Marriage equality now - speech in parliament

I am very pleased to rise to speak in support of this very important piece of legislation.

I am very pleased that I can put on record again my view in support of marriage equality and making marriage equality a reality now. I am very disappointed, however, that it appears I will not have the opportunity to demonstrate my support of this bill by casting a vote in support of it. This is the nub of this debate at this point in time. Right now, 226 Australians, members of this House and of the other place, have an opportunity—and I believe also an obligation—to make marriage equality a reality or, at the very least, to bring this matter to a resolution. This parliament must do its job. We are here as legislators to make laws. We are also here to mean what we say, not to dissemble nor to engage in sophistry, especially when it comes to something as fundamental as equality before the law and something also as fundamentally important as determining who we love and how we can recognise those loving relationships.

Opportunity and obligation: the opportunity is still presented by the bill before us now; the obligation goes to the heart of our responsibilities. Since this matter was voted on in the last parliament, the case for change and the case for marriage equality has been made out in the community. I take this time to acknowledge all the activists who have made a difference—Australian Marriage Equality and the individuals in the communities I represent and around the country. They are the individuals who have changed public opinion and demonstrated that there is a clear and significant majority in favour of marriage equality. I say this to them: we will not let you down.

I acknowledge also those who have brought this bill before the House: its sponsors—the member for Leichhardt, the member for Griffith, the member for Denison, the member for Melbourne and the member for Indi—and the other members keen to speak in support of this bill, and I am sure also to vote on it. I also acknowledge on this issue the leadership of the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, and his deputy, Tanya Plibersek, who have been ardent and fervent advocates for equality in this parliament.

This is a very simple bill before us. It raises a simple choice, an easy one for me, and I suspect for most of us, regardless of our views. So let's get on with it. I keep a postcard on my desk, depicting a couple at their partnership ceremony. They are a couple who were subsequently married in Canberra, before the ACT's laws in favour of marriage equality were overturned. In making this contribution, and every day that I am here, I think of Emily and Ellie, celebrating the joy of others—as they have done—a joy denied to them by this parliament.

I think also of my great friends Stephen and Dennis, the first couple married in the ACT—and all too briefly lawfully married. I think, for them, a second marriage will be something other than a triumph of hope over expectation. I hope it comes soon. I think also of the hundreds of thousands of Australians denied equality before the law, denied the opportunity to have their relationships recognised as mine is. It is simply not fair, and it is not just. I say to Emily and Ellie: I will keep your card on my desk until we have achieved marriage equality in Australia.

To the Prime Minister, who claims to support marriage equality, I say this: this is not a game, and it is not a matter for political calculation. It is a question of leadership. All of us have a responsibility to say which side we are on and vote in this place accordingly. It is all very well, Prime Minister, to speak of exciting times, but less than equal is not exciting and it should not be acceptable. Indeed, it simply is not acceptable.

This question of resolving a matter like this, by way of a plebiscite, raises some broader concerns that go to the heart of how our democracy operates. I am very pleased that we have a representative democracy in Australia. It is a good thing, and so is respecting our constitutional framework. I note in passing, when this matter came before the parliament in 2004, there was no plebiscite to explicitly deny marriage to many Australians. We should also in this place be mindful of the individual impacts of the plebiscite, especially on LGBTI young people. Many concerns have been expressed; we should take these seriously.

It is a very rare opportunity that this bill presents. In supporting it, we can achieve a great increase in the sum total of happiness in Australia without spending a cent and without costing anyone anything. While it is one thing to make a virtue of necessity, it is galling and offensive to claim this is gross expediency, as has been the case by government members here. The choice is simple for those of us chosen to make laws: if you believe in equality, vote for this bill. After all, it is 2015.


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