Friday, 28 September 2012

Tasmania's Upper House votes down gay marriage: ABC: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-09-27/tasmania-upper-house-votes-down-gay-marriage/4284538
Tasmania passes new surrogacy laws allowing altruistic surrogacy: but everyone must come from Tasmania. I will write at length about the changes on the weekend.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

2 out of 30: how Qld MP's voted on gay marriage

Daniel Hurst of the Brisbane Times has written a great article showing that of all the Qld MP's, only two: Graham Perrett and Kirsten Livermore, supported gay marriage. All other Members of the House voted against gay marriage (with the exception of Peter Slipper, who as Speaker abstained):

http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/2-out-of-30-how-queensland-mps-voted-on-gay-marriage-20120920-268j8.html

Senator Catryna Bilyk on gay marriage

Senator Catryna Bilyk (Labor, Tasmania) is opposed to gay marriage:

Given the significance of this bill, members of the government have been given a conscience vote. That means the vote of individuals from the government is not dictated by focus groups and is not poll driven or determined by the caucus as a whole. It is a matter of personal conscience. It should also mean that there is some respect shown to people with differing views and that opposing sides can achieve disagreement where both sides of the argument understand the other's arguments and understand why they disagree.
I have heard some gross exaggerations and some very silly comments by people on both sides of the debate. I think that serves to discredit the debate and the argument, whichever way those arguments go. But, unfortunately, many who do not support this bill have had charges of hostility, unreason and bigotry aimed at them. In fact, I have witnessed some and had some aimed at me.
I do not oppose this bill on the basis of religious zealotry, fundamentalism, hatred, bigotry or homophobia—contrary, as I said, to some of the comments made to me and about me. I oppose discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and I have no issue with the legislation on civil same-sex unions. But what I do believe is that the traditional and current definition of 'marriage' should remain as being between a man and a woman. As I travel around Tasmania I find most people in the community are more interested in everyday aspects, such as health, education and child care or whether they have a job—the day-to-day-living issues—than they are in this issue. Indeed, the issue of GST payments to Tasmania looms larger, certainly at the moment, in general discussions than discussions on same-sex marriage.
The institution of marriage precedes governments, parliaments and written laws. It is an ancient institution and holds special and unique status and, I believe, deservedly so. In our culture and in most others the act of marriage, as we know it, has always been between a man and a woman. This bill aims to profoundly change that traditional meaning and understanding. It disconnects from the issue that male-to-female married relationships are different from other kinds of relationships, sexual or non-sexual, and it disconnects from the issue that marriage deserves its unique legal and cultural status because it is based on real differences between marriage and other relationships.
I do not hold with the argument that it is discriminatory to treat two different things differently. To claim that two different kinds of relationships are the same does an injustice to both. Contrary to what those in support of same-sex marriage tell us, there is no injustice in recognising the obvious claims between a same-sex relationship and a male-female relationship.
Various social goods are denied to all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons. If a driver is too young or inexperienced or had too many accidents, they will not meet the obligations to buy low-cost insurance. Similarly, there should be no obligation to bestow the term of 'marriage' on those who do not meet the requirement—that is, one person must be a man and one a woman. To say that relationships are different is not to demean them and to say that a relationship is not a marriage is not to say that it is not important. I am afraid that argument has been used time and time again to me. People say, 'You don't think that the relationship is important.' To me, that is not the issue. I have never not supported same-sex civil unions.
I have received many phone calls, letters and emails regarding this debate. I have met with representatives, individuals and couples from both sides of the argument. And I had no hesitation in assisting a local lesbian Vietnamese couple who were applying for humanitarian visas after fleeing persecution in their homeland for their sexual orientation. The couple were seeking ministerial intervention after their appeal had failed in the tribunal. I am pleased that we had a successful outcome for them. They now live happily in the Huon Valley. A large proportion of emails have come from interstate and overseas and many were proforma emails in support of same-sex marriage. I suppose they hope that the squeaky wheel gets the oil and I cannot knock their marketing techniques.
But those on the other side of the debate have been very good at the emotive aspects of the debate but, to me, they fail to get to the crux of the matter and that is that, traditionally, marriage is a fundamental concept that refers to a particular relationship between a male and a female; therefore, changing the definition of 'marriage' fundamentally changes what a marriage is. Abraham Lincoln liked to pose this riddle:
How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg?
After receiving the answer 'five,' he would correct it with:
Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg.
We could choose to change the definition so that 'leg' becomes 'any appendage capable of independent movement that hangs off a body'. Then a tail is a leg, but what we lose is the specific characteristics of what we understand to be a leg. The same goes if we change the definition of 'marriage' to include same-sex relationships. Why should the permanent, exclusive union of a man and a woman not have unique status?
To clarify where I come from personally, I would like to point out that I have family members and friends who I love, care about and respect who are in loving and caring same-sex relationships. I fully support and am proud to be a member of the government that has amended 85 pieces of legislation to ensure that their partners are not discriminated against in any way in areas including health, taxation, aged care, superannuation, immigration, taxation and family law. What gets forgotten in this debate is that same-sex couples in Australia have the same legal rights that those in opposite-sex de facto relationships have, and each state and territory in Australia has some form of formal recognition of people in same-sex relationships.
The concept of marriage being between a man and a woman is deeply ingrained throughout history. This concept and culture is understood and accepted across most of the world. The United Nations recognises 193 member states, with 13 others yet to be fully recognised, and over 200 countries competed in the recent Olympic Games, but same-sex marriage is performed in only 11 of those countries. Same-sex marriage is not recognised in over 195 countries, which cover about 95 per cent of the world's population. In Australia, 53 per cent of people over the age of 18 are in heterosexual marriages, and the 2011 Australian census showed that only 0.7 per cent of people identified as being in a homosexual relationship. Although those supporting this bill have been very loud, it is not the majority view of Australians. Same-sex relationships should be recognised and valued in their own right, and this government has already put structures in place to support this. Changing the definition of 'marriage' will not add anything more to this. It is not some silver bullet or panacea that is going to fix all ills.
I will end with a quote from family law expert Professor Patrick Parkinson in his submission to the Senate inquiry into the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010:
In Australia, functional equality has already been achieved. I am not aware of any legal rights and obligations that arise from marriage that do not also apply to registered same-sex unions, other than the right to call the relationship a marriage. Certainly that is so in federal law.
It is my belief that the majority of Australians do not support any change to the law at this time, and I will not be supporting the bill.
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Senator Dean Smith on gay marriage

Senator Dean Smith (Liberal, WA), who is openly gay, says that there is no contradiction that he is opposed to gay marriage:

I rise to add my views to the debate on the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012 and its desire to extend the definition of 'marriage' to include couples in same-sex relationships. My views are my own and have been formed after years of discussion, observation and careful consideration. I accept that to some the idea of an openly gay man rejecting a proposition to extend the definition of 'marriage' to same-sex relationships seems unusual or counterintuitive. In response, I say that it speaks to the often overlooked fact that opinion on the issue of extending the definition of 'marriage' is heavily divided even among gay and lesbian Australians. I do not doubt that there are many gay and lesbian Australians and their families and friends that support the legislation, but there are also others who do not.
It is true that my party has taken a decision to honour the commitment it took to the last federal election to oppose proposals to amend the Marriage Act. This is a noble and commendable position and one that provides a powerful point of contrast between the coalition and the Australian Labor Party. One is a party in government that regularly breaks the bond of trust between it and the electorate and the other a party that aspires to government, committed to honouring its pledges. I am grateful that on this issue my position aligns with that of my party, for I have long held the firm belief that on matters such as these, so heavily guided by moral, ethical and, for some, religious values, individuals and, most particularly, parliamentarians, should be free to act in accordance with their conscience.
The issue before us is more than a matter of moral, ethical or religious world views. It goes to the heart of our constant debates about the role of the state in the personal and private affairs of its citizens. I will come to this particular point a little later.
The debate on same-sex marriage has been a complex and controversial one. It is complex because, I would hope, as a community we want to continue to encourage the acceptance and contribution of gay and lesbian Australians in our community. It is complex because we want to end the trauma and isolation that is all too often felt by gays and lesbians as they negotiate the heart-wrenching pathway towards authenticity and acceptance of their sexuality, a process of sexual identity and acceptance that can be as painful and traumatic for the families of gay and lesbian Australians as it can be for the people themselves. The matter is also controversial. It is controversial because some in the debate, most notably the Australian Greens, want to suggest they know best the minds of the Australian electorate, better than anyone else in this place, perhaps even better than the members of the electorate themselves. It has been controversial also because many have confused the religious institution of marriage with marriage as a civil institution. It is marriage as a civil institution that should demand the primary concentration and deliberations of parliamentarians. I believe any future deliberation by the parliament on matters regarding the legal treatment of same-sex couples should make as its focus the task of creating a starker distinction between marriage as a civil institution and its role for some as a religious institution.
My primary opposition to this proposal is born from my strong regard and faith in the cautionary, conservative and traditional approach to these matters. As I have said previously, I distrust sentiments and actions that seek to dismiss, modify or reject as relics our institutions and customs—institutions and customs that have evolved to serve our community well. I believe that cautious and considered change is critical if we are to bring about stability and continuity for our community.
I reject the suggestion of marriage equality. Marriage equality has been a slogan; it has been a campaign. The claim to equality ignores the widely accepted fact that marriage is an institution that has a long and well-accepted definition—a definition that is heavily laden with cultural meaning and values crafted by custom and by law over the years. It is an institution that has a common and well-understood meaning in Australia. I dispute the commentary in this place and others suggesting that the majority of Australians are ready to extend the meaning of marriage to same-sex relationships. I also dispute the view that the inability to utilise the Marriage Act restricts in any fundamental manner the quality of life experiences of gay and lesbian Australians.
The case for equality for gay and lesbian Australians was a battle too-long fought. It must be acknowledged that on the substantive matters of equality in Australia, gay and lesbian Australians can live at law without discrimination. This important achievement was won in 2008 with the passage of the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—Superannuation) Bill 2008 and the related bill, the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—General Law Reform) Bill 2008. Those bills captured an important principle, that nobody should be discriminated against on account of their sexuality. The bills repealed or amended provisions in Commonwealth law which treated homosexual couples less favourably than heterosexual couples. The support of the Liberal Party for these legislative initiatives was described by its spokesman at the time in the following manner:
… support for this legislation reflects our deep commitment to the intrinsic dignity of every human being and our deep commitment to their fundamental right to lead their own lives in their own way. Like gender, race and religion, sexuality is intrinsic to identity. It is simply no business of society’s to dictate to its members about matters which are so private that they define a person’s very sense of self. But it is the obligation of society to ensure, as a basic principle of fairness, that its members are protected from unlawful discrimination and enjoy the right to equal treatment.
The passage of the bills provided for equal treatment and responsibilities for same-sex couples in areas such as social security, veterans entitlements, employment, taxation, superannuation, immigration and workers compensation. These proposals passed with the support of all parties, meaning there is now no substantive issue that treats same-sex people in relationships differently than opposite-sex people in a relationship. Let me share with you the view of at least one other gay Australian who has challenged the current marriage equality movement. This comment was recorded in April this year in OUTinPerth, a community newspaper based in Perth, my home town. It said:
The other thing that’s irritating I suppose about it is that it has become this orthodoxy within the community. Dissenting voices are not allowed, it’s just assumed that if you’re gay you’re for it, as it’s clearly a human right - which it’s not.
The article goes on to what I regard as the most important, but all too often forgotten, critical element in the debate when it says:
The right is to have our relationship recognised equally by the State; the right is not to marriage.
I do not believe you empower a gay and lesbian relationship simply by giving it the same definition of marriage. I believe that the only matter which this parliament should concern itself with is the matter of treating relationships equally before the law. This desire for equality before the law is a genuine and legitimate request. It is one that deserves to be heard and should be heeded. While not agreeing to extending the definition of marriage to same-sex relationships, I do believe Australians are ready to agree to a proposal for civil unions to acknowledge the union of same-sex couples. I would add to this that every Australian couple should have an opportunity to have their union acknowledged at law under the same arrangement—a mechanism that would provide for a civil union instrument to sit side by side with the Marriage Act.
In the same way that I accept the positive regard people have for the values, customs and traditions attached to the term 'marriage', I also accept that others in our community may not share the same sentiment or affiliation. On this basis, every Australian couple, heterosexual and homosexual, would have the opportunity to have their unions acknowledged at law without the heavy custom and meaning attached to the term 'marriage'. I appreciate that this is a view not likely to find satisfaction with either side of the current debate at the moment, but it is my considered view and it is genuinely held.
I am pleased that in the lead up to the 2010 federal election, the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Warringah, was reported in both the Australian and the Age as being open to exploring the merits of civil unions. The Australian reported on 23 March 2010 that on the question of civil unions for gays, he was:
… open to these possibilities, but at the same time I'm also keen to defend traditional marriage.
The Age reported on 26 March 2010 that he favoured formal recognition of same-sex relationships and that he was 'very happy to look at' civil unions. He said:
I'm in favour of stable, enduring relationships. I'm in favour of people keeping their commitments to people. I would be very sympathetic to some institutional arrangement which encouraged that across the board, rather than in just what might be described as the more common or traditional contexts.
I am confident that such a proposal—the coexistence of civil unions and marriage—would blunt the suggestions of some that acceptance of civil unions for same-sex relationships in Australia would be a Trojan Horse for same-sex 'marriage'.
It has often been remarked that we should be following the lead of political luminaries such as the President of the United States, Mr Obama, and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Mr Cameron. Mr Cameron's judgement has been found to be wanting and not in sync with the attitudes of the British electorate, and reference to the attitudes of prominent Americans is mischievous and ignores the very real differences of jurisdictional authority on these matters between different layers of government in the United States of America.
I simply add that what some people believe to be good for them is not necessarily necessary for us. Even though I hold a strong, private commitment to a faith, religious considerations have been absent from my deliberation on this issue. Of all the arguments I have heard for opposing this initiative, I view the religious defence as the weakest. I doubt anyone in this place can confidently interpret God's law nor know the true will of God. As a distinguished person from this place once said, 'I cannot imagine it to have been a function of God's law to commit people who are built differently in some way from ourselves to live a twilight life of guilt and fear.' Many years ago, I chose to use as my guide the comment: 'Men judgeth men by their actions; God judgeth men by their hearts.'
In 1990, at a formative time in my life, I discovered a powerful story of one man's coming to terms with his sexuality. It was captured in the book Coming Out Conservative. The book and the story of Mr Marvin Liebman was a liberation for me. Marvin Liebman was the founder of America's modern conservative political fabric. In the autobiography he talks of his close friendship to Ronald Reagan and William F Buckley Jr, the former editor of the National Review. These names will be familiar to those who have studied conservative ideas in America.
After years and years building and fighting for the modern American conservative movement, Marvin Liebman came out to his friends, Reagan and Buckley. As a young man, about to come out, I admired his contribution to the conservative movement, but was saddened he had to begin his life as an openly gay man late in life. It was a life that had been richly lived, but one that had also been hidden. In coming out to his lifelong peers Reagan and Buckley, Liebman wrote a letter which contained significant motivation for my subsequent political activity. He wrote:
A personal note is in order. I am both gay and conservative and don't find a contradiction. There shouldn't be any 'shame' in being gay. Moreover, the conservative view, based as it is on the inherent rights of the individual over the state, is the logical political home of gay men and women. The conservative movement must reject the bigots and the hypocrites and provide a base for gays as well as others. The politics of inclusion is the model by which what we have achieved with Ronald Reagan can continue and flourish without the anti-Communist and the anti-tax movements of sustaining elements. Conservatives need to remind themselves that gay men and women, almost always residing in the closet, were among those who helped in the founding, nurturing, and maintaining of the movement. They should be welcomed based on common beliefs, and without regard to our response to different sexual stimuli. One's sexuality should not be factored into acceptance in a cause that is based on beliefs, no more than colour, or ethnic origin: because sexuality isn't a belief, it's a factor of birth.
For the most part this debate has been carried out with mutual respect and maturity. I would, however, urge some leaders of faiths and others to act with care and constraint in some of their remarks. While comments and attitudes may be sincerely held they can easily be misconstrued as cruel and lacking in empathy for our humanity. An eloquent argument can just as easily be the carriage of cruelty and homophobia as an uneducated one.
I want to acknowledge those who come to this debate in a similar context to me, but who have arrived at a different conclusion. I have listened to their contribution, admired the strength of their convictions and I applaud their courage. By not agreeing to same-sex marriage, I am not choosing to endorse discrimination against my fellow gay and lesbians Australians or to be disrespectful to their domestic relationships, or to lessen the value of their commitments, companionship, love and unions. Instead, for me, it is an honest acknowledgement, of the special and unique characteristics of the union described as 'marriage'.

Senator Larissa Waters on gay marriage

Senator Larissa Waters (Greens, Qld) supports gay marriage:

I rise to speak in support of the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012—now one of four bills on this issue. I am really proud that the chamber is giving this issue some time and of course that the Greens have been driving this debate. I want to pay tribute to my colleague Senator Sarah Hanson-Young for her leadership in this regard. But I think it is incredibly disappointing and, in fact, a very cynical move by the government that they are bringing on this legislation in the full knowledge that it will go down, and it will not get the support that the community wants. I think that is a great shame.
I am pleased that the government has changed its party platform and are allowing its members to have a conscience vote. But we urgently need better leadership on this issue from the Prime Minister. I would think that after last week's ridiculous comments from the Australian Christian Lobby there can no longer be any reason for the Prime Minister to seek to placate them and to remain silent, and to oppose same-sex marriage. By the same token, it seems to run completely counter to the notions of liberalism that we have Tony Abbott not allowing his members a conscience vote. How completely ridiculous is that? We have seen recent polls that show 52 per cent of coalition voters support equal marriage rights—and I would have thought that Tony Abbott would listen to polls, if nothing else; likewise, we have 64 per cent of Australians who support marriage equality. Frankly, it is about time we saw some leadership from both the Prime Minister and Mr Abbott in allowing a conscience vote, and in allowing this really important bill that the community wants to see passed go through.
I want to take this opportunity to mention that despite the differing views in this place, which we are all entitled to have, most of the contributors to this debate have conducted themselves with dignity. The one rather gross exception is Senator Bernardi who last night frankly disgraced himself and the dignity of this chamber in saying that marriage equality was a slippery slope to bestiality. That is incredibly insulting and patently ridiculous and it is insulting not just to all of the gay and lesbian, transgender, intersex and queer folk out there in the Australian community but to anyone who supports their equal rights to love. I apologise to all Australians on behalf of Senator Bernardi for his insulting and disgraceful remarks.
I now move to the fact that there is clearly a momentum towards and an international trend for equal rights. Twelve countries have legislated for same-sex marriage, including Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, Norway, Spain, South Africa and parts of the US. Their skies have not fallen in. This simply goes to illustrate the changing nature of marriage. As a feminist I think it is a great relief that we have moved on from the notion that a wife is a chattel, the property, of her husband. That is just one illustration of how the nature of marriage has changed over the years. Of course, interracial marriage used to be frowned on and interreligious marriage was a no-no. This illustrates that the institution is not static, and when community values change then so should its institutions.
I also want to address some of the contentions that came from the coalition last night. One contention was the only purpose of marriage is procreation. I do not think so. Look at all of the married and childless couples out there, either childless by choice or childless through biology. Does that mean that their marriages are somehow less equal than others? I am afraid that simply does not hold.
Moving on to the continued momentum, we have more and more countries debating this issue and moving towards marriage equality. New Zealand has a marriage equality bill that is supported by its conservative Prime Minister. Britain's Conservative PM supports marriage equality. The momentum for marriage equality has not abated in Britain despite the introduction of civil unions. Scotland, France and Brazil are about to follow suit. Will Australia's politicians acknowledge that global momentum and embrace the celebration of diversity, or are we in this place to turn our backs on that inevitable progress?
This momentum for LGBTIQ law reform is not just happening overseas but it is also happening here in Australian states as well. Same-sex couples in Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales and recently WA can have their relationships recognised with a civil union. A few weeks ago the ACT Legislative Assembly passed a bill for civil unions with the support of ACT Labor and of course the ACT Greens. That bill allows for legally binding ceremonies and recognises similar relationships from other jurisdictions. I am really pleased that after having their original civil unions bill vetoed at the Prime Minister's behest in 2006, Territorians now have that greater self-determination, thanks to the territory rights bill that former Senator Brown drove through this parliament. I am particularly excited by recent developments in Tasmania. As a lawyer, it is an exciting interpretation of section 109 of our Constitution. Tasmania is building on its civil union laws and now legislating for full marriage equality. I wish Tasmania all the best. As we know, Tasmania was the last Australian state to decriminalise homosexuality—only in 1997. So I congratulate the campaigners in Tassie, both past and present, including my colleague Senator Milne, who have been working on LGBTIQ equality for so many years and who have been able to turn around this situation so quickly.
But while it is fantastic and encouraging to see states progressing LGBTIQ law reform, it is time to get the ball rolling federally. The Queensland experience demonstrates that without decisive federal action those rights can be short lived and they can be rolled back. In my home state, with six months left on the clock of a state Labor government after many years in power, the government finally acted on same-sex recognition and introduced the Civil Partnerships Bill. One could make a comment that in the context of an election and a seat with a high Greens vote this was a political move, but I will not pass that judgement. I will make the point that had this bill been introduced earlier it may have become more entrenched and harder to roll back. That said, rolled back it was within the first few days of the newly elected LNP government. After a campaign supposedly about getting Queensland back on track, Campbell Newman, who of course did not mention this during the campaign, rolled back rights for same-sex couples by downgrading those civil partnerships to registered relationships, making the already less-than-equal treatment of same-sex relationships in Queensland a little bit less equal. The change to that legislation included the removal of the ability for couples to have a state sanctioned ceremony—that is, while same-sex couples were still able to register their relationships with the government, the LNP has made it illegal to share that moment with their loved ones.
Today as a representative of Queensland, and the only representative of Queensland from a political party which has always supported marriage equality in the Senate, I want to take this chance to share some stories from my constituents and their experience of marriage inequality and having rights taken away from them. Queenslanders wrote to me in droves about getting married in a different jurisdiction. One chap, David, told me how much it meant to him to get married—a marriage that is not recognised in his own home country. He said:
I must tell you that I was indifferent about the ceremony in the lead-up to it, after all, what difference could a piece of paper make after 19 years together?! I dissolved into tears during our vows, and it hit home to me how special it was to be able to finally be recognised as legally married. What a wonderful affirmation of love in front of friends! We got married in front of a small group of friends, by a magistrate who travelled 400km to marry us, in a game park in South Africa—in full view of elephant, hippo, and even a visit by a family of meerkats and a warthog on the day right into our lodge. It almost resembled a scene out of the Lion King!
I really share their delight, but as a parent of a three-year-old I can say that I have seen the Lion King far more times than I care to acknowledge—each to their own. But that is the very problem. Each to their own does not apply to the right to marry the person you love and want to spend your life with. This debate constantly reminds me of that famous line from Orwell's Animal Farm—we are all equal, but some are more equal than others.
That, for me, is what it really comes down to—freedom of choice.
I am actually proudly unmarried. For me, with a non-religious background and with divorced parents, the institution has never held any appeal. But I have the ability to choose to marry if I want to. I have that choice. Why do gays and lesbians not have that choice? How dare we, as parliamentarians, make that most personal choice on other people's behalf? What possible harm would it do to extend that choice to everyone?
I salute all couples who have said that they will not marry until their gay friends have that option too. The Marriage Act as it stands actively prevents same-sex couples from experiencing this joy and from sharing it with their family and friends. Queenslanders have written to me of their excitement about the passage of the Civil Partnerships Bill by the former state government and their disappointment about Campbell Newman's heartless rollback to demote those to registered relationships. Steve from Bundamba told me:
In February, when the act became law, my beautiful, loving and supportive partner of almost 12 years, Paul, and I rushed to make our relationship official. The only thing that would have made the process of doing so more joyous would have been if my lovely mum had lived long enough to share in our joy, because the homophobia that I experienced throughout my life had a profound impact on her, too. But she passed away suddenly and unexpectedly just weeks before the Civil Partnerships Act became law. My colleagues at work put together a morning tea to help me celebrate my official union with Paul. Now I must face them daily knowing that they know my relationship has been erased by Campbell Newman.
Suzey and Sarah from Far North Queensland, who are expecting their first grandchild this year—and a huge congratulations to them on that joyful event—said of the passing of the Civil Partnerships Bill in Queensland:
For a small moment in time, we truly believed that headway was being made, and respect for our relationship by our Govt was actually happening. What a momentous breakthrough this could have been, in the fight against discrimination—and the encouragement of respect for diverse families. As it turns out, so long as we continue to pay our taxes and be quiet, the Government doesn't care in the least about us, our relationship, our very lives.
Of the rolling back of civil partnerships, they said:
This very much encourages division, derision, inequality, and an 'acceptance' … of unequal treatment of the non-heterosexual community.
If senators are truly committed to reducing the level of discrimination that our LGBTIQ constituents endure, we have to show political leadership. When we condone legislative inequality for LGBTIQ people we implicitly condone their unequal treatment in the community. As advocacy organisation Rainbow Families Queensland said in their Senate submission:
Exclusion of LGBTIQ people from marriage also sends the message that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity is acceptable.
A chap called Simon wrote to me about his civil partnership with Timo:
Timo and I were elated to be able to celebrate the love we have for each other when we applied for our civil union shortly after it was introduced to Queensland in February 2012. It was a major milestone for us and a moment that we'll always treasure. It's hard to put into words how hurt, how victimised and how vulnerable we feel as gay men living in Queensland under Campbell Newman. Our civil union has been spat upon, our relationship has been thrown to the dogs as a registration and day by day we watch as social justice for gay people is trampled underfoot. Has there ever been a time in Australian history where the clock was deliberately and callously set backwards like this?
Clearly, without action and leadership at the federal level, state based civil partnerships will always be at risk from rollback. These stories also point to the fear and vulnerability felt by LGBTIQ Queenslanders after having their rights taken away so abruptly by the Newman government. By passing Senator Hanson-Young's legislation or, indeed, this bill before us we could provide a framework of equal legal recognition for LGBTIQ people and send a message loud and clear that their right to love who they love is protected.
Marriage discrimination sends young LGBTIQ people the message that their relationships are less valuable and that they are less valuable. Research has shown, as my colleagues Senator Di Natale and Senator Wright went through in their contributions yesterday, that this message contributes to a higher-than-average rate of suicide among LGBTIQ youth. By legislating for marriage equality we can send a positive message to young LGBTIQ Australians: your community accepts you; your relationships are equally valued; you are equally valuable as a citizen.
Arthur, who wrote to the Senate inquiry on the marriage equality bill, wrote of his gay son:
I love both my children equally and I want them to be treated equally. This is a matter of basic human dignity. A person's fundamental rights, including their right to marry, should not be affected by their sexual orientation. How can I tell my son that he has less rights than my daughter has? Could you tell your own child this? I cannot justify this. Society is stronger when couples make vows to each other and support each other. I want this for my gay son.
I also share a contribution from Briannon and Julie from Brisbane, who said in their Senate submission:
We have both struggled immensely as young people coming to terms with our sexuality. As teenagers, we had very few role models. Our school friends could aspire to going to university, having a career, meeting a handsome man, marrying him and having beautiful children. Our future in comparison seemed bleak and something to fear—negative labels and stereotypes, being bullied or ostracised by friends, being disowned by parents … We believe that if we had lesbian and gay role models, committing to a life together in marriage, it would have made a difference to the challenges we experienced as young people.
Briannon and Julie also said of their civil partnership:
In March 2012, we entered in to a Civil Partnership in Queensland. We did this because we wanted our son to know when he is old enough to understand, that we did everything we could to gain legal protection and recognition for him and our relationship. When we informed friends, family and colleagues that we had entered into a Civil Partnership, we had some people congratulate us, others asked us what it meant, and some said 'why can't you get married?' Not a single person gave us a card, a hug, a gift, or a congratulatory phone call.
It has been our lived experience that Civil Unions do not have the status, symbolism or recognition of a marriage. We still feel like second-rate citizens with a token second-rate legal recognition of our partnership.
I remind senators that the civil partnerships like Briannon and Julie's are now no longer even available in Queensland. They are now just a watered-down version of a registered relationship.
As the stories that I have been really pleased to share today demonstrate, marriage discrimination does not just affect the LGBTIQ community. It affects parents who cannot see their children say 'I do'. It affects friends who cannot give a toast at their best mate's wedding because their best mate's perfect match is the same gender. I am so pleased that I have been able to share just a sample of the stories of Queenslanders who have contacted my office. I thank them for taking the time to share their stories with me. These are stories about love, joy, sadness, family and frustration.
This debate about marriage is not about theory; it is about LGBTIQ people—Queenslanders that I am incredibly proud to represent, and I am proud to share their stories in this place and to stand alongside them in their fight for equality. Because we here in this place can make a meaningful difference in people's lives, because we can erase discrimination from a piece of law, and because equality is a value shared by Australians, I urge the Senate to search their conscience and vote to pass this bill or the bill of my colleague.

Senator Penny Woing on gay marriage

The Finance Minister, Senator Penny Wong, stated that "we are normal and we are here", proposing that gay marriage be allowed:

This is an important debate for Australia. It is an important debate for this parliament, because the issue at the heart of this debate is fundamental to who we are and what we believe. This is a debate about the principle of equality. The aspiration of and struggle for equality has been a constant in our history. Australia has not always been an equal society, but ultimately we always move in the direction of greater equality, and we should not forget that it is a progression that is greater than any one vote.
The Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012 is a step along the path of progress, and that fact is demonstrated by what we have seen while this vote has been on the horizon. Our numbers have grown, as the numbers of those who oppose marriage equality have got smaller. The momentum has been one way. Many of my colleagues who have previously opposed marriage equality now support it. I acknowledge them and I thank them because, like me, they know that the principle of equality is inherent in who we are and it is central to the world we want for our children.
Equality is more enduring than any single generation. It is a principle that will continue to inspire, and it is a fundamental right. If you look at the span of history, of social change, the calls for equality have been persistent and they have been successful. We have seen changes to ensure individuals are not discriminated against because of their gender, their race or their religion—reforms that see all Australians treated equally in the community and in their workplaces: the quintessential idea of a fair go for all.
Much has been said in this debate about relationships, about families, about parenting and even about the so-called threats to the nature of Australian society. But let us be clear what we are debating here: we are being asked to consider whether the state, through law, should continue to discriminate against some Australians solely on the basis of their sexuality. We are being asked to consider whether in today's Australia we should continue to ban two consenting adults from marrying because and only because they are of the same sex.
If you subscribe to the principle of equality, as I am sure most in this chamber would, then substitute same-sex for race in this debate and see if it changes your view. Just imagine if we told Australians today they could not get married because the person they love is of a different coloured skin. Imagine if we told Australians today they could not get married because the person they love is of a different religion. Such notions are rightly seen as anachronistic. And, in 2012, it is truly sad that some still feel the need to constrain the freedom of others to make a commitment to the person they love through marriage.
I do believe marriage is unique. I believe that marriage is special and that it is a bedrock institution of society. I believe that marriage should be valued. But marriage does not need to be walled off from some Australians in order to preserve its worth. The heart of marriage is the love of and commitment to another. This promise, the vow of marriage, does not discriminate and nor should our laws. But the Marriage Act as it is currently worded is discriminatory. It involves different treatment and lesser rights to certain individuals on the basis of their sexuality. The discrimination could not be more real.
There are many arguments that have been put in this place and in the debate more broadly by those seeking to continue marriage inequality. People have argued that same-sex marriage would undermine the institution of marriage—that marriage as a concept is immutable and therefore unable to accommodate gay and lesbian Australians. Then there is perhaps the most hurtful of arguments: the view that marriage is an institution of procreation and therefore same-sex couples are not welcome. I believe it is worth discussing these arguments each in turn because, when held up to scrutiny, they are clearly without foundation.
As I have said, some have tried to claim that allowing same-sex couples to marry will somehow destabilise the very foundation of marriage, that it will undermine what marriage is. But this not a zero-sum game. My getting married does not preclude a heterosexual couple from getting married. Indeed, the argument that allowing me to marry the person I love will somehow make their love less says more about their relationship than mine. So I say to those who oppose this bill: 'You do not need to legitimise your relationship by undermining mine. You do not need to tell me and the thousands of other same-sex couples that our relationships are less worthy, less valid or less important. We know the worth of our relationships. We will not allow them to be diminished in this debate and we do not accept them being diminished by this law.'
As I said, I agree marriage is both unique and important. Same-sex couples believe marriage is an important institution. That is why we want the choice to enter it. For those opposite who may think this view is only held by some on the progressive side of politics, look at the statements of British Prime Minister David Cameron, who last year said:
I don't support gay marriage despite being a Conservative; I support gay marriage because I'm a Conservative.
He is a Conservative Prime Minister who makes a very important point: that institutions are not weakened by inclusion.
Inclusion and tolerance have always been the guiding lights of social progress. They have always shone brightly on discrimination and, time and time again, have shown us that our similarities will always be greater than our differences. Our society is strongest when we are accepting, when we enable equality to overcome exclusion and when, with open eyes, open minds and open hearts, we cherish diversity and value inclusion. Exclusion so often unearths the worst in us, because it reflects the least worthy aspects of society. So often it is driven by ignorance or, worse, by prejudice. That is why the argument that the institution of marriage is strengthened by exclusion is as spurious as it is hurtful. It is discrimination, plain and simple.
There are those who argue that the institution of marriage is immutable; that it has not changed since time immemorial. Such statements ignore how much the understanding of marriage has varied. Marriage has changed from being a concept of ownership to being one of genuine partnership.
Marriage was previously banned for interracial couples and it took a Supreme Court decision in the United States to overturn this. Australian history provides further examples. In 1901, JC Watson, later to become the first Labor Prime Minister, asked during a debate on the Immigration Restriction Bill:
The question is whether we would desire that our sisters or our brothers should be married into any of these races to which we object.
These views were once normal. These views of marriage were once predominant—but no longer. In my own family, I have seen this change. My parents married during the last years of the White Australia policy; what was seen as an interracial marriage, remarked on in its time, would in today's Australia be unremarkable. Indeed, marriage as an institution has proven to be flexible in reflecting the social norms of the day—far from being set in stone, it has responded to social change. If passed, the bill before the chamber would see marriage again reflect the values of our society.
I want to turn now to the place of religious belief in this debate. I believe in freedom of religion and in the right of Australians of faith to express and practise their faiths and traditions. I support the provisions in the bill which protect the church from having to marry same-sex couples if their faith does not permit it. The real question here is the line between religious teaching and secular laws—whether those who hold a particular belief should impose that view on all. The majority of Australians now marry in civil, not religious, ceremonies. Should the views of some who hold particular beliefs determine the legitimacy and eligibility of those who choose to marry outside of religious services and beyond their church? I think not.
Some also argue that marriage is about children, and that same-sex couples cannot or should not have children. This is an argument that brings with it a fair amount of logical confusion. To suggest that you can or should only have children if you are married is inconsistent with the reality of today's Australia. To suggest that marriage should only be defined by reference to children would mean that marriages in which someone is infertile would not be allowed, that marriages where the couple did not want to have a family would not be allowed and that marriages where the couple were too old to have children would not be allowed. Clearly, this is not the case.
But underlying this position—and perhaps the most hurtful argument of all—is the view that some Australians are not worthy of being parents simply because of their personal attributes. That is, because of our sexuality, our worth as a mother or father is lessened. The fact is same-sex couples already have children. Denying marriage equality will not change this. Bringing an argument about the worth of our families and about the value of our parenting into this debate is dishonest and it is objectionable. The quality of parenting, whether by a straight person or a gay person, will never be determined by a political argument. The love that a parent—straight or gay—has for their child is seen in the days and nights and years of love and nurture and hope and so much more.
The arguments of those that oppose this bill do not stack up. But perhaps what is worse is the vein of prejudice that runs through some of the contributions in the debate over marriage equality. As this debate has occurred over the past weeks, homophobia has increasingly come to the fore. It is an undeniably ugly vein that runs deep in some of the arguments against marriage equality, and it is regrettable, hateful and hurtful.
There are those who say homosexuality is a greater hazard than smoking. There are those who suggest that gay and lesbian Australians are promiscuous yet in the same breath criticise us for wanting to have our relationships recognised through marriage. There are those who lump homosexuality into the same category as bigamy and those who talk about the normalisation of homosexuality. Well, we are normal and we are here.
Gay and lesbian Australians are no different to all other Australians. We come from all walks of Australian life, from all regions and from all income brackets. We are your daughters and your sons, your brothers and your sisters, your mums and your dads, your coworkers and your friends, and we have the same aspirations, the same ambitions and the same hopes. We are not so different. It is time to recognise this.
I stand here today as a proud member of the Australian Labor Party: a party that in government has done more to progress the interests of gay and lesbian Australians than any other; a party that changed its platform last year to support same-sex marriage and to allow a conscience vote on this issue; a party big enough and brave enough to accept differences of views, and to support three of our senators, and the member for Throsby in the other place, introducing this bill—a braveness not matched in the leadership of those opposite. When the Liberal Party denied its parliamentarians the right to vote with their conscience on marriage equality, they ensured its defeat in the 43rd Parliament. The maths is as simple as it is devastating.
We often talk about the negativity of politics today, but this is different. It is not some tired, three-word slogan; it is worse. The party which preaches individual freedom refuses to allow a free vote on this most personal of issues. I welcome the comments of Senators Birmingham and Boyce, Mr Turnbull and Dr Washer, who have put on the record their desire for a conscience vote on this matter. On another day, at another time, I hope that they, along with members of the Labor Party, the Australian Greens and others, will have the opportunity to sit side by side in support of marriage equality.
There will be some who will see this week's result as a vindication of their opposition to same-sex marriage—and they will be wrong. There will be many who will look at the members of this chamber and think that the parliament has failed them—and they will be right. We have failed to uphold the principle of equality in the law. The parliament as an institution should reflect the best of Australia. It should inspire tolerance and acceptance. It should encourage respect. On this issue, our parliament is lagging behind our community.
The result of this vote will be disappointing to many thousands of Australians. To all the friends, to the mums and dads, to the sisters and brothers, to the mates and to the colleagues of gay and lesbian Australians: I encourage you to keep the fight for equality going. We are on the right side of this debate and on the right side of history. We are on the side of equality.
This parliament may miss its opportunity to right a wrong, but it will only be through your perseverance that we can guarantee that the next time this comes to a vote there will be no choice but to support equality. Remember, many steps towards equality in this country were not won the first time nor even the second. Many were achieved only after years of action and of activism. But the aspiration for equality is persistent, and it cannot be denied forever.
To the Australian LGPTI community who feel disappointed, I encourage resolve and, particularly, to young gay and lesbian Australians, to those who may not have come out yet or are finding their way, I want you to know that the prejudice you have heard in this debate does not reflect the direction in which this country is going. Those who oppose this bill speak to the past. I and my colleagues are talking to a better future because, whatever happens in the parliament this week, our relationships are not inferior, our relationships are not less equal and our love is no less real. We will get there—perhaps not in this parliament, but one day. One day we will be recognised as equal.
For us, this is the most personal of debates. It is about the people we love most in the world, the people who give meaning and hope to our lives. It is about our families. And, ultimately, it is not only about what we want for ourselves; it is about what we want for our children. We all hope for our children an easier path, that the challenges life presents will be surmountable. I do not regret that our daughter has Sophie and I as her parents. I do regret that she lives in a world where some will tell her that her family is not normal. I regret that, even in this chamber, elected representatives denigrate the worth of her family. These are not challenges she deserves. None of our children deserves such challenges. So I will not rest in the face of such prejudice. I want for her, for all of us, an Australia which is inclusive and respectful. This is why this campaign will not end here: because we who argue for equality are not only standing for principle, we are also standing for the people we love—and there is nothing more powerful than this.
I say to those opposing this bill: you have nothing to fear from equality. Let us judge relationships by the markers which matter—love, respect, commitment. Let our laws reflect these most cherished values and give voice to the equality that is due.

Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells on gay marriage

Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells (Liberal, NSW) is opposed to gay marriage, saying that it is the thin end of the wedge that will lead to the recognition of polyamorous relationships:

I rise today to speak on the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012. Marriage is defined as 'the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life'. This was the definition 22 years ago when I married my husband, John, and has been the definition of marriage throughout the history of humanity over the ages. I reject the assertion that those who argue for the retention of the definition of marriage are somehow homophobic, bigoted or are opposing equal rights. It is about maintaining a tradition—a tradition that has been the bedrock of our communities, our society and the world as we know it.
On 14 August, we celebrated National Marriage Day. I am indebted to the organisers for the red and gold rosettes for us to wear on the day, but I also received a bookmark with the following Chinese proverb: 'When there is love in a marriage, there is harmony in the home; when there is harmony in the home, there is contentment in the community; when there is contentment in the community, there is prosperity in the nation; when there is prosperity in the nation, there is peace in the world.'
Retention of the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman is also about protecting the rights of the silent majority and that of the institutions that have made this great nation the wonderful land in which to live. It is widely accepted in the Australian community that there are certain customs and practices in any society that are unique to certain relationships. To acknowledge this does not amount to discrimination. The silent majority in this country does not support this change. Indeed, there are many people who are in a gay relationships who themselves do not support gay marriage. Their views have also been drowned out by the vocal gay marriage minority.
Marriage is not only a civil union but has also always been traditionally a religious ceremony; whether in the Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu or any other faith. It is a religious act that glorifies the significant union between a man and a woman. An important part of the marriage journey is the public vows that a man and a woman make to each other before their God which commits them to each other for the rest of their natural lives.
In other parts of the world, we clearly see how amending the definition of marriage has opened the backdoor to attacks on religious freedoms by challenging the churches and other religious institutions such that they would be unable to act with neither their conscience nor their religious teachings and trouncing thousand-year-old beliefs. For example, just recently in Denmark, where same-sex marriage was legalised only earlier this year, the Church of Denmark was forced to make its churches and priests available to perform same-sex weddings. Marriage celebrants, pastors and even service providers such as photographers have suffered legal actions and fines for not approving same-sex marriage. This is not about equality; it is about the tearing down of our social fabric.
I doubt that most people who are pushing these amendments are overly religious or even intend on staying in a monogamous relationship, which begs the question: why do they want to get 'married'? The chattering classes do not want to concede that, by amending the Marriage Act, they are in fact denying the rights of the silent majority who want to uphold the sanctity and true meaning of marriage and who want to keep some tradition going in a world that seems to be forever throwing out the old and bringing in the new.
In terms of equal rights there is no law under the Commonwealth that discriminates against homosexuals. It was the Howard government that substantially removed the discriminatory treatment in federal laws as it applied to all interdependent relationships. The previous government took the attitude of looking at interdependent relationships and discrimination across different areas. The previous government was committed to the elimination of discrimination against same-sex couples, and it became part of a program of the elimination of discrimination in areas such as superannuation, migration and Defence Force entitlements. This was followed up by further legislation in 2008, which the coalition supported.
These wide-ranging changes now put those in a heterosexual relationship and those in a homosexual relationship on an equal platform. This is real equality before the law. There is no discrimination when it comes to voting rights or salary. It is worth noting that both the UN Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights have rejected that same-sex marriage is a human right.
This is also a question of trust with the Australian people. Like the carbon tax, this government has no mandate to change the Marriage Act to include same-sex couples. Before the last federal election, both the ALP and the coalition promised that they would not make changes to the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act. In fact, the coalition has long been opposed to changes to Commonwealth law that could diminish the institution of marriage. This position was represented to the Australian electorate at the 2010, 2007 and 2004 federal elections. Therefore, it was a firm government election promise to keep marriage in its traditional form. In fact, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, on at least eight occasions before the last federal election, declared ALP support for the current definition of marriage. Julia Gillard also said that the ALP would not change its position during the life of the current parliament. I have received thousands of letters and emails from constituents who do not want me to support these changes or any other changes to the Marriage Act. These far outweigh those who have written to me supporting the changes.
Same-sex marriage is a 10th order issue. It galls many in the Illawarra, where I was born and where my electorate office is located, to see their local member for Throsby, Stephen Jones, championing this cause above more pressing issues for his constituents. Throsby is one of my patron seats and, just one year since the announcement of the carbon tax, more than 1,000 workers from BlueScope Steel will lose their jobs in one of our major employment sectors—manufacturing. BlueScope is located in Throsby, as are many of the workers who are losing their jobs. More than 1,400 people in the region have lost their jobs since September 2011 and home repossessions had gone up by 60 per cent.
With all this happening, all the member for Throsby can think about is same-sex marriage. This is not an issue of concern to the people of Throsby or the Illawarra in general. This is an area which is doing it tough and it galls many in the area to see their local member focussing on this 10th order issue. I ask you, Stephen Jones: how will introducing same-sex marriage give people jobs, save them from losing their homes or lower the cost of living? How will same-sex marriage put the budget back into surplus? It will do none of these things. At the present time, Australia is not in a position to be discussing an emotive, and I believe destructive, subject such as this one, when there are much more pressing issues that need to be addressed urgently.
One must ask: where will this all end? You do not have to look very far to find the answer. There are already legal challenges in Canada and Utah that have been brought forward by polygamists who claim they have a right to polygamous marriage, and polyamorous activists are relentlessly campaigning for legal recognition of their relationships. These relationships have already been given legal status in the Netherlands. Former High Court Justice Michael Kirby has said, 'We do not know what the future decades may hold in terms of relationships', and he has commented that polyamorous relationships are 'matters for the future'. This is the thin edge of the wedge. Even the Greens ACT convenor, Simon Copland, has criticised Sarah Hanson-Young's stance that marriage should be limited to only two people.
Most Australians would find these concepts repugnant, abhorrent and destructive to our social fabric. But this is where we are heading. I therefore support the sanctity and uniqueness of marriage in its current form, and I acknowledge the very important role that it plays in Australia. Marriage is a very important institution not only for the traditional Anglo-Saxon culture in this country but also for so many others in our culturally diverse community. I know that the chattering classes do not share that view and constantly denigrate those who do. As I have said, the silent majority in this country agree about the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of what is the traditional family.
I will conclude with a time-old African proverb that simply and profoundly states: 'Don't tear down a fence until you know why it was put up.' Marriage is a unique institution in our society and it is one that we as senators and members of the Australian parliament should do everything in our power to protect and to ensure that it is supported, encouraged and backed up in every way, shape and form. I will be voting against this bill.

Senator Lee Rhiannon on gay marriage

Senator Lee Rhiannon (Greens, NSW) has forcefully spoken in favour of gay marriage:

I am very pleased to rise to join my colleagues and many people in this parliament in support of this important legislation. It is legislation which will bring much happiness to many people. Most importantly, as people who have responsibility for bringing forward laws that work for this country, it addresses one of the last areas of discrimination for same-sex couples. I understand that the House of Representatives is voting on this important piece of legislation at the moment.
There are many reasons why we are debating this legislation today, but I think that right at the top of the list is that so many people have worked so hard across the community, particularly within the sexually diverse communities but also within the wider public. As the years have rolled by there has been an increasing understanding of the importance of supporting this legislation.
I particularly want to congratulate my colleague Senator Sarah Hanson-Young. She first introduced a private senator's bill on this issue into the Senate in 2008. I understand it was voted on in 2009. It was her first private senator's bill, so understandably she is very proud of that work.
Around the country there has been an enormous amount of work undertaken. I think that Tasmania deserves a very special mention. Greens MP Nick McKim has done a lot of work on this issue, and it is most impressive that earlier this year he and the Premier, Lara Giddings, co-sponsored the same-sex marriage bill.
Mr McKim said at the time, 'I truly believe in cooperative politics and that the Tasmanian people want to see more of it and not less.' It was a most interesting debate. Behind that piece of legislation, again, was so much community activity—activity involving some really hard-working people who have done some fantastic work. I am referring to Rodney Croome, who would be well known to many people for his consistent work in advocating for the removal of all areas of discrimination within the gay and lesbian community. He took one example of discrimination to the United Nations, and I congratulate him for that.
I want to pay tribute to the Australian Greens leader, Senator Christine Milne. In 1997—again, following years of campaigning—Senator Milne, who was then the leader of the Greens in the Tasmanian parliament, introduced legislation that resulted in Tasmania decriminalising homosexuality. Again, that was in 1997—a good 12 years back—and shows just how long this work has taken.
It is always very enjoyable to look back at this history and at the contributions that have been made. There are the legal interpretations and discussions about people's rights, which is obviously so important, and you will always read about the hopes and desire of people to be able to live a normal life like others in terms of the rights that they can expect and they should not have to even think about. They should be there, as Senator Wong so beautifully described when she talked about her own daughter: they are rights that should be afforded to everybody, and levels of discrimination should be completely removed.
Mr McKim in 2005 moved legislation for marriage equality in the Tasmanian parliament, so it is an issue that he has been working on for a very long time. When he introduced that legislation, I remember him phoning me—I was in the New South Wales state parliament at the time. That action was taken because there were many in the community who were becoming very frustrated with Labor and the coalition at a federal level, realising that they were not advancing the cause to remove this very discriminatory aspect of the law. He had received legal advice that there could be state laws as well. I remember taking that phone call and then discussing it with my colleagues in the New South Wales parliament: 'Let's do it in New South Wales.' With Mr McKim's assistance, that is precisely what we did. Mr McKim came to Sydney when we launched the Greens same-sex marriage bill—it was in May 2005. We needed two bills: one to cover dissolution and annulment; and the other carried celebrant and registration issues. They were called the same-sex bills and they covered those two issues.
Unfortunately, because of the way the New South Wales parliament was at the time in getting things up for debate, we never got to debate them but I was very proud that we were able to get that onto the Notice Paperfor a period of time. My colleague in the state parliament—who I am very hopeful will be able to join us as a senator after the next election—Cate Faehrmann has continued this work in many ways, within both the community and the parliament. In November she gave notice of a motion about supporting marriage equality. What was very heartening was that that was passed by the New South Wales upper house. This morning there was excellent news coming from New South Wales that members of the New South Wales parliament in both the upper and lower houses—Liberals, Greens, Labor, Nationals and Clover Moore—have come together to work on state legislation to ensure marriage equality becomes legal.
In mentioning Clover Moore, I want to pay special tribute to her. Tomorrow I understand that Ms Moore will be resigning from the New South Wales parliament, not because her constituents want her to, not because she wants to but because the coalition government in New South Wales has passed legislation to force her out. This piece of legislation has become widely known as the 'get Clover bill'. The Liberal Party, in particular, wanted to force her out. They have great hope that they can grab that seat. The way in which they have gone about it is undemocratic.
The aspect that is relevant to this debate today is that Clover Moore, as a member of the New South Wales parliament and as a councillor on Sydney City Council, has been a long-time advocate and hard-working community member for same-sex marriage and marriage equality. I very much congratulate her for her work and want to acknowledge the work that she did in the New South Wales parliament as that work is about to come to an end.
I also want to acknowledge South Australian Greens MLC Tammy Franks who co-sponsored a bill with Ian Hunter. They introduced a marriage equality bill last year into the South Australian Legislative Council. This work within our parliaments has been rolling around the country, particularly responding to the strong community support for a change to the law. What I find really touches people very deeply is when they think about young people and their futures with all the hope and joy of the opportunities that one has when one is young.
What is so troubling is that so many young people, particularly young people of diverse sexuality, suffer high rates of depression and high rates of suicide. This is very relevant for what we are discussing here today. When young people are denied rights—in the case of the gay and lesbian community, they are denied the right to marriage—it sends a message that there is some problem, there is something different. We cannot always be fully sure of how they might interpret it, but they clearly can interpret it in a way which they think reflects on them and so can add to any self-doubt that they might have.
While society is moving closer to removing all forms of discrimination against the gay and lesbian community, we are still seeing in our society a lot of discriminatory practices by individuals. There is intolerance. There can be disrespect. So young people already have to handle that, particularly in regional and rural areas where it can be really tough. But when the law also discriminates against them, as the marriage law does, it can add to a burden that is deeply wrong. This is very relevant to the issue of bullying, which is just so serious.
Research commissioned by beyondblue suggests that approximately 30 per cent of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people suffer anxiety or depression. This is twice the rate of the rest of the community. I think it really underlines the point that I was making about how worrying this issue is. We have a real responsibility to ask: are there discriminatory laws that further add to the burden that these young people suffer? Even more worrying is that the suicide rate for young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people is three or four times higher than it is for their heterosexual peers.
People are losing their lives, people are taking their lives, because of their stress, their depression, their extreme worry. For a lot of people this is hard to imagine, but we do know it is real. The research has been done and, again, it is very relevant to what we are dealing with here. Discrimination faced by young people plays a very significant role in their ongoing mental health. So, while I have given emphasis to young people and their issues of depression and how they handle their stresses and worries and the associated suicide rates, I certainly acknowledge that it is not just limited to them but a further reminder of why we need to address this issue.
I spoke earlier about the long history of community activity to bring about changes to the law—and this is not just about changes to the Marriage Act. Generally, it has been community action that has delivered changes to the law to remove the discrimination that the gay and lesbian community have suffered. From my own experience as a senator for New South Wales, I did want to reflect on some of that history because, again, I think it is informative. Also, at these times, it is important to put this history on the record because debates like the one that we are having today do not just come about because a member of parliament or a political party decided to introduce legislation. There is a history of community activism that has alerted the members of this parliament that we must catch up with the changes in political attitudes.
A lot of the pressure, a lot of the community activism, really started to roll on in the 1970s. At that time, a movement was starting to grab the headlines—the gay liberation movement. Many of those people put on the public agenda that the discrimination could not continue, that the silence about how the law in many cases was wrong needed to change and that people's attitudes needed to be fair, tolerant and respectful. This movement did have a big impact. I pay tribute here to the Labor government under former Premier Neville Wran. We got our New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Act in 1977. It was a huge achievement and something that the activists at the time can be very proud of. While the New South Wales Labor government played a key role in bringing in this legislation and finalising its detail, it was really off the back of the women's movement, the disability rights movement and gay liberation—the time was very strong. From the work that was undertaken, we saw the anti-discrimination law pass. It meant that, for the first time, legal protection would be provided for those communities who suffered discrimination. It really did reflect a heightened awareness within our community that how we had been working up until then was not good enough. This was a huge breakthrough at the time.
Over the three-plus decades since then, there have been enormous changes in our legislation. From the advice that I have been given, the Marriage Act is the last piece of legislation that needs to change in terms of discrimination against the gay and lesbian community. There are certainly a lot of other things that need to change in the wider community in terms of attitudes, but for this piece of legislation—its time has come.
So I very strongly support the legislation. I am delighted that I am a senator at a time when we are debating it. I understand that we may not have the numbers at the moment but the ball is rolling. Clearly, the time is not too far away when we will have marriage equality and everybody, no matter who they are, will be able to look forward to going to a wedding where they can celebrate with their same-sex friends or their heterosexual friends the joy of being able to celebrate their love and reflect on how they can be happy. Whoever they are, they can have the joy of getting married and do it in a way that is respected in the law, as well as in the wider community.

Senator Nick Xenophon on gay marriage

Senator Nick Xenophon (Ind, SA) explained why following the gay bashing death of a lecturer of his, that on reflection he considered that gay marriage was preferable to civil unions:

The Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012, which intends to legalise same-sex marriage, is not an easy issue for me to speak on. Unlike a number of my colleagues, who have held longstanding, definite if not definitive views on whether or not same-sex marriage should be legal in Australia, I have not been deeply involved in this debate. I have been working on a whole range of other issues. This does not mean, however, as one member of the House of Representatives suggested, that this is an eleventh-hour issue.
I know that many in the community have passionate, strongly held views as to whether same-sex marriage should be legalised. Insofar as those views are considered and respectful, I believe it is important in a great democracy such as Australia's to carefully take those views into account before making a decision on this bill. It is my job—indeed, my duty—to do my best to understand both those who support and those who oppose this change to the Marriage Act, and to do so in a way that is not judgemental but both fair-minded and mindful of those who will support and of those who will reject the position I take.
Unlike other members of parliament whose party had a policy at the last election to not support such changes to the Marriage Act, as an Independent I am not constrained by any party room decision. So, like every other vote I exercise in this place, this is a conscience vote for me, one that is especially significant because of the competing arguments and principles at stake. This bill raises fundamental issues of whether same-sex couples should be afforded the same rights as heterosexual couples. It of necessity raises questions about the way homosexuals are treated in our society, and we have seen the changes to our laws at state and federal levels since the early 1970s.
In 1976, I was a first year law student at the University of Adelaide. To this day, I remember well how a number of my lecturers were still grieving and campaigning for justice over the death of their fellow lecturer, Dr George Duncan, who died on 10 May 1972. Dr Duncan was a brilliant academic, respected by his peers and students alike. He was walking along the banks of the River Torrens near the university when he was set upon and viciously assaulted by at least three men, and thrown into the river. This occurred late at night. He drowned. Dr Duncan was homosexual at a time when being a homosexual could carry a jail term.
After a subsequent inquiry, it was found that the area where Dr Duncan was set upon was a so-called 'gay beat', where other homosexual men would illicitly meet, and the assault was part of the victimisation by those who derided, if not hated, those men by virtue of their sexuality. In the days, weeks and months following Dr Duncan's death, and after a grossly compromised and botched police investigation, nothing happened to the perpetrators. It was not until many years later that three men were charged with manslaughter, but they were acquitted in 1988. No-one has ever been held accountable for his death. Dr Duncan's death was a tragic, criminal consequence of discrimination.
As a result of the public outrage and media attention, the Hon. Murray Hill, a Liberal member of the Legislative Council of South Australia, introduced a bill into the South Australian parliament on 26 July 1972. The bill sought to amend the criminal law in South Australia that made homosexuality illegal. That bill, in an amended form, was assented to on 9 November 1972. It was the beginning of legislative moves across the nation to remove discrimination against homosexuals. The most recent significant reforms at a Commonwealth level occurred only a few years ago as a result of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's recommendations that equality of treatment should be extended to same-sex couples.
Those pieces of legislation, which form the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—General Law Reform) Act 2008, effectively recognise same-sex couples in respect of many rights and obligations, including superannuation. In essence, the rights and obligations that heterosexual couples have now also apply to same-sex couples. That significant, landmark legislation was passed with bipartisan support. However, the proponents of same-sex marriage consider the 2008 bills as unfinished business, and for the opponents that was the end of the road for reform.
At its heart, this issue, this debate, revolves around whether the definition of marriage should be confined to heterosexual couples. Those who oppose changing the law say that to legalise same-sex marriage would undermine the traditional definition of marriage, and that it would also affect children. Let us deal fairly with those two arguments.
I find myself substantially in agreement with the considered speech that the member for Wentworth, the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, recently gave at the Southern Cross University on the Gold Coast in honour of former High Court Justice Michael Kirby. Like Mr Turnbull, I cannot see how allowing a same-sex couple to marry would somehow affect the sanctity and strength of a marriage between a heterosexual couple. As for children, as Mr Turnbull pointed out, unfortunately, some biological parents are neither loving nor wise. What is important is that a child is brought up in a safe and loving environment. The reality is that this bill does not change the right of same-sex couples to raise children. That was in part dealt with at a federal level several years ago, with bipartisan support. Nor does this bill change state laws about adoption or IVF. But, this bill would give recognition to the inherent commitment that marriage brings with it.
It was my preference, until I considered the issues in this debate, to legislate immediately for civil unions for same-sex couples as, in a sense, a transitional measure before legislating for same-sex marriage. But I can see the argument that, while that measure would be a further reform to reduce discrimination, it would not remove it. In the event this bill does not pass, I would urge the senators and members who oppose same-sex marriage to consider supporting a new bill that would at least allow civil unions.
To date, 11 other countries have legalised same-sex marriage: Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain and Sweden. This is proof that our traditions are continuing to evolve. A thousand, a hundred, even 30 years ago, marriage did not mean what it does today. This evolution is important. Our traditions are valued because they are still relevant, because they still mean something to us today. But this bill will not in fact change the tradition of marriage within our churches. Ministers of religion will be free to continue to abide by their beliefs on their definition of marriage.
This debate has seen an intense degree of lobbying by various churches—as they are entitled to do in our democracy. I regard the right of a person to hold their religious beliefs as fundamental in a free society. But beyond religion and religious beliefs, I also believe in the law. And I believe our laws should apply equally to all. Aristotle said: 'The law is reason, free from passion.' This is a debate that raises passions more than almost every other issue. But if we remove the passion from this debate, we are looking at a simple fact: this bill rectifies discrimination in our law. As elected representatives and law makers, we have a duty to make the best laws we possibly can. And as to a law that excludes people from such a significant cultural institution just because of who they are—well, it is time that changed.
Much of this debate has focused on apparent so-called conservative values, such as marriage and the family unit, although I think it is unfair to suggest those values only belong to conservatives in some political or partisan sense. I am a strong supporter of these principles, but I believe they are reasons for, not against, marriage equality. British Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron said, on this very issue:
Yes, it's about equality, but it's also about something else: commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other.
So I don't support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I'm a Conservative.
There are so many problems facing our society today. Anything that encourages people to commit to each other ultimately can only be a good thing. That is why I support this bill.