Same-Sex Marriage - Supporting Reform

I spoke today in parliament on a motion relating to same-sex marriage. Stephen Jones also tabled a private members' bill today, which will come up for a vote in the coming months.
Same-Sex Marriage - Supporting Reform
13 February 2012

This is the third time I have spoken publicly on same-sex marriage. In August 2011, I reported back to parliament on the views of my constituents for and against same-sex marriage. Within Labor Party forums I have also spoken out in favour of changing our part platform. But this is the first time I have spoken in parliament since the Labor Party changed its national platform. That platform now reads:

'Labor will amend the Marriage Act to ensure equal access to marriage under statute for all adult couples irrespective of sex who have a mutual commitment to a shared life.'

The Labor Party platform also states that on this issue 'any decision reached is not binding on any member of the Party'.

I hope that over the coming months many members on both sides of this place will support a change to the Marriage Act to allow same-sex marriage. Same sex marriage is not about gay versus straight, conservative versus progressive, left versus right. It is about social justice, equality for individuals and the recognition and protection of fundamental political and civil rights. Throughout this great country, people watch Ellen DeGeneres and Erik van der Woodsen, Matt Lucas and John Barrowman, Jodie Foster and Stephen Fry; we listen to Elton John and KD Lang. Equality for same-sex couples is not unfamiliar to everyday Australians.

Ce Ce of Hawker told me:

'I have just heard you "come out" in support of marriage equality and I wanted to express my gratitude. My partner and I registered a civil partnership earlier this year—our society needs more civilisation—I still wait for the day that we might be married. There is something lacking in referring to my civil partner rather than to my wife. Please do not underestimate how much it means.'

Warren and Grant of Aranda have been together for 27 years and believe marriage would be the ultimate legitimation of the equality of their relationship. As they told me:

'Our marriage would not undermine heterosexual marriage—quite the opposite—our desire to be married reflects our deep respect for the institution of marriage.'

Many of the opponents of same-sex marriage are devoutly religious. I respect their faith, but I say to them that it is possible to support marriage equality without undermining marriage, family or religion. Today, two-thirds of marriages in Australia are conducted by civil celebrants—a figure that is steadily rising. And same-sex marriage is supported by many religious leaders, including Lin Hatfield-Dodds, Reverend Bill Crews, Reverend Rowland Croucher, Reverend Matt Glover, Reverend Roger Munson and Father Dave Smith.

I say to my colleagues on the other side of the parliament that there is nothing in same-sex marriage that should offend Liberals and conservatives. Libertarians are among the most prominent advocates of same-sex marriage. As United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron has said:

'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 do not support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I'm a Conservative.'

In 1967, my parents were married in New York. They celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary last Saturday. But if they had been of different races, there are 16 US states that would not have allowed them to get married in February 1967. It was not until June 1967 that the US Supreme Court case of Loving v Virginia outlawed bans on miscegenation. These bans were thought natural—and some argued that they were supported by scripture. That matters today because, in the words of Mildred Loving in 2007:

'... not a day goes by that I don't think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the "wrong kind of person" for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry.'

In closing, let me quote the words of former Washington state representative Betty Sue Morris. Washington is shortly to become the seventh US state to permit gay marriage. Ms Morris spoke of a vote she cast against same-sex marriage in 1996. She said that in December 1998 her daughter, Annie, had come home for Christmas and told her she was gay. In the days that followed Ms Morris said she remembered her vote and 'felt like she had denied her something. A wholeness. A freedom.' Former Representative Morris told Frank Bruni of the New York Times:

'Whenever someone opposes this, I always counsel: you never know. You never know when it will be your child or your grandchild. And you will eat your words.'

I hope members of the House will support the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

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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.