The introduction of this bill into the House today is significant and somewhat unique in that it has the rare distinction of enjoying very strong cross-party support.
While I have the honour of addressing you all, I do so on behalf of all my co-sponsors without whose support it would not have been possible to bring this bill to the parliament.
I would like to make special mention of them all: the member for Griffith, Terri Butler, who is seconding this bill; my very dear friend and colleague the member for Brisbane, Teresa Gambaro; the member for Werriwa, Laurie Ferguson; the member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt; the member for Indi, Cathy McGowan; and the member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie. Thank you all for your encouragement, your counsel and your patience in supporting this bill.
I also want to thank Rodney Croome, who has been with me on this journey from a point when I had much less understanding of this issue. I would also like to acknowledge Ivan Hinton-Teoh; John Lamont from Teresa Gambaro's office for his comprehensive work in drafting the bill; the highly professional staff in the Table Office and the Clerk's office, in particular Mr Andrew Freeman, legislative drafter in the Clerk's office; and Heather Beck from my office for her great assistance.
I will not linger too long on the technical aspects of the bill, which have been detailed extensively in the explanatory memorandum and statement of compatibility, but I do want to make these points. This bill does not create different classes of marriage. It does not establish a hierarchy or ranking system, pitting a marriage between a same-sex couple above that of a heterosexual couple or vice versa. It provides absolute protection of religious freedoms not just in observance of section 116 of the Constitution but because you cannot replace one form of prejudice and discrimination with another.
The main purpose of this bill is not a complex one—it is to give same-sex couples in Australia the same right to marry the person they love as that which is currently only granted by law to heterosexual couples. This bill is designed to promote an inclusive Australia, not a divided one. A divided nation is what we will be if we continue to allow discrimination in relation to marriage on the basis of a person's sexuality. The co-sponsors of this bill acknowledge and accept that there are strong and conflicting views on marriage equality, and we certainly respect those views. In addition, we are not in any way trying to change those views. However, we do what we believe is right, and therefore our actions aim to recognise the claim of all peoples to equality before the law. The bill gives expression to this by changing the law so as to allow any 'two people' to marry and have their marriage recognised, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.
Colleagues, much of the evolution of our social norms comes about through greater understanding. Many aspects of tradition that were seen as 'usual practice' 50 or 100 years ago are clearly today unthinkable. As a progressive society, we need to continue to make appropriate changes to our legislation over time. We live in a modern society where women and Indigenous people have equal rights to vote, mixed-race marriages are acceptable and being gay is something not to be ashamed of. We believe that when it comes to marriage equality, that time is now.
The institution of marriage is about two people making a commitment to a monogamous relationship for life. Who is to say that one person's love for another person is in some way lesser because of their gender makeup? Over the years, I have made many friends in the gay community—people such as a Sydney couple, John and Arthur, aged 83 and 87 respectively, who have been together for more than 48 years. They are now in their sunset years and would dearly like to formalise their relationship through the institute of marriage, before it is too late. After an almost 50-year commitment, their relationship is still regarded as second-rate under Australian law. This is not good enough.
I would like to highlight other personal circumstances which have also helped to define my position in supporting marriage equity and the removal of all elements of discrimination. It is these circumstances which continue to convince me that progressing this issue is the right thing to do. As a young man in rural Queensland, it was quite enlightening as I came to realise that a person's sexuality certainly has nothing to do with lifestyle choices. I had an experience where a friend of mine transitioned from male to female. Her courage in taking this step in the 1970s left a lasting impression on me, while highlighting the futility of the 'nature versus nurture' argument. As she herself said to me:
'There was certainly never a 'straighter' family or community than the one I was born into. For the sake of those families that differ in composition to the Prime Minister's ideal, I hope you are successful in your campaign.'
More recently, I had the privilege of meeting a young man called Lachlan Beaton. Lachlan had posted a You Tube video about the mental anguish and struggles he faced in hiding his sexuality, and it hit me to the core. Despite knowing from a young age that he was gay, Lachlan did not come out until he was 27 years old, and his twin brother, Charles, was not aware of his sexual orientation. How can one argue that being gay is a lifestyle choice when identical twins develop together in their mother's womb and are raised in the same household by the same parents, yet one is gay and one is not? As for Lachlan and Charles's parents, I am sure that they would hope their sons each find true love and settle down one day. But when they do, why should one son's commitment to his life partner be seen to be of less value than the other's when one can marry the love of his life while the other cannot?
The other question to consider when discussing the family unit is how to even define a 'traditional' family these days. At the last census in 2011, there were more than 6,300 children living in same-sex parented families across Australia. This number will certainly be significantly greater now, and the rights of these children also need to be considered. The fact is that many of the children in same sex families are the biological children of one of the parents. The best environment for those children growing up is within a loving family unit, and those children are deserving of equal protections within that unit. To me, this bill provides another step in affording that protection.
Further opposition to marriage equality has been based on people's religious beliefs. I have, however, received many examples where people have reconciled their faith and their compassion for members of the LGBTI community. I was incredibly touched by the mother who wrote to me earlier this year to say:
'I am a mum of four young adults, one of whom is gay and I've known that he was since he was 3 years old, it was that clear. I prayed for all of his life for God to change him and he didn't, instead I changed and am so thankful for all that my son has taught me about love and tolerance.'
I also received strong support from a retired Anglican bishop who is very aware of the pressures that face young people in the Christian community. He said:
'I've been a bishop for 30 years, a priest for 60, and of my four sons, two are gay. I've been very much aware of the attitude as it's been over the past 60 years towards homosexuals. Being in the church, I've seen such a lot of nonsense put forward in the name of Christianity.'
I would like to congratulate the 106 clergy, led by Archdeacon Fr Peter MacLeod-Miller, Rev. Angus McLeay and Rev. Dr Margaret Mayman, who presented the co-sponsors of this bill with a letter of support for marriage equality last week.
As I said earlier, marriage equality does bring out very strong emotions right across the spectrum of viewpoints in our society. While people are certainly entitled to have a view, and this bill is certainly not in any way trying to influence individuals' views on this, it is very critical as the issue progresses in the coming months and years that we aim for a very high standard of dialogue, and I think we need to deal with this issue with the respect, the patience and the dignity that it does deserves. It is certainly an issue that, irrespective of what people think in relation to priority, is very, very important to many people in our society, both within the gay community and amongst their families and friends and those who support the rights of those individuals. With that, I commend the bill to the House.
Honourable members: Hear, hear!
The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Craig Kelly): Is the motion seconded?
Member for Griffith Terri Butler: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.