The Hon. CATE FAEHRMANN [11.06 a.m.]: I move:
That this House:
(a) supports marriage equality, and
(b) calls on the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia to amend the Commonwealth Marriage Act 1961 to provide for marriage equality.
I read the following email:
I am almost 70 and have been in a monogamous loving relationship for half my life. We have experienced many examples of discrimination over that time both commercially and legally. A few years back I was seriously ill in the local Catholic-run public private hospital. My other half told them he had been my partner for 30 years but they tried to deny him access because he was not related. It was not the first time. It is time we were treated equally before the law. We will be together for the rest of our lives. Our greatest wish is to marry before it’s too late.
This email is from Peter, one of the more than 2,000 emails members have received in recent weeks urging them to support this motion—a motion of great importance in moving this nation towards full equality for all people. The motion gives in-principle support for marriage equality and calls on the Commonwealth Parliament to amend the Marriage Act 1961 to provide for it—that is, to remove discrimination and allow people to marry regardless of sex, sexual orientation and gender. I have every confidence that this debate will be conducted with civility and thank members in advance for their careful consideration and respectful contributions.
I believe that as a Parliament and as legislators, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, friends and community members we need to acknowledge that marriage discrimination is having a real impact in the community and causing pain to many people by restricting what should be a most basic freedom: the freedom to marry the person you love. Marriage equality is not a Federal issue; it is a moral issue. The question before us is whether an individual should be discriminated against because of who they love. I firmly believe that this Parliament has an obligation to make representations to the Federal Parliament to give a voice to the majority of citizens in New South Wales who support marriage equality. This motion gives us that opportunity.
When the former Howard Government amended the Marriage Act in 2004 in a political manoeuvre to wedge the Labor Party, a renewed campaign for full equality was ignited. At that time a new definition was inserted into the Act to specifically exclude same-sex couples and to forbid Australia to recognise any same-sex marriage solemnised overseas. The country went backwards. Now fast forward to 2012 and we can be proud that we have come a long way and that this Parliament has been instrumental in removing most of the wall of discrimination that for so long has caused division, distress, violence and more. New South Wales can be very proud of its history of removing discriminatory laws, of being a leader in the areas of anti-discrimination legislation, adoption laws and relationship recognition.
In September last year the Tasmanian Parliament voted on a motion identical to this motion and it was passed. The motion was passed in a State whose equality law reform is much more recent than New South Wales. Today I hope that we join Tasmania in providing leadership to Australians on marriage discrimination. This motion should be seen as a significant step towards the removal of one of the last bricks in that wall of discrimination that this Parliament has so rightly and proudly dismantled over the years. How can this Parliament now not support calls for marriage equality when we accept that all families should have the legal protection provided by same-sex adoption legislation? How can it not support the rights of parents to marry, if that is their wish, or for the children in those families to know their parents’ love is just as rich and equal as the love of anyone else’s parents in their street or school?
If this motion passes it will be considered part of a natural progression of laws that removed all unjust discrimination. History shows society’s steady progress towards a more tolerant, fair and fully equal society with women securing the vote, the civil rights movement, First Australians being given the vote and the decriminalisation of homosexuality. There are currently three bills before the Federal Parliament to provide for marriage equality. These bills would bring Australia into line with countries such as Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, Norway, Spain, South Africa, Argentina, Mexico and a number of States in the United States of America. The sky has not fallen in any of these places and we know it will not when the motion is passed in Australia.
Some members have suggested to me that marriage discrimination is not a priority. I believe that if the community who is suffering the discrimination is shouting to Parliament that it is their priority, then it becomes a priority for their representatives in Parliament. I will explain why it is their priority. Marriage discrimination is, at its root, homophobia. It is institutional homophobia. It should be very simple for us to understand that institutional homophobia feeds personal, interpersonal and cultural homophobia in our society. What must be absolutely central to members’ deliberations on this debate is the impact of homophobia in the community. Some members will be aware of an organisation called Twenty10. This relatively small not-for-profit organisation supports young people of diverse genders and sexualities, with services ranging from counselling to crisis accommodation.
Twenty10 has been in operation for 20 years. It is an essential service that has helped thousands of questioning young people overcome some difficult challenges, such as family rejection, social isolation, violence, homelessness and some of the most severe discrimination imaginable. These are young people like those who were surveyed for the Writing Themselves in [WTi] reports. The studies were conducted by Dr Lynne Hillier and others from La Trobe University into the health and wellbeing of same-sex attracted young people. Twenty-year-old Christopher states:
I would say a gay person who says that they have never even thought about suicide is lying. Not being able to act on any of your desires, having to actively hide your true self, often having to pretend to hate the very thing that you are; all of these things equates to a deep feeling that you don’t deserve to live, or failing that, a deep desire to end the suffering.
I pose this question to all members: How can we expect our children in the playground and our colleagues in the workplace to challenge homophobia when the laws governing and recognising families and love sanction transparent discrimination? What chance do we have of improving the lives of vulnerable young people, when our leaders and parliaments fail to take a stand against such discrimination? We cannot get around the fact that marriage laws which discriminate send a clear and devastating message: Not only are you different, but you are not worthy of this special institution which is held by so many to be so sacred. The message is clear: You do not qualify; you are not good enough.
I know that many members in this place are married. When they think of their wedding day they will recall it was the ultimate expression of their love and the ultimate validation and recognition for them and their partner in front of their families and friends. Same-sex attracted people are just as capable of love and commitment as heterosexual people. The marriage laws currently send a loud message that says same-sex attracted people are less stable, less resilient and of less value to their partners, families and friends—and of less value to society. That kind of negative message justifies homophobia in our communities and, even worse, builds on the devaluation, fear and self-doubt that same-sex attracted people can experience every day. Twenty-year-old Tracey in the Writing Themselves in report stated:
My mum called me a lesbian when I was 15 in a derogatory way. My sister told me I will burn and I am an abomination … The government needs to show an example to them by allowing full equality for all Australians.
It is my firm belief that every single member in this place has a responsibility to those suffering the effects of homophobia; especially young people. I believe we have a duty to stand up as leaders and send a strong message—not just a message to young gays and lesbians, but also to their families and friends, to all in the community—that says discrimination is not okay. It is time for full marriage equality for all, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. We have a responsibility to send a strong message to the community that says love between two consenting adults is a wonderful thing that we, as a community, support. Some members will no doubt argue that allowing same-sex couples to marry poses a threat to the institution of marriage. But I am yet to hear a rational argument as to how that will occur. I am not alone in those thoughts. Recently the Hon. Michael Kirby was speaking to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee and stated:
I have never had a satisfactory explanation of how my loving relationship with my partner in any way damaged the institution of marriage, or would, if marriage were available to us.
It is precisely because the institution of marriage is held in such high regard that people want access to it. It is precisely because, for many people, marriage represents the deepest expression of a couple’s love and commitment for each other that some same-sex couples want to marry. Kristie states in her email:
In April I flew to New York with 20 friends and family to marry my partner of four years. I can personally tell you that marriage means something to me and to my partner and my friends and family. All of who live in a society that views marriage as the ultimate symbol of commitment to a loved one. I am not interested in making up a civil union ceremony, I consider it a compromise.
Lorraine states in her email:
My elder daughter is gay and she has a lovely partner. They obviously love each other. My younger daughter recently married and enjoyed what is an important cultural event in our society. The joy and excitement experienced not only by them but also by family, friends and the wider community of neighbours and work colleagues is testimony to this. Please let all loving couples have access to the institution of marriage.
It is clear that the institution of marriage will be strengthened by accepting diversity within the community, removing discrimination and allowing access to people who want it. The institution of marriage has always been changing and it has changed significantly in the last 20 years. The Australian Bureau of Statistics states that of registered marriages in 2010, 31 per cent were religious ceremonies, down from 58 per cent in 1990. In other words, in 2010, 69 per cent of marriage ceremonies were conducted by civil celebrants, up from 42 per cent in 1990. From the 20 years from 1990 to 2010, the proportion of babies born outside registered marriages rose from just over one-fifth, or 22 per cent, to just over one-third, or 34 per cent, of all births.
I ask those who are considering voting against this motion today: What harm will occur by allowing two women or two men, who are deeply in love with each other and committed to each other, to marry? What harm will occur to families, to our society, or to our religious institutions? It is simply not necessary to sanction discrimination in order to respect tradition or even to ensure religious freedom. Personal religious beliefs should not impose on the freedoms of others. Or to put it more lightly, it is fine if people do not want same-sex marriage; they do not have to enter into one. But please allow others the joy, the love, the validation and the sanction that they are able to enjoy in their marriage or in other marriages that our society has blessed.
The amendments to be moved by the Hon. Trevor Khan will address this issue. But they go further: calling on the Commonwealth Government to ensure that churches are not forced to solemnise same-sex marriages if they do not wish to do so. I will be supporting those amendments, reluctantly, to give the motion its best chance of success. Unfortunately, there is still a long way to come with regard to exemptions allowing religious organisations to discriminate. I feel that we will have that debate in this place another day. Thank you to the people in the gallery who have come to hear this debate today.
First, I thank Alex Greenwich for his inspirational leadership on the Australian Marriage Equality campaign. It is worth noting that Alex has recently returned from Argentina, where he married his long-term partner, Victor Hoeld. I am sure Alex and Victor enjoyed the holiday and the wedding, but what a tragedy they are not able to solemnise their love in this way in their home country. I also thank Rodney Croome, the legendary campaigner from Tasmania, who along with some of my Greens colleagues helped transform the most homophobic State in Australia into the most accepting, within one generation. I also thank Peter Stahel in my office for his hard work over many weeks and his determination in seeing this motion succeed.
I give my special thanks to the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, Community Action Against Homophobia, also in the public gallery, ACON, Parents Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, the Gender Centre and all the other groups, activists and ordinary community members who have come out in support of marriage equality. Thank you to the campaigners who have sacrificed so much over decades in the struggle for equal rights, as well as to the newly convinced, who have come around in recent times. And thank you to so many people who have had the courage to share very personal and very moving stories with me and other members over the past few weeks. Jeff Kennett recently said on Melbourne radio:
If people are living a happier life in a gay relationship which ends up in marriage, then why would I in any way want to prevent it? I don’t oppose gay marriage.
He later went on to write in the Herald Sun:
The reality is that all the anti-discrimination laws are baseless if society deliberately discriminates against those law-abiding citizens who seek marriage, but are discriminated against by a law on the grounds of sexuality.
Those who have come on a journey through these issues, and grappled with their personal beliefs and values, should also be congratulated. I look forward to some of you being on the right side of history today. Today’s conscience debate is enormously significant, because in Canberra the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, refuses to allow Coalition members of Parliament a free vote. I therefore congratulate Barry O’Farrell, John Robertson and Andrew Stoner on their leadership in allowing members to examine marriage equality on its merits in this instance. Let me finish with the words of two campaigners. The first is of Shelley Argent, AM, the National Spokesperson for Parents Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays:
Our lesbian daughters and gay sons want no more or less than their heterosexual siblings, which is just be equal. And we as their parents also want equality for them …
Marriage equality will remove the feeling from our sons and daughters that they are seen as second rate citizens with second rate relationships and provide them with the same rights and responsibilities, privileges and choices as their siblings, colleagues and society.
The second is Katherine, who says in another of the emails:
The reason this issue is so important to me: My great cousin Klaus was with his male partner Rudy for 40 years. Rudy was ill the last 5 years of his life; Klaus cared for him 24/7, they made a home, and had a wonderful loving relationship. Klaus passed away 2 weeks ago. They always wanted to be married. Please, they should’ve had that right. Don’t let anyone else suffer, because they’re in love.
I think about the wish of 70-year-old Peter, mentioned at the beginning of my speech: to marry before it is too late. I urge all members, if they have not already, to read some of the personal stories and personal messages that have come through in emails. I commend the motion to the House.