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Monday, 17 June 2013
Page: 5988

Mr STEPHEN SMITH (PerthMinister for Defence and Deputy Leader of the House) (18:40): I support the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012, as I did a comparable or similar bill, introduced by the member for Throsby into the House in September 2012, and I do so for the same reasons.

This bill was introduced by the member for Melbourne. I acknowledge his presence in the chamber and compliment him on his work and introduction of it. I take a contrary view to the previous speaker. I regard this matter as not a matter for party politics but a matter of conscience, an area where there are strong views firmly held. Those views are often based on religious beliefs and, as a consequence, I think this is an area where parliamentarians should form a view and exercise a conscience vote and I do so, again, on this occasion.

This was not always my view. Between 2009 and 2011 I changed my view on this issue and I let that change of view be clearly known at the 2011 Australian Labor Party National Conference in December 2011 and reflected that view when I voted on the member for Throsby's bill in September last year.

The essential reason for that view is that I do not see any reason why in a modern, tolerant Australia we should not make marriage available to same-sex couples. In my view, there is no reason why in a modern, tolerant Australia discrimination against same-sex couples should not be removed. That view is consistent with the approach that the Commonwealth parliament has taken over the years to marriage as an institution and I think it is worthwhile retracing those steps.

It was as late as early 1961 when this parliament enacted the Commonwealth Marriage Act, to make the institution of marriage subject to Commonwealth law. Previously, it had been dealt with by state law. That institutionalised marriage under Commonwealth law as a voluntary act entered into between a man and a woman. In 1975, under the Family Law Act, for the first time this parliament recognised that bona fide domestic relationships outside the institution of marriage gave them de jure recognition. So those people who entered into a bone fide domestic relationship, effectively, had the same entitlements at law as those in the institution of marriage reflected by and authorised by the Commonwealth Marriage Act 1961. That legislation gave men and women who, for whatever reason of their own, did not wish to enter into the institution of marriage not only comparable property and other rights if subsequently that bona fide domestic relationship came to an end but also rights as far as deceased estate and intestacy were concerned.

At about the same time, from the mid to late 1970s through to the 1980s, both at the Commonwealth and state and territory level, we saw the introduction and passage of anti-discrimination legislation, which removed discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, sexual preference, religion or other areas. That had the effect of ensuring, ultimately through this parliament, through legislation presented and enacted by the then Commonwealth Attorney-General Robert McClelland, the removal of discrimination on the basis of same-sex couples, same-sex attitudes and same-sex approach, particularly in the case of superannuation. So we have seen, since the 1960s, a removal of the distinction between marriages recognised as being between a man and a woman under the Commonwealth Marriage Act; a relationship recognised by the 1975 Family Law Act, without a man and a woman entering into the institution of marriage; and then, both at state and Commonwealth levels, the removal of discrimination on the basis of sex or sexual preference through the 1970s and 1980s, culminating in the McClelland legislation, to which I have referred. At the same time, in state jurisdictions, in the 1970s and 1980s we saw the removal of criminal sanctions against homosexual male conduct or relationships.

In my view, in a modern and tolerant Australian society this is a logical next step to remove a discrimination, to remove an inequity and to remove and an unfairness. For the same reasons that I gave in the other chamber in September 2012, I support the bill in this chamber.