Bill's Speeches

SECOND READING SPEECH: MARRIAGE AMENDMENT (DEFINITION AND RELIGIOUS FREEDOMS) BILL 2017 - CANBERRA - MONDAY, 4 DECEMBER 2017

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Mr Speaker.

 

Today we have a straightforward task and it is a great privilege. 

 

With this legislation, with our voices and our votes, we will make marriage equality a reality in Australia. 

 

This is a chance for our parliament to demonstrate that we are worthy of the people that we serve. 

 

A chance to honour the courage of LGBTIQ Australians, to recognise their rights and celebrate their love.

 

It is a chance to atone for the inaction and failures of the past and after years of discrimination, disappointment and delay to write into law a truth that we know in our hearts: marriage is defined by love and loyalty, not gender. 

 

And while this final legal change depends on the overdue vote of our parliament, today is not actually about the parliamentarians. 

 

For me today is about the teenager in the country town who stood in front of his footy club and asked his teammates to support him for the person that he has always been. 

 

Today is about the office-worker in the city who challenged her colleagues to put aside their old, thoughtless prejudices and respect her right to equality. 

 

Today is about tens of thousands of loving same-sex couples who prove every day that they are wonderful parents, they're raising brilliant kids.

 

Today belongs to all the LGBTIQ Australians who have borne the burden of a long battle for equality.

 

Some of whom could deservedly be described as proud warriors, who remember when their very existence was considered to be a criminal offence but always knew it was the law that had to change and not their love. 

 

The labour movement was born believing they can be no progress without struggle. The labour movement believes that equality is both natural and fundamental - but we understand that equality is never inevitable. 

 

So to Australians for Marriage Equality, to all of the advocacy groups and campaigners, to the union movement and the corporate leaders, to everyday Australians who live in the suburbs and country towns who knocked on doors, made phone calls, had conversations, rallied support, raised awareness and played their part in driving this overdue change, we say thank you. 

 

I also want to acknowledge young Australians. Young Australians sometimes perhaps don't get the credit they deserve in a public discourse. 

 

But the hundreds of thousands of young people who corrected their enrolment addresses, who enrolled, who spoke to their parents and their grandparents.

 

When we vote for this Bill and when it is successful, we should recognise that young Australians have shown Australia the sort of nation that we want to see in the mirror: a generous, inclusive, and a tolerant Australia.

 

And for that, our young Australians are demonstrating that they very much deserve to have the best future possible - because they are gifting it to all of us. 

 

In particular, though, I salute LGBTIQ Australians - for all that you have done and for all that you have endured. 

 

Despite the strong polls and the confident predictions, I know that the night before on the eve of this survey result and in the morning when they woke up, many were consumed by anxiety. 

 

And it wasn't just the prospect of a No vote. It wasn't just the unpleasantness of features of the campaign. It was something deeper.

 

I can't imagine what it is like to go and submit your relationships and your identity to an opinion poll of strangers across the country. 

 

For many of my friends, they all of a sudden had to question how welcome they were in their own society. 

 

It was a reminder and a re-awakening of old fears, the dread of coming-out, being shunned by friends and family who just didn't get it. 

 

The fear of being rejected, targeted, humiliated because of something as basic and natural and human as who you are and who you love. 

 

Even at the wonderful celebrations that Chloe and I attended on Lygon Street on the night of the ‘Yes’ result, I spoke to so many couples whose joy was matched by relief. You saw the weight come off their shoulders.

 

Unfortunately, the bitter truth of hard experience has taught the LGBTIQ community to sometimes have to expect the worst. 

 

But what a glorious day it was when the people of Australia did not let their friends and families and neighbours down. And now the Parliament will not let you down. 

 

I think this is an uplifting moment in our nation but we need to be mindful to match our joy with our humility. 

 

Humility to acknowledge that for too long on marriage equality, Australia has trailed the world. And for too long, this parliament has trailed the people of Australia.

 

The humility to seek forgiveness from LGBTQI Australians.

 

I speak of forgiveness for the long delay, for the injustices and the indignities both great and small. 

 

Forgiveness for subjecting you and your relationships to public judgement. 

 

Forgiveness for the hurt and harm you and your families have suffered.

 

We seek your forgiveness, we salute your courage - we thank you for including us in your historic moment. 

 

And let me be clear, in voting for marriage equality, the campaigners for marriage equality have not just delivered equality for themselves, they have actually made the Australian identity better. 

 

The gift of this legislation is not just in allowing people to get married, the gift of the legislation is it says Australia can be a better place, a more inclusive place.

 

And I want to say to all those LGBTIQ Australians who may have found themselves in subsequent days examining the result, seeing it as some kind of reflection on them in percentage terms, let me declare this: you are not 61 per cent anything.

 

You are 100 per cent equal. 100 per cent loved. 

 

You are 100 per cent right to live your life the way you want .

 

And we are lucky to count each and every one of you as our fellow Australians. 

 

Now this legislation will bear Senator Smith's signature and that is a worthy tribute to his patience and hard work down the years. 

 

And to his Liberal and conservative colleagues who stood up to be counted, you know who you are, you know what you did and what you have accomplished. 

 

There are of course, many members of all parties who've fought long and hard for this change. 

 

From our side, can I acknowledge the Member for Sydney, Senator Louise Pratt, the Member for Grayndler and the Member for Whitlam whose marriage equality legislation, I was proud to be one of 42 in the House of Representatives to vote for in 2012.

 

 And I look forward to that number being far higher on this occasion. 

 

I want to acknowledge all my colleagues who offered me wise counsel on this question as leader, I am proud of the decisions we have made together. 

 

I proud we went to the last election promising a free vote in 100 days.

 

I am proud we opposed the principle of the plebiscite, the idea of a separate law-making process for LGBTIQ Australians compared to all other Australians. 

 

And I'm proud of how energetically and effectively our party and our movement campaigned for the Yes case. 

 

But in particular today, I want to pay special tribute to Senator Penny Wong. 

 

Penny, yours has often been a lonely road and a hard road. It is the merging of the personal and political in ways that some of us who vote here will never have to contemplate. 

 

But I do know this, in 2011 your advocacy, along with others, changed our platform. And whilst you're too modest to say it yourself, in the years to come, Sophie will be able to tell your children about the time that their mum helped change Australia. 

 

Many more members will make valuable contributions to this debate, but I did want to address briefly religious freedom. 

 

The Labor Party believes in religious freedom, we understand it is central to our democracy and our society. It is a most important issue and one we must all treat with respect. 

 

Australia is a remarkable country, full of decent and generous people of good conscience, drawn from all faiths and none. And the greatness of our nation is that every person is free to be proud of what they believe. 

 

We recognise that for Australians of faith, religion is a base to build up on in public life, even if it is also a destination the contemplation, solace and sustenance in private life. 

 

In our society, under our laws, whether we be Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists or atheist, we are all Australians and we are all equal. First, last and always equal under the law. 

 

Respect for sincerely held views of people of faith, respect for the rights of religious institutions to  practise according to their own tenets is proper.

 

And it is right and proper for parliament to take the time, to consider what protections are required as a separate question to this legislation. 

 

We look forward to the recommendations put forward by Philip Ruddock's panel and we will consider them carefully in the new year.

 

And it is also important to note that nothing in this legislation limits the right of any person to lawfully worship, practice or observe or teach according to their religion. 

 

This Bill is about extending equality, not reducing liberty. 

 

Because enhancing the rights of one group of people does not diminish the freedoms of another. 

 

Fairness is not a finite resource, equality has never been as zero-sum game. The whole history of Australia tells us the truth of this. 

 

Every time this nation has expanded the definition of the fair go, we have all gained from its deeper meaning. 

 

Every time we have enlarged the circle of Australian fairness, we have all gained new allies in our national success and the telling of the Australian story.

 

Every time we have faced the failures of our past, it has helped us build a better future.

 

It is why marriage equality is not about trading-away our traditions, it is about living up to them.

 

It is not about breaking with our values, it is about building upon them.

 

This law is not the end of the ancient institution of marriage, it is a new beginning for a more equal world. 

 

In a generation to come, I hope and imagine that Australians will look back to these days and this debate and most will wonder: ‘What was the fuss all about?’.

 

My children will attend the weddings of their friends and not give a moment's thought to whether they are gay or straight, whether it is in a church or a park. 

 

All that will matter is: does the couple love each other? Do they want to spend the rest of their lives together? 

 

All that will matter is that they are people like us: our friends, neighbours, our family members, our loved ones, our fellow Australians. 

 

This moment, this debate, this week, belongs to all those who have waited. 

 

This moment belongs to all those who have fought. 

 

It belongs to all those who did not live to see their dream realised.

 

It belongs to those who have felt that inequality in the law has meant they are unequal in our eyes. 

 

We have come too late to this moment but we are here at last.

 

Today is an outstanding day, when we vote on this Bill will be an outstanding moment. It will be, I predict, an uplifting moment. 

 

So it is with joy, with humility, with privilege, with love for our brothers and sisters and with hope in our future, I commend this Bill to the house.


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