Marriage Equality

(12:30pm 21 February, Parliament House Sydney)

I share my constituents' view and the view of the wider Australian community that the Federal Parliament should take action to ensure that all Australians can marry the partner of their choice. A life commitment between a couple can provide stability and belonging for the people involved and the law should value, protect and support all loving relationships between consenting adults. It is not fair to deny anyone public recognition of this support because of his or her gender or sexuality. If we support fair treatment for all citizens we should allow same-sex marriages.

Australians from all walks of life have publicly supported change and a large number of Australians now refuse to accept that the current discriminatory definition of "marriage" is carved in stone. A Galaxy research study commissioned by Marriage Equality Australia found that 62 per cent of Australians support marriage equality, and this figure is supported in recent polls by the Sydney Morning Herald, News Limited and Roy Morgan. In the 18- to 24-year-old age bracket support is at 80 per cent showing an emerging trend towards tolerance, which I am sure everyone in this House would welcome. Ten countries already support same-sex marriage—the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland and Argentina—as well as the American States of Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, Washington DC, New Hampshire and New York. British Prime Minister David Cameron has expressed his support for same-sex marriage—a position that he states is in line with conservative politics because "conservatives believe ... that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other".

Gay men and lesbians are as capable of establishing loving, caring and lifelong relationships as heterosexual couples. By denying them the opportunity to marry legally treats those relationships as different and lesser. The Marriage Equality Australia website quotes many gay and lesbian couples expressing what marriage equality means to them. They say it would remove the stigma that they are different; that it would mean they are full members of society and not second-class citizens. They point out that the Government cannot dictate who loves who but it can provide support where there is love. For many couples same-sex marriage is about showing their love and commitment in front of their families. Exclusion impacts on families who want their brother, sister, son or daughter to live without prejudice and to have the same opportunities that they have.

There is considerable evidence that discriminatory laws reinforce social discrimination which allows violence and abuse of lesbians and gay men. The Commonwealth Government should act to reduce homophobic violence and abuse. Equality and inclusion are qualities celebrated by Australian society. While our marriage laws reflect discrimination and exclusion, there is hope for change with legislation to be introduced in the Australian Parliament this year to amend the Marriage Act and a strong community campaign for reform. Millions of Australians have watched and shared via social media the GetUp! marriage equality video entitled Love Story which features a young couple falling in love and deciding to marry but the fact that they are gay is revealed only at the end—a very moving video. It went viral, including a Facebook post by Madonna which was liked by 14,000 of her fans, and it generated more than 1,000 comments.

Who can forget the Vietnam veteran who asked on national television why his gay son could not marry the man he loved? Who can forget the Opposition leader struggling and failing to provide a reasonable and compassionate answer? He had a Catholic education and I hope that he still practises Christian principles. Our Federal parliamentarians need to legislate for the twenty-first century. The belief that marriage will be protected by denying same-sex couples the right to marry is like the illogical claim last century that women had to be denied the vote to protect democracy. In fact, Marriage Equality Australia reports that evidence from the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland shows no change to heterosexual marriage rates following the introduction of same-sex marriage which, of course, is what we would expect. Queensland and Tasmania recognise overseas same-sex marriages and civil unions and same-sex marriage legislation is proposed in Tasmania and South Australia.

I call on the New South Wales Government to put pressure on the Federal Leader of the Opposition to allow a conscience vote in his party, and I encourage all members of this House to get behind the campaign. All citizens deserve equal treatment, irrespective of gender and sexuality and governments should remove legal discrimination against people in same-sex relationships to ensure that everyone has access to the same legal, financial and social support. Every Australian who wants to make a life commitment to the person he or she loves should be able to do so, with that commitment being equally recognised and supported by law. It is what we expect in a fair, just, decent and compassionate society, which is what we all believe Australia is.