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Thursday, 20 June 2013
Page: 3495


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (09:31): It is a great honour to stand here today and speak in favour of the Marriage Act Amendment (Recognition of Foreign Marriages for Same-Sex Couples) Bill 2013. We have had many debates about removing the current discrimination against same-sex couples in the Marriage Act, discrimination which prevents same-sex couples from having their love recognised under federal law. Today's bill focuses on a very specific part of that discrimination—discrimination against couples who are legally married in other countries. It needs to be pointed out that this discrimination was only inserted into the Marriage Act as recently as 2004. Until then, this ban did not exist.

There are countries all around the world where it is now accepted that marriage equality is not a threat to the institution of marriage. Indeed, marriage equality is a way of building on the very strong foundation of the institution of marriage and of progressing as a fair and equitable society. It is worth pointing out that the debate in the United Kingdom has been led by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron. Same-sex marriage has been legal on Canadian soil for many years now. There are various states in the US where same-sex marriage has been legalised. Most famously of those, New York legislated for marriage equality just under a year ago.

Our own closest neighbour, New Zealand, legalised same-sex marriage just a few months ago. New Zealand is only three hours away and, since the historic announcement by the New Zealand parliament of that exciting move to adopt marriage equality, we have seen thousands of Australian couples book their tickets, book their photographers and start organising their suits and wedding dresses in order to get married legally in New Zealand. When the legislation passed through the New Zealand parliament, it was such a joy to see the love, respect and celebration which filled the chamber. People were singing with joy about the fact that, finally, same-sex couples were to be treated equally under the law—that the law was going to recognise their love.

So Australian couples can fly three hours to New Zealand, land on New Zealand soil and have New Zealand give equal legal recognition to their relationship, only then—after the celebrations, getting back on the plane, flying home to Australia and disembarking at the Sydney international airport—to have to check in their marriage at the customs gate. It is almost as if it should be on that little piece of paper they give you telling you what you have to drop into the quarantine bin when you walk through the customs gate—'fruit, cash amounts over $10,000, gay marriage'. That is how ludicrous it is that here in Australia we do not legally recognise the laws of one of our closest allies.

Couples from Australia are organising to have their weddings in the City of Love, Paris, because France recently adopted marriage equality. There are few other places which evoke the same connotations of romantic love and there are few more romantic settings for a couple to have their loving relationship recognised than under the Eiffel Tower. Again, however, they arrive back home in Australia and find that we do not recognise the laws which France upholds. We do not recognise the legal institution that exists in that country.

Many thousands of couples here in Australia have already taken these steps and made their vows to each other, many in front of their friends and family. Some, however, have not been able to do it in front of their friends and family, because they have had to travel long distances—often to the other side of the world—just to have their relationships considered equal under law. The relationship status of these couples is not legally recognised in their home country, in the country that they love.

This legislation is a step towards marriage equality in Australia. We know the majority of the public support that. A large percentage of the population believe it is inevitable that marriage equality will become legal here in Australia—that finally, one day, same-sex couples will be able to have their love recognised like everybody else. Until then, even those couples who are already considered legally married in other countries are not considered to be married here. Dr Kerryn Phelps, who many people would know as the former AMA president, has been married to her wife for 15 years. Her and Jackie live happily with their family in Sydney—they live in every way as a married couple. And they are legally married in many places around the world, but not here in Australia. Kerryn and Jackie have been married for 15 years, yet in Australia they are not considered to have been married for even one day. We need to change that.

This is not just morally the right thing to do; it is the right thing to do to clear up a bureaucratic nightmare. They are marrying not just because they want to see their love for each other celebrated in a formal way through marriage but also for the security that comes from the recognition of their union—insurance, immigration rights, a variety of issues in relation to property. It is a symbolic act, yes, but it is a very important symbolic act. It is important within a community to be able to say that you are in a married relationship with your partner, but it is also about giving these couples certainty and security in putting their lives together, building their lives and wanting to spend the rest of their lives together. It is not just about progressing the rights of LGBTI Australians—although that is very important—it is also about the individual security and assurance of each of the people in a relationship.

As I have said, thousands of Australian couples are already in this predicament. It was not until 2004, when John Howard as Prime Minister effectively did a dirty deal to get the legislation changed to ban same-sex relationships, that legal same-sex marriages in other countries were no longer recognised here in Australia. It was a change of the law then and this bill is changing it back. It was the wrong thing to do in 2004 and it is the right thing to do now in 2013.

This issue has been debated in this place and in the other place consistently over the last three years and with that the public's support for equality in marriage has grown. We have seen a change of heart and a change of mind from many not just in the community but also within our chambers of parliament. Conservatives like Barry O'Farrell, the Liberal Premier of New South Wales, have come out in support of same-sex marriage. If a Liberal Premier can allow his view to evolve, and a former Prime Minister such as Kevin Rudd, who is a forthright Christian, can allow his position to evolve, if they can open their hearts and open their minds, then surely the bulk of our chamber here today can do that as well. Recently on a plane I was talking about this issue with Jeff Kennett, a former Premier of Victoria. Jeff and I, as you can imagine, do not agree on a lot of things—but on this issue I could not fault him. He said to me: 'I thought about this issue, I considered the facts, I listened to the experts and I thought, "What the heck, who am I to say that somebody else's happiness is not as important as my own? Who is the parliament to say that just because of somebody's sexuality, just because they happen to be in love with somebody of the same gender but are equal in all other ways, their love and their happiness should be denied?"' I have been reflecting on that conversation ever since, because it is an important illustration of how far our community has come in speaking up for this change in the law. They want it done and dusted.

This is, as I have said, a halfway house. It is a step towards marriage equality. It is not full equality, and I accept that. Many of the countries where marriage equality has finally become law took this step first—the step of recognising marriages that had taken place in foreign lands. Neither Israel nor Japan allow for same-sex marriages to be performed on their home soil, but as a gesture of goodwill and understanding of other countries' sovereignty they are good enough and big enough to recognise the laws of other countries that do believe that same-sex marriages are legal.

It strikes me as strange that people would not want to support correcting what is becoming a bureaucratic nightmare: couples getting married overseas, thinking that their relationships will now be recognised and understood, only to return home and finding that their marriages are null and void. Here in Australia, we have the power today to change that and we should be changing it. We should act today. We have debated this issue a long time in this chamber and I have enjoyed listening to the speeches from both sides. I accept that there are some people who feel very strongly about this on either side. But I am encouraged every day because every day I hear stories about somebody else supporting the idea that love is love and that equality matters. I am encouraged that our younger generations do not understand why we have this discrimination. If we can accept that women have equal rights and that people in interracial relationships can be legally married, they cannot believe that in 2013 Australia should be standing in the way of this type of equality, which is fundamentally important to the relationships of same-sex couples but also to strengthening the institution of marriage.

We will hear views in this place today from those who are strongly opposed to removing this discrimination. We will hear today that marriage is only between a man and a woman, that that is the way it has always been and that that is the way it should stay. That argument does not acknowledge that social institutions, and important institutions that as communities we take hold of and own and hold up with such pride, do change over time. The institution of marriage has always been changing. The fact that we allow Aboriginal women in Australia to marry white men has not always been the case. Yet to think that today we are standing against the type of discrimination of a couple in that circumstance seems ridiculous. No-one would argue that that is the right thing to do in 2013, just like in years to come when people wonder what took Australia so long to accept that love between two people regardless of their gender should be seen as equal. I reflect on the conversation I had on the plane.

Who are we to stand in the way of two other people's happiness, to make them feel as though their relationship is somehow less equal than other people's just because they happen to be gay or lesbian? There are thousands of Australians who are sitting in hope today that their friends, their family, their loved ones and their work colleagues will finally be able to have the relationship with the person they love recognised as equal.

This debate has come so far in the last few years and it is down to the hard, tireless work and very heartfelt stories of family members and friends of gays and lesbians right around this country who have advocated for the rights of their loved ones to be seen as equal. What about the parents who knock on our doors in this place?—we all know them. They knock on our doors and sit in our offices, and they say, 'Why is it that my gay son does not have the same rights as my straight son?' 'Why is it that my sister does not have the same rights as me?' Why is it that, despite bringing up our children to believe that they can be all and anything and make the world whatever they want, that they are equal in all ways, when it comes to one of the most fundamental unions as human beings that we make with another person, that is not equal and they are not given the same rights?'

When I have those meetings with family members in my office, all I can reflect on is that there is goodwill amongst the Australian community to rid our law books of this discrimination and that there is growing support for this change to happen, and it is finally being reflected here in this place. I urge all members today, regardless of what your leaders have told you, to think with your hearts, open your minds and vote the way you know is right. Do not let anyone say you do not have the right to speak up for what your constituents want, for what you know in your heart is the right thing to do just because your leader has told you to stay put. This is your chance to make a difference before the next election to show the Australian people that you do not have a tin ear on this issue, that you indeed will stand up for what is right and have the courage to do the right thing.