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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9190


Ms GRIERSON (Newcastle) (20:31): I am pleased to speak on the Marriage Amendment Bill 2012. This private member's bill seeks to amend the Marriage Act 1961. Item 1 of schedule 1 will amend the current legal definition of marriage to read that 'marriage means the union of two people, regardless of their sex, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life'. 'For life' is a big commitment for anyone to make, but this is a commitment that many same-sex couples would like the opportunity to make.

My position in support of same-sex marriage is well known, and I have spoken on it before. In 2006 I was the first member of parliament to sign Australian Marriage Equality's Charter of Equality. I did so even though staff were surprised and warned me that it was not ALP policy. I have always had the belief that I am a human being first, no matter what party I belong to or what my role is. On the human level, it was the right thing to do. We should never discriminate against people based on sexual orientation—not in marriage law, not in superannuation law, not in social security law, not in any other law. It is unacceptable to treat one group of citizens different from another. This is why I am proud to be a member of the party that removed 85-odd pieces of discrimination against same-sex couples from Commonwealth laws when we came into government.

In Newcastle, the city I represent, around 60 per cent of people who have contacted me have supported marriage equality—a figure in line with the recent survey by the House of Representatives Social Policy and Legal Affairs Committee, in which over 177,000 Australians expressed support for marriage equality; 64 per cent of respondents. Galaxy Research polling also indicates support for marriage equality at this same level, the highest level since polling on marriage equality began in 2009. It is lovely to be with the Australian people on this issue, and I would love to think this parliament would also be with the Australian people on this issue. I do respect the right of others to hold differing viewpoints when it comes to the issue of marriage. I also respect the rights of religious bodies to be exempt from having to perform non-heterosexual marriages. This bill gives provision to that, ensuring that no minister of religion would be bound to solemnise a marriage where the two individuals were of the same sex.

Many people have made appointments to see me to talk about their views, and I respect those views. Many of those views were about religion—as I said, this bill covers off on that—but they also spoke very much about marriage being about children, including the protection and the raising of children. In 30 years in education as a teacher and a principal I saw many children abused and mistreated by their biological parents. I saw many children loved, nurtured and given great hope by people who were not their biological parents but were their guardians. So I cannot buy the idea that biological parents are obviously the best people to raise children—it just is not always the case.

On Saturday 11 August hundreds turned out at Newcastle City Hall for the Rally for Marriage Equality, marking the eighth anniversary of the Howard government's provocative ban on equal marriage rights. It is important to remember that the Marriage Act never said marriage was between a man and a woman until John Howard changed it. It was always about polygamy and not allowing multiple relationships in a marriage. It was never defined until John Howard put it in. That was a very retrograde step. A number of locals spoke at the rally, including the inspirational Michelle Lancey, who runs Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays in Newcastle—an invaluable support network in my region. Michelle spoke at the ALP National Conference. She is a mother who would like to see both of her boys be able to marry. One is homosexual and one is heterosexual, and she finds it very sad that their relationships are not of equal value.

La Trobe University's 2011 Writing themselves in report, which surveyed the experiences of over 3,000 gay youth between 14 and 21, found that 79 per cent of students attracted to the same sex had been physically assaulted or verbally abused. It is time this country matured. That is not acceptable in any country. It is time tolerance was extended to everybody. It is sad to see the suicide rates amongst gay young people as well. It is time to legislate for marriage equality. We would not be acting alone—many countries have done this. I am pleased to support the bill. (Time expired)