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Monday, 21 November 2011
Page: 9027


Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (16:29): I am on record in my first speech to this chamber declaring my support for marriage equality in this nation. I do believe it is time to move forward on this issue. Notwithstanding that, though, clearly it is a question that is currently being debated within the Australian Labor Party. I am very pleased with the progress that the ALP has made on so many issues confronting GLBTI Australians—issues that we have acted on and addressed. But we have an important opportunity at our national Labor Party conference to move forward on this question. Labor has a very proud record of removing discrimination against GLBTI Australians, and I believe we will move forward on this question also.

I have been very proud to work with Rainbow Labor, which is a grassroots organisation for GLBTI, which stands for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Labor Party members and supporters. The aim of this organisation is full equality for the GLBTI community. We are keenly calling on the national conference to move forward on the question of marriage. The national conference is the federal ALP's highest decision-making forum and approves the national platform, which outlines our policies and principles. Because of that, I am bound by our party's current platform and policy. It is important to recognise that we have made progress on so many of the issues confronting GLBTI Australians because of the binding nature of our agenda and because we have historically viewed that these issues of rights and equality are not a matter of conscience but a matter of substantive rights that all Australians should enjoy. That is why this conference is so important.

As someone who has been denied the right to marry, I know how disappointing it feels and I, like many thousands of other Australians, was deeply disappointed when in 2004 the Marriage Act was amended. There are a great many people in the Labor Party, Labor supporters and people right across the community who feel the same way. I would like to share with you some quotes from some of these people:

My parents are married, my brothers are all married, we have a large happy extended family. My partner and I have been together for over seven years, we have a beautiful daughter Matilda and we would like marriage equality.

…   …   …

It's time for marriage equality. It's time for same sex relationships to be respected and acknowledged as equal in society and in law. It's time to end this discrimination.

Another quote:

My parents are in their 60s and still married. I am a divorced father of 1, having been married for 13 years.

…   …   …

It's time for marriage equality because we're Australia! Lesser countries have had marriage equality for years. I mean, are we *really* sure that we want to be behind South Africa on social policies like this?! If the land of the apartheid can do it, we certainly should. Arguments such as 'traditional marriage' that my local (Liberal) MP has is nonsense.

And another quote from a couple:

My partner of 19.5 years Mal and I are treated in every other respect, by our families friends and colleagues, as a couple. But we can't marry.

…   …   …

Put simply—we are behind the time with the rest of the civilised world, the choice should at least be available to us …

This quote from two women who have lived together for 18 years is particularly touching:

We own our own home, work for Queensland Health, and pay our taxes. Our son is 21 years old and gainfully employed and has a steady girlfriend. During our time in Queensland we opened our home to children in foster care and have done voluntary work with disabled young adults. Our belief is that everybody is born equal and should have equal rights.

Why do I think it is time for equal marriage? It is time to climb out of the Dark Ages; it is time for change. I feel that more energy should be put into promoting safe, happy and loving environments for our future generations. The gender of parents should not be an issue. It is about love, it is about commitment and it is about basic human rights.

Full equality under the law is something that any progressive society should strive for. In a secular society, the right to marry one another as consenting adults should be a right without restriction. Marriage is a deep seated ritual in the public consciousness that confirms the community's acceptance of the union between two individuals. In the end, all that GLBTI people want is to feel accepted.

I challenge some of Senator Joyce's remarks about the determination of gender and how absolute such things are. I ask this chamber, through you, Madam Acting Deputy President: what if you are of indeterminate gender—of no gender at all? Does that mean you have no right to marry anyone? That is the current situation in this nation. It is an appalling thing. It is also an appalling thing for those married couples with children where one partner wants to change their gender. Because of the Commonwealth's discrimination, such people are denied the right under state laws to change their gender. They are denied protection under state anti-discrimination acts because of the Commonwealth's discrimination. As a result, you are pretty much asking committed, functional families to divorce in order that someone be entitled to get their gender recognised. So when you talk about the absolute nature of a man and a woman for the purposes of marriage you are actually talking a nonsense because gender is a far more fluid thing than is generally understood by people in this chamber. So it is an important time for this nation to be discussing and confronting this question of marriage equality. It is not simply an issue of same-sex marriage; it is an issue of equality for all adult couples in terms of who they seek to form a committed and loving union with. I for one am very much looking forward to our national conference in December, where I will have the opportunity to call on my party to change its position on this question. It is a question I think we will be able to move forward on. Why? Because the Labor Party is a party that has always stood for progress, for equality and for the future.