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Wednesday, 16 August 2017
Page: 5791

Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (12:53): Today I want to send a strong message to Australians who support marriage equality. I especially want to send a strong message to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex people throughout Australia's communities because, right now, we're feeling disheartened by this government's plan to conduct a postal survey on a question of our fundamental rights. My message is this: this postal survey is unfair, illegitimate and wrong. We should not have to go door-to-door to ask for our partner's hand in marriage. We already know that we have a majority of votes in the parliament to get this job done and we know a majority of Australians are in favour of marriage equality. We do not need a postal survey to tell us that. It's why a Labor government has committed to introducing a bill to change the Marriage Act within the first 100 days of a Shorten Labor government. But we must be clear about this: those who are against equality in the Liberal Party are using this postal survey as a ruse to stop the parliament from moving forward. It is ridiculous. The only reason the right of the Liberal Party want this postal vote is that they want to delay the inevitable. They don't believe in equality. They do not believe that I or even my child or the LGBTI community as a whole should have the same rights that they do.

The MPs who pushed for this plebiscite, who are against marriage equality, have refused, indeed, to be bound even by its outcome. So, while they call for a public survey, they cannot even be trusted to act according to the wishes of the Australian people. Ultimately, in any case, it is this parliament that must vote to make marriage equality happen, but that should happen without this ridiculous survey that has been set up with so many obstacles in its path to a positive outcome. It has been set up with excuses to say hurtful, untrue things about families across the country. Those out there against marriage equality aren't talking about the mutual commitment between couples to love, care and support each other 'until death us do part'. That's not the argument that the opposite side of the debate is engaging in. Why? Because Australians, overwhelmingly, recognise that same-sex couples have those attributes already. The debate we are having, which has already begun, is not actually about marriage, and that is the most disappointing thing of all.

Sadly, we've seen those opposed to marriage equality make targets of the most vulnerable in our community with arguments that rainbow families are illegitimate, that marriage should somehow prescribe who has children in this country, that marriage equality will cause more people to change their gender and that marriage equality will mean schools can no longer teach their own religious values. None of these statements are true. They are ridiculous. What this shows is that those against marriage equality have lost the substantive debate. They don't want to talk about marriage. They want to create fear about LGBTI families, claim religious freedom is being limited, when it's not, and stigmatise people who are already dealing with discrimination in relation to issues of gender identity. They know they're on the wrong side of history.

Nevertheless, the things that they say are deeply hurtful, harmful and stigmatising. I don't have time in this short ten minutes to address them all, but I will touch on one that is very close to my own heart. Decades of research confirms that children do best in families with loving parents regardless of whether those parents are straight or gay. LGBTI people have been successfully parenting in Australia since there have been families. Our families have always been here, but it's only more recently that we've been more visible. Marriage equality won't change this, but it offers a much stronger security and belonging for all families. My own son is growing up in a rainbow family surrounded by loving parents. I hope for his sake, and for the kids of other rainbow families around Australia, that this hurtful survey does not go ahead and that it's rightfully knocked out in the courts. It's entirely unfair that the LGBTI community and our families should be singled out for special treatment by this government with this unfair postal survey. It can't possibly be fair to exclude some children from the security that comes from marriage. To invite such a debate about the status and legitimacy of people, families and children is a shameful thing to do.

I can tell you that my feelings about these issues did not start because I'm gay myself and they did not start because I'm a mother. They were set in the schoolyard as a young child when my brother, who was almost exactly the same age as my son is now, was called a bastard. My mother and stepfather were not yet married and those words hurt; I didn't really know what they meant, but I knew they were bad. This is the kind of debate in schoolyards and in our community that this government is inviting through this postal survey. We should not be dragging the status of children into this debate.

I highlight that the Marriage Act is outdated in so many ways. It not only excludes same-sex couples; it includes provisions that deem children to be 'legitimate' if their parents are married. The Marriage Act needs to be brought in line with the views of the 21st century. It needs to be brought in line with the full diversity of all Australian families, be they blended families, single parents, rainbow families, married couples with children, foster parents or grandparents raising children. We are all wonderful, diverse and valid families.

So our Marriage Act needs to be changed. That does not need a postal vote or a plebiscite, but if this postal survey does go ahead, the only way to respond is with a resounding yes vote. We will not let those who are against equality win. I ask the Australian people to enrol to vote if you are not already enrolled, check your address and make sure you're enrolled at the address where you currently live, tell your friends to do the same, and then vote yes for equality.