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Thursday, 14 February 2008
Page: 348

Senator NETTLE (10:37 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I table the explanatory memorandum and seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Marriage (Relationships Equality) Amendment Bill 2008 aims to remove from the Marriage Act 1961 discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The bill reverses the Marriage Amendment Act 2004 which discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by preventing marriage of same-sex couples, and excluding recognition of same-sex marriages entered into under the laws of another country.

The Australian Greens believe that discrimination such as that espoused by the Marriage Amendment Act 2004 must be overturned because freedom of sexual orientation and gender identity are fundamental human rights, and that acceptance and celebration of diversity are essential for genuine social justice and equality.

The Marriage (Relationships Equality) Amendment Bill 2008 changes the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act 1961. It removes the use of gender specific terms such as ‘man and woman’ and substitutes: 

“marriage means the union of two persons, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, voluntarily entered into for life.”

Similarly the bill substitutes references in the Marriage Act 1961 to the gender specific ‘wife (or husband)’ and ‘man and woman’ with the neutral terms of ‘spouse’, or ‘two people’. The Bill also repeals s88EA of the Marriage Act 1961 which specifically excludes recognition of same-sex unions as marriages in Australia.

The principle of full relationships equality is highly valued by the Australian Greens. All Australians should immediately gain the legal right to marry, to publicly proclaim and celebrate their love and commitment, and ensure full legal and social recognition of their relationship.

For many years now and especially since the time of the Marriage Amendment Bill 2004 Greens offices across the country have received continual emails, letters and phone calls from people who are angry about this issue.

We received one from a mother in New South Wales who wrote:

As the mother of a gay son, I am finally doing something that I should have done a long, long time ago. That is to speak up on behalf of my son and his partner and all gay people regarding their basic human rights and their human dignity ... To everyone who wants to deny gay people their basic human rights and dignity—to these people I offer this challenge. Have the compassion and the humanity to sit quietly for a while and search your own heart and soul to see how you would feel if you, yes you, had been unfortunate (or perhaps fortunate) enough to be born as one of those `different’ people and try to truly understand how it would feel to have to face the obstacles that society will undoubtedly impose upon you ... Why deny the status of legal and accepted marriage relationship to gay and lesbian couples who are just as worthy of this same happiness as heterosexuals? Their love for each other is real, just as real as the love between a heterosexual couple and some of them may feel the need for a marriage union, as do many heterosexual couples.

Another email, from a couple in South Australia, said:

We are a same-sex couple and have been in a relationship since January 1995. On the 24th of February 1996 we had a commitment ceremony in front of all our friends, I wore the white fairytale wedding dress that I had always dreamt of, and after we celebrated with our friends with a dinner and honey moon. Sounds relatively common doesn’t it? But apparently our situation seems to embroil some politicians to the point of making a public point that we as a couple do not deserve the respect and right to celebrate and confirm our relationship in the eyes of the law. We cannot understand why, as tax paying citizens, who [have] always [taken] our right to vote VERY seriously, we are being treated like second rate citizens. We contribute a great amount to our society through employment, and I volunteer not only in the Gay and Lesbian community but also in the great community by running our local playgroup, chairperson on a kindy governing council, and now a member of the local school governing council.

So why don’t we have the same rights? Isn’t it about time we got out of the ignorance of what the minority, (yes believe it or not), believe is the abomination of same sex couples and how we are going to ruin the core of our society!! Don’t you feel that if we were going to do that we would [have] done it a long time ago!!

Our point today is to let you see very briefly that we are just a regular family, bringing up children hoping for the best, renovating our home, and sharing our lives with those close to us. We live in a democratic society where equality is fought for virulently, we wish that you think about your situation and think what it would be like to be told that your relationship (as much as you believed in it and worked at it) doesn’t count. You must tick the single box on any government paperwork, you can assume that your partner will not be automatically the person called if you have no next of kin assigned at a hospital, family will not accept your commitment ceremony papers because “the law does not agree”.

We live in a society that takes the laws of the country VERY seriously, and when something has been accepted by the government of the day we are more prone to allowing that to enter our conscience and often adapt and accept.

These are quotes from people who have had to endure years of successive governments trying to undermine the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

The report by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Same Sex: Same Entitlements identified discrimination against same-sex couples in 58 Commonwealth laws.

The Rudd government went to the election promising to act on the recommendations of this report and for that I commend them. But we still have no timeline.

How long will we have to wait before all Australians can enjoy relationship equality? Enough excuses. Australians want full equality for all - now.

The new government went to the election promising to act and remove all discrimination against same-sex couples - but not when it comes to marriage.

The Attorney General, Robert McClelland has attacked the ACT government’s Civil Partnerships Bill on the 6th of February this year stating that “the ceremonial aspects of the ACT model were inappropriate”.  In other words, same-sex couples can not celebrate their love and commitment in public, they must do it in the closet.

The Rudd government must put the homophobic Howard era behind us. Denial of relationship equality must not be used as a tool to pander to homophobic and fundamentalist interests. The new Rudd government can do this by supporting this bill and ending all discrimination against same-sex couples.

Enough excuses. Australians want full equality for all - now.

I commend this bill to the Senate.

Senator NETTLE —I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.