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Monday, 10 September 2012
Page: 6421

Senator CROSSIN (Northern Territory) (15:48): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to this bill.

Leave granted.

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

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

I am proud to be here today to present this bill that amends the Marriage Act to establish marriage equality in Australia. I believe in the institution of marriage. Marriage is not only a private, mutual commitment of love and friendship between two people—it is also a public recognition of this commitment, bringing with it important social, cultural, psychological, administrative and legal benefits to a married couple. It is a joyous occasion, a celebration, a custom recognised by the many cultures we have in this country.

Yet in Australia it is an exclusive institution. Despite marriage being about the pledge of love, friendship and fidelity between two people, it excludes many Australian couples who hold those values from participating in this institution simply because of their sexuality. Australians do not tolerate discrimination based on race or religion or ethnicity or sexuality. And still we have Commonwealth law, about a fundamental social and legal institution, that in its very meaning entrenches discrimination. Time and time again studies show that this type of inherent discrimination is a significant contributing factor to poor mental and physical health outcomes.

Legislating for marriage equality would nurture inclusion and acceptance for same-sex couples, and their family and friends, in society. There is also strong evidence from psychologists indicating that marriage equality would lead to improved mental and physical health outcomes for the LGBTI community. Since coming in to government in 2007, the Labor Party has changed a range of laws to give same-sex couples equality in areas including tax, social security, health, aged care and employment. But almost equal is not equal. Discrimination based on sexuality is still discrimination. And refusing to legislate for marriage equality in a secular, egalitarian society such as ours is morally wrong.

This bill makes some very simple changes to the Marriage Act. Firstly, it changes the objective of the Marriage Act to be more inclusive, stating that the act ensures all adult couples have equal access to marriage, irrespective of sex, who have a mutual commitment to a shared life. It also changes the definition of marriage to 'the union of two people, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered in to for life'. This does not fundamentally change the definition of marriage—its essence, the commitment of two people to each other, to the exclusion of anyone else, is still there. In keeping with the objective, where the word 'husband' is used it is replaced with the word 'partner', and where the term 'a man and a woman' is used it is replaced with 'two people'.

This bill also inserts a new paragraph in to section 47 to make it absolutely clear that the Marriage Act does not impose an obligation on ministers of religion to solemnise a marriage of a same-sex couple. This is an important provision—Australians enjoy constitutionally-protected freedom of religion. The separation of church and state means marriage is a legal contract in the eyes of the state, and can be either religious or civil in nature. Ultimately, the state should not force any minister of religion or marriage celebrant from solemnising a same-sex marriage, and this amendment makes that clear. Marriage as a practice and an institution in society has evolved over time.

Simply stating 'tradition' as an argument against marriage equality is not good enough—marriage 'traditions' have changed over previous centuries. Marrying to purely prevent children from being born out of wedlock, for financial security or as part of a contract to guarantee an empire, whether monarchical or commercial, were also considered traditional marriages that have thankfully evolved and are no longer the norm.

It is time the Commonwealth Parliament of Australia truly represented its people and legislated for marriage equality. We agree that discrimination based on sexuality should not be tolerated simply because it is tradition. We will no longer condone the notion that your relationship is less worthy than mine, simply because you are a same-sex couple.

We have listened and we are acting. I commend this bill.

Senator CROSSIN: I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted.

Debate adjourned.