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Thursday, 20 June 2013
Page: 3498

Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (09:51): I rise today with somewhat mixed emotions to offer a few comments on the Marriage Act Amendment (Recognition of Foreign Marriages for Same-Sex Couples) Bill 2013, because it does bring me a great deal of distress that this parliament has failed to make progress on this issue and that we are debating today a somewhat compromised version of what should be full marriage equality. My views that all couples, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, should have access to marriage are well known. I have repeatedly stated my strong support for full marriage equality both inside and outside parliament and have campaigned on this issue in the community. I have argued passionately for equality on this issue on the basis of both my personal experience and equal treatment and fairness for all Australians. That equal treatment and fairness for all Australians is the driving force behind my political engagement.

I was very, very pleased and proud when the government, under then Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, moved to ensure that certificates of no impediment would be issued to Australian same-sex couples wishing to marry overseas. It is clear that many couples who are, sadly, unable to access marriage here in their home country of Australia have availed themselves of those certificates and gone overseas to marry. Many thousands of couples have done so and, as more and more countries put Australia to shame by introducing marriage equality, those numbers are going to continue to grow, as we can see from the recent moves in New Zealand. I was speaking to a friend just this week who is planning to go to New Zealand to get married at the end of this year.

There is no doubt that Australia's ongoing nonrecognition of same-sex marriages legally entered into overseas by Australians imposes unnecessary hurt and hardship on these couples, and I have some good examples. My friends Judith and Angela recently emigrated to Australia. They are making a wonderful contribution to our nation. They found the process of demonstrating the existence of their relationship for immigration purposes was significantly more difficult, due to the fact that the one piece of paper that clearly and categorically recognised their relationship—namely, their marriage certificate—was not recognised by authorities here. Then there are my dear friends Daniel and Bryan, who got married in South Africa; Jo and Nova, who got married in Canada; and Stephen and Dennis, whose overseas wedding I missed due to parliamentary sittings and whose reflections on the importance of having their relationship recognised I would like to share with the Senate today. They say:

We both went overseas thinking the ceremony was all about us, but half way through the ceremony we looked around and realised that the public recognition of our love and commitment was as much, if not more, important to our family and friends, many of whom had travelled to the other side of the globe to be with us. It is absolutely important that the country we choose to call home also recognises our commitment as well.

So, to the extent that this bill succeeds in allowing couples like Judith and Angela, Stephen and Dennis, and many thousands of couples like them to have their relationships recognised, I welcome the bill and urge senators to vote in favour of it. I fear it will not be successful, because marriage equality will only succeed when all parties in this parliament work together to see it done. We require more consensus-building across parties and cooperation between members of the parliament to see this reform through—and we are a long way behind community expectations on this issue, a very long way behind, and it is time for people in this place to catch up.

I would hope that Mr Abbott would allow the coalition to have a conscience vote on this issue. That would give this bill a much better chance of success. As I said, in order to achieve marriage equality in this country, we will need to work across the parliament and move beyond treating this as an issue designed to score political points. LGBTI Australians are not your political playthings. Our relationships are not to be used as political footballs, and we expect better than this. So I implore the Greens, the Nationals and the Liberals, particularly those of you who have said to me that you are committed to achieving marriage equality: let us work together across the parliament and across parties to see this done.

I call on Mr Abbott to give the Australian people some confidence that the country can move forward on this issue. Mr Abbott, the man who earlier this year assured the Australian community that his faith would never dictate his politics, has stubbornly refused to allow members of his party the right to follow their conscience, whatever it might say on this issue. The party of individual freedoms seems to be entirely devoid of that conscience when it comes to this issue. What is the Leader of the Opposition afraid of? He has said his party would consider allowing a conscience vote after the election, but I have no faith that this represents any kind of commitment at all to allowing his colleagues to express their views on marriage equality on the floor of this parliament. This is no position to take to an election; it is not a position at all. I know that there are many members of the coalition who do support marriage equality, so the position of the Leader of the Opposition is simply a matter of weasel words designed to buy the coalition some space on an issue on which they are woefully out of step with and very, very far behind the Australian community. It is time you caught up, because this issue is not going to go away.

We see more and more members of parliament—of this and the other place—come forward to express their views in favour of marriage equality. Indeed, I am very pleased to see that the state of South Australia looks like it is going take further steps in support of marriage equality. LGBTI Australians and their families are not going to stop advocating for their full rights under Australian law until those rights are achieved. LGBTI Australians are going to keep getting married; they are going to keep getting married overseas and they are going to keep getting married at home here in Australia. They have the right to expect that those relationships will be recognised in just the same way as those of other Australians are. As an LGBTI Australian myself and as a member of this place, I am not going to stop fighting until our equal rights are achieved. To the extent that this bill moves us a step closer to marriage equality for all Australians, I commend it to the Senate, but I also look forward to the day when we can debate and have a genuinely free vote in this place on a bill for full marriage equality for our nation—one that is supported by members of all parties in this place—then it will have a fighting chance of success.