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Thursday, 12 November 2015
Page: 8401


Senator MOORE (Queensland) (10:37): When I began speaking on marriage equality—the last time I spoke on this topic—I started by saying that it was an honour to be able to speak again on something about which I feel so strongly, and I feel that way again. It gave me the impetus to go back and look at the speeches I have made on four separate occasions in this place. Apart from the fact that it was interesting to see the environment in which those speeches were made and in which the debate we were having was taking place, it was reinforcing to see what I had previously put on record about this important issue. One of the things about working in this place is that you know that every time you make a contribution in this chamber it is on the record; it is part of history. So, you have to be sure and you have to be convinced about what you are saying.

I am relieved to say that my position is unchanged from the first time I spoke on this issue, which was under particularly difficult circumstances. It was during the debate when Prime Minister Howard as well as Labor's leader, Mr Latham, had made an agreement to insert the issue into the Marriage Act to ensure that the act would cover marriage between a man and a woman. At that time there was no conscience vote on this side of the chamber on the issue. I know there is now, but at that time there was not. For someone like me, who has always believed that two people who love each other—and I take the point that Senator Canavan made in his contribution, that love is but one attribute of forming a relationship—and make a strong commitment to each other that engages love as well as all the other aspects of any decision of this kind, such as respect and the sense of sacrifice that has to happen, and the true belief that they wish to form a partnership that is public in the community, would be blessed by their church if necessary but, most importantly, be protected by the legislation of their nation. If two people want to make that decision, they must have the right to do so.

I remember the deep trauma I had at the time I came into this debate, because I was not sure whether I was going to be able to get up and make a speech, because of the fact that there had been an agreement that the legislation that was then before the chamber would be passed and that our party would be part of a decision to entrench the restriction on any kind of same-sex marriage. I was wondering whether, given the way I felt, I could make a contribution to the debate. But I did, because I thought it was important to the people I cared about that I put on record how I felt, even though, in the final vote, our party would be voting in support of the Prime Minister's proposition. What I talked about that day was my deep concern about the level of vilification and hatred my office was receiving about the issue by email and mail. I was deeply troubled about that, and that trouble continues.

I am concerned that on this issue it seems that the discussion, the debate, the environment in which we operate is not an area in which people can exchange views reasonably and openly. When an issue is as sensitive as this one is, there is a great temptation for the arguments to degenerate into personal attack. Sometimes that happens in this place on other issues, but I have found, in the time I have been here, that this is one area that has caused great hurt, great pain and great difference of opinion which has gone not only to the expression of one's own opinion but has extended to attacking the people who do not share that opinion.

In my speech I talked about the fact that I was deeply worried about this view that people who have different views are not worthy of respect. I know it is a very dangerous thing to quote yourself, but I said:

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.

That continues to be my concern, and the reason I am stressing that in this contribution is that quite recently, when we had a Senate inquiry into the plebiscite bill, those same fears and those same worries came into the discussion. Whether we need a plebiscite or not is another issue entirely, and I am sure that will be addressed in this process. But one of the arguments that came up during that very interesting inquiry was the fear, both from people who strongly support the need to change legislation to have a vote on same-sex marriage and from those who actually take a diametrically opposite position and say that there should be no change to the definition of marriage, that they would be harmed, that there would be attacks made on them, that there would be language used that was hurtful and that could damage them and the people who care for them. That same fear was expressed by both sides of this argument at that Senate inquiry.

That is a really worrying situation to be in when an issue is to be debated before this place—and that vote will happen, hopefully while I am still in the Senate. But for the proponents of each side of the argument to both express that they are fearful that, through the debate, there will be unacceptable levels of hate and attack and that they will be damaged—if that is the expression of fear created for both sides of the argument—we have to look strongly at our processes and ourselves to see why this view is so real. I do not understand it. It would be much easier if I did. I do not understand why this issue has generated such concern and fear.

Many nations across the world are looking at the definition of marriage and confronting the reality that many people who are gay want to form permanent—or as permanent as any marriage can be—relationships and to have those relationships accepted by the state. It is not just a debate in Australia. We know that. We have seen these situations in numerous other countries across the world. In some places legislation has passed to permit a change and in some it has not. Nonetheless, the debate continues.

In the plebiscite argument that we have had, there was a great deal of quite worrying evidence placed on record about the Irish situation. The Irish situation has been used extensively as an example. Ireland had a referendum, because their constitution demanded that there should be one, and the referendum resulted in a positive outcome for people who wanted to change the definition of marriage to allow gay people to marry. That has been used in a very positive way by those of us who support that change. What I was unaware of is that exactly the same kind of fear and concern existed in the Irish community during the campaign around their vote as exists in Australia. That did not come out in the euphoria of people who accepted that result or in the joy that was expressed so clearly in the public. No-one can debate the media coverage showing the sheer joy expressed by numerous people in Ireland at the time of that decision. Even more importantly, the leaders of that nation, including church leaders, then made public comment accepting the result of the referendum. That is the really important point—you have a difficult debate; you get a result; and then the people involved in that debate and campaign publicly say that they acknowledge the result, they are prepared to live with it and the world will go on.

However, what I was not aware of was that—as shown in evidence that we received during our Senate inquiry—the same attacks, the same vilification and the same lack of reasonable debate occurred in the Irish community leading up to the referendum as has occurred here. Again, because of the sensitivity of this issue, people's ability to debate, as opposed to fight, was weakened by how strongly they felt about the issue. As I have said a number of times, I would hope that we could be able to conduct this debate in the parliament and in the community in a way that would minimise that situation—but I am genuinely not convinced that we can. If the emails I have received are any indication of community spirit, we will not be able to. The arguments in emails that I receive inevitably end up talking about some people having a greater right than others. That really is not the intent of the legislation.

In this place, we have been talking about the issues of genuine rights and same-sex marriage for over 10 years. The debate continues to have much of the same content. I do not believe that in this morning's discussion we will hear any new evidence or any new argument. What will be reinforced is that there are genuine differences of opinion. All I can do is express how I feel. I believe quite strongly that in Australia people must be able to make the choice to marry and have a same-sex marriage.

I know that people will say—I have seen the arguments—that the various civil union arrangements in a number of states, as was the case in Queensland for a short time before the state government changed, should be, to quote directly from some of the emails, 'enough for those people'. I think that phrase in itself indicates a lack of understanding and true respect, because we are not talking about a group of people who can be dismissed. We are not talking about a group of people in our community who are defined, according to some of the correspondence I receive, as a small minority who want to take over the Australian community. We are talking about people—people who are gay and who want to form a family relationship. But I am not just talking about their immediate families; I am also talking about the wider families and the friends, of whom I am one, of gay people in our community who celebrate the joy of people who make this decision. As I said before, I come from a large Irish Catholic family who genuinely enjoy a good celebration. I have been fortunate enough to be part of a number of celebrations of same-sex relationships where, before we have any legal entitlement to call their situation a marriage, we have definitely called their situation a marriage and we have celebrated with the same joy as we have done in any gathering that celebrates the decision of two people to form a permanent relationship.

I could go through all the stats—they exist—about the results of various surveys that are on record across the country. My view of surveys is that, for every survey that one side of an argument puts up, the other side of the argument will find another that says a completely different thing. We know that the parliamentary process to this point has encouraged parliamentarians to go out and talk with their constituents about how they feel. I believe that has truly occurred. I know that many of us in this place and in the other place have made real efforts to go into the community to listen to the various issues and to listen to people about how they feel.

In that case, what will come back to this place is that people will have different views on the issue—and that is what happens so often on things that come before the parliament. But I truly believe that, on this issue, there has been a distinct societal change in the last 10 to 15 years. There has always been an acceptance that there are people in our community who are gay. I think no-one could ignore that reality and, over the years, that has become much more accepted and openly discussed. I also believe that over recent years, as this debate about the issues around same-sex marriage has come more into the popular view, there has been a growing acceptance that this is a reality. Certainly in the community in which I work, there is almost a situation where people just say: 'Why hasn't this happened? Why hasn't the parliament reflected the views of the community that say this is just another part of our life?'

Senator Caravan talked about the acceptance of diversity and somehow made the argument that wanting to have as same-sex marriage bill in this place is against diversity. I do not agree with that comment. I believe that acknowledging that there is a place for same-sex marriage and families that have a different make-up from what has been considered traditional is exactly an acceptance of celebration of diversity in our community. One of the things about this particular bill is that it forces no-one to take action against their own will. There is nothing in this bill that says we are forcing people to take any action.

I know there is an ongoing concern—and it came up during the plebiscite debate—about the issue of civil servants, civil celebrants and also people who work in business. My view there is that, for people who are being paid by the government, they are actually doing the work that the government has enshrined. And should there be an approval of same-sex marriage, as I hope there will be, marriage celebrants, who are actually entrusted by the government to have that work, will have that opportunity to perform marriages and will be required to perform same-sex marriages if they are asked to. Often in this place we talk about the market, and in this case, the market rules: you advertise the services you are going to provide and people can choose to go to you for services or not.

Overall, I think that is a smaller area of the argument as opposed to the core issue brought again into this place to say how we feel about the need for a parliamentary vote on saying that we want to have same-sex marriage in Australia. I think there needs to be a free vote in our parliament on this issue. I think people should have the ability to represent their community in taking their vote. I do not think that the plebiscite process, which we have discussed in this place, is the right way to go. I think it takes away from the activities of parliament. It also means that this issue is different from every other issue that comes before the parliament—and I do not believe it is. But I do believe it is an incredibly important issue and it does divide people in this place.

Again, if we could only take some of the judgement and the hate out of the discussion and get down to thinking about exactly what it would mean to have same-sex marriage in our community we would then be able to move forward. The speeches I made in 2004, 2010 and 2012 all talked about the degree of hate that comes into our community and bemoaned the fact that this issue seems to continue to focus on how we are different rather than how we can work together. I know that, in the future, there will be more opportunities to speak on this issue and I just hope that, at some time, I will be able to say yes, we have been able to speak together and have a debate without attacking each other and making judgements on people in our community.