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Monday, 10 September 2012
Page: 10084

Mr BUTLER (Port AdelaideMinister for Social Inclusion, Minister for Mental Health and Ageing and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Mental Health Reform) (12:39): It is a pleasure to follow the Minister for Home Affairs and his very thoughtful contribution to this debate. I particularly thank the member for Throsby for bringing forward this debate through his private member's bill, a very timely piece of legislation before this parliament.

I am on the public record about these matters. I have written in newspaper op-ed pages about this, I have spoken at many public events, including a very large rally outside the front of the ALP National Conference late last year. My views on this matter are well known for those who take an interest in this policy area. It is important that this matter be debated before the parliament, and I thought it was important to reiterate my views in a parliamentary debate.

I, along with other members, have also asked for the views of my electorate over the last many months, particularly since the resolution was passed by the House asking members to do that. In my electorate—a forthright and frank group of people—hundreds of people have sent emails, put calls through, attended street corner meetings and in other ways—at the pub, the shopping centre and suchlike—expressed their views about this matter to me, and I thank them for that. They have been frank and constructive and, without exception, their views have been politely put, so I do thank people for that.

I want, particularly though, to read a passage from an email that I received from one constituent which had a very powerful impact on me. It was a message received last year, before the debate at the ALP National Conference. One of my constituents wrote this: 'When my grandchildren ask me why I can love my partner and not be married, it is painful to explain that I live in a country that does not let people like me get married. After 33 years, three children and two grandchildren, I think I can attest to love, commitment and the hard slog of long-term relationship that goes side by side with the beautiful family moments.' That to me really summed up so many of the messages that I received.'

In their feedback to me, the electors of Port Adelaide in this fairly ad hoc process that all of us have held—it is not a scientific poll by any means—do support this change. The support from the emails, the calls and the other messages that we have received has been running at about 60 per cent in Port Adelaide. Those numbers reflect most of the research that is has been done over the past couple of years in Australia. We have seen polls conducted by Newspoll, by Galaxy and by Morgan, all of which put public support in the community for same-sex marriage at about 60 to 70 per cent. Australians are not alone. There is a big movement on this question across a whole range of developed nations. As a result, parliaments across the developed world are moving on this question. Many others have referred to the shift in the UK under a conservative coalition government. There is movement in New Zealand. President Obama has indicated an open view about this that supports same-sex marriage. There has been important legislation in a number of states and provinces in North America, including particularly the legislation in New York State that was passed last June, that is very much reflected in the Jones' Bill, if I can refer to the member for Throsby's private member's bill in that way.

I support this measure not because of Newspoll and not because of New York but because this is the right thing to do. I have thought that for quite some time. This, if it passes, will be the latest chapter in a series of reforms about homosexuality in this country stretching back a number of decades. They are a series of reforms in which the Labor Party have proudly played a very, very leading role. Whether you go back to the role that Don Dunstan, the Labor Premier of my own state, South Australia, played in being the first jurisdiction to decriminalise homosexual acts or whether you look at the very proud moment I had as a member of this government in our first term when we repealed a whole range of provisions in dozens of pieces of legislation that had discriminatory effect because of a person's sexual preference, you will see a very proud legacy that Labor has had over some decades now, and it is one that I think we should extend through supporting this particular bill.

It is now a very well-established principle in Australia that civil society does not discriminate against an Australian on the basis of their sexual preference. This bill extends that principle to the institution, particularly of civil marriage.

It is often not noticed in this debate, particularly in some of the newspapers, that marriage in Australia is now predominantly a civil institution. Back in the late 1980s, when I became entitled to get married—although I did not take it up quite that quickly—about 60 per cent of all marriages were conducted in a church or another religious institution. That number is down now to about one in three. And in some jurisdictions, particularly Queensland, where the member for Moreton lives, and in WA, that number is now fewer than three in 10. Now, less than 30 per cent of marriages in those jurisdictions are conducted through a religious celebrant. There is no question that marriage now, in Australia, is predominantly a civil institution—and it does not look as if there is going to be any reversal of that trend. If you take this as a market, the religious sector's market share of this is dropping by about one per cent every year.

This bill applies the longstanding civil principle of equal treatment, regardless of a person's sexual preference, to civil marriage—as happened in New York state—while, importantly, permitting religious organisations and religious celebrants to continue to observe their traditional view of marriage as a ceremony between a man and a woman. That is a very sensible position for this parliament to adopt, and it is one which, if adopted, will make a very great difference to many Australians—not only to those who have communicated their views to my office but to those who have communicated their views to all 150 members of this House of Representatives.

I just want to finish by reading an email from Molly, who wrote to me only last Friday. She said, 'As with so many families, we cannot wait to celebrate at our beautiful daughter's wedding ceremony. With votes such as yours it is getting closer and closer.' That is why I will be voting in support of the bill.