Same-sex marriage - 666 ABC Canberra - 11 October 2013

This morning I spoke with ABC 666 Canberra Breakfast host Jolene Laverty in support of the ACT Government's same-sex marriage laws as something that will make our society stronger. Here's the full transcript:

ABC 666 CANBERRA with host Jolene Laverty

JOLENE LAVERTY: ACT is ready to fight to become the first jurisdiction in Australia to legalise same-sex marriage. It's expected to pass through the assembly with the full support of Labor and Green MPs. But really that looks like it's going to be the easy part. There has been a commitment from the Coalition Government to challenge any law in the High Court. Attorney General Senator Brandis has asked the ACT to withdraw the bill. We invited him on this morning. He was not available. We also asked Senator Zed Seselja who was also not available to comment. You may have heard in the news there with Mark Dawson that Zed has given some comment to ABC News. This is what Senator Seselja had to say:

ZED SESELJA: One is that I don't support same-sex marriage. Two, that I believe that same-sex marriage or marriage generally is the preserve of the federal parliament. So, whether your views are in favour of same-sex marriage or against same-sex marriage, the correct place for this to be debated is in the Commonwealth parliament.  One thing I have always done is, I've always been upfront so people have always known my views on the issue. I don't think there's any secret. I've also, on this issue, even though my views on same-sex marriage are clear, what the issue is here is who has the power. I believe it's very clear that the Commonwealth parliament has the power. The ACT Assembly does not.

LAVERTY: Andrew Leigh is the Labor member for Fraser. Now, you've been quoted as saying you're disappointed but are you surprised?

ANDREW LEIGH: I am actually Jo. Thanks very much for the opportunity to speak about it. It’s quite usual for a federal government to challenge a state or territory law. It's an inherently political decision and it's a decision that I think, flies in the face of history and decency. The states and territories in fact, contrary to what Mr Seselja just said, had responsibility for marriage all the way up until 1961. So there's nothing in the Constitution that says that states and territories can't act here. The situation we are in arises from the Howard Government in 2004 narrowing the scope of the federal Marriage Act down to heterosexual marriages. That's left open the opportunity for the ACT to say, ‘well, if the federal law is going to just regulate heterosexual marriages, we'll have a parallel law that doesn't overlap, doesn't have anyone marry twice, which allows same-sex marriages’. I think that's perfectly reasonable and that the notion that George Brandis will go about trying to tear up ACT same-sex marriage certificates is, to me, pretty repugnant.

LAVERTY: Well they are challenging it because they say that same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. And they want to take it to the High Court. Do you think that's the right place to debate it?

LEIGH: The High Court will make its own judgement on this. The arguments as I understand them might well be quite finally balanced. I'm a former High Court associate and I certainly don't want to, as a politician, tread onto what they're doing. But what I will say is that the Attorney General didn't need to make this challenge. A challenge that like this would normally come from a private citizen rather than the federal government and I think it really reflects this archaic attitude to same-sex marriage that so many in the Coalition leadership seem to have. This idea that somehow their heterosexual marriages are threatened by allowing same-sex couples to wed. I just think that in a generation's time, people will look back at this and they will roll their eyes that there were parliamentarians who would fight this hard against the right of a same-sex couple to walk down the aisle.

LAVERTY: There is a lot of conversation about whether or not this should be debated in the High Court or taken to the parliament. What would be the difference there?

LEIGH: If the Federal Government isn't going to act on marriage equality - and it feels fairly likely that the bill won't be brought before the House - then it's perfectly reasonable for the ACT Government to act. What the ACT Government has said is, well, back nine years ago the Howard Government restricted the federal Marriage Act, so it only covered heterosexual marriages, so we're going to have our own ACT same-sex marriage law. It reminds me of the lovely line in the New Zealand same-sex marriage debate when one of the conservatives, Maurice Williamson, gave a promise to people who opposed same-sex marriage. He said 'I promise you, the sun will still rise tomorrow. Your teenage daughter will still argue back as if she knows everything. Your mortgage won't grow and you won't have skin diseases, rashes, or toads in your bed'. That, to me, sums up the debate. I think this is something that means an awful lot to those same-sex couples in the ACT who would like to marry their loved ones. It isn't going to weaken heterosexual marriages like mine. This is going to make us stronger as a society.

LAVERTY: It may mean an awful lot for those same-sex couples Andrew Leigh, but if the elected government has not prepared to accept same-sex marriage in Australia, then doesn't that then say that perhaps Australia's not ready for it?

LEIGH: Certainly when you look at popular opinion on this, I think it's changing faster than on any social issue that I have seen. I tend to think that attitudes on race and gender move glacially. But this one is moving with extraordinary pace. I mean, just in the time between when the federal parliament last voted and now, we've seen same-sex marriage been passed by conservative government in Britain and New Zealand. They've passed it because they believe, as conservatives, that the institution of marriage is one that's good for families. Don't forget that one-fifth of lesbian couples have kids in the home. Why wouldn't we allow those couples to have access to the institution of marriage, that stabilising institution of marriage, that I think could potentially good for kids in those households as it can for kids in heterosexual households.

LAVERTY: Which is interesting because that's part of the constitution as well, isn't it, that it can constitute over adoption and having children in the homes as well, which is part of the Marriage Act?

LEIGH: There are things that the federal Marriage Act covers but the argument that will be before the High Court is whether - in saying the federal Marriage Act only covers heterosexual couples - the federal government has effectively covered the field on marriage or whether it has inadvertently left open the space for the ACT Government to allow same-sex marriages. But really I think the federal government should let alone on this one. I think they should allow the ACT to pass its own laws. It should allow ACT same-sex couples to walk down the aisles to have the joys, travails, to have the same-sex divorces that will invariably flow. That's not harmful for Australia. There are other things that the Federal Government should be fretting about rather than challenging ACT laws and trying to rip up same-sex marriage certificates.

LAVERTY: We are going to be talk to constitutional law expert George Williams in just a moment but before I let you go Mr Leigh, the Labor leadership. It's been going some weeks now to find a new Labor leader. How do you think it's unfolding? What do you expect to happen?

LEIGH: As they say, the voters have spoken - we just haven't quite heard them yet. The result is there in the ballot papers and it's just a matter now of counting it. We'll have a caucus meeting on Sunday and welcome in the new leader. But I was really struck yesterday in the caucus, the sense of warmth and generosity that came from Mr Albanese and Mr Shorten speaking about each other, about the contest and just the sense that it is really provided yet another great reason to join the Labor Party. Because in the Labor Party unlike any other major or minor political party in Australia, members get to have a say in choosing their leader.

LAVERTY: Terrific. Thank you so much for making yourself available this morning.

LEIGH: Thanks Jolene.

LAVERTY: Bye bye. That is Andrew Leigh, who is our federal member for Labor.

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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.