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Thursday, 20 September 2012
Page: 7507

Senator LUNDY (Australian Capital TerritoryMinister Assisting for Industry and Innovation, Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Minister for Sport) (13:52): Some critics seem to believe that legislating for equal marriage is simply a flight of fancy, a social experiment undertaken on a whim or change for the sake of change. Nothing could be further from the truth. The debate we are undertaking is important to Australians who want their relationships recognised as equal, and there are many of those among my constituents. They have written to my office, they have come in to speak to me and they have stopped me in the street. Some are people who have already spent lifetimes together and want their relationships recognised for the marriages they have always been; others come wanting to make a commitment to that same journey. All of them have stories about love and a commitment to a shared life.

It is the hope for a fairer and more welcoming Australia that resides at the core of these stories. That is compelling in itself; but this message has a much broader audience than those individuals seeking to make a commitment to one another. The most difficult of the letters I have received on this issue are from those who write about the devastating effect the discrimination embedded in our Marriage Act has on the lives of individuals, especially young people. Last year I received a letter from one of my constituents that captured this devastation, and I would like to quote from that letter. She wrote:

From a very young age I knew that I was attracted to girls, but I was also taught from a very young age that this was wrong. The only laws I knew was my fathers law and gods law, and they were one in the same. As the pastors daughter, not only was I constantly exposed to the hatred of LGBTIQ people, but I was expected to exemplify it. At first I thought I could teach myself not to be attracted to women. I kept a rubber band around my wrist, and every time I thought about a girl I pulled back that band and let it snap my wrist. This self corrective behaviour led to extremes of cutting and deprivation of food.

By the time I was in my early teens, I no longer had an answer. I had lost my faith and everyone around me seemed to condemn me for what I was, and it was something I knew I couldn't change. In the darkest period of my life, I often contemplated suicide and would regard it as my solace.

It is an awful story contained in this letter, but its themes are reflected in the experience of countless others. Another of my constituents shared his story, and I again I would like to quote from the letter I received. My constituent wrote:

I grew up in a small town in rural NSW and like most LGBTIQ people moved away straight after graduating high school. I came to Canberra which was a reasonably long way, but in the digital age it doesn't take long for news to make it back. In Canberra I learned to love and had my heart broken, I surrounded myself with loving friends and could finally be myself.

On a trip home in a university break I went out to the pub where I'd worked the summer after high school. Whilst having a beer with my sisters I was made to understand through threats of violence that people like me were not welcome there, that my sexuality which they had 'discovered' over social media made me unwelcome in a place I'd once been employed. The guys behind the threats had been acquaintances and school mates for years. It was difficult, but it only confirmed something my teenage self knew intuitively, that there was no space for me to be fully myself in a town that I had spent 18 years of my fife growing up.

Marriage equality isn't that important to me personally now, I know the value of my relationship now. It is none-the-less important. Equality in our laws would have been a message to my teenage self, and the countless other young people who live their teenage lives scared and isolated in rural and regional Australia, that it was those few people who made my town unliveable and not me that was wrong.

Changing the Marriage Act will not make all people equal in the eyes of the entire community.

These amendments simply remove the discrimination from our laws. They speak clearly to the young men and women who have expressed their view that their government does not believe the messages they are hearing in their communities. This may not seem like a big deal to some, but it has been at the heart of the majority of the letters I have received.

So many of the people who have written to me have done so to tell me that the message of discrimination that these laws send has had a profound effect on them, on their friends and on their family. They want to see relationships of their loved ones recognised not only in the name of equality but also to ease the burden on those who are struggling with the same discrimination in their lives that is currently reflected in the Marriage Act.

So I stand here today to tell them that they are not second-class citizens and that the law should reflect that. I support equal marriage because I want to see a better Australia, an inclusive Australia and an Australia that does not discriminate according to who a person loves. My constituents want to make that Australia real—real for long-term gay couples, real for the lesbian couples raising their children, real for the teenagers coming to terms with their sexuality and real for the parents who simply want to walk their child down the aisle. So I will continue to fight for equality, and I believe this fight will not be stopped. In my maiden speech to this parliament I stated:

The Australian Labor Party stands for the political and social values of equality, democracy and freedom. These are the principles that I bring to the Senate.

I am very proud to be continuing that legacy today in the context of this current debate.

In conclusion, I want to reiterate my support for marriage equality. I believe this debate still has a way to go, of course. But I think the process of bringing this bill, the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012, before the Senate and the bill as it was debated before the House is a way in which to progress some of the fundamental issues that we are contemplating in the course of this debate.

Debate interrupted.