Senator DI NATALE (Victoria—Leader of the Australian Greens) (10:30): I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. The rainbow is the symbol of the LGBTIQ movement. Rainbows appear when there’s both sunshine and rain, and over the last few months we’ve seen plenty of both. LGBTIQ people have had to spend recent months enduring a storm of abuse unleashed by the unprecedented decision to decide marriage equality via a postal survey, but the insults that rained down during those few months have been broken by the blinding sunshine of a resounding yes vote by the Australian people, and I thank them.
Subjecting questions of civil rights to opinion polls sets a dangerous precedent, and it’s not one that should ever be repeated. My thoughts are with the thousands and thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians and their families who have had the essential, loving nature of their relationships under intense public scrutiny over the last few months. Indeed, over the course of the two-month survey, there’ve been reports of spikes in calls to helplines from young people who’ve been subject to homophobic abuse in their neighbourhoods, in the media and online—abuse that has been whipped up through this so-called respectful debate. We’ve heard reports of damage to cars and homes where rainbow flags and yes material were displayed. People have been assaulted in the street. We all knew this would happen, yet the government pressed ahead.
People like Amanda Gordon, clinical psychologist and founder of National Psychology Week, were deeply critical of a process that asked people to take sides rather than to engage in a respectful discussion. Reach Out youth mental health service saw a 40 per cent jump in demand for their services over the period of the survey. Like so many other health professionals, they hold concerns about the long-term effects of the survey on people’s mental health, particularly if the opponents of marriage equality continue in the manner in which the no campaign has already been conducted. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has an underspend now of $22 million from this postal survey, and I’ve written to the Prime Minister to commit those funds to enhance counselling and support services for the LGBTIQ community.
It’s now time to end the damaging debate. Enough is enough—enough of the distractions, enough of the delays, enough of the damaging lies. Australia said yes to marriage equality and they said it emphatically—61 per cent of Australians said yes. Every state and territory returned a yes result. Every electorate in Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, Northern Territory and the ACT returned a yes result; 27 out of 30 electorates in Queensland, 35 out of 47 in New South Wales and 35 out of 37 in Victoria said yes. Let me thank each and every person in the country who voted yes. I want to thank the yes campaign volunteers for knocking on doors, making phone calls, engaging in conversations and distributing material. I want to thank them for having hard conversations, difficult conversations. I want to thank them because they came from all walks of life—people like my mum. One wouldn’t expect my mum to be a traditional advocate for marriage equality, having been brought up in a Roman Catholic household with a conservative upbringing. But she is always someone with a strong sense of social justice. She worked with me to help make a video advocating her support for marriage equality, recognising that the love between all peoples should be treated equally.
I want to thank her and those many millions of Australians who had those conversations and engaged with this debate. I want to thank you for reminding us, in the words of a tweet that I read recently, that Australia is not The Daily Telegraph; it’s not the Murdoch press. It’s not Sydney talkback, it’s not Alan Jones or Miranda Devine. Indeed, it’s not Senator Bernardi, Tony Abbott or Pauline Hanson. It’s none of those things. It’s sure as hell not the Australian Christian Lobby. Australians are much more generous and much more decent than that.
So the task now rests on us to change the law and to change it quickly. The singular purpose of legislation now before us is to ensure that marriage becomes an inclusive institution. Some opponents of marriage equality have now shifted their focus to expanding religious freedoms and to use this debate as a Trojan horse for their own narrow agenda. But they must remember that the resounding ‘yes’ vote was a call to end discrimination, not to entrench it. If these freedom warriors are genuinely committed to notions of liberty and justice, then we welcome that. We would absolutely welcome their support for the Greens’ call for a national bill or charter of rights, something we have campaigned on now for many, many years. We look forward to their support on our proposal. And let’s have that debate next. Let’s have it after we settle the question of marriage equality. Let’s not use it to muddy the waters on marriage equality when the instruction from the Australian people was so clear.
The marriage law that we’re debating in this country is a product of our secular society. Marriage is a deeply symbolic and public show of commitment between loving couples, but it’s also a legal arrangement. We’re debating both the deep symbolism of including every loving couple in the institution of marriage but also the legal certainty that flows from it. Through this debate, I’ve talked with many LGBTIQ Australians, right across the country. Not all of them want to get married. Some of them believe that the institution of marriage is flawed, that it’s deeply conservative, that it’s patriarchal. Yet, almost all of them still support this change because, for them, and so many other Australians, this is about equality not marriage.
We’ve also heard from so many faith communities. I know that there’s diversity across religious communities in our country. I know, for example, that many Christians don’t believe that the views of the Australian Christian Lobby reflect their views. I met Reverend Ric Holland from St Michael’s Uniting Church in Melbourne recently. He’s a proud advocate for marriage equality and he seeks to be the first church to solemnise a same-sex wedding. I wish him luck. We’ve also heard about the Australian Council of Hindu Clergy supporting the ‘yes’ campaign and the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, who overwhelmingly passed a motion calling for equal treatment under Australian law to same-sex couples who choose to marry. During the survey, we saw the Muslims for Marriage Equality group emerge. Nail Aykan, the Executive Director of the Islamic Council of Victoria, told the media that he had spoken to a number of Muslims and many of them—a significant proportion—voted yes in the postal survey. Faith communities are diverse. They’re not homogenous. They have always had, and will continue to have, the freedom to determine and celebrate unions between couples in whatever they choose. There is an important distinction to make, though. When those religious institutions turn to face the wider community, to trade in goods and services for profit or benefit or to seek government taxpayer funding for their activities, they should expect to be held to standards of fairness, respect and non-discrimination, which is why we will never support any legislation in this place that changes that important principle.
I’m again wearing those rainbow sneakers that I wore when the ‘yes’ vote was delivered. They were a gift by Reverend Holland’s daughter, Primrose, and I want to thank her for such a wonderful gift. I’m wearing them today for three reasons. Firstly, I wear them as a show of solidarity with people from LGBTIQ communities. I also wear them to remind us that support for a change to the Marriage Act comes from all corners of the Australian community, including from faith communities. And I wear them to take inspiration from the change that we’re creating with our LGBTIQ communities to go on and work harder and continue to pound the pavement for equality and justice with other communities that experience discrimination. When in the future I recall the resounding ‘yes’ vote and I look at these sneakers I will know that change is possible, that if we can achieve justice on this issue there is no reason that we can’t achieve justice for so many other Australians who are struggling right now and that we as a nation are better when we’re working towards fairness, respect and compassion.
The bill before the Senate’s not perfect. It’s certainly not the bill that the Greens would have introduced, if it were up to us. We’re concerned that it perpetuates exemptions from anti-discrimination protections, certainly something the Greens don’t support. But we also recognise that this bill is the product of a cross-party consensus, following the report of the select committee on the exposure draft of the marriage amendment bill in February. My colleague Senator Janet Rice worked in good faith with many other members of this parliament across party lines to deliver a consensus bill. We are now ready for a debate in good faith that honours the message from the Australian people to our parliament and that honours that process.
Through the course of this debate, I have heard from people who say that they actually support same-sex relationships but that they want to use a word other than ‘marriage’ to recognise those relationships. To them I say: I know you mean well, but you’re missing the point. When you choose to use another word, that is an admission that you don’t believe that those relationships have the same value, that they are equal. We simply can’t have a society that holds up an institution like marriage as being a bedrock to its values but then say we’re only going to make it available to some and not all. We simply can’t half do human rights. We have to complete this now because it is a matter of human rights, of equal rights, and because the reality is that today’s discrimination is hurting people and hurting families. We can make this change and in so doing go that bit further in creating a society that does not treat an entire community as though their rights do not matter.
When I was born, homosexuality was considered a sin, a crime and an illness. Priests would rail against sins of the flesh. People were arrested for consensual sex. Doctors would strap electrodes to people’s genitals in an effort to cure them. Here we are 47 years later, and the moral authority of the Catholic Church and its views on sexuality are in tatters. Laws criminalising homosexuality have been overturned. And the DSM, the Bible for medical diagnoses, no longer lists homosexuality as a psychiatric condition.
I say these things because it is important to remind ourselves that we have made progress. And I say them also to acknowledge those who have made that progress possible. For many, their activism was not simply about equality; it was about survival—those pioneers and activists who fought so hard for so many years. Many of them, lost to the HIV epidemic, are no longer with us. I take a moment to honour their memory. Many from the LGBTI community were so harmed by our prejudice that they took their own lives. I honour their memory. Some have simply passed on while our parliament has dragged its feet. I honour their memory. For them, we are too late. Honouring them means achieving this reform without further delay.
I want a future for my two boys where they grow up and thrive, where all people are treated fairly and with respect. I was talking to my younger son a few weeks ago about my job here in parliament. ‘Have you made any laws in parliament today, Dad?’ ‘Well, soon we’re going to change the law so that two men or two women can get married,’ I said to him. ‘Can’t they already do that?’ he said. It just didn’t make sense to him. ‘Not yet, mate.’ ‘Well, I’m going to marry Jesse when I grow up’ was his response. It doesn’t matter to me whether he does or doesn’t—that’s not the point. What’s important for him is that he understands that love is love. In those words, what I heard was a young boy who hasn’t had the years of prejudice and discrimination seep into him to cloud the way he sees the world. Let’s hope that’s the future we’re creating for generations to come after us. What matters to me now is not only that he has that choice but that he lives in a society that says: if that’s the choice he makes, he’s valued, he’s accepted and he’s loved.
We are at the beginning of the end of the fight for marriage equality. I’m so proud of the response from the Australian people, who have turned something so awful into something beautiful, something wonderful, something incredible. It is a statement of values about the Australian nation. An Australia with marriage equality is a stronger, healthier, more loving country—one to grow up in and one to grow old in. Our campaign will continue until we get this done and until we end discrimination once and for all. This is a vote for optimism; it’s a vote for hope; it’s a vote for a better future. The movement for love is unstoppable.
Chamber Senate on 27/11/2017 Item BILLS – Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 Speaker: Di Natale, Sen Richard / Source: Parliment of Australia Website 2017 Transcript used for reporting News