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Wednesday, 12 November 2008
Page: 6698

Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (12:39 PM) —I want to begin by congratulating the four speakers who contributed before me today to this debate on the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—General Law Reform) Bill 2008. It is a very great indication of the way Australians want to eliminate discrimination wherever it may raise its head—on this occasion, on the basis of sexuality. It is indeed a major historic change that is being ushered through this chamber today. For as long as there have been laws written in this land, there has been discrimination against people on the basis of their sexuality. In fact, it increased during the 20th century in some aspects and led to a counterproductive effect right across society. Where you do have discrimination, you have harm and hurt—you have people’s lives changed forever and people’s opportunities truncated or taken away from them forever, and that affects everybody who comes in contact with those people.

I have lived long enough as a gay member of the Australian community to have seen enormous changes: from the period when it was a crime, at least for male homosexuals, to have a loving relationship, which was punishable by many years in jail, to this historic day, where discrimination on the basis of sexuality is being removed from the statute books by the parliament. I congratulate all parties who are contributing and who have worked so hard towards this. I want to mention my former colleague, Senator Nettle, and, indeed, former Democrat senator Sid Spindler, who brought comprehensive legislation into this parliament in the mid-nineties, and now here we are, more than a decade later, where the result of that legislation is, finally, about to pass into law.

I note that Senator Obama, President-elect of the United States, expressed his wish that everybody should be treated equally—including gay and straight members of the American community—in the opening paragraph of his speech on victory night. It shows that there is a global move—in a world where, in countries like Iran, people can still be murdered officially for their sexuality—to end this repugnant discrimination which is still so repressive of so many people who share this planet with us. But here, today, we can celebrate this move.

I want, however, to add emphasis to Senator Hanson-Young’s call for a free vote on the amendment the Greens will move to make this completely the end of discrimination—and that means to remove the prohibition on marriage for same-sex couples. This was legislated in 1994; it is time that was removed. And the discrimination will continue until that is removed. What is it that should prohibit people who love each other from being able to demonstrate that love through a wedding ceremony, if they wish to—a marriage ceremony in front of their friends, their loved ones and the community—on an equal basis with every other loving relationship? It is not until that discrimination is removed that we finally will be in a society that can say, ‘We promote, equally, loving relationships, and the rights of children in those loving relationships to feel they are equal in every way with other members of the community.’ There is a job there yet to be done.

I have written to both the leader of the government, the Prime Minister, and the leader of the opposition today, calling for a free vote on the amendment which would remove this discrimination against same-sex couples when it comes to marriage. I hope that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition will allow such a free vote. It is a matter of morality and ethics. Indeed, the whole of this legislation is about that. It is time we moved on to end that form of discrimination in this great country of Australia, which has led the world on so many innovations for the betterment of society in the past and which is taking part in that movement today. Let us not make it 95 per cent; let us make it 100 per cent.

Debate interrupted.