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Thursday, 20 September 2012
Page: 7493

Senator CAROL BROWN (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (12:57): I am one of the proud sponsors of the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012, which we are debating here today. We support marriage equality. We believe in marriage equality. We do this because we believe in fairness, justice and equality. We must demonstrate that we value everyone in our society in equal measure. Amending the Commonwealth Marriage Act to ensure equal access to marriage for all adult couples, irrespective of sex, who have a mutual commitment to a shared life will ensure that gay and lesbian Australians will have nothing less than the full privilege of citizenship. As Martin Luther King Jr said, 'The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.' This change is coming and, if we are not successful here, this campaign will not end here. We will not stop until we have equality.

A majority of Australians support marriage equality. A majority of those who have Christian faith have also said they support marriage equality. Australian people understand that this is a matter of providing equal rights to all Australians. This is a matter of ending discrimination. The Australian people understand that the current law is unjust. The Australian people understand that the current law discriminates. The Australian people understand that everybody is entitled to fair and dignified treatment under the law. We must reflect the wishes of the majority of Australians and do what is just and what is right.

There is support for marriage equality on all sides of federal politics, and I hope that through the Australian parliament marriage equality will be achieved. I belong to the ALP. The ALP, at its heart and its core, believes that all of us have the right to a full and fulfilling life. That is a challenge. It was a challenge when the ALP was created and it is a challenge now. We are not always going to agree on what is meant by a 'full life' and we are certainly not going to agree easily and comfortably about how to achieve it.

I believe we have to act; and, if we want to be true to our own beliefs in fairness and equality, either all human beings have the same rights or none of us have any. That is what believing in human rights means—not rights for men but not for women, for whites but not for non-whites, for Christians but not for Jews or Muslims, for heterosexuals but not for LGBTI people. Anything else is unfair. Anything else relegates some people to second-class status. It is time for Australia to allow same-sex couples to marry.

It is greatly to the credit of the Australian Labor Party that under a federal Labor government we have passed legislation to allow same-sex couples and their children the medical, superannuation and tax concessions previously unavailable to them. I am proud of that. We did what we thought was right and fair. It is time to move again.

Having a full life means having the right to love and means having the right to follow your heart. For some people that never involves marriage. For others it must mean marriage. It is the way they declare and swear their love to the world. They want to enter into a union acknowledged by the state to which they belong as adult citizens. For me a marriage is a commitment between two adults who make this choice together. The quality of their marriage will depend on their personal commitment and determination. Not long ago people believed that people of different religious beliefs should not marry, because that could not be a good marriage. In a good many places that claim to be civilised people of different ethnic backgrounds were forbidden to marry. It was said that civilisations would fall in such marriages if such marriages were allowed. Somehow, miraculously, civilisation has survived. It is time for the next step.

It is time to amend the Commonwealth Marriage Act to allow for marriage equality. What is the problem? That gay and lesbian couples love each other? That they want the same rights as heterosexuals? Why is that a problem? If we accept that same-sex couples have the right to have sex together and live together, why on earth shouldn't they have the right to marry? Some say it is because marriage is a special institution. They are right; it is. That is all the more reason to extend the right of access to that special institution to same-sex couples. Opponents of this bill point out that marriage has always been associated with procreation, but it is also true that there has always been procreation without marriage and that there are LGBTI couples who have children and who want those children to be raised within a married union.

Families come in all shapes and sizes, all creeds and colours. Like the rest of the population, LGBTI parented families are diverse. Family members come from a variety of ethnic, racial, cultural and socioeconomic groups. The main difference between same-sex parented and heterosexual parented families is that same-sex parented families face legal discrimination and prejudice which heterosexual parented families do not face. In this debate in this place those opposing marriage equality have argued that they are doing it to protect children. In fact, I believe they are doing entirely the opposite: they are discriminating against the children of same-sex parents. A vote for marriage equality is a vote to protect and promote the rights of children.

Children deserve the relationship between their parents to be legally recognised. Extensive research on gay, bisexual and transgender parented families highlights that the number and sex of adults in a household has no significant bearing on the children's wellbeing. It is the happiness of the relationship between adults in the household and the openness and warmth of communication between the adults and the children which have the major impact on the child. This shows that strong, happy, caring relationships where parents love their child is what is important, not the gender or sexuality of the parents.

Our families are complex. Happy children are raised in households where there is only one biological parent or where neither parent is a biological parent, and there are unhappy children raised by two biological parents in lawful marriages. We have known for a long time—for centuries—that procreation is not the prime purpose of marriage. Who would tell a loving couple without biological children of their own that their marriage is not a true one? Do we tell people who cannot have children that their marriages are meaningless? Do we require them to divorce if there are no children? If we are civilised human beings, we honour their relationships because we honour their love.

There are those in this place considering voting against this bill because they believe it is their duty to protect the institution of marriage. Though they are entitled to their views, I ask them to deeply reflect on what true marriage really means. What is at its core the institution of marriage? We are privileged to live at a time and in a country where marriage is entered into and defined by love. This in the context of history is only a very recent development. In past times marriage was a transactional relationship based on the transfer and inheritance of property, to continue a family line or to shore up ethnic or religious identity. If we think of what marriage means in Australia today and what we wish marriage to be, we think of words such as partnership, kinship, union. We think of two people bound together by love and a shared commitment to one another who want to share a life together. Surely the addition of people who love one another, who care deeply for one another and who wish to express this to each other and the world by entering into the institution of marriage serves only to make this institution stronger.

Some say that legalising same-sex marriage would normalise homosexuality. Is there something wrong with that? Do we really want to send to LGBTI people the message that their sexual preferences make them abnormal people marked out as less acceptable than others? Haven't we learned anything from the misery that was inflicted on countless people for generations for the crime of loving differently?

It has been argued that same-sex marriage negates what marriage is and what it is for, as though everybody everywhere has always agreed on this. There have been many times and places where marriage was a property arrangement depriving women of legal existence. That view of marriage is not worth protecting. The understanding of marriage that is worth protecting is that of a loving union between consenting adults. In the case of same-sex marriage there is more than consent; there is a passionate belief in the institution of marriage and in the commitment that it involves.

Difference often creates fear. I understand that. But we should not be ruled by our fear, and the state certainly should not encourage it. It is time for the Australian state to have the same degree of social acceptance of same-sex marriage as the Australian people. It is time to help LGBTI Australians enjoy full human rights by showing that the Australian state acknowledges and respects their right to form a legal union.

Hell has not broken loose in Canada, Norway, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands or in any other state or nation where same-sex marriage is allowed. Some say that, while hell has not broken loose, there is no need to allow same-sex marriage. Why don't they just live together? Why bother with marriage? I think the answer to that is very simple: because they love each other and they want that love given official recognition and protection. There are people for whom marriage does not matter—lots of them: men, women, straight, gay. Nowadays, most of us are not concerned when unmarried people live together. A few decades ago, they were told that they were 'living in sin'. People also said that society would be destroyed if people believed they had the right to have sex before marriage. People counted back on their fingers if a child was born fewer than nine months after a marriage. Harsh words were said.

Gradually, we came to know better. If someone told you now, in shocked tones, that a child had been conceived out of wedlock, you would wonder what was the matter with them. Perhaps you would tell them that times have changed and that what really matters is whether or not the child is loved and protected. Perhaps you might also point out that this is not an area where any of us really wants to live in the past. For those with open hearts and minds it is time to honour the love of same-sex couples.

I wish that people whose hearts and minds are closed would have the experience that I have had of meeting with the parents of honourable, decent men and women who love, with all their hearts, people they are told they cannot marry. These parents are members of PFLAG: Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. They love a daughter or a son who is lesbian or gay—and they wish that we, here in the Australian Parliament, would allow that child the same right to marry as their heterosexual children, because they love them equally and they cannot understand why we treat them differently. They want all their children to live their lives with openness and dignity, to have the same rights and opportunities.

In this debate there have been some who have peddled the lie that the move for marriage equality is a push by 'militant lobby groups'. This type of argument was used to demean other movements throughout history—movements like the suffragette movement and the civil rights movement. We now look back on leaders of these movements as heroes, people standing up for what is right and affecting change for the better. Supporters of marriage equality are made up people of all backgrounds. When we look to the voices that have joined the call for marriage equality, we see teachers, doctors, nurses, labourers, office workers and police officers. We see mums, dads, sisters, brothers, neighbours, friends, strangers and our parliamentary colleagues joining together. This is a grassroots movement, a call for justice and equality. And I add my thanks to the Rainbow Labor network, particularly the Tasmanian branch members Robbie Moore and Matt Hastings for their friendship, advocacy and hard work.

As parliamentarians we can no longer deny some Australians the right and opportunity to marry because of outdated ideas about who constitutes a suitable marriage partner. It is time to understand that, although there are many things from the past that we need to conserve, attitudes towards same-sex marriage are not included. Those attitudes do not serve the greater good. They serve only to keep narrow minds closed. If we remove the impediments to same-sex marriage, the only walls that will tumble down are the walls of prejudice and bigotry. They are the walls screeching at us: 'I don't understand you because you're not the same as me. And because you're not the same as me, you're less than me. So your love must be less than my love, less worthy of respect, understanding and acknowledgement.'

An amendment to the Commonwealth Marriage Act will ensure that Australia remains a country which promotes equality, fairness and dignity for all its citizens. For me, as a member of the Australian Labor Party, belief is not enough, and I am here to promote fairness and dignity. Everybody, all Australians, are entitled to fair and dignified treatment under the law in equal measure. That means it is time to change a law that serves no moral purpose, that serves only to discriminate against people who have done nothing wrong. The same-sex couples watching what we do and say here respect marriage as an institution. They should be allowed to marry if they want to.

Marriage will survive. Indeed, it will be strengthened. Australia will survive. It will be strengthened, too, by showing that we truly believe in respecting all citizens. I urge you all to think deeply about the core principles of our fine country. I urge you all to reflect on the meaning of justice, the meaning of fairness, the meaning of equality, the meaning of love, because, when it comes down to it, that is all this is. It is very, very simple. It is saying to all Australians that, in the eyes of the law, we have all the same rights, we are all equal.