What Canberrans Say About Same-Sex Marriage

In parliament today, I reported back on my conversations with Canberrans about same-sex marriage.
Same Sex Marriage - Report Back to Parliament, 24 August 2011

In a representative democracy parliamentarians have a responsibility to do more than simply reflect opinion polls. If that were our only job, you would replace us with machines that phone poll the electorate and voted accordingly.

Leadership is about careful judgment. But you cannot exercise that judgment without listening. On this issue I have been struck by the willingness of hundred of Canberrans to share their stories with me by email and in person in my electorate office, community forums and mobile offices, stories told with dignity, grace and humility.

Some people who have contacted me oppose changes to the Marriage Act. They argue that marriage has a long history of being only between a man and a woman. They say that marriage should protect the reproductive relationship and as much as possible give children the opportunity to be reared by their biological parents.

Brent and Wendy Budarick came to my Jamison Centre mobile office to speak with me and gave me a petition signed by 146 people that opposed same-sex marriage, and I thank them for that. From a similar perspective Gordon of Ngunnawal told me that the family unit ‘is inherently and naturally based on the procreation and raising of children by their natural mother and father’.

But most people who have contacted me would like to see a change to the law on the basis of equality, removal of discrimination, and social justice and acceptance. Cheryl of Downer wrote of her gay daughter who has had a number of friends suicide over a period of two years because of the stigma placed on gay people. She wrote:

'I believe that the strength of marriage will not be undermined by the equality of all people in seriously committed relationships to have the right to this recognition and the legal protection it offers. My heart cries for the young people who have been placed in circumstances so severe that the loss of life is the only course of action they can see as a way forward.'

Another constituent, who preferred that I not use her name, related how her six-year old asked, ‘Mum, why aren’t you and mummy married?’ She wrote to me:

'I want to celebrate the relationship I have with my partner fully in the way heterosexual people can in our country and my kids should be able to celebrate with us! And how it is very sad to have to tell them that the only reason was because our government would not let us despite a lot of people in our country having no issue with it.'

Alan Verhagen of Watson has lived with his partner for 15 years and told me of the couples he has watched stick by their same-sex partners for decades. As long as marriage excludes same-sex couples, Alan said:

'I feel it devalues those relationships. It sends a message that those relationships are not as real or valid as different-sex relationships. I feel it is time to send a message that same-sex relationships are as real and valid as same-sex relationships.'

Dianne and Ian Hinton of Palmerston told me about their son, Ivan. I would like to welcome them to the public galleries today. They wrote to me:

'He has found a wonderful man, Christopher. They bought a home in a typical family-oriented suburb, Ainslie, a home that they are renovating within a wonderful community that has not once treated them specially or separately because of their sexual orientation. They are registered foster carers and will make wonderful parents. In 2008, after being together for six years, they were married in Montreal, Canada.'

Sandra from Page urged me to amend the Marriage Act so that same-sex couples can marry because, in her words, ‘Marriage should be about love and commitment, not exclusion or prejudice.’ Sandra wrote that in those countries where same-sex marriages are allowed, ‘the fears of those who oppose reform have proven unfounded’. As the mother of a gay son it broke her heart to see what she considered ‘segregation and discrimination against him’.

Finally, we should not assume that this debate simply pits believers against atheists. Brendan from Page wrote to me after returning from Mass on Sunday to say that he would like his friends who are in same-sex relationships to have their relationship recognised as marriage if that is what they choose. A serving army officer who is a practising Catholic wrote to offer similar sentiments, as did Lin Hatfield Dodds, National Director of UnitingCare Australia. I note that there is even a Christians4Equality group.

In closing I would like to thank all of those who have taken time to share their stories with me and apologise that in five short minutes I can only relate a small portion of the deeply moving stories that have been shared with me. I hope we can continue to deliberate this important issue with the dignity and respect it deserves. I thank the member for Melbourne for moving this motion.

And thanks to Damien Hickman for his help in preparing this speech.http://www.youtube.com/embed/fB2bxeftE3U?hl=en&fs=1

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.