Bill's Speeches

PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BILL – MARRIAGE EQUALITY - CANBERRA - MONDAY, 12 SEPTEMBER 2016

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I move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Today is a chance for our parliament to prove its worth – and fulfil its purpose.

Today, we can bring a new measure of hope and happiness to the lives of tens of thousands of Australians whose love has been denied equality under the law for too long.

Together, we can vote to make marriage equality a reality.

Mr Speaker,

I stand here today to echo the sentiments of so many of our fellow Australians who cannot comprehend why their children, their brothers and sisters, their friends and neighbours are considered equal in every right but one – the right to marry the person they love.

I speak on behalf of Australians like Wilma Lawn.

Wilma is 89, she has 14 grandchildren, 3 of her grandsons are gay.

After her husband of 62 years’ marriage passed away, Wilma wrote to me about her grandsons and their partners, saying:

‘I see the same love and commitment that my husband and I shared, just as much as all my other grandchildren who are happily married.

Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to attend their weddings’. 

I speak for Tony Rogers and Kenn Armstrong from the Blue Mountains, who’ve shared each other’s lives for 23 years.

When Kenn needed a kidney transplant, Tony was the donor.

Both men are proud Australians, they love our country, they can trace their ancestry back to the First Fleet.

And there is nowhere else in the world they want to get married.

Today, I speak for Sophie Meredith and Alison Gerard, who have been together for eight years.

They wear rings, they have two children whom they adore.

They fulfil all the obligations of marriage: care, respect, love and family.

Yet they are excluded, their relationship is – in the eyes of our laws – somehow different, somehow less. 

Go down any street in Australia and you can hear these stories. 

Hardworking people, raising children, building communities, serving the country – made to feel like second-class citizens through one last lingering relic of legal prejudice.

It is in our power – in this place – to change that, once and for all.

That’s why Labor promised to deliver marriage equality within our first 100 days – today we seek to honour that promise.

Mr Speaker,

I live in a blended family.

I have stepchildren who I love as my own children.

And part of the reason Chloe and I chose to re-marry is because we wanted a sense of formal equality between our other children and their baby sister.

And of course – from time to time – you still hear people talking about the superior moral value of a ‘traditional’ family.

It’s a narrowness I’ve learned to live with.

But for LGBTI Australians and their families, those criticisms are far more common, far more cruel – and they are backed by actual, legal discrimination.

Why should the children of LGBTI Australians be denied the formal recognition of their parents’ relationship?

So, some might say marriage equality is a second-order issue, ‘identity politics’, mere symbolism.

But what they need to understand is that if you already enjoy a legal right, it is easy to take it for granted.

For me, it is as simple as this.

In delaying marriage equality, we are not just falling behind the rest of the world – 21 countries who we consider our legal, cultural and social peers – have already moved ahead of us.  

We are falling short of our national sense of self – the country we want to see in the mirror, the Australia we tell our children to believe in.

How can we call ourselves the land of the fair go if we discriminate against our citizens on the basis of who they are and who they love.

And we who sit in this parliament, trusted with the great privilege of representing all the Australian people – not just some of the Australian people.

How can we call ourselves leaders, if instead of acting to correct this unfairness, we push the responsibility back onto the people who sent us here, with an opinion poll which will cost at least $160 million.  

The Prime Minister and the Member for Warringah are both fond of quoting 18th Century Conservative Edmund Burke.

They would know what he told the people of Bristol, about the job of a parliamentarian:

“Your representative” – Burke said – “owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion”.

A plebiscite would represent a fundamental failure of this parliament to do its job.

In 115 years of our democracy, 44 parliaments before us have:

·       declared war

·       negotiated peace

·       signed trade deals

·       broken down the White Australia policy

·       opened our economy

·       floated our dollar

·       built universal superannuation

·       passed world-leading gun control

·       legislated several changes to the Marriage Act

…without recourse to a plebiscite.

And they did all of this with no recourse to a non-binding public vote.

How can we look Australians in the eye and say a piece of legislation three pages long – a straightforward change which a majority of members in both houses support – how do we say this is too much for us to handle?

How do we say that every question of human rights can be decided by the parliament – but a special exemption, a new hurdle must be imposed upon LGBTI Australians?

As Justice Michael Kirby has said, the plebiscite in itself is a “discriminatory step” driven by “hostility”.  

And how can anyone justify spending at least $160 million on a compulsory vote, when members of the government won’t be compelled to respect the result?

A plebiscite is not a real vote – it is a straw poll.

But it will cause real harm – and real waste.

The true cost of a plebiscite is far greater than $160 million.

Putting the question of marriage equality to a national vote, risks providing a platform for prejudice and a megaphone for hate-speech.  

Comparing homosexuality to bestiality, bigamy and paedophilia.

And on Sunday we learned the Prime Minister has already promised the ‘No’ case millions of taxpayer dollars.

I respect that there are people of faith, Australians of good conscience, who do not support changing the Marriage Act.

But it is not their voices that will be loudest in advocating a ‘No’ vote.

Instead, there is a very real risk that LGBTI Australians will be subjected to a well-organised, well-funded campaign of vitriol and prejudice.

Denigrating their relationships and attacking their identity.

And nor should we forget the Australians who will not even get a vote in the plebiscite:

The children of same-sex couples, watching TV ads saying that their parents’ love isn’t real – it is second-class, the relationship that they have.

Hearing the hurtful words from those ads, thrown back at them in the schoolyard and on Facebook.

And then there are teenagers who are gay.

Growing up is hard for everyone.

But for young Australians who are grappling with their sexual identity, it can be so much more difficult.

Every piece of expert advice tells us young Australians who are gay are more likely to contemplate suicide – and more likely to take their own lives.

And the idea of young people, perhaps yet to come out, seeing the legitimacy of their identity debated on the national stage – that is not an ordeal we should inflict on any citizen when we have a better path.

Let me be as bluntly as possible.

A ‘No’ campaign would be emotional torment for gay teenagers. 

And if one child commits suicide over the plebiscite – then that is one too many.

Mr Speaker,

Achieving marriage equality should be an occasion for joy.

A unifying moment of celebration.

That’s why the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and I have brought this legislation forward today.

And I say to the Prime Minister, this is an issue you said you cared about – you’ve been the Prime Minister for a year now – you can get this done.

And instead of a private members’ bill, introduced by the Opposition – let marriage equality be a truly co-operative achievement.

Join with us and sponsor this legislation.

Or bring in your own, and we’ll second it.

We are prepared to work with the cross-bench as well.  

We don't mind who gets the credit. 

A year – even a week from now – no-one will care whose name is on this bit of paper.

But what will stand for all time, to the credit of the 45th Parliament, will be extending equality under the law to all Australians.

What will stand for all time, is this parliament’s statement that marriage is about love – not about gender.

It’s up to us to summon the courage, and to show the decency to make this happen.

It’s up to us to prove the parliament can lead – and keep faith with the people.

It’s up to us to make marriage equality a reality. 


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