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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 2466

Ms SMYTH (La Trobe) (11:16): I am pleased to be able to make a contribution once again on the topic of marriage equality. It is a source of regret for me and I know for many people in my community of La Trobe who were unable to see success in the vote on the question of marriage equality which occurred earlier in this term; however, needless to say, it does not change the expectations I had when I last spoke on this issue, and those are that, ultimately, we will see change in this area just as we have seen substantial change in relation to marriage and the status of people within the institution of marriage over the previous decades.

It is important to recall that fact, because some in this debate will articulate the case that marriage has been unchanging and remained cast in stone for centuries. We only have to look at the last 100 years to see that marriage has changed considerably for women and Indigenous Australians.

Australia agreed to be bound by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1980 and, in doing so, it recognised the importance of equality before the law and principles of nondiscrimination—and those are principles which those on this side of the chamber hold very dear. Many members of the Labor Party have advocated for reform to reflect principles of nondiscrimination in a range of legislative means.

After winning the 2007 federal election, Labor moved very swiftly to amend some 85 or so Commonwealth laws to remove discrimination on the basis of sexual preference, and it was entirely appropriate that we did so. Accordingly, it has been a source of great pride to me to see many members of the Labor Party campaigning around the issue of marriage equality. In that context, I would like to put on record my commendation for all those in Rainbow Labor who have endeavoured to progress this debate as far as they could during this term. I do not think that they will end their efforts.

I said at the outset that this is simply one next stage in a long line of very important changes which have related to marriage and the status of married people in Australian society. I reflected on the role of women in marriage and their circumstances, and the role of Indigenous people and their capacity to seek to be married. Members may not be aware that, although women gained the right to vote in 1902, they could still lose their Australian nationality when they married a non-Australian national even as late as the 1940s. Before 1966, members will recall that many women had to resign from Public Service positions upon getting married. Though those things remained part of our system of law, at that time Australian society and Australian parliaments changed their views on those issues. Accordingly, I think there is the case and the capacity for change now in relation to the question of marriage equality for same-sex couples.

As I also reflected at the beginning of my remarks, Indigenous Australians did not necessarily have the right to marry a person of their own choosing as late as 1959. But that kind of discriminatory treatment in marriage changed after considerable struggle and considerable social change, including the 1967 referendum campaign. These are some of the changes that have occurred in relation to marriage. Indeed, we only have to reflect on the period around 1975 when we still had a fault-based system of divorce in this country. I know that some in this place may still want that to be the case, and I certainly disagree with that. And, fortunately, I know that many others also disagreed, with the effect that in 1975 we saw a much more humane approach to the already difficult decision to end a marriage.

So it is not the case, despite the suggestions of others in this place to the contrary, that marriage and all of the regulatory arrangements around it have remained fixed in stone. Accordingly, I think—as I thought in the earlier debate on marriage equality in this term—that there is a case for change, that change is inevitable, and I hope to see it in the next few years.

Debate adjourned.