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Monday, 27 May 2013
Page: 3932

Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyMinister for Health) (20:39): Last year I was proud to vote in support of the member for Throsby's private member's bill on marriage equality along with 37 of my Labor colleagues in the House of Representatives, three Independents and the member for Melbourne. I speak in support of his bill, the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012 today.

Since last year's third we have seen the pace of change continue to quicken as laws reflect the aspiration for equality in our community. Maine, Maryland and Washington became the first US states to legalise marriage equality through a popular vote. The New Zealand parliament passed marriage equality in April this year, with observers and MPs breaking into a traditional Maori love song. France's National Assembly passed their 'marriage for all' bill despite death threats being sent to parliamentary supporters in a divisive national debate.

As fast as laws across the world change, in Australia our parliament lags behind the community we represent. Many Australians remember a time when homosexuality was illegal and formal discrimination provided shelter for so many other acts of violence and bigotry against gay men and lesbians. The path to greater equality has been difficult, and at times has been halting as successive governments have worked to reduce the shadow cast by this kind of discrimination: from decriminalisation to protections against workplace discrimination to de facto relationship rights.

I am proud of the role that the Labor Party has played in that journey, and the 85 laws which we changed in 2008 to remove discrimination against same-sex de facto couples. As complex as the task of removing discrimination can be, at its heart is one simple idea: that we should all be equal under the law. The conviction which drove us to amend those 85 laws discriminating against same-sex de facto couples should energise us now to complete the task ahead. Once we accept that heterosexual and same-sex couples should be equal before the law, how can we reserve marriage for one group and deny it to the other?

Marriage is both a religious and a civil institution. Other speakers have said that they would not expect churches to be forced to undertake marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, and I agree that. Churches should not be forced to do that. But we are all members of a civil society as well. Many people enter the institution of marriage with no particular religious beliefs, but they still enjoy the rights and responsibilities that go with marriage. People often speak about the role of children in marriage, and as a married mother of three I know that marriage is a wonderful institution. But I have to say that I have gay and lesbian friends who have children too, and they would like to offer their children the security that marriage might bring to their relationship.

There are also many couples who marry without ever intending to have children or, indeed, without being able to have children. They may marry later in life for the second or a third time, with no ability or intention to have children. Do we say that their marriages are worth less because they enter with no intention or ability to have children?

All Australians should have the right to legal recognition of their relationships and the advantages and responsibilities that such legal recognition brings with it. All Australians deserve the full social acceptance that removing discrimination symbolises. Often our attention is drawn by the battles in courts and parliaments around the world, but the measure of what is at stake is found in those places where marriage equality has been introduced. On those days when marriage equality becomes real you see men and women who have loved each other for decades surrounded by their friends and family making a declaration of their commitment to one another. You see the truth that same-sex couples are no less loving and their commitment to one another is no less moving or affirming. All they have been waiting for is for the law to acknowledge that.

I look forward to seeing those same scenes of love celebrated here in Australia.

Debate adjourned.