idea of marriage between couples of the same sex had been contemplated by the authors of section 51 of Australia's Constitution or by the parliamentarians who voted the 1961 Marriage Act into law, but the idea reflects our changing attitudes towards same-sex relationships.

We once had state and territory based laws targeted at same-sex couples that outlawed certain sex acts, and I doubt there is anyone in this place today, including opponents of marriage equality, who thinks that laws such as these are now acceptable, yet there was a time when very few in society questioned or challenged these laws, which have now been repealed in every jurisdiction. These repeals have been followed by further Commonwealth, state and territory reforms conferring equal rights on same-sex couples in areas like adoption, estate law, superannuation, immigration, taxation and social security, and I'm proud to have been part of the Labor government that made significant reforms to repeal discrimination against same-sex couples. I'm proud that, despite dragging its feet on decriminalisation of same-sex acts, my home state of Tasmania then led the way on same-sex law reform in 2003.

Over time, Australians have come to accept that same-sex couples do not pose a threat to our society or our way of life, and our laws have caught up with this understanding. It has taken a bit more time to accept that same-sex couples have equal rights, and once again our law has caught up. But now we're at the point where we can accept not only that same-sex couples should be granted equal rights but that they deserve equal recognition. Today, in this place, with this bill, we are presented with the opportunity for our law to catch up with a truth that is widely acknowledged by Australian society.

My husband, Robert, and I didn't marry just to have legal recognition of our relationship. We married each other because of a deep love and the desire to publicly express that love through a lasting commitment. Thinking back to that commitment, which was a few decades ago, and considering everything we have been through together since—and we've been through some pretty tough times—I can't help but wonder how we would feel if we had been denied permission to marry. Then I think about the same-sex couples I know. I can see their love and commitment is just as deep and their shared life together is just as profound as ours.

Marriage is symbolic as well as legal, but couples being allowed to marry can lead to their relationships between treated very differently by society, including by people in authority. This was well illustrated a few years back, in 2015, when Hobart man Ben published his story in the Tasmanian Examiner. I know it has been mentioned before in this place, but I just want to reiterate it. Ben's partner took his own life and the police notified him that his partner's mother would be recognised as his next of kin. Ben was advised by the coroner's office that he could not be recognised as his partner's next of kin if their relationship was not registered. Ben was denied access to his partner's body in hospital and, despite his partner expressing a wish to be cremated in Hobart, he was buried in his hometown of Ulverstone. Ben found out when the funeral was by word of mouth. When he got in touch with his partner's family, they agreed to let him attend on the condition that he sat up the back and didn't say anything. This was in 2015.

The experience made him feel worthless as a person. Ben didn't realise until it was too late that, as a significant partner, he was entitled to be recognised as his partner's next of kin under Tasmanian law and he'd been given the wrong advice. By the time he had received legal advice to this effect, his partner's body had already been released to the family. The most difficult part of this experience was that he was dealing with bureaucracy at a time when he should have been grieving. As Ben explained then:

A marriage certificate would have put my legal rights beyond any doubt with no room left for prejudice or ignorance.

His story demonstrates that the love and commitment shared by same-sex couples is of no less value than the love and commitment shared by heterosexual couples. But the law as it still currently stands sends a clear message to these couples that their relationship and their love for each other is somehow inferior to that of mine and my husband and that their relationship is less worthy of recognition. When our law sends this message to same-sex couples, how can they help but feel like their country is treating them as second-class citizens?

I'm going to run out of time today, but I'd just quickly like to take a bit of time to address another argument that opponents of marriage equality often raise. That is the argument about the rights of children. I've had a number of constituents contact me recently pointing to a 2012 US study that found that children with same-sex parents fare worse on a range of emotional and socioeconomic outcomes when compared to the children of heterosexual parents. This follows correspondence from several constituents who have told me that children have the right to be raised by a mother and a father and that I should 'think of the children' when considering my vote on marriage equality.

The US study I referred to, called The new family structures study, and its peer review have been heavily criticised by academics and medical organisations, including the American Psychological Association. One of the key criticisms of the study was that it was unable to show that the observed differences were caused by same-sex parenting and failed—for children of lesbian couples, for example—to isolate effects of past experiences such as divorce, remarriage or living with a single parent. This study is at odds with the overwhelming weight of evidence that children of same-sex parents are no worse off. That was the finding of 75 out of 79 studies evaluated by the Columbia Law School's literature review, which found that children of same-sex couples fare no worse than other children.

The published research aligns with my own personal experience. I previously worked for over a decade as an early childhood educator. My clients were children of heterosexual couples. Some of the couples lived together, some were separated, some were divorced and some were in de facto relationships, but they were all heterosexual couples—as far as I know—over that time span. I cared for a number of children who showed clear signs of abuse and neglect, and who were obviously deeply affected by their experiences at home. It broke my heart to see the trauma that some of these children were going through.

By contrast, I know a number of same-sex couples who are wonderful parents and they have happy, healthy, well-adjusted children. I could name Ollie and Dave, Steve and Hayden, and Senator Penny Wong and her partner. I've met all their kids. I know Ollie and Dave's kids really well; I know Steve and Hayden's kids well. They are well-adjusted kids. The truth is that gender doesn't matter when it comes to raising children effectively. What matters and what is really critical is being a loving, caring, responsible and capable parent. If you can't accept this evidence, at least concede this: surely it is better for a child to be in a family environment where they are loved and nurtured rather than an environment where they are abused and neglected, regardless of the gender of their parents.

The other flaw in the 'think of the children' argument is that thousands of same-sex couples are already raising children and will continue to do so even if the opponents of marriage equality get their way. Jo, who wrote to Tasmanian members of parliament back in 2012 in support of marriage equality legislation before the Tassie parliament, made exactly this point about her family. She wrote:

We find it strange to listen to conversations about hypothetical 'children of same sex parents', as they already exist and have done so for some time.

Our [son] is by no means rare or unusual.

… He knows that we are a family, and I wish there was a way to share with you just how typical we are.

We have a puppy, we sing songs in the car, cry when sad things happen, say grace at meal times, get angry about injustice, look out for our neighbours.

We are just like you.

Now that we're on the verge of achieving this historic reform, the 'no' campaigners, the conservatives in the ranks of the Liberal and National Parties, are trying to throw up some red herrings under the guise of protecting religious freedoms.

This reform is well overdue, and the seven million Australians who indicated their support for it will want to see it happen as soon as possible. They are calling for marriage equality—no more, no less—but with no delays and no excuses. It would be extremely unfortunate, if not ironic, if we accepted the Australian people's will to remove one form of discrimination only to replace it with another. Let's be clear—if we were to accept what several conservatives from the government are proposing, then we would actually be taking a step backward when it comes to protecting LGBTIQ Australians from discrimination.

We know that some same-sex couples already hold marriage-like ceremonies to demonstrate their love and commitment to each other, and have done so for decades in the absence of marriage equality. Some of them even call it a wedding. Others call it a commitment ceremony. While these ceremonies may not result in a marriage under Australian law, they still require the services of florists, cake decorators, chauffeurs, DJs and a range of other suppliers. Should any of these suppliers refuse to serve a couple on the basis of their sexual orientation, they would be breaking the law. There is no argument for allowing suppliers to refuse service to same-sex couples wishing to get married, any more than there is for allowing refusal based on race, religion, disability, physical appearance or any other attribute on which discrimination is currently deemed unlawful.

What appears to have been broadly accepted in this parliament, across all parties, is that ministers of religion should have the choice not to marry same-sex couples on religious grounds. This exemption is in the bill currently before parliament, and I'm personally satisfied that this is sufficient protection for religious freedom. The provisions in this bill for protection of religious freedoms are those that were unanimously agreed to by coalition, Labor, Greens and Nick Xenophon Team senators in a Senate inquiry report. I see no need for exemptions that go beyond what is encompassed in that report, or the bill currently before parliament. Australia has sent a strong message, and that message is: get on with the job. It's our job; we need to get on with it. The sky will not fall. The time for marriage equality is now, and I commend the bill to the Senate.

1:32 pm

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

I prefer not to use the term 'marriage equality'. That's because I'm pretty dubious about equality in general. As soon as you mention the word 'equality', you have to define it—equality of what? However, I make a big exception for equality before the law. This is the principle that each individual must be treated equally by the law and that all people are subject to the same laws—in other words, the law must ensure that no individual or group of individuals is privileged or discriminated against by the government. Equality before the law is one of the basic tenets of liberalism. It's because of the importance of equality before the law that libertarians support same-sex marriage. If the law provides for some adults to marry, it should not prevent others from marrying on the same terms. That's discrimination by the government and obviously not equality before the law. But it's not the only reason libertarians have no objections to same-sex marriage. We simply don't believe the government should have the power to determine the sex of who can or cannot marry. We maintain that the government does not grant us our rights; it must justify why it should limit them, and in the case of same-sex marriage it has never done that. We believe people ought to have the freedom to choose their own life path—that is, they have liberty. As John Stuart Mill said:

… over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

That said, governments have often sought to impose their views of marriage in the past. Prior to Federation, several states denied Aborigines the freedom to marry who they liked. Sometimes there was disapproval of Aborigines marrying Aborigines, and sometimes there was disapproval of Aborigines marrying non-Aborigines. In other countries that we like to think of as similar to ours, there were restrictions on Jews marrying non-Jews, Protestants marrying Catholics, and blacks marrying whites. In Australia, a marriage between a Protestant and a Catholic was once described as a mixed marriage. These days we are horrified when we hear stories detailing how in some countries parents still arrange their children's marriages and exact revenge on them when the kids won't play along. Yet it's not fundamentally different from allowing the government to dictate the gender of the person who someone can marry.

Those who oppose same-sex marriage often attempt to fix in time and law a particular definition of marriage, like trapping an insect in amber. They assume that heterosexual monogamy was a historical and legal norm worldwide. That's not true. Human societies have had every form of marriage imaginable, including same-sex marriage, and a couple of societies have had no conception of it at all. Even within opposite-sex marriage, definitional differences over time are pervasive. The use of marriage to retain control over property, including inheritance, was a major concern long before it became a religious matter. Marriage of close relatives, particularly cousins, has wreaked havoc in many societies.

Religious guidelines around Judaeo-Christian marriages are not thought to have developed until the practice was several hundred years old and were first used as a means of preventing the loss of wealthy followers by restricting them from marrying people from other religions. As the church gained power, a priest's blessing became required, while priests themselves were banned from marrying to secure the church's own property wealth. By the eighth century, the church used marriage as a ceremony to confer heavenly grace while consolidating earthly power. Only in 1563, at the Council of Trent, was marriage promoted as a holy sacrament.

In Western Europe, it wasn't until the Middle Ages that marriage in churches began to occur. However, they were not the norm until the 17th century and then only for nobility. Marriage was also used as a tool to unite different royal families' bloodlines, creating alliances that were instrumental in enabling the European monarchies to colonise much of the rest of the world.

Some supporters of what they call traditional marriage cite Blackstone's commentaries, attempting to recruit the great English jurist to support their concept of marriage. They forget that, in Blackstone's time, the wife lost both property and legal capacity on marriage. The couple could not divorce without extraordinary difficulty, and what we now consider criminal activity was sanctioned within the relationship. This latter included marital rape as the woman had supposedly given irrevocable consent.

It wasn't until the 20th century that the status of married woman in developed common-law countries surpassed that of a married Roman woman in the first century AD. Roman law took women's interests seriously and did not treat them as property after marriage or in criminal law. Rape under Roman law was a crime against the person, for example, as it is across the developed world today. The Roman justification for marriage was the same as that in the modern developed world—they used the term affectio maritalis, which means exactly what it says.

It has become fashionable to argue that marriage in the past was always loveless, a matter of arrangement and alliances, but that is just as historically inaccurate as universalising the modern world's focus on love and affection. The Roman term also highlights another reality often neglected by those who insist that marriage always equals procreation. There have never been any laws preventing women who are past child-bearing age from marrying, or remarrying after widowhood.

Another common claim made by those arguing for religiously-inflected marriage law is that Christian Europe was the first truly monogamous civilisation. In fact, classical Rome made monogamy a marital universe, with this great empire imposing civilisational family values on conquered peoples that would make the governors of British India blush.

Libertarians also believe that marriage should be treated as a private matter. Indeed, in civil law countries, that is the case. It is part of private law, not public law. The state simply provides a legal framework, particularly in the event of divorce or intestacy. In Roman law, marriage was a simple contract. That's very appealing to libertarians, who often propose repeal of the Marriage Act rather than amending it. But, even if we did that, most people would still see a need to regulate for incest, age of consent and polygamy. And in any case, repeal of the Marriage Act would not simply default to contract. There is a mass of common law and old state laws that would rise to the surface. Libertopia is not so easily achieved.

Of course libertarians recognise that, while those have a particular view of marriage should not seek to impose that view on others, neither should it be necessary to approve of other people's marriage choices. If we accept the view that marriage is a private matter between consenting adults, the only choice we each need to make is whether to participate.

Being a private matter does mean that marriage occurs in private, though. A marriage ceremony involves a public declaration of commitment. There must be witnesses. But that's not an invitation to the state to intrude. Its role is to simply record the marriage in a register and issue a certificate. Frankly, I don't understand why gays and lesbians think that matters—or straight couples either. My wife of 33 years and I have no interest in being listed in a register or having a piece of paper. But, since the state does operate a register and it does issue pieces of paper, and since, obviously, these things matter to some people, there is no reason to deny them on gender grounds.

It can't be denied that the community places a certain significance on the institution of marriage. It accepts that individuals can live together in all kinds of relationships, irrespective of gender and numbers, but marriage is different. We need to respect that.

My record on the issue of same-sex marriage goes back to my first speech in 2014, in which I indicated my support. I introduced a private senator's bill to allow same-sex marriage in 2014 and then again in 2016. Unlike the Greens, I have voted in support of same-sex marriage in this Senate on every single occasion, including on procedural matters. They have not. My bills introduced the notion of freedom to marry, rather than marriage equality. I argued that the issue was one of lessening government control rather than of amending government control. I was particularly pleased when Senator Dean Smith, whose bill we are debating, told the media in early 2015 that he had altered his views on same-sex marriage in part because of my arguments. I feel as if I have contributed to this outcome.

The bills that I introduced not only sought to amend the Marriage Act to allow same-sex marriage but also sought to protect those who held a different view from suffering legal consequences if they acted in accordance with that view. I will be moving amendments to Senator Smith's bill that do the same. Based on the premise that the state should never discriminate, one of my amendments would require public servants to solemnise marriages between same-sex couples who turn up at registry offices, irrespective of the public servants' personal views. But non-government celebrants would not be required to solemnise marriages, either between same-sex or opposite-sex couples. Whether they are a religious celebrant or a non-religious celebrant, the law should not penalise them for declining to participate in a ceremony they do not support. A celebrant who specialises in same-sex marriages should not be obliged to officiate at a heterosexual wedding. This is allowing free choice based on conscience. Religions do not have a monopoly on conscience, so why should they—and only they—receive protection under the law in a secular country such as ours?

My amendment also contains an exemption from the Sex Discrimination Act so that no-one will breach the act for declining to provide goods, services or facilities in connection with a wedding. Again, a service provider specialising in gay weddings would not face consequences for declining to provide services to a heterosexual wedding. Changing marriage law shouldn't be about turning the powers of the state around so that they now constrain opponents of same-sex marriage. That would amount to revenge, and we cannot allow that. Changing marriage laws should be about reducing the powers of the state so that marriage heads back to being a private matter on which we can have differing views without risking legal penalty.

I have heard some say we don't want to remove one source of discrimination and replace it with another. If we are talking about discrimination by the government, I agree. But discrimination by individuals is a part of life. We all discriminate, every day. There are no exceptions. Whether it's based on appearance, behaviour, personal attributes, location, beliefs or whatever, it's natural and it's integral to making choices. How much should the government intervene to prevent us from making certain choices? Libertarians view such intervention as primarily the role of civil society, not the government.

The Sex Discrimination Act tells us we are not permitted to discriminate on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, marital or relationship status, pregnancy, potential pregnancy, breastfeeding or family responsibilities. This is incredibly broad. The act applies to the government, which is good because it promotes equality before the law. But it also prescribes how we must deal with our fellow Australians in a private capacity. It prescribes our one-on-one dealings, largely irrespective of the circumstances. This is not good.

My amendment will seek to wind back this intrusion in private affairs in a very small respect, although I think it's time we had a discussion about winding it back on a much broader basis. Changing the definition of marriage is not a trivial matter, and there must be room in our society for people to have different views. My amendment will ensure that those who are in the minority view, the 38 per cent who support the traditional view of marriage, are not exposed to the intrusiveness of the Sex Discrimination Act.

Finally, I want to make a few observations about the process that led us to this occasion, where we are about to change the Marriage Act to allow same-sex marriage. While I have always been a little wary about conducting a public vote on other people's rights, other countries do it regularly via citizens-initiated referendums—Switzerland and California are the most well-known examples—and I don't believe their democracy or rights are diminished as a result.

Those who argued that this matter should have been dealt with by parliament are probably correct in absolute terms, but it would have required a majority in both houses to pass. It would not have achieved that. True, Australian Marriage Equality held the view that there was a narrow majority of MPs in favour. I disagree. Some members and senators that I spoke to were privately in favour of same-sex marriage but would not vote for it for fear of losing their preselection. Others were opposed to it but were unwilling to say so because of their party's position. In a free vote, prior to the plebiscite, I suspect that both groups would have voted no.

On the other hand, I have never had any doubt that a sizable majority of Australians was in favour of change. I have said so regularly. I also don't believe the 'yes' and 'no' campaigns in the plebiscite changed many votes at all. Most people recognised it was time for a change. I do know that some people voted no because they disliked the way the 'yes' campaign was run, but I can't say I know or heard from anyone who was persuaded to vote yes on the strength of the campaign.

My concern all along was to enable those who wanted to get married to be able to do so. To me, it has never been about anything else. The Labor Party, Greens and motley crossbenchers wanted to make it about symbolism, virtue signalling and moral superiority. They were profoundly wrong to have voted against the plebiscite legislation on the two occasions it was presented to the Senate. Same-sex marriage will be legal because we went down the plebiscite path. This would not have been achieved with just a free vote in parliament. But I hope we can now agree on one thing—the less the government intrudes into the private domain of marriage, the better off we all are.

1:50 pm

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

It's appropriate for me to start my contribution on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 by noting the very strong affirmation of support of the Australian people and, in particular, those in my home state of Queensland in calling for clear equality for all when it comes to marriage and the marriage law in this country.

Senator Moore, in her contribution this morning, reflected back on some of the speeches from 2004. My contribution will be interrupted at question time at two o'clock, so perhaps, in leading up to that time, it is worth emphasising, for those who might not be aware, why we're actually here today. We are here today because of that terrible historic wrong that the parliament inflicted on our nation and that hurtful wrong that this parliament inflicted on gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people over 13 years ago. If it had not been for that decision in 2004, we would not have had 13-plus years of legally entrenched, legally validated and politically validated, at the highest level, discrimination that said to a significant part of our community: 'You are less equal; your relationships matter less.'

I do agree with Senator Moore that it is worth going back and reading some of the speeches from that time to get a full sense of the context of that debate. It is particularly relevant this week. We will probably be debating this legislation all week. We have an open-ended second reading debate where anybody can speak on this legislation, and then we have the entire week for amendments. Like me, I am sure many other senators in this place are getting emails from people saying: 'This is all being rushed. You're not getting enough time to consider the complexity.' Well, we've had 13 years to do that. It is 13 years since that vote was taken. On that day, Friday the 13th—perhaps quite aptly—in August 2004, the legislation was introduced into the Senate at six minutes past two in the afternoon. The second reading debate concluded two and a half hours later. One hour was allowed for consideration of any amendments—amendments that were moved by the Greens and the Democrats to try and include some protections, to try and reduce discrimination and to try and prevent harmful consequences. One hour was all that was given. A guillotine was brought down with the support of both the larger parties. So it was three and a half hours in total for that legislation and just one hour to consider the amendments.

On top of that, when the legislation was first mooted by the then Howard government, quite rightly a Senate committee inquiry was established to look at what it might mean and, most importantly, to hear from the community and from those who would be personally affected, directly affected and directly harmed. Then the quite extraordinary, not quite unprecedented but certainly extremely rare, decision was made by the Senate to say: 'Actually, forget about that committee inquiry. We don't want to hear from the community. We just want to force this through.' It was forced through. It was during the final sitting of this Senate, before the 2004 election was called, that this discrimination was put in place and this unnecessary harm and hurt was inflicted on so many Australians. It was a deliberate political manoeuvre, using those people as pawns, using them as disposable, collateral damage, as a wedge, leading up to the 2004 election. That's why this happened, and it is wonderful what has happened since: to have the community come on board and create an irresistible push to finally reverse that discrimination, back in this chamber 13 years later. But, as part of that, we should not forget what that parliament did and how it was a deliberate decision, deliberately inflicting harm or, at very best, being callously indifferent to the harm because of the immediate potential political and electoral advantage that was seen at the time.

Senator Moore mentioned the public galleries here at the time—the crowds that were watching that debate in this chamber. For people who look back at the Hansard from that time, the date of the Hansard shows 12 August, the Thursday, but the Senate sat through and debated this into the Friday, which was the 13th. But, if you look for the Hansard, it will say the 12th because we went through into Friday. At the same time, leading up to that debate, there was a huge gathering of fundamentalist Christians in the Great Hall of this place, in the heart of this Parliament House, the people's house, and some of the statements they were making at the time are reflected in the speeches given not just by me but also by former Senator Brian Greig, a gay activist himself who obviously felt even more directly the deliberate barbs of these statements. Some of those people at that event said that people who were not in opposite-sex relationships were shameful, vile, immoral terrorists; that their relationships were unnatural, inherently unstable and harmful to children; and that they were mentally ill with a psychiatric disorder. These were all statements made at a huge gathering in the Great Hall. Many of those people were in the gallery while the debate and vote were happening back in 2004. Those were the views that were being validated by this chamber.

It's an interesting quirk of history that I find myself back in this chamber now and can see how few are still here from that time. I've counted 12 others apart from me who were in this chamber in 2004 when that vote happened. I want to pay tribute to all those from that time, including Senator Bob Brown and Senator Kerry Nettle, who both gave great speeches for standing up and voting against that discrimination—that harmful, hurtful and hateful legislation that was guillotined through—and also Senator Brian Greig, Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, Senator John Cherry, Senator Andrew Murray and Senator Aden Ridgeway. As I said at the time, that defeat was clearly a wrong, and the people who recognised it as a wrong would not rest and would continue to campaign until that wrong was reversed.

We are not through this yet. We have the committee stage of the debate and, unlike in 2004, there will be plenty of time for consideration of the amendments. There will be much more than one hour, and I urge the Senate, when they're considering those amendments, to ensure that we do not enable that great wrong of 2004 to continue to stand and that we do not continue to have legislation, the law of the land, that entrenches discrimination and says to people in our community that they are less equal than others and that their relationships matter less than others.

It has taken 13 years, and I want to pay tribute to all of those people who have campaigned throughout that time tirelessly and with genuineness and gentleness of heart, despite all the hurt and despite the potential for rancour. As Senator Rhiannon said in her contribution, we could not have got to this stage without the movements in the community. This issue is a classic case where the parliament, which is meant to act on behalf of the people, actually inflicted oppression upon the community, and it has taken the community itself and the movements within the community to force the parliament to change. That campaign still must continue right through until the final vote happens, but it is a great tribute to many people in the community, and I will mention some of them when I finish my contribution later today. Since that 2004 mistake was made, there have been a range of different inquiries, unlike in 2004, when the Senate committee inquiry was guillotined and closed down. There have been a number of inquiries into this issue.

Debate interrupted.