We need to make marriage equality a reality at long last - Speech, House of Representatives

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

TUESDAY, 6 DECEMBER 2017

I have spoken half a dozen times in this parliament in support of marriage equality.

As an economist, we are often faced with public -policy decisions that involve trade-offs: one group made better off while another group is made worse off. This is, to my great delight, not one of those debates. This is a moment where a group of Australians will be made better off. Australians in same-sex relationships will have the opportunity to wed, and no-one will be made worse off.

Heterosexual marriages, like my own, will not be weakened. Indeed, some may be strengthened, given that, as we know, some heterosexual couples have held off tying the knot until marriage equality becomes reality.

At the heart of what we're debating today are the stories—stories like Greg's and Lanny's, who wrote to me and showed me a picture from their wedding day on Lake Okanagan in Canada. They wrote to say that, after 23 years of partnership, they'd tied the knot in a ceremony that Greg said was everything they'd ever hoped for. Ian and Roger told me of getting married in the UK after being together for 40 years, and Ian recounted to me that he'll never forget his late mother crying tears of joy on him and Roger finally being married after so many decades of engagement.These couples should have the right to marry here in Australia and not have to travel across the world to the other advanced English-speaking countries which, almost without exception, have now made same-sex marriage a reality.

Another constituent, Alan, has been with his partner for 15 years. While he doesn't wish to marry, he feels his partnership has been devalued by being excluded from that choice. As he says: 'Legislation has an educative effect. As long as the Marriage Act excludes same-sex couples, I feel that it says that these relationships aren't as real or valid as heterosexual relationships.' Exclusion, in his words, 'isn't a victimless crime'.

Having laws that tell people that they are worth less than others is one of the factors that leads to mental ill health and higher rates of suicide in the LGBTIQ community. We've seen, through this needless survey, an increase in calls to mental health support groups such as ReachOut.

Then there are the couples for whom marriage equality comes too late. Janis, a retired reverend of the Uniting Church who was never afforded the joy and rights that come with marriage, told me that her life partner passed away three years ago, and, in dealing with her partner's will, she was forced to declare herself 'never married', rather than the way she feels - widowed.

Marriage equality isn't just about rights for LGBTIQ people; it's about all Australians living in a society they celebrate. Upon becoming engaged to her fiance, Miranda, from Lyneham, expressed her deep frustration and disgust that her mother-in-law-to-be and her partner, and her uncle and his partner, wouldn't be able to express their love in the same way she that could, simply because they were gay.

As we look into the future, we can celebrate being a country that not only accepts but celebrates our diversity. Eight years ago, Pierre Roux arrived in what he rightly calls 'this incredibly amazing country', and last year he became an Australian citizen. He tells me he has had the most amazing journey to date and made beautiful friends, and he has found that one and only person he loves and wants to spend time with. He proposed in April. Now they're waiting to marry in the country they both call home.

Marriage equality is a necessity for the wellbeing of Australians and for their families. Anne-Marie dearly loves her grandchildren and her family. To her granddaughter Lily, there is no distinction between each of her grandmothers. She can't wait to be the flower girl at her grandmother's wedding.

For my own part, I served for a year as associate to Justice Michael Kirby, who has been with his partner Johan van Vloten for many decades. I learned from Michael Kirby more than anybody else, apart from my parents, and I hope that he and Johan will soon have the opportunity, if so they choose, to tie the knot.

In my own family, I think of my uncle and his partner, who will be directly affected by this. There are so many friends, including people here in the ACT, who will be directly affected by the decision. I think of our Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, and his partner, Anthony Toms. I think, too, of couples such as the 31 same-sex couples who actually tied the knot four years ago next week under the ACT's short-lived marriage equality laws, which were then struck down when the Attorney-General, George Brandis, challenged those laws in the High Court. 

A constituent of mine from a local Catholic college wrote to me in the following terms. She said:

My name is Hannah Mason, I am currently attending Merici College, Braddon...

I have decided to write you to strongly express my support for same sex marriage. Love is love.

We should equally recognise the relationships of two people who love each other and choose to marry regardless of their gender.

That is what a modern Australia looks like to some of my fellow students and I.

And she co-signed it with other Merici College students.

I have spoken at other schools in my electorate. Often I will get asked about marriage equality. Indeed, it's probably the most common question to come up in school forums. Often before answering the question I will ask them to put up their hands for those who support or don't support marriage equality. I see in ACT schools, including the local Catholic schools, overwhelming support for marriage equality.

For generation Y and generation Z, this is a no-brainer. This is simply an extension of equality. My eldest son, Sebastian, 10 years old, said to me the other day that he just couldn't understand why we hadn't gotten marriage equality done. I have to say that I didn't have a very good answer for him.

In conclusion, I want to acknowledge those who've worked so hard to make this a reality. Long-time campaigners such as Rodney Croome. Australian Marriage Equality's Tim Gartrell, Patrick Batchelor, Ashley Hogan, Joseph Scales, Georgia Kriz, Audrey Marsh, the extraordinary Jacob White, Nita Green, Wil Stracke, Emmanuel Cusack, Pat Honan, Donald Rhodes, Adam Knobel and Anda Mednis.

Here in Canberra I want to acknowledge UnionsACT, particularly Moira Cully; the CPSU, particularly Amy Knox; and the CFMEU and many other unions, including United Voice. Within our Labor family I want to acknowledge Rainbow Labor and those within ACT Labor, particularly Pat Connell, James Koval, Matt Byrne and others in the party office. Of course, I want to acknowledge the unsurpassable Andrew Barr and the ACT government; Travis Jordan; at the Australian National University the ANU Queer* Department, particularly Matthew Mattola; and ANU and University of Canberra students, particularly Hamish McLennan, Robert Baillieu and Hugo Ottesen.

I want to acknowledge the local businesses that have hosted parties, donated venues, goods and services and put placards of support in their windows. I want to acknowledge local organisations A Gender Agenda; the AIDS Action Council of the ACT; ACT Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, especially Dianne Hinton; Diversity ACT; and the P&Cs of schools in Fenner, and the local school students who have petitioned and met with me over recent years.

It's been a national campaign. I recognise the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, Wear it Purple, Rainbow Families and individuals such as Ivan Hinton-Teoh and Tiernan Brady, who jumped on a plane shortly after making marriage equality a reality in Ireland and has helped to achieve the same outcome here. Tiernan, you should be pretty damn proud of yourself.

I want to acknowledge the ACT citizen volunteers who stepped up to this campaign and, of course, the parliamentarians who have been there campaigning for equality for LGBTIQ rights for years, people such as Tanya Plibersek; Anthony Albanese; Senator Penny Wong; Senator Louise Pratt; our leader, Bill Shorten; and Stephen Jones, who in 2012 moved the first marriage equality motion in this House. I spoke in favour of it but unfortunately missed the vote because my third son, Zachary, was born on that very day of the vote, 19 September 2012. I assure marriage equality advocates that I did check beforehand whether it was going to come down to one vote. Having been assured it would not, I was at my wife's side for our child's birth. I acknowledge too Senators Janet Rice and Dean Smith for their hard work in the other place.

Finally, I want to address the concern about religious protections. I want to point out proposed section 47(3) in the bill. As the shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, has noted, there are clear protections in place. Proposed section 47(3) reads, to avoid doubt:

'A minister of religion may refuse to solemnise a marriage despite anything in this part'—or a law of any state or territory—'if any of the following applies': (a) the refusal is consistent with 'the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of the religion of the minister's religious body or religious organisation'; (b) the refusal is made because of 'the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion'; or (c) the minister's genuine religious or conscientious beliefs 'do not allow the minister to solemnise the marriage'.

The bill does not need to be amended. It needs to be passed.

We need to make marriage equality a reality at long last.


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8/1 Torrens Street, Braddon ACT 2612 | 02 6247 4396 | Andrew.Leigh.MP@aph.gov.au