Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017

27 November 2017

It is high time to deliver marriage equality for our nation. We across the country have absolutely campaigned our hearts out and Australia is ready. We didn't need a postal survey to tell us that. We've long been ready and we've long had majority support for it in our nation—for a decade at least. So this place must now finally do its job. I have to say that, like thousands of other Australians, I was dismayed and hurt back in 2004 when the federal parliament, including my own party, entrenched discrimination in our nation's Marriage Act. Back then, the LGBTI community were starting to organise to seek to access marriage and test the Marriage Act through the courts, and we were doing that because the groundswell of support had begun back then.

However, I have always believed in equal treatment for all Australians. It's a political touchstone for me and it comes in part from my own experience of discrimination. I have to say, it's been hard work going head-to-head with the no campaign and going door-to-door to ask for the right to marry in the postal survey. It's of no surprise to me that calls to mental health helplines increased in recent months. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Australians endured this, and for that our community needs to be commended. It has been a long and difficult campaign where we've been subjected to a great deal of lies and misinformation about our families and our lives. I'm very proud to be part of a party—especially proud of Senator Penny Wong, Bill and Tanya—who've given this campaign their all.

I have to say, though, that I have been dismayed at the lack of recognition coming from the government on the impacts of this hurtful campaign on the LGBTI community. The spikes that we've experienced in mental health lines and support are real and it will take our community some time to heal, as joyous as yesterday was. There has been no extra funding for mental health services, and I ask the government for that funding now. I know firsthand the hurt that people experienced. I saw the vandalism and graffiti. I heard stories like that of the five-year-old boy who came home and told his mums he needed a new family. Also that of another mum, who's a good friend of mine, whose son was on the couch late at night with her after he woke from a nightmare, and on came an ad about same-sex parents while she's trying to calm her child. I am just very glad that my own son is too young to understand. Yesterday, his dads told me that he was happily talking about equality transformers.

Let's be clear, there's nothing wrong with being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer or questioning. There's nothing wrong with being a lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, queer or questioning parent.

Australians know that and they showed that overwhelmingly in the result of the survey. It's a great relief, and it's humbling that Australians have stood up for us. It is, after all, not our identities but stigma and discrimination that affect peoples' mental health.

To the yes campaign: I'm very proud of you all. You made more than 100,000 doorknocks and a million phone calls. That is absolutely epic. You should be so proud of this result, and I humbly thank all of you and your allies who campaigned your hearts out. You have made this legislation real. This legislation rights these wrongs. Our love is real, our relationships are true, our children are cherished, we exist and our love exists, and your campaigning efforts mean that finally our nation's laws will recognise this. I pay tribute to the thousands of 'yes' campaigners led by a formidable team, many of whom are in the chamber today: Alex, Tom, Tiernan, Anna, Corey, Lee and so many others: PFLAG and Rodney Croome. I want to say a special thanks to Nita, who has been one of our field campaigners in Queensland; Jacob in the ACT—what an outstanding result here—Emma in Western Australia; and the fantastic efforts of Rainbow Labor right around the nation. I'm especially proud, as you will be, Mr Acting Deputy President Sterle, of the strong result in our home state in Western Australia where, sometimes, we're mistakenly called conservative, but our result at 63.7 per cent is the second-strongest state. As I have championed LGBTI issues in my home state, this strong result is not a surprise to me. I was proud, for example, to be part of a state that legislated to allow same-sex couples to adopt back in 2001. All that changed back then was that more children who needed a stable, loving home could have one.

Today, we ask this chamber that couples who love each other, regardless of gender, be able to marry. So many have campaigned their hearts out across the nation, and I want to thank you all. I have been fighting for equality since I was 22 years old, and I especially want to pay tribute to all those who campaigned in much, much harder times when our identities were still criminalised and silenced. Without decades of their visibility and activism, we would not be here today with this bill before parliament. I'm very proud to have been part of the development of Dean Smith's bill and the committee processes. I thank Dean humbly. It's terrific that Western Australia has such a proud history of electing gay members of parliament, like Brian Greig before us, who was one of this place's first champions on these issues.

The bill we have put forward is the right bill. The logic of this bill, formed after the inquiry, is very sound. It upholds the rights of all couples to marry and it does this at the same time as upholding the right of religious institutions to continue to define marriage according to their own doctrines. We have taken great care on these points. The bill before us does not embed further discrimination in the Marriage Act, and we must take great care not to in any further amendments. Australians didn't vote for people to have the right to refuse services to a same-sex couple seeking to get married any more than they voted to refuse service to an interfaith-heterosexual couple or an interracial couple.

Australians voted for equality, not for more discrimination. To legislate to give people a right to discriminate on the provision of goods and services would simply go too far.

On that note, I again reflect on the fact that this has been a long and difficult campaign. We've been subjected to lies and misinformation about our families. I want to be clear, though—and those in the chamber who've joined us from the yes campaign will understand this. The no side is right about one thing: marriage is not the only issue we care about. Marriage equality is not the only issue of interest to the LGBTI community. There are issues like the rights of young people to access treatment for gender dysphoria without going to court, the rights of LGBTI people to be safe from bullying at school and the rights of intersex people to be protected from surgery to which they have not consented. These issues have been under-recognised, in part because we have had to spend all this time and energy campaigning on marriage.

While the no campaign went out of their way to campaign on issues that had nothing to do with marriage—in the attacks that they launched on transgender people, vulnerable kids in schools and same-sex couples raising children—in order to prosecute their anti-marriage-equality agenda, the result is a resounding rejection of those arguments, and the result is a victory for all in the LGBTI community. Those arguments hurt our community. They hurt young people, trans people, children and families who weren't really at the centre of the substantive debate about what a mutual commitment is between two people who want to marry each other. The results of the survey show that they did not win the arguments about marriage; they did not win the arguments about schools; and they did not win the arguments about children—and any forthcoming amendments on those grounds must be rejected. If this legislation is amended to single out same-sex couples or our children for discrimination in any way, that is not marriage equality. I look forward, finally, to real marriage equality in this nation, and the bill before us can and will, with the good grace of the members of this place and the other place, deliver that.

Finally, I want to say that this is a hard week to be away from my own family, my partner and my son. We all watched yesterday on the television as loving couples shared terrific moments and their joy, but, for LGBTI members of this place who are away from our loved ones, it was a hard thing to do. But I know I've got a job to do in order that my family can have the recognition it deserves. I look forward to people in my own family being able to have their marriages recognised. To Stephen and Dennis: you were civil-unioned in Ireland and married for a short time in Canberra, and, finally, I'm pleased that you will be able to have your commitment to each other recognised in your own country and your own community. My beloved partner, Bek, and I also want to marry. And I know we share the feelings of other same-sex couples who look forward to the focus turning from a massive public debate about our lives and our identities and turning towards each other, for the love we share for each other and for our children. We look forward to celebrating our love and having it recognised in front of our family, our friends, and our community. Today we are a step closer to that moment, and I thank you.