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Thursday, 23 August 2012
Page: 6295

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (17:10): I rise today to speak in favour of the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010. I also point out to the senators in the chamber and, of course, to those who may be listening to this debate that this also includes amendments that have been circulated since this bill went through a very thorough Senate inquiry. The report of that inquiry determined, in order to put at ease some of the concerns in relation to religious freedom, that the bill be strengthened in that area. That would ensure that for those who want to make sure churches and religious groups can continue to marry those whom they feel they would best like to are able to do so without being impinged upon by any of the changes that this bill would inflict on the Marriage Act. The ability has always been there for religious organisations to determine who they marry and who they do not. We have churches making that decision on a daily basis. The circulated amendments suggest that there is no doubt that that is the case under this bill.

The main purpose of this marriage equality bill is to remove the current discrimination in the Marriage Act so as to clearly allow for two people, regardless of their gender, regardless of their sexuality, the legal right to marry. This is a campaign for true equality within the Australian law. It is something that has been fought long and hard, not just here in Australia but also around the world. We know that country after country continues to take up this very, very important cause, putting truth behind the belief for equality for all.

If this parliament were to agree to this bill and to pass it into law, we could take advantage of the strong opportunity that we know exists for same-sex couples in the Australian community who desperately want the right to marry under law. The parliament could take the opportunity by both hands to make a reform that the majority of Australians believe in. The majority of Australians now agree that marriage equality's time has come. Poll after poll has proven that there has been a shift in the mindset of the Australian community to accept that true equality must include the amendments to the Marriage Act to allow equality to reign in love. That is what this bill proposes to do.

I spent this morning with the Hinton family, a local family here in Canberra. Ivan Hinton and Christian Teoh desperately want their love and their relationship recognised under law. This lovely couple, surrounded by their mums and dads, their brothers and sisters, and even their aunts, were in Parliament House today advocating for their right to have their marriage legally recognised under Australian law. They had to go to Canada to marry and when they arrived back in Australia their marriage was no longer valid. They would have loved to have been able to marry in the country that they love, but because of the current discrimination another couple have had to go overseas to be accepted for who they are. This is the reason that we need to amend the Marriage Act.

I had someone send me a message this morning. They asked: 'Why is this even a matter of debate? This should be a matter of love. This should be a matter of equality. Why is it that in 2012 we are still debating the true essence of equality?' A very good question. The answer is that this place has taken so long to catch up with the will, the compassion and the desire for equality that already exists in the Australian community. The key in this debate is this: how would allowing same-sex couples the same rights as everybody else diminish the institution of marriage? Clearly it would do nothing to diminish the institution of marriage. In fact, if anything it would strengthen the institution of marriage. When we see such questions from opponents of true equality who point to what this would do and how this would undermine people's marriages, the truth is that it will not do that, will it? This is about allowing couples to marry each other, to have their love recognised under federal law and to ensure that our parliament and our federal legislation treat all people equally. Cupid does not discriminate and neither should the law.

Marriage is about two people in a committed and loving, lifelong relationship that has nothing to do with their sexual orientation or their gender identity. It is now time for this parliament to recognise that removing this discrimination that currently exists is not just long overdue but inevitable. We know that the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott, continues to block his members from having a free vote on this matter. I hope that in the weeks and months to come, those within the Liberal-National coalition who I know support removing this discrimination will be able to have their voices heard and their desires for equality realised, and be able to voice the opinions of their constituents.

We also know that the Prime Minister, despite her own party's policy on this, continues to lag behind and sit on the wrong side of history, despite the fact that other world leaders have taken the great step to accept that it is time for marriage equality to be realised. We have seen it with the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom. Prime Minister David Cameron says that he supports marriage equality, that he wants to see the love and relationship of a committed couple recognised in his country's law. He says that he supports marriage equality not despite being a Conservative but because he is a Conservative. He believes that the strength of the institution of marriage, the strength that it gives and the importance that it gives to community must be something that is inclusive of all couples.

We have seen Barack Obama, the President of United States, who was once a staunch opponent of marriage equality, change his view. He has seen the desire of the community and the acceptance of the next generation to ensuring that equality for all must be real. You cannot just pretend it exists; you must deliver it. Barack Obama has been very open and upfront about the fact that his view has changed. That is the type of leadership that we should be seeing from our leaders here in Australia.

Rather than being left on the wrong side of history, rather than lining up with the Tea Party of America, Tony Abbott should line up with members of his own party in supporting marriage equality. Julia Gillard has the opportunity to show what a progressive leader in this country looks like. She has the opportunity to not be the last Prime Minister in Australia to block such an important social reform. Marriage equality is inevitable. It is simply a matter of time. Those of us in this place and outside this place who have fought long and hard for these reforms would prefer not to have to waste more time because our leaders are so staunch in their opposition to marriage equality and so blinded by the desire for change from our communities. I am reminded of the very serious and harmful message that is sent to the young people in our communities when the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition say that because of someone's sexuality they are second-class citizens. That is the reality of the message that is being sent.

Every time our Prime Minister is on national television saying that marriage is between a man and woman, her view will not change and everybody else should get over it, that negative message comes through. But that message is wrong and should not be allowed to exist in 2012, in modern Australia. It is time we got rid of it. What is most important is that as elected representatives in this place, the custodians of justice under the law, we fight for equal rights regardless of who a young man or woman happens to love. The message that we need from our leaders is that young gay and lesbian Australians' love is equal. They are equal under the law, and their families understand that they are considered just as everybody else is. These are young people, older people and in-between people who defend our country, who care for us, who clean for us, who teach us, who entertain us, who pay the same amount of tax as the rest of us, and yet this piece of law as it currently stands says that they are not equal.

I put it to the Senate that it is time we rid Australia of his outdated and archaic discrimination. There are 12 countries in the world which have moved to take hold of this important reform and there are many more soon to follow: the United Kingdom, Brazil, France, even our Kiwi brothers and sisters in New Zealand. The Conservative Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key, said that he backs marriage equality and it will become law in New Zealand.

I want to remind us of a little bit of history. In the 1960s in the United States, a brave black woman appropriately named Mildred Loving and her white husband, Richard, launched a class action against the state of Virginia. Mr and Mrs Loving had been tried for and convicted of inter-racial marriage and they decided to take a stand. The case went to the US Supreme Court, and in 1967 the court ruled that the laws were discriminatory. They were overturned, and Mildred's and Richard's prison sentences were overturned.

It is little known that in Australia we had very similar laws where we discriminated against the love of two people because of their race. Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland once had Aboriginal protection acts that included provisions allowing state officials to determine who Aboriginal people could marry and who they could not. On 13 August 1959, in the midst of debating Australia's first national Marriage Act, the House of Representatives erupted in furore at the news that an Aboriginal woman had been denied permission to marry. In Darwin, the Protector of Aborigines had refused Gladys permission to marry her fiancé who was white—his name was Mick. In response to questions from the opposition, the Menzies government promised that such discrimination would never be written into Australia's federal marriage law.

We have been here before. We have seen reform properly legislated for in this place and an acceptance of and trust in and compassion for and belief in the strength of love. This is a chance to do it all again for the right reasons, to rid legislation of discrimination that does exist and to allow people in Australia, regardless of their sexuality, their gender or their cultural background, the right to marry the person they love. We know that we can move on from the dark days of history and we can correct mistakes of the past. This is an opportunity to take the things we know are right and put them into practice. The Australian community overwhelmingly supports this reform. Senators in this place and MPs in the other place have been inundated with letters, phone calls, emails and visits from many, many Australians—those who are in homosexual relationships, those who are in heterosexual relationships, those who are mums and dads of adult children and who want to have their sons' and daughters' rights recognised in law.

There is huge support for marriage equality in Australia, and the parliament that gets it right, the parliament that can take hold of this need and desire for and belief in equality, will be a parliament that the Australian public congratulates wholeheartedly. We know that support for this reform crosses all boundaries—cities, suburbs, regional areas, the bush, as well as the various political parties. The majority of coalition voters support marriage equality. The majority of Christian Australians support marriage equality. We have had representatives from various religious organisations and churches walk the halls of this place asking us to give all Australians a fair go by ensuring that the institution of marriage can be strengthened for evermore and that the strength that marriage gives families can be recognised by this parliament.

The importance of allowing two people's relationship to be understood and defined by the universal language of marriage and love is something that MPs in this place should grab hold of; they should stand tall and accept that we are doing a good thing. The majority of Australians believe that this is the right thing to do, and more and more people agree that this change should happen.

The fight for marriage equality is not going to be won and lost in this place; it has already been won out there in the Australian community. It is now up to this place to recognise that, unlike some issues, where we are leading the way, in this one, unfortunately, we are following. But we can turn that around and accept that if Cupid does not discriminate neither should the law. Love is love and equality does matter.