I have been a long-time advocate for changes in this area, and initially found the journey to be very lonely, but it was something I was determined to do.
In 2004, when the Parliament changed the definition of marriage to exclude LGBTI Australians, I stood in the Liberal Party Room and said I didn’t understand why we needed to do this.
Hadn’t LGBTI Australians been through enough? Why did we have to kick them on their way out the door? To me it didn’t make sense. Denying any Australian equal status and the same level of dignity and respect is in my mind completely un-Australian.
For me it’s really quite simple. I don’t understand how one section of our community should be treated any differently to another. Life is tough and sometimes very hard, and if you are lucky enough to find someone to join you in the good and the bad well in my mind, that’s fantastic. I strongly believe that couples seeking wedlock are strengthening the institution of marriage.
There has been a lot of commentary about the length of my advocacy and some very flattering remarks. In the media, I was labelled a “fiercely heterosexual far North Queensland Crocodile and Bull Catching Liberal”.
However, the 12 or 13 years I have been raising this issue and seeking to remove legal and financial discrimination within the gay and transgender community, and also advocating for the right to marry for same sex couples, has been relatively short compared to those Australians who have had to endure inequities for their entire life.
In 2007, I worked tirelessly to remove the financial discrimination that gay and lesbian Australians faced.
In 2010, I came back from retirement because I felt that I had unfinished business. I hope that some of that business can be dealt with this week, because a clear majority of Australians back this because they believe in a fair go. They are sick of politicians playing games with real people and real lives.
In endorsing this legislation, I would like to dedicate my advocacy to a number of very special people that have come forward, shared their life stories with me, and helped to reinforce my commitment to why these changes are so necessary.
The first person, I’d like to dedicate this to is Alana – and Alana you know who you are. When my interest in dealing with discrimination in the same-sex community was first reported in the mid-2000s, there were a number of news articles that focused on the motives behind my advocacy.
One of the stories had the headline ‘MP Warren Entsch tells why he supports gay rights and how my mate became a woman’. While I didn’t actually participate in that interview, they clearly made assumptions and had an interesting description of me, and made reference to a friendship that I had many years before when I was living in western Queensland. Imagine my surprise when I received an email, and I’d like to quote a couple of the comments from that email….. “I was humbled to hear your/our story in today’s Sunday Mail ”…. Later in the email Alana states ” For the sake of those families that differ in composition to the Prime Minister’s ideal I hope you are successful in your campaign. As you and I know, there is absolutely no family in the country that can assume it will be immune to having a child/grandchild/relative that is gay or transgender. There was certainly never a straighter family/community than the one I was born into. Hopefully, these families would then want that person to have the same rights in their relationships that other Australian’s take for granted. In closing, I will just give you an update on my life since we last saw each other. I went back to school and university, graduating from medicine at The University of Melbourne and am now working as a doctor in Victoria”.
I have to say Alana that was very inspirational and moving for me and many times when I felt pretty lonely on this journey in this place I would often pull out your email and read it, and that reinforced my commitment to what I was doing. Thank you Alana.
I’d like to also acknowledge two others, possibly the oldest gay couple in Australia from media reports – John Chalice and Arthur Cheeseman. John was another one who reached out in the early days to share his story with me. John and Arthur have been together for more than 50 years in a totally committed and monogamous relationship. They reinforced the question in my mind – why shouldn’t two people who have shared a life together in a strong and committed relationship have the right to choose how they express their commitment to each other? I want to thank John and Arthur for sharing their story and inspiring me, and I dedicate my advocacy to you both. I understand that wedding plans are on the way, possibly in January, and John you actually look like you’ll be getting married before your 90th birthday. My heartfelt congratulations to you both.
Finally, I dedicate my advocacy to another very special person who is in the gallery today – Kate Doak. Kate came to me as a journalist trying to understand my advocacy in this arena and over an extended period of time in my office she eventually shared with me her own personal story – a story that I had the privilege of being the first person to hear. Subsequently, both myself and my staff, particularly Heather, who have been there for Kate. I thank you Kate for your inspiration and again I dedicate my advocacy to you.
I’d also like to mention Rodney Croome and David Scammell. When media articles first appeared about my advocacy I received lots of responses from family and friends of gay people saying they wanted to come out and support me. Rodney Croome and David Scammell travelled to Canberra and sat down with me and, for the first time in my life, they provided an insight on the inequities and discrimination gay people faced. I thank them for that opportunity because without their contribution I may never have been aware of the issues, and I may not have started on this journey.
I’m not going to go into the technicalities of the Bill other than to say that there has been a huge amount of effort put into it.
The Bill which the Senate passed last year is a robust bill. A whole range of religious protections are already in place.
As Senator Dean Smith said when he tabled it – this Bill reflects the most fundamental liberal and conservative values which our party stands for. Liberal because it delivers freedom for couples to marry, and conservative because it strengthens the social fabric of the vital institution of marriage.
This Bill is about marriage, and only marriage. Nothing in this Bill takes away an existing right or freedom. It doesn’t create different classes or marriage – what it does is give same-sex couples the same legal rights as other couples.
We have made sure that we have removed any element of discrimination in this Bill, while ensuring that religious freedoms are protected. LGBTI couples will be free to marry the person they love in civil marriage. The freedom of ministers of religion and religious marriage celebrants to only perform religious marriages in accordance with their religious beliefs remains unchanged.
There may be amendments proposed. Amendments on free speech, discrimination law, education, charity law, tax law – and these are all worthy causes and important debates – but they don’t need to form part of this Bill today. Australians are sick of excuses and delay.
The majority of Australians voted Yes to same-sex couples being able to marry in the country they call home, in front of friends and family who love them. They did not vote for new forms of discrimination.
Amendments about unrelated issues, amendments which seek to delay same-sex marriage for the 61.6% of Australians who have made their preference clear, or amendments which seek to unwind or remove any legal rights or discrimination protections – will be emphatically opposed.
Australians did not vote for fairness and equality to see other legal protections peeled away in this Bill.
I announced my intention to introduce a Bill back in 2015, but unfortunately that didn’t occur because a decision was made to commit the Coalition to a plebiscite. I didn’t agree with the plebiscite and I was disappointed that I didn’t have the opportunity to introduce my Bill to the floor of parliament. However, I did everything I could rather than the process and the plebiscite commitment was taken into the 2016 election.
It was during this period there were a number of very special individuals who entered the parliament providing the opportunity for us to work as a collective determined to get a vote on marriage equality in the 45th Parliament. I’d like to acknowledge my colleague here beside me Trent Zimmerman, the Member for North Sydney, in front of me here Tim Wilson, the Member for Goldstein, and of course a fellow Queenslander Trevor Evans, Member for Brisbane – all kindred spirits in this advocacy.
Together we committed ourselves to making sure that same sex marriage was on the agenda and that we had the opportunity to have a vote in this place. Special mention to my friend Senator Dean Smith who as a member of the Joint Senate Select Committee on Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill who did outstanding work in incorporating the findings of the Consenting Report from committee into the Bill that we are now debating which has now passed the Senate.
I have to say I was not happy with the postal survey, but I have to congratulate Peter Dutton for the initiative. When he approached me, I suggested to him that it would never work and I honestly didn’t think it would. However, we always benefit from hindsight. It’s probably the best thing we did in so much as the participation rate was extraordinary, almost 80 per cent of registered Australian voters, and the fact that we got a yes vote of almost 62 per cent shows an absolute majority of Australian’s have come along with us on this journey. It certainly provides us with an opportunity to celebrate inclusion and diversity, and is one of the biggest political mandates in the history of our nation.
While there was great celebration in Australia when the result came through, I was in New York and let me assure you this result wasn’t just celebrated in Australia, it was celebrated around the world. I remember driving home after a function in Lower Manhattan not long after the results were announced and seeing the Empire State Building lit up in rainbow colours in acknowledgement of this historic event.
I’d also like to acknowledge the team from the Equality Campaign who have been invaluable in their assistance. I value their support and friendship – Alex Greenwich, Tom Snow, Anna Brown, Janine Middleton, Tiernan Brady, Clint McGilvray, Lee Carnie, Corey Irlam and last but not least Claire Dawson. There are many others but too numerous to mention that made the Yes Campaign such a success. I thank you.
In this place we all come here to make a difference and we do in many ways through our electorate work and assisting in national policy. However, it’s rare that we have the opportunity to make a change such as we have achieved through this legislation and the profound positive impact it will have on so many lives, not only those within the same-sex community but also their family and friends.
We have a responsibility to the Australian people this week. We must do what we believe is right. Who is to say that another person should be denied equal rights or that their love is in some way lesser because of who they love? This Bill will take from no one and simply makes our nation a kinder and fairer place to live.
Delaying equality for every Australian from Bundaberg to Fremantle is simply not good enough. At the end of the day, life is too short. Let’s vote and get on with it.
I know there are many weddings being planned in the near future once this legislation is carried through and I wish all those brides and grooms the very, very best for a golden future.