Title Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs
12/04/2012
Database House Committees
Date 12-04-2012
Source House of Reps
Parl No. 43
Committee Name Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs
Page 48
Questioner CHAIR
Bandt, Adam, MP
Smyth, Laura, MP
Stone, Dr Sharman, MP
Responder Mr Greenwich
Mr Koonin
Ms Argent
Prof. Phelps
Mr Croome
Mr Raj
System Id committees/commrep/d4627e5a-48ef-42e7-9297-d772ce9bdf14/0006


Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs - 12/04/2012

ARGENT, Ms Shelley, National Spokesperson, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays

CROOME, Mr Rodney, Campaign Director, Australian Marriage Equality

GREENWICH, Mr Alexander Hart, National Convenor, Australian Marriage Equality

KOONIN, Mr Justin, Co-convenor, NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby

PHELPS, Professor Kerryn, Representative, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays

RAJ, Mr Senthorun, Senior Policy Adviser, NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby

[15:31]

CHAIR: Please note that these meetings are formal proceedings of parliament. Everything said should be factual and honest, and it can be considered a serious matter to attempt to mislead the committee—and even though it is late in the day, that is hard to do. Would any or all of you like to make a brief introductory statement before we move to questions? We might start on the right—I cannot be accused of always starting on the left!

Mr Greenwich : Firstly, thank you all for the opportunity to appear before you for this very important and historic reform. We all stand before you as people from various backgrounds, as educated people, successful in medical, legal, family, human rights and small business areas. We are all citizens who have grown up in different places—in the country, in the city. We come from different faith backgrounds. We represent a community who contributes equally as citizens to this country but who are not treated equally by the laws. When you look at us you will see some suited-and-booted professional-looking people, but what you do not see is the struggle that, like many gay and lesbian Australians, we have gone through. The struggle is made worse by laws that say that gay and lesbian Australians deserve less respect, deserve less rights and deserve less dignity, and one such law is the Marriage Act.

Marriage is a celebration in the journey of life that unites one person with the person that they plan to spend their life with. This celebration and this right is denied to gay and lesbian Australian because of who we are and who we love. This is despite the fact that most Australians and lots of faith groups support this. Today I know that you have heard from lots of organisations talking about the various legalities, the various religious perspectives, the various human rights perspectives.

If I can talk as an individual for a moment. In one month I will get married to my partner. This is a celebration that I am really looking forward to. I unfortunately have to go overseas to marry my partner, Victor. I have to go to another country to give me more rights than the country that I am a citizen of. I have done all the planning and I have done all the preparation for that marriage. I have organised the cake, am practising the dance—

CHAIR: Do you have the wedding song chosen?

Mr Greenwich : I have the wedding song chosen.

CHAIR: Can I ask what song you are going for?

Mr Greenwich : It is a tango. It is a traditional, classic tango. It is a dance that originated between two men, so we are going with that theme. We have done all the planning. We have done all the preparing. But what I have not prepared myself for is the heartbreak I am going to feel when I return home to my country and to have that marriage legally void, to have the respect and dignity that Argentina and all those other countries have afforded me worth nothing here. As much as I look forward to that celebration, I am not sure how that moment will be, at the airport, when I arrive back home to the country that I contribute to as a small business owner and as someone who heads up a human rights group.

I will let the others speak. You and your parliamentary colleagues have a real, historic opportunity here to right a wrong, a wrong that says gay and lesbian Australians deserve less respect and less dignity. We hope you take that historic opportunity and we hope you take your findings back to your colleagues.

CHAIR: Would anyone else like to make a contribution before we move onto questions? Mr Koonin.

Mr Koonin : Thank you and thank you for the opportunity to appear before this inquiry. I would just like to note, with some sadness, the quote by Reverend Dorothy McRae-McMahon, which you will find at the top of page 4 of our submission. Dorothy McRae-McMahon is a retired Uniting Church minister. She is in her late 70s now. She is a recipient of the Australian Government Peace Award and the Australian Human Rights Medal. She said: 'I waited a long time to find my true self and the love of my life. I will be with her until death do us part', and the quote goes on. Death did part Dorothy McRae-McMahon and her partner, Ali Blogg. Ali died last week after a long battle with cancer. Dorothy could not be here today—she is still preparing for the funeral—but I spoke to her on the phone last night and she was delighted to be able to lend her voice to this hearing.

I just want to take a moment to acknowledge the love between Dorothy and her partner, Ali, and the love of all the couples out there whose relationships will end in this way—without formal acknowledgement—before this law changes. What we are asking for is a recognition of the depth of our relationships and the dignity of our sexuality. That is being denied to us in the current situation.

Mr BANDT: This is an open question to all of you. I am wondering if each of you can expand, from your own perspectives--either personal or through your experience more broadly—about the effects of continued discrimination. Putting aside the arguments about the formalities and legal rights and equality, which were very well canvassed, could you talk about the effects? For example, there is a submission we received from Psychologists for Marriage Equality that points out the mental health difficulties, if I can say that euphemistically, facing same-sex attracted people. It makes the point that they believe this will go some way towards addressing it. It is obviously not the sole answer. Could you each expand on the effects of continued discrimination?

Ms Argent : As a parent of a gay male I feel it is extremely unfair to have this discrimination. As most of you would know who talk to me when I am in Canberra, I always tell the story: 'I have two sons. One is straight and one is gay.' We have other parents here today who are in a similar position to me. Our gay children are equal in our family. We love them equally. They are not a lesser or rare species, they are just our equal children and are equally loved. What I find difficult is: it does not matter how much money you have, it does not matter what education you can provide your children; it does not matter how much love and support you can give your children, especially when they are gay; it cannot make them equal and it cannot make them feel equal. My son, fortunately,—

CHAIR: Just returning you to the question: it is the damage, particularly.

Ms Argent : The damage—that is what I was just going to make comment about. My son does not suffer the depression, but he feels that he has to work twice as hard to be seen as half as good. In his job he also feels that, if he fails at something, it will automatically be assumed that it is because he is gay. I think this is so unfair. I really do believe that, if they were seen as full, equal citizens, including the right to marry, it would make a huge difference to him.

CHAIR: Ms Argent, is your son still in the police service?

Ms Argent : No, he was in the police service.

CHAIR: That was a while ago.

Ms Argent : Yes. Now he is working in Sydney.

CHAIR: Would anyone else like to respond to Mr Bandt's question? Thank you, Professor Phelps.

Prof. Phelps : I want to thank Mr Bandt very much for his continuing interest and advocacy on this issue. It is so very important to those of us who it directly affects and to those of us who it indirectly affects. In terms of my view on this issue on the mental health impact of discrimination, I think it is very well documented that any level of discrimination has an adverse mental health impact, particularly on young people who are developing their identity and their sense of self.

I can speak from a personal point of view and I can speak from a professional point of view. I have been a GP for over 30 years and I have been a president of the Australian Medical Association. We considered it such an important health issue at the time, back in early 2000, that the AMA, under my leadership, put forward the first position statement on gender and sexual identity and discrimination. One part of the position statement was quite clear on any legislation that proscribed equality. The medical profession, broadly, and the psychological profession, broadly, recognise that any level of discrimination is damaging at virtually any age. We have heard today the sad story of Dorothy McRae-McMahon's partner dying as an elderly person without having had their marriage recognised formally.

On a professional level, I see people of all ages all the time saying that they feel so discriminated against in Australia that they feel compelled, like Alex and like me, to travel overseas to formalise in a legal sense our partnerships. Regardless of how strongly you feel and how much you love your life partner, the person you have chosen to spend your life with, anybody who gets married, gay or straight, will tell you that it feels different when you get married. Initially on a personal level Jackie and I originally travelled to New York in 1998 before marriage was legal in any country—the first country being the Netherlands in 2001—and we had a religious service then, which was recognised by our faith when we came back to Australia and recognised by our friends and family. That was enormously important to us and it was enormously important to our children. I have three children. I have two adult children and I have a child still at school. It is very important to them that their parents are married and are seen to be married. They consider us married. We went back to New York last year when the laws changed in New York State and we were legally married there. We literally had 14 years between the first part of our marriage and the second part of our marriage, whereas most people do it all in the same day.

I am suspecting and hoping at some point that there will be a chapter 3 to our marriage journey which will involve some form of legal recognition in Australia. Until then we will continue to fight not only for ourselves but for other Australians to be recognised because of this mental health issue and because it is just plain unfair that we are treated differently when we are, to all intents and purposes, absolutely not different. I know that the suggestion has come up of a second-rate version of marriage called 'civil union'. I think that would be—and I think I would speak for everyone at this table—absolutely unacceptable because, again, it would enshrine a second-rate recognition of our relationships. I think it would be the wrong signal to send to young people to say, 'You may well aspire to a lifelong relationship with whom you fall in love, but the state will not recognise you as equal.' I believe I can also speak at least for everyone at this table that the battle will go on if there is any kind of second-rate relationship recognition introduced.

CHAIR: I should stress, Professor Phelps, that that is outside the ambit of this inquiry. We are looking at two bits of legislation particularly.

Prof. Phelps : I understand that. But the suggestion certainly does come up from time to time. I believe that the debate has moved on from there. The signal that would come to Australians across the board if we were to institute marriage equality in Australia is a very powerful one. It is one that will say to young people growing up: 'We recognise that, regardless of your sexual orientation or your gender identity, the person that you love will be recognised as being as important as any other person's love relationship.' There is abundant psychological literature to support that.

Mr Croome : Just to carry on from Professor Phelps's statement about the psychological evidence there, Mr Bandt, you referred to the submission from Psychologists for Marriage Equality, which contains a lot of very important, relevant and current research on this issue. I was very impressed when I read it and was keen for it to be part of the evidence. One thing I think may be missing from the submission—and maybe it was not included because it is so obvious—is why discrimination in marriage has such a profound impact on the mental health of same-sex attracted people. I know I was quite surprised when I read the statistics from the United States comparing states with same-sex marriage bans and those without. In states with same-sex marriage bans, same-sex attracted people were 248 per cent more likely to have an anxiety disorder.

We are not talking about removing another piece of discrimination. We are talking about removing discrimination—this is why it has such a profound impact—in that piece of legislation that gives us the only universal understanding we have as a society, the only universal language we have as a society, for expressing love and commitment. Everyone knows what a husband is, what a wife is, what a spouse is. It may not be the language that everyone speaks but it is the language that everyone understands. Everyone knows what marriage is and they know that marriage is the ultimate validation of the love and commitment of a couple.

In the Psychologists for Marriage Equality submission, they talk about minority stress and the negative messages, the stigma, the message about defectiveness that same-sex attracted people receive. Those messages are not about the defectiveness of our intelligence or the defectiveness of our bodies; they are messages about the defectiveness of our relationships, about our incapacity to love and to commit—precisely those things which marriage validates. So there is a direct relationship there—a very particular relationship—between discrimination in marriage and the psychological harm that this discrimination does, more so than I think other forms of discrimination, even legal discrimination, that same-sex attracted people might experience.

Mr Raj : I add to these discussions by highlighting the kinds of social effects or harms that occur when you have legislated forms of discrimination. Particularly we cannot underestimate, as Mr Croome has rightly pointed out, the kind of privileged status that marriage occupies in our society. It is more than simply conferring legal rights, entitlements and responsibilities. It offers couples social and cultural currency, and we cannot underestimate just how important that is for older Australians, for younger Australians, for Australians from diverse cultural backgrounds. I sit here as an immigrant from Sri Lanka. My family is from a culturally diverse community. They want me to have the exact same entitlements to respect and dignity that they were entitled to as heterosexual people, as a married couple.

I certainly think Australia has been leading the way internationally about combating discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. We often lambast other countries that vilify and persecute and harass people. We accept refugees from countries where they could be put to death for their relationships, yet we still entrench in our laws discrimination that effectively states that our relationships are less than, or should not be as valuable as, heterosexual relationships, and the social consequence of that is facilitating homophobia. When you talk about same-sex families as being less valuable than heterosexual families or same-sex couples being less valuable than heterosexual couples how can you make a claim to being a truly multicultural society that values and respects all people regardless of their sexual orientation? How can you do that when our laws continue to send out a social message that only heterosexual relationships will be continue to be privileged in this country?

CHAIR: Professor Phelps, in your discussion you mentioned how your children were proud of your marriage—your commitment to each other. We also heard earlier today from the Australian Family Association, which had raised concerns, from what I could gather, about education programs in the United States that forced schools—I think that is what it was—to talk about the different types of marriages. If the Marriage Act was amended would you be proposing that there be an education program to teach people about same-sex marriages? I am not sure that there is an education program to teach people about heterosexual marriages. Would you, or anyone for that matter, like to make a comment on that?

Prof. Phelps : I do not think we should be frightened of telling the children the truth: that sometimes people will fall in love with and want to marry someone of the opposite gender, and sometimes people fall in love with and want to marry someone of the same gender; and that sometimes people of the opposite gender will want to live together but not get married and sometimes people of the same gender will want to live together and not get married. Our children and indeed our general population demonstrate quite a broad ability to—

CHAIR: But we learn that by opening our eyes at the family barbecue. We do not have an education program.

Prof. Phelps : Indeed. I think that it is entirely up to the people who put together school curricula for PDHPE as to what to include. But should the notion of the shapes of different types of families come up you will find, I think, that telling the truth is not such a bad thing. Given that quite a number of children, and an increasing number of children, are being raised in single-parent families and in blended families where there are one or two step-parents, and some children are being raised by grandparents, some children have two fathers and some children have two mothers and so forth, whatever the shapes of those children's families are it should be acknowledged and respected.

Mr Raj : I just wanted to add that there are numerous states in Australia—for example, New South Wales—that have piloted programs like the Proud Schools program, which is about addressing homophobia related bullying in schools. The way they do that is by increasing education and awareness, both at the student level and also at the parent and teacher level, about sexual and gender diversity. So that also has included a recognition of the fact that families do not come in a traditional heterosexual nuclear model only; they can come in many shapes and sizes—extended families, blended families and also same-sex families—so the idea that somehow amending the Marriage Act is going to introduce a radical new system of campaign or education in schools is simply untrue and a little bit misleading.

I think it is important to highlight that these campaigns and initiatives have been going on for quite a few years now and are quite distinct from the issue of marriage reform.

Mr Croome : I have been a member of the Tasmanian education department's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Education Reference Group for 12 years. It is convened by the department's secretary. In that time what has become apparent to me is that when there are programs in schools which discuss issues of sexual diversity and gender diversity as part of an antibullying program or as part of relationships programs, that they are always implemented in negotiation with the individual schools, the principals, the teachers, the parents, the parents and friends association and the teachers association. All of these programs are well developed and well consulted on. There is nothing that is forced on a school community and on children that has not been through those consultative processes, and I cannot see that this will be any different.

The key word in the question you asked was 'forced'. No-one in Australia would be forced to implement curricula that have not already been through those mechanisms. In terms of independent schools, I have had some experience with those as well. My experience tells me that they will be able to handle the issue of same-sex couples marrying under civil law—not, of course, necessarily in Catholic churches or whatever—in the same way that they deal with de facto relationships, divorcees being married or whatever else does not confirm to their religious doctrine.

CHAIR: Does your reference group—the group that you are a member of—cover independent and Catholic schools as well?

Mr Croome : No. It is convened by the state education department but includes representatives of the Catholic Education Office.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Ms SMYTH: I wonder whether any of you might like to make some comments or observations about the experience in other countries which have adopted similar legislation, or comment on things that you might be aware of through your networks and your research and your involvement around the issue in Australia about the experience overseas after implementation of legislation? How is it received by different groups within the community and, broadly, what the anecdotal evidence is about discrimination and the change in attitudes that might result?

Prof. Phelps : I had the opportunity at a professional level to speak with the city clerk of New York City, who actually performed our civil marriage ceremony in September of last year, Mike McSweeney. He spoke to me about the process of developing the actual marriage ceremony, itself, in New York. They sought, through all of their documentation and also through the actual ceremony, for everybody to eliminate all forms of language discrimination. The anecdotal evidence that I had from people living in New York around that time and subsequently is that it really lifted the mood of New Yorkers generally. They felt very proud of themselves for having eliminating this piece of discrimination and for leading the way as one of the states in the United States that had moved forward with this legislation. Of course, New York State is known for being socially progressive.

I guess, from a personal point of view, the elevation of mood of a city in that respect has been actually seen in other countries. I will leave it to some of our other panel members to talk about the studied experience. That is a personal anecdotal experience where discrimination has been assessed and eliminated, and that the people who are actually involved in performing the marriage ceremonies plus the population more generally have experienced an elevation of mood.

Mr Greenwich : There have been something like 12 countries that have embraced this reform. What has happened in those countries is they, obviously, have sent a message of acceptance and equality to gay and lesbian people and to all those families. What we have seen in the studies around mental health, from Mr Bandt's point earlier, is lower levels of anxiety, lower levels of depression and lower levels of suicide rates amongst same-sex couples.

CHAIR: Is there empirical data, Mr Greenwich?

Mr Greenwich : Yes. That is in the Psychologists for Marriage Equality submission.

CHAIR: It is early days in most of these jurisdictions, isn't it?

Mr Greenwich : Same-sex marriage has been in the Netherlands since 2001. I guess it is early days but it sends an immediate message that the relationships that these people hope to form are valued equally and are given the same level of dignity and respect. That has a very positive and immediate impact on the mental health state of same-sex attracted people. There have been other ways in which those countries have benefited and one of the key ways has been economic. It may sound crude to talk about it but, as a small business owner, it is actually important to do things that benefit small businesses. In the countries that have embraced same-sex marriage there has been a huge increase in spend going to the small businesses that look after the wedding industry. They have appreciated the extra influx in income. What you also find is that support for marriage equality goes up once a country or territory has embraced it because they have realised that the alarmist claims of the other side did not happen. No-one is yet to marry a plasma screen TV in any of the countries that have embraced marriage equality.

Mr Koonin : I had the opportunity to spend some time with Boris Dittrich when he was here a month or so ago. Boris was the Dutch MP responsible for introducing the first marriage equality legislation in the world in the Netherlands in 2001.

CHAIR: That was with the Human Rights Watch?

Mr Koonin : No, now he is the Advocacy Director for the Human Rights Watch. He tells a story that he went to his nephew's 20th birthday party and he was approached by a group of 20-year-olds. They said, 'Mr Dittrich, is it true that there was a time when same-sex couples couldn't get married?' They could not believe that this was ever possible. He said, 'Yes, and that's why we changed the laws,' and they said, 'But that's discrimination,' and they looked genuinely shocked. I think that is our future—a generation of young people who cannot believe that discrimination ever did occur on the basis of sex or gender or sexuality. I was born in apartheid South Africa at a time when it was illegal for inter-racial couples to marry, and I think young people today would be incredulous that that ever happened too.

CHAIR: Mr Croome on that topic?

Mr Croome : We have heard about the deleterious impact of discrimination in marriage in terms of mental health. As Mr Greenwich said, there is quite specific information about that, which is the study I cited before, comparing states in the United States that have same-sex marriage bans and those that do not. There is another set of evidence that is very important to highlight here in terms of the positive impacts in other countries of the level of commitment that same-sex couples feel to each other once they are able to marry or marry, the greater sense of participation that they have in family and community life, and the sense that their children have of feeling more secure and feeling more included in family and community life. The chief researcher here is Professor Lee Badgett, whose research I think you should have received as part of our submission.

CHAIR: I think the committee has received that.

Mr Croome : She looked at this impact in Massachusetts and in the Netherlands—so two different cultures—and it is quite clear that marriage equality does have a very important, substantial, significant impact on those factors. So, if we say, as I think we all would, that we believe in anything which fosters commitment between partners and in anything which fosters connection between partners and families and in anything which fosters greater security for children, then why wouldn't we support a reform that demonstrably does that?

CHAIR: Dr Stone—I have been looking to my left when I should have been looking to my right.

Dr STONE: Occasionally, although I would never be calling myself a right-wing person. I am not sure who might like to respond to this question, but what would you say to the advocates who support the 'no change' side of this debate—in other words, keep the marriage definition as it is currently, or most recently changed in 2005 or so? Many of them have argued powerfully this morning that 'no change' is based on the fact that marriage is to do with children, who are a biological outcome of the union of a man and a woman through marriage—at the same time acknowledging there are lots of children born outside marriage, of course, and lots of marriages dissolve. How do you frame your responding remarks to that position?

Mr Raj : Thank you for that question. That is often raised. The starting point should be the Marriage Act. So often the issue of children is raised in opposition to the issue of marriage equality. Yet if that were the case then surely the Marriage Act, in its public policy goal of existing, would mandate reproduction and would facilitate that, unless particular marriages ended in the reproduction of children, they would be void. It would prevent infertile couples or couples that would be unable to have children to marry.

What we have seen over the years is the evolution of marriage and marriage regulations, and I think thankfully so. There was a time when women were considered chattels of their husbands, as personal property. As we have just heard, there was a time where inter-racial marriages were proscribed for a very similar sociological reason—this idea that having mixed blood children or miscegnation, as it was referred to at the time, would be a violation of the natural order, of nature or of biology and the fact that we are all different races.

So now we are talking about the fact that introducing marriage equality reform will somehow impact negatively on children. To that I say, firstly, children are not mandated in the act; and, secondly, if you look at the legislative evolution in terms of same-sex family recognition, you only need to look at the Family Law Act, the Status of Children Act here in New South Wales, the Assisted Reproductive Technology Act, the Adoption Act and the Surrogacy Act to find that same-sex couples are recognised. They can have children through assisted reproductive technology, through foster care, through surrogacy. And all the legal regulations, federal and certainly here in New South Wales, recognise these families and recognise these relationships. What they do not allow though is for the children being raised in these families to have the opportunity to have two married parents. In fact it seems a little bit disingenuous to imply that somehow children are mandated by marriage. But, even if your focus were on the fact that children are an important feature of marriage, then what do you say to all those children living in same-sex families where their parents are currently denied the opportunity to have formal marriage recognition?

Mr BANDT: I have a couple more technical questions probably to the AMA but I would be interested in anyone's views. Firstly, the two bills contain slightly different definitions of marriage and list differing grounds of discrimination. It has been suggested to us by, I think, the Law Council of Australia that it would be better to do just what, I think they say, Canada has done and say 'marriage is between two people' and leave it at that and not list any grounds. I am wondering if you have any views about that. Secondly, both bills give exemptions or protections—however you want to phrase it—to religious organisations and say that they are not obliged to marry people. Some civil celebrants have said, 'Well, we think that protection should apply to us as well.' I am wondering if you have a view about that.

Mr Croome : In relation to your first question we understand and have some sympathy with the view that the simpler definition is, perhaps, the better from a purely legal point of view. But it needs to be absolutely certain, should this amendment to the Marriage Act be challenged in a court—let us say in the High Court on the basis of its constitutionality—it should be absolutely to the certain to the court what parliament intended through the passage of that amendment. So, if the terms that are included in your bill or Mr Jones's bill are not to be in the definition then, at least, they should be in the objects of the act and be clearly stated in the second reading speech and debate. It is absolutely essential that the phrase 'regardless of sex, and/or sexual orientation or gender identity' are made clear at some point in the bill in the second reading speech, even if not in the definitions. I think in our submission we said that we would prefer the definition in the bill brought forward by you and Mr Wilkie because it was more inclusive. At the least that should be in the objects.

In terms of civil celebrants our understanding is that, under state antidiscrimination law, civil celebrants would have sufficient protections to allow them to refuse to marry couple if that was against their religious belief or their religious conviction. As someone like me, who would seek to marry my long-term partner, if and when the law is changed, I cannot really see why anyone would want to be married by someone who does not want to marry them. I think there would be sufficient protection.

Mr BANDT: You may not have been here for it but the president of the Human Rights Commission said it was her view that she thought a civil celebrant would under existing laws, even if the bills were passed as they were, be able to simply say that they were not going to do it as a matter of conscience.

Mr Croome : Fair enough. The addition I would make there—

CHAIR: They are currently not able to say that they are not doing it. A Catholic priest can say he is not marrying you because you are not Catholic, but the celebrant cannot say they are not marrying you because you are gay. They cannot say that they are not marrying you because you are a Mormon, or a Catholic, or because you have some racial characteristics or the like.

Mr Croome : The question would become: how might such an exemption, were such an amendment to the Marriage Act—and I said before that perhaps that is not necessary with state anti-discrimination providing exemptions for religious conscience and belief for anyone who provides a service, including civil celebrants—be included in the amending bill to limit it to sexual orientation that might seem in itself discriminatory. You would need to include all the grounds upon which a civil celebrant might object to marrying a couple, including race, for instance. That would open up a big policy question and raise many difficulties.

I will address one more point about the exemption. In our submission, we said that we found the singling out of same-sex couples in the provision in the Mr Jones's bill to be unnecessary. It would be sufficient for the provision in the other bill, Mr Bandt's bill—

Mr BANDT: Are you talking about the singling out in the religious exemption clause?

Mr Croome : I am talking about the exemption that says that religious celebrants would not have an obligation to marry same-sex couples. The existing provision, section 47 of the Marriage Act, is not specific to same-sex couples or to anyone else. It just makes it clear that they can refuse at will. The extra provision in the amending legislation should similarly be generic.

CHAIR: Professor Williams talked about section 116 of the Constitution giving that extra bit of protection also.

Mr Raj : Following on from that point, our entire position is on the basis that marriage is defined by civil legislation. When it comes to the question of civil celebrants, religious ministers should be entitled to solemnise marriages according to their faith. But civil celebrants act as an arm of public administration. Just like every other service provider, they should be required to comply with anti-discrimination laws. If you were to carve out—

CHAIR: Even if they are not secular?

Mr Raj : No. That is different.

CHAIR: There are many civil celebrants who are not secular. They might only marry Jewish people. They are in particular communities and they might marry people in those communities.

Mr Raj : You should separate them from this particular discussion. I am referring specifically to secular celebrants who do not have a particular religious opinion dictating the way that they perform their ceremonies.

CHAIR: The tenets of their religion.

Mr Raj : Yes.

CHAIR: It would be worth you having a look at the evidence put forward by the celebrants, because they explored many issues. They talked about being uncomfortable about conducting a ceremony if the couple were exchanging tongue piercings or something like that.

Dr STONE: That was not necessarily related to same-sex—

CHAIR: No. They were talking about other aspects of the legislation. It might not be as simple as a Celine Dion song being used during the wedding or something like that.

Dr STONE: In your opening remarks, Mr Greenwich, you referred to discrimination against same-sex couples or gay individuals. Then you went on to say, 'One such law is the Marriage Act'. What other laws were you talking about there, because I thought that we had cleaned them all up?

Mr Greenwich : What I was talking about was the fact that throughout the lives of people here we have faced many struggles.

Dr STONE: But what about now?

Mr Greenwich : A number of the issues have been cleared up through the work of the parliament, which has removed discriminations against gay and lesbian Australians. The Marriage Act is one such piece of legislation in which discrimination exists. There are other areas of the law outside of the Marriage Act that we can talk about if you wish. I know that the purpose of today is to discuss the Marriage Act. One that comes to mind is the—

CHAIR: Age care, perhaps.

Mr Greenwich : There are age care issues. But there are also issues to do with the Red Cross—

Dr STONE: But that is not legislative.

CHAIR: We are drifting.

Dr STONE: That is cultural.

Prof. Phelps : State law might be—

Mr Raj : In response to Dr Stone's comments, one such contemporary area is federal anti-discrimination law. While we have federal anti-discrimination that proscribes discrimination on the basis of race, age, sex, disability and marital status, there are not such existing comprehensive protections around sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status. That is currently being looked at as part of the consolidation of the Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws. The Attorney-General's Department is committed to including those categories as part of that. That legislation will hopefully come before the parliament during this term as well. Hopefully, we will be able to clear that area. That is a very important reform alongside the issue of marriage equality.

Mr Greenwich : There are also issues around same-sex attracted men being able to donate blood. There are other areas of the law in which there still exists discrimination against us because we are who we are.

CHAIR: There is some history around the Red Cross blood decision, isn't there?

Dr STONE: If you have eaten sausages in the UK in the last 15 years it is the same story.

CHAIR: If you have been to some suburbs in Cairns you cannot give blood, either.

Mr Raj : In New South Wales, for example, there is the archaic homosexual advance defence. Where someone of the same sex makes an unwanted but non-violent sexual advance, that can be used as a partial defence to murder through the lens of provocation. Places like Victoria have abolished provocation defences entirely. But here in New South Wales—

CHAIR: And Queensland.

Mr Raj : Absolutely.

CHAIR: To be the devil's advocate here, couldn't you put an argument forward that you could address these things case by case, legislation by legislation. There are other examples in terms of demonstrating proof of a relationship when one partner dies or accessing spousal benefits when Defence personnel are posted. You can keep talking about them one by one. But rather—

Mr Greenwich : For a lot of the areas that you mention, a marriage licence helps greatly—for example, if you have a medical emergency when you are overseas or even if you are in Australia. Thinking about my own situation, my partner is German. His family is in Germany. If he has an accident and someone needs to make a call, despite the fact that we are going to be married and that we are partners, I am not able to have access to anything in terms of an inheritance. I am not able to make the call in a medical emergency. Under the current law, despite the fact that we would be married today if we could, we are nothing more than flatmates.

CHAIR: Queensland succession law would enable you to prove your relationship.

Mr Raj : Mr Greenwich's point is more about the administrative benefits of having a marriage licence. When you are in a de facto relationship, you have to prove the existence of the relationship. When you have a marriage licence, it is so much easier. If you have a partner overseas and you are seeking an immigration visa for your partner, the waiting time if you are married is different than if you are in a de facto relationship. Even though there is de facto equality, there are still considerable administrative privileges that attach—

CHAIR: Procedural.

Mr Raj : Yes. There are privileges that attach to being in a married relationship.

Mr Croome : Where this takes us is to the efficacy of civil union certificates. I know that you said before that you are not looking at the civil union bill.

CHAIR: We have explored it.

Dr STONE: We have looked at it as the state response to the federal act of marriage, which has a particular definition. That allows that states to have alternatives. We have explored the fact that states can define unions between same-sex individuals but not in contravention of the federal marriage definition. Hence civil union registers and so on.

Mr Croome : I come from the state with the longest experience of having formalised recognition of same-sex relationships in Australia. We set up our deed of relationship register on 1 January 2004. While in some cases those certificates provide people with a proof of relationship—they have an evidentiary value of the kind that Alex was saying is missing—there are just as many examples that have come to my attention where they have not provided that. I can think of one particular harrowing example of a woman whose partner had a stroke. She was taken to the hospital in Launceston. Her partner went along, obviously very panicked and upset. She was not allowed into the emergency room where her partner was and was told that she could not make any of the decisions that needed to be made. They asked her, 'Who is the next of kin?' She said: 'I am. I have a deed of relationship.' She had it there and they would not accept that because—and this is the crucial thing—they did not understand what it was, even though at that point we had deeds of relationship for three years. That was in 2007.

What the evidence from overseas shows again and again, backing up that anecdotal story that I just told, is that people fail to grasp, recognise or understand what a civil union is, whatever its name is—civil union, civil partnership, relationship registry, deed of relationship. Partners find themselves asked again and again by people in positions of authority, such as school principals, medical workers and even members of their own family, what it means. They are asked things like, 'Is that like a marriage or not?' and 'What rights do you have?' There is not the kind of universal understanding that I referred to earlier that exists around marriage. That is one of the very practical drawbacks of any kind of civil union scheme as a substitute for equality in marriage: it just does not have that recognition. As one wit in the United States has written, no-one writes love songs about civil unions.

Prof. Phelps : From a personal point of view, I have a marriage certificate from New York state. We also went to the trouble the next day of going back to a different office to get an apostille for international recognition of our New York marriage. That apostille means that our marriage is recognised in most of the countries that are signatories to the Hague convention. Australia is a signatory to the Hague convention but does not recognise our marriage. Countries like Israel and Japan do, even though they do not perform same-sex marriages in those countries. They respect and recognise the marriages that are undertaken in other jurisdictions. When you are talking about the issue of state or federal based civil union versus marriage and how that all works in with the Marriage Act, the question that needs to linger in the air today is that civil unions are not equal to marriage.

Purely out of frustration at the lack of progress on the issue of marriage quality, the states are saying, 'If the federal government isn't going to move forward with this, then we're going to do, because we think it's unfair.' That is the impetus for the state by state action that is happening at the moment. The questions that need to linger in the air are: 'What rights would you seek to withdraw from same-sex couples if you did not go to full equality? What is it about us and our relationships and us as people who are prepared to commit to life with our partner such that you believe we do not deserve to have full equality?' Those are the questions when you are talking about a two-tier relationship recognition system.

Mr BANDT: You have spoken a bit about what it would mean for your children. What would it mean for you and the parents, grandparents and families of same-sex attracted people to be able to go their weddings and see them married?

Ms Argent : A lot of my friends have straight children. They all talk about their grandchildren. They know that I do not have any grandchildren. With James being gay, that cuts my odds in half. It is one of those things where you feel as a parent that you in a sense missing out. That is a selfish thing, but you feel like you are missing out. I also find that a lot of people are very hesitant to ask me about James and his relationship, because they do not understand. Some of them do not really want to hear about. They cannot really cope with me being out and proud about having a gay son and me talking about his partner. We see him and his partner in exactly the same way as we see my straight son and his partner. But society tells you all the time that he is not equal.

When he was in the police force, he was the youngest sergeant that Queensland police had. He was 28. So he obviously did a good job. But he had fewer rights than the criminals he kept in the watch house. How does a murderer, a rapist or a paedophile have more rights to marriage and children than my son and those in the rest of the gay community who are simply living their lives? Talk about double standards. Just because you are heterosexual should not give you any special privilege. My son pays his taxes. They pay their taxes. They contribute. We straights are very glad when we are sick to go to a gay doctor and he heals us or when the gay policeman comes and saves us from the bad guy. We will all take their help and use their talents. But we are hesitant—who knows why—to give them their rights. And he does not want special rights; he just wants the same rights as his brother. I want my son to be able to say, 'This is my husband' or 'This is my partner' and to use whatever term that he wants to use. I want him to be able to be a brother-in-law and a son-in-law. It is about inclusion. It is not necessarily about the wedding ceremony. It is about what that piece of paper represents. It is the symbolism. That piece of paper would tell my son and the rest that his relationship was equal. And it is equal. He works hard and does everything by the book.

CHAIR: I do not remember when the Australian Story was on the ABC, but I remember seeing it.

Ms Argent : It was in 2010.

CHAIR: Since then, you have met and spoken with many people about your son and marriage equality and all sorts of other things. Have people articulated to you why same-sex attracted people being able to marry would damage their marriage?

Ms Argent : I do not get that.

CHAIR: So they do not tell you about it? We have certainly had evidence—

Ms Argent : I hear this out there. Yesterday, I had lunch with an 88-year-old lady who said: 'How dare people discriminate. Same-sex attracted people deserve the same rights.' Then I saw another old lady who I knew and she wanted to know what I was doing. She said that she does not understand why they are discriminated against and why they are not given the same rights. Not many people ever tell me about how their marriage would be demeaned or trivialised. I do not understand that point of view. I do not understand how my gay son marrying could affect another person's relationship. It cannot. Only the people in the relationship can do that.

Mr Raj : Speaking on the point of demeaning marriage, one of the issues that is often forgotten is that the reform has a broader import than just providing same-sex couples with the right to marry. I recognise that there is not transgender or intersex representation here and our organisation does not directly advocate for them. But one important thing to recognise is that for individuals who wish to seek gender reassignment or sex affirmation surgery and change their cardinal documents there is a requirement that they be single. If you are currently married in a heterosexual relationship and you wish to undergo sexual or gender reassignment or affirmation surgery you are required to—

CHAIR: Not something that you would do on a whim, I would assume.

Mr Raj : Absolutely not. You are required to divorce in order to have your documents changed. Effectively, the Marriage Act as it currently stands and because it has such parochial definitions of 'man' and 'woman', continuing to privilege this gendered relationship—

CHAIR: What do you mean by 'parochial'?

Mr Raj : This narrow idea of what it means to be a man or a woman. People can have 'non-identified sex' on documents. I am trying to refer to the idea that there is a broader community out there that is also going to be affected by this reform. It will be a reform that strengthens some marriages by allowing them to continue to thrive. Some couples will no longer be forced, because of these circumstances, to divorce, which is something that you would think undermines the institution of marriage according to those individuals who continue to privilege it as such.

CHAIR: I imagine that that is a tough row to hoe in some of those circumstances.

Mr Raj : Absolutely.

Ms Argent : There are times when partners would gladly stay, but that is just the way that it is.

CHAIR: I seem to recall another Australian Story that dealt with this.

Mr Croome : Going back to your question about demeaning relationships or marriages, I have spoken to quite a few people at home in the course of public debates and in meetings that we have had and have asked them this question: 'Why do you feel that your heterosexual marriage would be demeaned if I was able to marry my male partner?'

Universally, 100 per cent, the response has been—and I am not saying that everyone would feel the same way, but all the people who have spoken to me have said this—that they entered into a holy bond with their partner in God's sight and to call my relationship with my partner a marriage would not be similarly holy; it is against biblical teaching.

CHAIR: They were only people who had had a religious marriage so that would be one-third of the current marriages.

Mr Croome : Not everyone in religious marriages would necessarily think that, but the people I have spoken to about this issue have all been in religious marriages. I put to them: 'Do you feel that your relationship is demeaned by the fact that we have civil marriage, the fact that atheists are allowed to marry, in Australia, people of different faith or of no faith?' Their responses were that this is something they feel they could not change. That is a second-hand response and you would need to ask them. Like Shelley, I do not understand that and I did not feel there was consistency there. Certainly, it did not apply to my desire to have a civil marriage.

I would like to make one more point in relation to the family question that I think Mr Bandt asked. I am often asked to address this issue from the point of view of human rights and legal decisions and other things. The most important aspect of this reform, for me, is family. I grew up on a dairy farm in Tasmania with a very tight-knit extended family who have always been very accepting of the fact that I am gay, although they hold very conservative values in other respects.

CHAIR: How many children are there in your family, Mr Croome? Do you have siblings?

Mr Croome : I have a sibling, yes. But I am very close to my cousins—to my uncles and aunties and cousins and cousins and cousins.

CHAIR: We are not going to make any comment on Tasmania.

Mr Croome : We are not here to reinforce stereotypes! Marriage is not just about creating a new legal relationship between two parties, it is about creating a new relationship between the families of those parties. When I marry my partner I do not just form a relationship with him but with his family and he with mine. That is why we have the terms, like Shelley said, mother-in-law and son-in-law. Marriage creates kinship in a way that other types of legal relationships do not.

I was reminded of this when I was recently in Devonport, where a lot of my family live. I was with an elderly aunt who is in her 90s. She has lived on a dairy farm her whole life and is churchgoing; she belongs to the Church of England. She said to me, 'When are you going to marry Rauf', that is my partner, 'and make him part of this family?' I said, 'He already is part of the family, isn't he?' She said, 'When are you going to marry him and make him part of the family?' It really hit me, then, how important marriage is, not just for the two of us and our friends and immediate family members but for everyone that we are connected to. I jokingly said to her, 'Well, it's not up to me, it's up to Julia and Tony.' She said, 'I don't want any of those excuses; I want you to go out and make sure this happens before die so I can go to your wedding.'

CHAIR: How old is she?

Mr Croome : She does not tell anyone her age anymore and I do not know if she would like me to speculate on it publicly, but she is in her mid 90s.

Ms Argent : So hurry up!

Mr Greenwich : I just want to carry on from what Ms Argent was saying. She feels the opposition to this is weakening. All corners have shown her support and support for this particular issue has increased so much over the years. In 2004, polling showed 38 per cent support for marriage equality. Most recent polling through—

CHAIR: That was—

Mr Greenwich : The 2004 poll was a Galaxy poll commissioned by SBS. Now, polling commissioned by Roy Morgan, Nielsen and Galaxy show support for marriage equality at around 63 per cent. So far, I think the results of the online questionnaire are consistent with that for—

CHAIR: They remember you are going to come to the survey for particular reasons. There is no randomness about that.

Mr Greenwich : Exactly. The random surveys do show around 62 per cent. I guess we look at the reasons why that is. I think it is as simple as that gays are everywhere. We are in all sorts of professions. We are doctors, we are butchers, we are lawyers, we are home-keepers, we are small business owners. And because of the reforms that this government and previous governments have embraced to increase the rights of gay and lesbian Australians, we have become more confident and comfortable in being out and proud. And while this debate about marriage equality has gone on, it has given so many couples so much hope that they will be able to be married one day. So they are more comfortable to be open and out about their relationship, which has certainly not always been the case. As people like Magda Szubanski or people like Mr Abbott's sister or a number of other Australians in families across the country come out and are open with their relationship, Australians are confronted with the fact that: 'Okay, the butcher is gay. Well, I guess he loves his partner. Shouldn't they be able to be married?' Australians see the love and they see the equality of that love, and the impact of that has been to really open the hearts and the minds of Australians. I think that is why so many of them support it.

I guess there will be always those who oppose the reform and who will oppose it for various reasons, and the message that everybody here will want to send to them is that we come in peace. We have great respect for the institution of marriage. That is why we are fighting so hard for this reform. We will travel overseas to get married, to have that marriage have no legal recognition here. We will come to a Senate inquiry to be able to hopefully, one day, have the right to marry the person we love. How many straight people will do that?

CHAIR: You had me up until you started calling us senators!

Mr Greenwich : Sorry!

CHAIR: You really crossed a line there! Could I respond seriously and say we just came through a Queensland state election, where there was an ad that suggested that there is a completely different approach out there. You might have seen the Katter Australia ad; it had a lot of media attention. It did not mean that the Katter Australia Party received zero per cent of the vote. I put it to you that there are some contrasting views out there and, of the 105,000 people that have contacted the committee, we have had a range of views, certainly you could suggest from here and from there and perhaps not representing the 62 per cent that you talked about. Would you like to respond to that as well, or anyone else?

Mr Greenwich : In terms of that ad, obviously that spoke to and that sought to speak to a certain segment of the population who has a certain view on—

CHAIR: I should stress this is the Bob Katter ad, not the Carl Katter ad.

Mr Greenwich : Yes, I know. We know that there will always be that opposition out there. You asked the question of someone from the Catholic Church this morning, 'What about civil unions?' and they oppose civil unions on the basis that it gives validity to our relationships. So there will always be people out there who will oppose gay and lesbian law reform for various reasons. But my point was that over time that is changing, because over time Australians are opening their hearts and their minds to the importance of every citizen being treated equally in this country. Although that ad did speak to a certain segment of the community, I think there was widespread condemnation from all sides of the Australian community about that type of ad being aired. If you want to look at the politics of it, did it win them any extra seats? No. He has got the same amount of seats in the Queensland parliament now as he did at the last election. So how effective that was—I am not sure it got his party a lot of—

CHAIR: I think it doubled—

Mr Greenwich : One to two—he has got two.

CHAIR: You are right. There were two before and now there are two. They just switched.

Mr Greenwich : Yes. In fact, he even lost a seat.

CHAIR: He lost one and gained one. We are coming close to the end of these proceedings., but I just wanted to touch on that intersection or interplay between faith and the same-sex attracted community and marriage. As I said, in terms of the survey and the responses that we have received, people seem to be passionately for change or passionately against change. Many of the reasons for being passionately against seem to have connections to religion. I am not sure of the percentages of the Australian community who are same-sex attracted. There is better data in terms of the number who are of faith. But obviously many same-sex attracted people are also of faith. Would you like to comment on that generally. It is not really a question but an opportunity to make comment in terms of that respect and the way things have changed.

Mr Greenwich : I would like to make a brief point. Professor Phelps might be a good one to speak because she is from a faith that supports this issue. As we have said in our submission, religious organisations should be able to continue to define marriage how they see it. Reverend Bill Crews said to me that churches like the Catholic Church or the Anglican Church are their own communities and have their own laws and rules about doing things. Those should certainly stay the same. We are not trying to affect the way that the Catholic Church does business. This is about civil—

CHAIR: They can keep their club with their rules—

Mr Greenwich : They can keep their club with their rules. They do not want me to join it and I do not want to join it. So we are good with that. But we also need to respect the fact that there are many faith groups that support marriage equality and there are many Christians who support marriage equality. It is because they value fairness; it is because they value the power of love, and it is because they value the importance of equality.

CHAIR: You did not mention family there.

Mr Greenwich : Of course they mention the importance of family. I know there are lots of big Catholic families. And there are lots of Catholic supporters of marriage equality because they want everyone in their family to be treated equally by the law.

Prof. Phelps : There are Catholic gays, as well.

CHAIR: So I hear.

Mr Koonin : For me it is about what it means to live in a pluralistic society. As other people have said, some of us are Christian; some of us are Jewish; some of us are Buddhist or Hindu; some of us have no faith at all. What it means to live in a pluralistic society is that there are going to be people whose views we disagree with—and sometimes disagree with quite strongly. We need to learn to respect those people, even if we disagree with their views. We are doing that. We recognise that there will be some, particularly faith based communities, who are opposed to marrying people of the same sex, and we respect that. We are not asking that those religious ministers—

CHAIR: And you would fight for their right to be discriminatory?

Mr Koonin : In this particular instance I think that is appropriate. We are asking them to meet us half way. If they want to practice a particular religion, that is totally fine but that is not my religion and I should not be bound by the rules of that religion.

Prof. Phelps : I have certainly seen the evolution of religious and faith based attitudes to marriage equality over the last 15 years that I have been involved in this issue at a very close level. Certainly Jackie and I married in a progressive Jewish service in 1998 in New York, the first time around. At that time, the progressive Jewish movement in Australia did not perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. Over time we had discussions with the rabbis and they evolved their view based on their deliberations and representations from people who wanted to be married within their religion.

I think religion is a very important framework for people's spirituality. It may be organised religion; it may be some other form of spiritual expression. But having a healthy religious and spiritual framework is a very important part also of mental health and, literally, of people's wellbeing—how they feel about themselves, their communities and their families. So it was very important to us that our religion recognised our relationship in that formal way. When we came back to Australia our religion respected and recognised our marriage, referred to us as being married, and sent us congratulation cards on our anniversary each year. That sense of acceptance from our faith was incredibly important to us. It was extremely important. Over time we have seen the evolution to the point where we are now, where the progressive rabbinate in Australia is advocating for, and strongly supporting, change towards equality.

CHAIR: They were here this morning.

Prof. Phelps : I think that really shows that religion itself, faith itself, is capable of evolving with time. Certainly the views of the people in the community have changed with time, as Alex said. If, 20 years ago, a woman said to her parents, 'Mum, Dad, I'm a lesbian,' her parents would go, 'Oh, no—we're not going to be grandparents.' Now, if that woman said to her parents, 'This is my partner and we want to be together forever,' her parents would say, 'When are you getting married? When are you having children? How many children do you think you're going to have? Who's going to be the sperm donor?' So it is a completely different, more evolved discussion than it was 10 or 20 years ago.

I think, when it comes to the social elements of the construction of families, that has changed so much. I think the religious element has evolved so much. On top of that, we have a political system where there should be separation of church and state, and this is a state issue; I do not think this is a religious issue. The religions all have different views. Not all Christians feel the same, not all Catholics feel the same and not all Jewish people feel the same. As you said before, they can have their rituals and their beliefs, but let's separate church and state. If you want to have a religious ceremony, you might find somebody within your faith to perform that ceremony. But that is quite separate to the civil recognition that we are seeking here today with the amendment to the Marriage Act—which, incidentally, has been changed 20 times since 1961.

CHAIR: Are you saying it is not set in stone! Sorry, Mr Raj.

Mr Raj : I was just going to add to the points that have been made. It is really important for us, when we are discussing this debate, to not assume that somehow recognising the rights of sexual minorities or same-sex couples will automatically impeach freedom of religion. So often in popular media and the broader community there is a broad rhetoric that somehow recognising same-sex relationships will mean religious ministers will be forced to perform certain marriages.

CHAIR: We certainly heard that in evidence this morning.

Mr Raj : Absolutely. What we saw this morning as well, from the Buddhist Councils and the Union for Progressive Judaism, was that there are actually lots of faith communities that feel that marriage equality strengthens their religious faith and their religious community—that that recognition does not at all undermine their religious beliefs or teachings but actually strengthens and furthers what they believe in. Obviously I recognise there are a multitude of religious views out there but, as Professor Phelps rightly mentioned, we are here to separate church from state, at the same time recognising that there are many same-sex couples of faith out there. It is also important to recognise that not all religions and religious communities necessarily see this reform as somehow impeaching their beliefs and their way of life.

Mr Croome : One point I often hear, particularly when I am talking to MPs, is that—and this is a point that they in turn receive from, say, the Australian Christian Lobby and others—is that, even though we allow civil marriages in Australia now, marriage has a religious heritage and because of that religious heritage it would be inappropriate to amend the Marriage Act in a way that, in their view, is irreligious. We could, not necessarily now, get into the history of marriage—

CHAIR: There are some property law implications in that history, I think—

Mr Croome : Well, the history of the relationship between the state, religion and marriage. Early Christians did not marry in religious ceremonies; they married under Roman civil law.

CHAIR: Perhaps if it was not 4.48 pm we could explore it more!

Mr Croome : It was not until centuries later that marriage became a sacrament, and probably the most important point there is that there has been a distinction between religious marriages and civil marriages in our law in Australia for as long as Europeans have been here and longer in our heritage of British law, for 300 or 400 years. That is an inheritance we should also be respecting in terms of recognising that distinction and, as other speakers have said, recognising that churches should be able to choose who they marry. But there is also an understanding in our culture, and has been for many centuries, of civil marriage, and we are simply building on that in recognising another form of a loving and committed relationship.

You referred before to the concerns that some people had expressed about religious freedoms being trampled by this reform.

CHAIR: There are concerns about the section 47 exemption. It came up again, I think, from the Seventh-day Adventists and others. You could look at the transcript, but they were people coming to this inquiry—

Mr Croome : Yesterday I received a letter from the Most Reverend Dr Phillip Aspinall who is the Primate of the Anglican Church in Australia. It was a follow-up to a conversation that I and others had with him about this issue. I understand that it is okay to cite this letter and I am certainly happy to present it.

In it he reaffirms the Anglican Church's belief that marriage is between a man and a woman—and of course that has not changed—but he is very clear when he says, 'In the context of these resolutions'—that is the resolutions of the Anglican Church supporting marriages currently—'I am advised that the Marriage Act 1961, as it stands, contains adequate protection for religious freedom. In particular section 47 of the act provides that a minister of religion is not obliged to solemnise any marriage, and the amendments proposed in the three bills now before parliament—including the two that you are looking at—do not affect this protection.' So certainly there are very important religious leaders in Australia who are assured, even should this become law and even though they oppose that change themselves, that religious freedoms will nonetheless be protected.

CHAIR: My last question is looking at young people and mental health and suicide. This has been touched on today in some evidence and I think, Mr Croome and Mr Greenwich, you referred to some more empirical data about children. I wonder if anyone would like to make comment about the benefits, or youth suicide rates. Professor Phelps, would you like to make a comment on this? Mr Koonin, I think you have touched on this previously. Is there any empirical data, or is it just the warm fuzzy feeling that it might be somehow easier for people coming through adolescence if there is a society that recognises marriage?

Mr Koonin : I can only tell my story. Do you want a personal anecdote or do you want some empirical data?

CHAIR: Not particularly. I would be interested in some empirical data if you could refer to that, but an individual story, if need be.

Mr Koonin : Perhaps I will pass to Professor Phelps.

Prof. Phelps : The issue of youth depression and suicide is, I think, one of great importance to every Australian. It is certainly very important to me as a parent and extremely important to me as a general practitioner. With a completed suicide, it is sometimes difficult to tell why it happened. A lot of people say, 'But he seemed so happy. He was the school sports star. He was so popular. I cannot understand why it happened.' We may never know to what extent—

CHAIR: There is no box for sexuality on the death certificate—

Prof. Phelps : That is right, and a lot of young people do not leave evidence for why it was they took their own lives. For young people who survive a suicide attempt, we certainly know that they are in multiples greater. Those young people either identify as gay or lesbian, or they have been conflicted about their sexual identity or have been bullied because of other people's perceptions of their sexual identity. There is nothing inherent about being gay or lesbian as a young person which predisposes you to anxiety or depression or to suicide. What predisposes a young person is the reaction of others around them. Not everyone has a mum like Shelley. Not everybody has a family like mine where you are accepted and your marriage is celebrated, where your children are well constructed in terms of being able to deal with the reactions of others and they know what to say and do have the words to use and they are well supported at home. A lot of young gay people are cast out from their homes. They are bullied at school. They are the subject of violence, derision and rejection. That is what causes—

CHAIR: Can I just unpack that statement? So they are thrown out because they are gay?

Prof. Phelps : Yes. They come out as gay and are then excluded from their home.

CHAIR: And there are consequences—

Prof. Phelps : The consequence is that they become homeless and vulnerable, and there are all the consequences of that.

CHAIR: There are extra stressors in their life—

Prof. Phelps : Yes, which create anxiety and depression.

CHAIR: not because they are gay, but because they had been treated in such a way because they are same-sex attracted.

Prof. Phelps : Same-sex attracted, or a young person who perhaps may not fit the stereotype of masculinity, who might be in an environment where they are bullied or the subject of violence or social difficulties because of the perception that others might have of them. I reckon everybody around this table, no matter what school you went to, would know somebody who has been bullied because someone said that they thought they were gay.

CHAIR: 'Gay' is still a pejorative term in schools today.

Prof. Phelps : It is. Amending the Marriage Act for equality is not going to solve this problem overnight, but it is a hugely symbolic gesture towards saying that we respect you, we respect the fact that you may form a relationship with somebody of either the opposite gender or the same gender and, regardless of that, you can aspire to having a loving, lifelong, committed marriage at some point in your future, should you choose to do so. Not everyone is going to choose to get married, whether they are gay or straight, but to be able to have that choice, I believe, is a fundamental human right that is currently being denied only to people who are same-sex attracted.

Mr Raj : Professor Lynne Hillier authored the Writing themselves in 3 report, which was released at the end of 2010. It was a study that documented homophobic bullying for same-sex attracted and gender questioning young people in Australia. What the report found was quite alarming. Of the same-sex attracted and gender questioning young people that were interviewed, over 60 per cent had experienced some form of physical violence or verbal bullying at school.

CHAIR: Do we know: calibrated to what? Sorry, what is the normal amount of bullying one has?

Prof. Phelps : It is five to zero.

Mr Raj : Taking a broad view of bullying, 8 per cent experienced physical violence. Of that, 80 per cent were in school based settings. A lot of those young people felt that their schools were either homophobic or did not have policies or anything to engage with this issue. What we have seen are generations of young same-sex attracted people who feel more comfortable in some ways of coming out now with the increased visibility of gay and lesbian people in the community. At the same time that has led to this increased backlash, if you like, and the increased forms of pressure to conform to particular ideas of what it means to be a man or what it means to be a woman.

In the study there are some anecdotal examples of young people saying that it is difficult to say that bullying should not be tolerated when you see, on the television, the leaders of your country talking about marriage as a union between a man and a woman, which sends a broader social message that heterosexual unions are the unions that we are going to continue to privilege above all other relationships including same-sex relationships. That study provided a very comprehensive breakdown of the kinds of facts and empirical data. I am more than happy to make that available to the committee should you wish.

Mr Croome : I refer the committee to the statistics in the attachment to our submission from the Psychologists for Marriage Equality that refer specifically to the question of suicide, same-sex attraction and youth. Same-sex attracted people are three to five times more likely to think about, plan and attempt suicide. They quote figures which show an increase for same-sex attracted people in rural and regional areas and for young people. They also cite a study from the United States of Herdt and Boxer in 1993:

Being denied the right to marry reinforces the stigma associated with a minority sexual identity, and can particularly undermine the healthy development of a well-adjusted emotional and social attachment style among adolescents and young adults.

The data is there in regard to that question.

CHAIR: Empirical evidence. We might just finish, Mr Koonin, if you could tell us your personal study.

Mr Koonin : Yes, I am happy to and I think it responds to the very first question asked by Mr Bandt: what is the legacy of discrimination. I grew up with a very supportive family. I think I probably always knew that they would be supportive when I came out, which I did when I was 20. The legacy is that I always felt that I had to prove myself, which I did. I was extremely successful at what I did. I ended up representing Australia in mathematics. I was winning prizes and scholarships everywhere I went, but I was empty inside.

Eventually, I had pushed myself too hard and I had some physical issues. My body gave out and I spent three years completely unable to work or study. I was extremely depressed at the time as well. I am now very well and very happy—I cannot attribute all of that to my sexuality, although I would say it was a part of it because I felt like I did not really belong anywhere—but I would not wish that to happen to another young person in this country. That is why I am here today.

CHAIR: Thank you. Are there any other questions or comments?

Ms Argent : We were talking about Bob Katter's ad and how it caused a bit of a furore. I really believe that, if we wait for everybody to be happy with the idea of same-sex marriage, hell is going to freeze over. I think it is a case of: we have racism and it will always be here, but the White Australia policy is now gone and we are still working well. I really believe, if same-sex marriage does come in, the people who are fearful—and I am talking genuinely fearful and not scaremongering—will realise that they have had nothing to fear at all and their lives will just on, because nothing is going to happen to them. Their lives will not be demeaned.

CHAIR: Thank you for taking the time to appear before us this afternoon.

Resolved (on motion by Dr Stone):

That, pursuant to the power conferred by section 2(2) of the Parliamentary Papers Act 1908, this committee authorises publication of the evidence given before it and submissions presented at public hearing this day.

Committee adjourned at 17:01