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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26542

Senator MOORE (3:57 PM) —In my comments this afternoon I want to concentrate on the process surrounding the debate on this piece of legislation. I have been deeply saddened and worried by the process surrounding the introduction of this legislation. In some of the letters and emails—most of them amazingly similar—that have been received in my office over the last few weeks in strong support of the definition of `marriage', there has been a common theme, and that is protecting the sanctity of marriage. There seems to be a real concern or fear that any acceptance or understanding of a union beyond that of a man and woman will automatically devalue or threaten current marriages. I personally cannot accept the proposition that any external factor should or would threaten a relationship that has been freely given and is the result of genuine respect. That is my concept of marriage. The expectation that this legislation affecting others—as the people who have written these particular letters to me clearly identify—relates only to those who are different or not blessed with their own sense of belief and will impact on the sanctity, legitimacy and value of a personal commitment makes no sense to me. Rather, this view reflects the distressing atmosphere of exclusion driven by fear and sometimes, in 2004, an almost amazing ignorance.

The zeal of people and groups in promoting the belief in what they call traditional marriage has in some cases crossed into real vilification and personal attack. I have been deeply sickened by comments and public forums allegedly based on the reasonable effort to raise awareness or promote certain beliefs, often using the word `family'. As a community we genuinely value the concept of family, and when arguments are made or literature is distributed which focuses on love, trust and special relationships with children many people are attracted, feel an automatic warmth and are drawn to accepting the credentials and goodwill of those promoting the ideas and values.

Sadly, during the debate on the legislation there has been some confusion and even some deliberate attempts to demonise gay and lesbian people and to create an atmosphere and an environment where somehow it is acceptable to judge, exclude and hurt people whose relationships do not fit the definition of `marriage' that these people believe in. Perhaps I should not have been surprised, because personal relationships, particularly with the addition of religious beliefs, cause strong feelings and reveal deep convictions and experience. However, that anyone, even in our own Parliament House, would make outrageous statements about homosexual people still manages to shock me.

When we have been able as a community to accept change through previous sex discrimination, racial vilification and affirmative action legislation why can we still seem to accept blatant attacks on gay and lesbian people? Recently, through the commemoration of 20 years of sex discrimination legislation, we were able to take time to think back over the achievement of change—and the years since, protecting those changes in our community. Now there seems to be, in many ways, a general acceptance of the principles of equity. Although there were always some people or organisations that disagreed with any change—and they will probably always remain unconvinced—the dire predictions about the impact of equity legislation in the eighties have just not been fulfilled.

In debates which were held during the eighties significant concerns were expressed publicly about the impact on families and the traditional roles of men and women. Some of us in this chamber were part of those debates. However, the decades have proved that the community has come to accept the principles that individuals can have the choice and the freedom to make their own decisions in their workplaces, in their homes and in their lives. It seems that the world did not end but somehow the people of the world got greater responsibility and greater choice. The people who, during the 1980s, raised their voices in fear about equity seem to be in the game again now. I am concerned that the level and tone of the debate could become—and maybe has become—more vicious, focused and dangerous. I do not want to be part of that fear. I firmly believe that the community has the right to openly debate issues about values, religious beliefs and life. I do not believe that any issue or value, including marriage, gives any group or individual the right to attack or exclude a person based on sexual preference.

I am concerned that this debate on marriage is only one element of a wider debate that will not be concluded when this piece of legislation is concluded. Those people who wrote the letters and the emails based on fear will continue to agitate for change and will still be afraid. The total lack of respect for people called `others' or `them' will not disappear; rather, the fight will continue. In this process I believe that the members and senators in this parliament have a really special responsibility.

The Australian Labor Party are committed to review all the legislation and to identify and remove discrimination against gay and lesbian people. We will work to uphold our belief that Australians are entitled to respect, dignity and the ability to participate in our society and to receive the protection of the law, regardless of sexuality or gender identity. This will not happen automatically, as the same people who have been agitating against legislation will be there, and the fear and the hate will have to be faced down.

Any organisation which considers that it is appropriate to verbally attack and intimidate young Australians who are gay does not represent the principles of respect and family that I and my family value. Any organisation which publicises that all gay people are sick, have an illness or are child abusers, or any group that descends in their publications to vicious labelling and personal abuse, does not argue for any family based community that I believe in. I hope that, as the level of awareness grows in our community, we will respond to the simplicity and the tactics of fear evidenced in arguments focused on gay people.

While this debate is important and very formal I am personally overwhelmed by the experience of some of the people who have been damaged by these attacks and by the wider acceptance of the legitimacy of that process. Why is it considered okay to demonise some people? Where is the outrage and the anger when it occurs? It seems to be far too easy to create fear and to convince good people that somehow their rights and the things that are important to them are threatened or damaged by the acceptance of change.

Where is the threat? How can the acceptance of genuine equity be harmful or impact on individual beliefs or the freedom to make choices? There is no legislation proposed to force anyone to give up personal beliefs or to enforce behaviour. I hope that in the ongoing debate—and there will be an ongoing debate—our community is strong enough to accept that any argument based on fear must be immediately questioned. I hope that the people who have been so threatened by proposals to legislate for equal rights in the past will be able to openly consider the experience and the expectations of all members of our community. I hope that future debates on legislative change will be less affected by hate and fear and instead be informed by a genuine concern for inclusion and increased awareness. I know that the acknowledgment of the rights of some does not automatically mean harm or threat to others.