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Monday, 27 May 2013
Page: 3930

Mr MARLES (Corio) (20:29): I rise to speak in favour of the member for Melbourne's bill, the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012, having previously spoken in favour of the member for Throsby's bill in relation to same-sex marriage. I start by saying that this issue represents the first conscience vote in which I have participated as a member of parliament, and I want to place on record, as I did previously, the wonderful way in which I believe this debate has been carried out in this parliament but also within my electorate. I have tried to make myself as available as possible to everyone, of all views, in relation to this issue—views which are deeply held. Really the way in which those views have been expressed to me, with a deep respect for people who hold different positions, stands in my view as a model for how debate should be conducted in this place. I want to make that very clear. I particularly want to say to those people who hold a different view to me in relation to this that the way in which they have engaged with me has always been with the utmost respectfulness and politeness.

An argument has been put to me—one that I have empathy for—that a number of churches in my electorate feel a concern that pressure will be created by virtue of the passage of this legislation, were it to occur, that would require them to conduct services in relation to same-sex couples, which they do not want to do. So in supporting same-sex marriage, as I do tonight, I do so very much with a renewed expression of the importance of the freedom of religious expression and the need for us all to defend that right. For me, this has been something of an unexpected journey in the course of this debate. There are many who feel that their rights to express their religious beliefs need defending within our community. So I very much say that for me, in supporting same-sex marriage in the context of this bill, the other side of that coin is a renewed commitment to defend the right of freedom of expression of churches, including those churches that would see marriage as being only between a man and a woman and would conduct marriage ceremonies only on that basis.

There has also been an argument put to me that allowing same-sex marriages represents the beginning of a slippery slope which will see other forms of relationship given legal sanction under our civil law. I do not agree with that argument. I do not see that we are putting ourselves on a slippery slope. In any event, all we can do in assessing this piece of legislation is to look at the proposition which is before us, which is about allowing the union of same-sex couples. In that sense, for me the arguments are very clear.

There were 85 separate pieces of legislation in the last parliament which were amended to remove discrimination against same-sex couples in the areas of property, superannuation and life insurance. This was a non-controversial step to take, and it removed discrimination across the board and was rightly regarded as an unambiguous good. I understand that for some marriage is seen as being deeply connected to the issue of faith, but for many others it is not. Marriage is first and foremost a statement between a couple of their commitment to each other and then a statement by that couple to their community and their friends about their commitment to each other. The ability to convey that to their community is part of the commitment that they make to each other. In my view, to deny a couple the opportunity to make that statement of their love to their community is for them a denial of a human right, and to remove the denial of that right is, in my view, just another removal of an act of discrimination, which we did without controversy in the last parliament.

So it is for that reason that I think it is very important that we provide for same-sex marriage to be a part of our civil law so that people are able to make that commitment to themselves, to their friends, to their society and ultimately to their country and so that it can be recognised as such. In doing so, I very much defend the right of individual churches to conduct marriages as they see fit as an expression of their freedom of religion.