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Thursday, 23 August 2012
Page: 6305

Senator WATERS (Queensland) (17:55): Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. It is an honour to have the opportunity to be debating whether to amend legislation that is blatantly discriminatory, whether to take the radical stance that all citizens deserve the same rights. Freedom of sexuality and gender identity are fundamental human rights, and the acceptance and celebration of diversity are essential for social justice and real equality in our society. I am proud to stand with my Greens colleagues as a member of a party that has been fighting for equality for two decades. It is time that other senators face the fact that, when it comes to equality, there is no room for compromise.

I would like to congratulate the tireless activists who have been taking their case to the public, holding rallies, speaking at forums and talking to their neighbours. Their perseverance and patience in the face of an uphill battle has paid off. Polling has consistently shown that a majority of Australians, now 64 per cent of people, support the rights of same-sex couples to marry. In 2004, this chamber passed an amendment to the Marriage Act, making specific the implied discrimination that marriage is between one man and one woman. Greens and Democrats senators sat on one side of the chamber while Labor and coalition senators sat on the other. Only eight short years ago, each and every vote cast by the two old parties was cast in favour of entrenching discrimination. It is fantastic to see that, now, some senators have recently become champions for same-sex marriage within their parties and within their communities. The Greens and the LGBTI community and their friends and families have been waiting for the big parties to catch up, and it is really good to finally have you on board. Thank you for standing up for what is right.

It is important that this legislation passes the Senate. The Greens Marriage Equality Amendment Bill has the strongest cross-party support and the Senate inquiry reported back with a clear recommendation that the law should be changed. This report was endorsed by senators from all sides in this chamber. Whilst the leaders of the two old parties are busy loudly opposing same-sex marriage, with references to 'tradition' and 'the way it's always been', the community has slowly but surely been changing their mind. A quiet desire for improvement to the law is now a full-throated cry for complete equality. I join my fellow Greens senators and the LGBTI community in calling on the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to make a choice: get on board, or get out of the way. It is not acceptable for the Prime Minister and the opposition leader to impose their views on the entire Australian community and ride roughshod over both their voters and their parties. Prime Minister Gillard, let your members champion a reform they support. Mr Abbott, with polls now showing that 52 per cent of coalition voters support marriage equality, it is time to allow a conscience vote.

It is now up to senators to choose. Have they bought the line that same-sex marriage will destroy the institution of marriage? Will senators maintain their position that the definition of marriage is fixed? It used to be that the wife was the chattel, the human property of the husband, but, thankfully, long ago the community's perception of that being acceptable changed. That is the point: as a community's values change so do its social institutions.

Will senators stand up for Australia's reputation as a country where a fair go and equality before the law are valued? Or will they tarnish our reputation as a tolerant and accepting country?

Will senators demonstrate their belief in the importance of marriage by extending its benefits to all couples who love each other or demean the value of the institution of marriage by using it as a vehicle for prejudice and discrimination? Will senators turn down the $161 million—and that is a conservative estimate—that marriage equality would generate through expanding the profitable marriage economy to everyone?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired.