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Monday, 17 June 2013
Page: 5986


Mr COMBET (CharltonMinister for Climate Change, Industry and Innovation) (18:30): I rise to speak in support of the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012 and I do so because I support the right of same-sex couples to marry. This bill amends the Marriage Act 1961 by amending the definition of marriage from 'husband and wife' to 'two people' and making consequential changes to give effect to that. Importantly, it does not oblige a minister of religion or a marriage celebrant to marry same-sex couples. On my view of it, this bill seeks to remove discrimination and to advance equality.

When we are considering this issue I think it is very important to look at it in a historical context, because marriage has undoubtedly changed over the years. We no longer have betrothals, dowries, a wife's vow of obedience or the prohibition on certain inter-race or religious marriage. Times change—that is a fact—and it is important that the legislature changes with them. Ending discrimination in this matter does not take away someone's rights; it in fact establishes equal rights for members of our community. Others in this debate, both here and overseas, have put that argument very eloquently.

On the issue of the addressing of discrimination, Labor of course has a very proud history of fighting for rights and ending discrimination. It was Labor that established the Racial Discrimination Act, the Sex Discrimination Act and the Disability Discrimination Act. Labor has also acted in support of equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Australians. It was Labor in South Australia in 1975 that decriminalised homosexuality, and that was followed by Labor governments in New South Wales in 1984, Western Australia in 1990 and Queensland in 1991. In 1999, the New South Wales Labor government amended 20 pieces of legislation to provide same-sex partners the same rights as those enjoyed by de-facto heterosexual couples. The Victorian Labor government in 2000 outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexuality or gender identity. In 2001, the Western Australian Labor government provided same-sex couples rights around wills, estates and superannuation. Many state and territory governments have introduced relationship registers.

This federal Labor government has built on all of that record. In our first term in office, Labor amended 85 separate pieces of legislation to remove discrimination against same-sex couples. In this term of parliament we have allowed the issuing of certificates of non-impediment to same-sex couples wishing to marry overseas; we have extended the paid parental leave provisions to same-sex couples; and we have introduced the Sex Discrimination Amendment Bill which will make it unlawful to discriminate against someone on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, including in aged care. These are all important reforms.

In providing equality in relation to same-sex couples, Australia will not be acting on its own in the international community. When I spoke on this issue in debate on a similar bill last year, I advised the House that 10 countries and even more jurisdictions allow same-sex marriage. Since then, many more have acted, including France, our neighbours across the Tasman, in New Zealand, and many states in the United States of America.

Like many members, in considering my approach to this issue, I have taken many points of view from amongst constituents I have consulted in relation to the issues, and I think it is fair to say that there are many strong and wide-ranging points of view about same-sex marriage. I respect those alternative views but, ultimately, for me as a member of parliament and as an individual, it is a matter of discrimination, in my view, against same-sex couples that I believe that the parliament should remedy. Same-sex couples should not be denied the right to marry.

As is the case for many other members, this issue is not only a matter of principle but also is personally relevant in the case of my own family, my extended family and amongst my friends. I cannot support continued discriminations against persons for whom I care very deeply and, as a parliamentarian, I think I have an obligation to make decisions based on not only personal values and issues of principle but also the importance of removing discrimination of this nature.

We must make decisions in the interests of the constituents who elect us to this place, taking into account the wide range of views, having respect for them but ultimately ensuring that we do what we consider as parliamentarians to be the right thing.