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Thursday, 20 September 2012
Page: 7440

Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (09:35): I would like to put on record my support for the intention of this Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012. I would also like to put on record my view that the Labor government, knowing that this bill will be voted down, is indulging in the worst sort of cynicism by bringing this debate on now. In the past, Prime Minister Gillard has refused to introduce legislation—for an example, on asylum seekers—when she did not have majority support. In this case, Ms Gillard has allowed the legislation to go ahead knowing it will be defeated. 'Hypocritical' is a word that comes to mind.

I have been very concerned by some of the speeches made in the past few days, trying to position gay people—or, for that matter, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex people—as 'other'. The big news is that gay people are just people: there are good gays and bad gays, rich gays and poor gays, gays who want to get married and gays who do not, gays who like footy and gays who do not, gays who want children and gays who do not.

I urge those senators who have not already done so to have a look at the Personal Stories section on the Australian Marriage Equality website. It absolutely proves that gay people are just people. There are photos on the website of young couples and old couples, tattooed couples and couples in business attire. The only thing these couples have in common with each other is their happiness at making a public and loving commitment. I would also add that this happiness gives them something in common with other, heterosexual, couples in Australia—but, and this is a huge 'but', not all heterosexual couples. Many married and de facto heterosexual couples are not in loving, happy relationships. Not all children in Australia are raised by a loving and kind mother and father. I know this may come as a surprise to some of those who oppose marriage equality, but it is true.

What also is not true are some of the ridiculous statements I have heard made as reasons to oppose marriage equality. My pick for the most ludicrous piece of pseudo-research is that lesbians have extraordinarily high rates of sexually transmitted disease because they are all wildly promiscuous, especially with men. That left me very puzzled. I would also query research suggesting that gay men and women have shorter lifespans than other Australian men and women. Even if this were true, so what? We can think of a number of reasons why this might be so. But, also, Indigenous Australians have shorter lifespans than other Australians and I do not remember that being used to advance a case to prevent Indigenous people from marrying. Certainly when the first national marriage act was being debated, in 1959, Aboriginal people in most Australian jurisdictions needed 'permission' to marry. And, of course, in earlier times, and still in some cultures, arranged and forced marriages were and are the norm.

It is interesting to note that in 1961 the Attorney-General at the time of the passage of the Marriage Act, Sir Garfield Barwick, said the main purpose was to:

Produce a marriage code suitable to present day Australian needs, a code which, on the one hand, paid proper regard to the antiquity and foundations of marriage as an institution, but which, on the other, resolved modern problems in a modern way.

I would argue that the bill before us today does a better job of resolving 'modern problems in a modern way' than changes that were made to the act in 2004 which added the first-ever legal definition of marriage in Australia as:

… the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.

It is telling that, at the time that this amendment went through, the government in 2004 said:

… this definition will remove any lingering concerns that people may have the legal definition of marriage may become eroded over time.

However, of course, many of our attitudes and beliefs change over time—if you like, are 'eroded' over time. I think the very liberal Sir Garfield Barwick would have been completely disbelieving to be told that in Australia in 2012 there is a woman Prime Minister openly living in a de facto relationship without comment. My view is that once civil marriages became accepted in Australia then governments in particular lost the right to use religion based beliefs to mandate the gender of those wishing to marry.

I would like to turn to the apparently vexed question of gay married couples having children. Right now, gay de facto couples can have children, as can married and de facto heterosexual couples and some singles. So it does not make sense to me to use children as an excuse to shut gay couples out of marriage. I will agree with some Christian advocacy groups that children are best raised by two parents in a loving and stable relationship. But that is not exclusively a man and a woman. Their gender and their marital status are, to me and to millions of Australians, completely irrelevant.

I would like to share a story about two married women I knew in Melbourne more than 20 years ago. One woman had three sons, the other had two sons. They knew each other because their sons attended the same local school. Gradually, over a period of years, these two women fell in love. Eventually they left their marriages and set up home together with their five sons. One of these women told me that she had known 'from the beginning' that there was something wrong in her marital life. She and her husband had even consulted a priest about their problems but had been told to persevere, and she had for many years.

These two women are just one example of the many, many non-heterosexual people who marry to try to meet their family's and their community's norms. I cannot accept that those five boys were not better off with two loving, lesbian parents than continuing as the children of two loveless, unhappy marriages. And I cannot accept that those two women should not have the right to marry, if they wish.

I support marriage equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. I also support the right of all religions to decide, as they can and do right now, the criteria for solemnising marriages in their churches and temples. During a Senate inquiry into the many marriage equality bills, one legal centre commented:

While marriage takes various forms across many different cultures and has assorted religious histories attached to it, marriages performed by the state are civil, not religious, in nature. It is imperative that religious interests are not privileged over the rights of all citizens to nondiscrimination and to be treated equally under the law.

But it is worth noting that 63 per cent of Australians currently getting married are married by a civil celebrant. If, as I have posited, gays are 'just like us', then it would be a minority who would wish to choose a church wedding if some religious groups were to make this available. I would add that there are already a handful of individual churches that do solemnise gay unions to the extent that is lawful.

One email that I received from Victoria thanking me for my open support of marriage equality read:

I may never wish to marry but to be told that I cannot access one of the most valued aspects of our culture says that I'm not truly a full member of that culture …

The desire to proclaim to your friends, your family and the community at large that this person is special to you beyond all measure is a very human one, regardless of whether that person is the opposite gender to you or not. No government has the mandate to declare a part of their electorate to be less than human. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people are people just like us and they deserve the same rights to choose to marry just like us.