This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Speech by Senator Louise Pratt Labor Senator for Western Australia To Australian Senate on Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012 Wednesday 17 September 2012 We are here today to debate a Bill which will remove the last remaining discrimination against gay and lesbian Australians from our Federal law. It has been a long time coming. And it is ironic that this last piece of discrimination to be removed should be the most recently introduced. I like thousands of other Australians was hurt and dismayed at the steps taken by the federal parliament back in 2004 to entrench discrimination into the Marriage Act. I have always worked for fairness and equal treatment for all Australians. That principle is at the core of my commitment to politics, and it has always been a touchstone for me. I would support the removal of discrimination from the Marriage Act whether or not the Act, as it currently stands, discriminated against me personally. But it would be disingenuous of me not to put on record that in this case, the Act does discriminate against me. I am one of those hundreds of thousands of Australian citizens who know that the laws of our nation hold our capacity for love and for commitment to be lesser - just because of the gender of our partner. One of the hundreds of thousands of Australian citizens who know that the laws of our nation say we are less deserving of rights, of respect, of recognition. And we know that those ideas are not true, and that the laws that reinforce them are not right. And so this debate has a very personal impact for me, in addition to the commitment I have always felt to end legal discrimination against any Australian. Although I have grown weary, over the years, of making the case over and over again that, yes, I am a person like everyone else and yes, I deserve the same treatment under the law as everyone else, I have also been strengthened, over and over, by the growing support in the Australian community to end discrimination once and for all. From 38%support in 2004 to more than 65 % of the Australian community today. What’s more – 75% of Australians believe marriage equality is inevitable. And that is hardly surprising. The gradual reform of laws at a state, territory and federal level throughout recent decades has been accompanied by a growing realisation in our community that being gay, lesbian, trans or intersex is not something to be ashamed of, or something to be hidden. As someone who has seen the laws that denied my rights fall, one by one, in my lifetime, - as someone who came of age in an Australia where being who I am was, if not universally accepted, at least no longer a shameful secret and a source of fear. I want to put on record today how incredibly grateful I am to those men and women who went before us. Those men and women who were brave enough to be open about their life and their love in a time when doing so put them in real, constant, physical danger, who fought for all our rights regardless of what it cost them, both personally and for many, professionally. Without them, we would not be debating this Bill today. Without them, I would not be here in this parliament at all. And without them, it would not now be the norm, rather than the exception, for gays and lesbians to live openly, to be accepted by their families, their workmates, and their communities. Because of that openness, because of that acceptance, for many Australians today, the question of marriage equality is not an abstract one: - it is about equal rights for their daughter, or their brother, or their dad: for their workmates, their teammates, their friends. And if there is one thing about the Australian character that we have always been able to rely on, it’s been Australians’ commitment to a fair go for the people around them. The support for marriage equality is about that fair go. But more importantly it’s also about support for marriage itself: Recognition of the importance of lasting, committed, loving relationships and of the public recognition and display of that commitment. Historically gay, lesbian and transgender people have been denied the opportunity to make that commitment in a public ceremony recognised by government and the community. It has been one of the bitterest ironies of this debate that historically gay people have been stigmatised as promiscuous and immoral, while denied by law the right to demonstrate the importance and consistency of their relationships in the way other Australians can. If marriage is important to our society, if mutual commitment to a shared life is important, if it is valuable in and of itself - and valuable for the strength it lends our community - then we should be encouraged by the desire of many non heterosexual couples to enter into that life-long bond. The simple fact is thousands of lesbian and gay couples are married here and abroad. Their marriages have all the same characteristics as any other – bar the official recognition of the laws of this country. So when Senators reflect on the customary meaning of marriage and what it means today and why it needs reform they not look further than the Australian community today and the many marriages of same sex couples around the country. The thousands of couples who are married.
I understand that some Senators may be concerned, as some who submitted to the Senate and Legal and constitutional affairs committee were concerned, that the removal of discrimination in the Marriage Act would force religious celebrants who feel same-sex marriage is against the principles of their religion to nonetheless preside over such marriages. However, the Marriage Act current contains provisions that clearly and unequivocally protect ministers of religion from any obligation to conduct marriages that they believe do not accord with their religious beliefs. I will be voting for this Bill. And I hope that my Labor colleagues will be voting for this bill. I believe that this Bill fits with a sensible Labor reform agenda, with the passion for fairness that our Party has always prized. I hope too that the Opposition senators on the other side of the chamber will be voting for this Bill. I believe that this Bill fits with the Liberal Party’s stated commitment to the rights and freedoms of all peoples and to equal opportunity for all Australians. And I remind Senators from the National Party that a great many gay and lesbian Australian live in rural and regional areas: they are your constituents, and they look to you to recognise their rights. But I also believe, as the Constitutional Affairs committee recommended, that this Bill should be the subject of a conscience vote for all federal senators and members – which is consistent with the way the political parties have treated amendments to the marriage act in the past. Australian’s firmly believe that coalition senators and members should have a conscience vote on this question. This is not an issue that should divide left and right, conservative and progressive. It is not a left wing issue. It is not a progressive issue. It is a human issue. It is about our recognition of the injustice of discrimination. It is about our recognition of the importance, to individuals, to our community, of people making a mutual commitment to a shared life. It is about the importance of marriage in our society. The importance of marriage not to the few – but to the broad breadth of Australia society. If we want marriage to remain an important intuition in Australia – and I certainly do – then we must make this change. I believe this Bill is good policy. It is in line with principles of equality and with community expectations. I would support this Bill, as many in this chamber and in the other place support it, as many in the community support it, if it did not affect me. But, this is also a Bill that personally affects me, because marriage discrimination affects same-sex couples, and also affects people with intersex and transgender partners. Under the current law, we see married couples, with children, forced to divorce against their will when one partner realises they are transgender, in order to have their gender recognised. Under the current law, there are Australians who have the legal right to marry no-one – because they are legally and by biological fact intersex, with both male and female biological characteristics – irrespective of how they identify. The discrimination in the current Marriage Act directly affects me, as well as thousands and thousands of other LGBTI Australians. But it also directly affects many, many more Australians than that. Because legal discrimination against gay and lesbian Australians hurts not just us, but our parents, our children, our brothers and sisters, our friends – hurts everyone who loves us, just because of who we love. I ask the Senators in this chamber to remember, when they are deciding how to vote: we exist. We already exist. Our relationships exist. Our children exist. Our families exist. Our Marriages exist. Our love exists. All we ask, all we ask, is that you stop pretending that we don’t: stop pretending that our relationships are not as real as yours, our love as true, our children as cherished, and our families as precious. Because they are. Removing this last vestige of legal discrimination against gay and lesbian Australians from federal law now has the support of the majority of the Australian community. It is my sincere hope that it also has the support of the majority of their representatives in this place.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?