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Thursday, 12 November 2015
Page: 8395

Senator LEYONHJELM (New South Wales) (10:08): I rise to support the Greens Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2013. I welcome the continuing efforts of various parliamentarians from the Greens, Labor, the coalition and the crossbench to push along freedom to marry. I support amending the Marriage Act to allow two people the freedom to marry regardless of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity. My support applies regardless of how this is achieved and who seeks to champion the cause.

People have a right to disapprove of same-sex marriage. They do not have a right to use the power of the state to impose that view on others. In the past, various states have denied Aborigines the freedom to marry who they like, for much of Australia's history. Sometimes there was disapproval of Aborigines marrying Aborigines, as this was thought to help sustain the purely Aboriginal population. And sometimes there was disapproval of Aborigines marrying non-Aborigines. Thankfully, such disapproval is no longer reflected in the law. When the disapproval of Aboriginal marriages was jettisoned from marriage law in our Federation, the concept of marriage was unharmed and, indeed, was bolstered. When we finally jettison disapproval of same-sex marriages from our marriage law, the concept of marriage will be bolstered further.

In a perfect world we would achieve same-sex marriage simply through this parliament amending the Marriage Act. Making decisions about such legislation is our job. However, for practical reasons I am not opposed to the issue of same-sex marriage being put to a plebiscite. I am confident it will be a thumping result in favour of same-sex marriage. And it could be that this approach delivers same-sex marriage sooner than relying on the two houses of parliament to reflect the views of the Australian community.

There are concerns about having the straight population voting on other people's rights, and the plebiscite will bring out a lot of vile campaigning. A file in my electorate office bulges with correspondence from individuals who opposed the Freedom to Marry Bill I introduced in the Senate last year. Some—but not much—provides polite arguments about the definition of marriage. Much more is vile abuse. Some has had to be referred to the authorities. Annabel Crabb planned to feature some of the fruitier correspondence I have received on this issue in one of the 'Letters from Constituents' episodes she did as part of the latest series of Kitchen Cabinet. This was not to be. I think I can guess why. Kitchen Cabinet is G-rated. My letters from constituents are not.

However, it is also true that, now Malcolm Turnbull is Prime Minister, my original fear—Tony Abbott sabotaging the plebiscite process—will not come to pass. I had visions of a question so convoluted it made no sense, or something absurd enough for a Monty Python sketch—perhaps from the hallowed halls of the Philosophy Department at the University of Woolloomooloo! Despite my reservations about voting on other people's rights, I do think that, if we are stuck with a plebiscite, we should hold it at the same time as the next federal election. Holding the plebiscite at the same time as the next election has two advantages. The first is that we save $160 million of taxpayers' money—what the AEC advises a stand-alone plebiscite would cost. The second is there will be less of a spotlight on the issue, and we can moderate the worst excesses of the people who have taken the time to write me so many lovely, lovely letters so far! Elections are always about a range of issues—same-sex marriage would be just one among many. I commend the bill to the Senate.