In reintroducing this legislation for a plebiscite, the government is playing games with the lives, loves and relationships of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, and we have had enough. This parliament has the ability to have a vote on equal marriage. We could have a vote on equal marriage this week. Our Prime Minister could pay some attention to and take his lead from Germany, where Angela Merkel, despite not being in support of equal marriage, made the decision to allow a free vote in the German parliament. That was on a Monday. They achieved marriage equality on the Friday. Instead, this government is putting the lives of LGBTIQ people through a torturous obstacle course. That is what this plebiscite is—let alone the shonky, illegitimate harebrained scheme of a postal plebiscite, if that is what comes to pass.

I’ve got news for this government: LGBTI people exist. We are here, and our relationships are as valid as any other people’s relationships in this country. I am married to my partner, Penny. We have been married for 31 years. Penny is transgendered. Under our current legislation, with the current ban on people of the same sex being married, if Penny were to change her gender on her birth certificate from male to female—she is female—we would have to be divorced. This is the sort of discrimination that still exists.

I feel very privileged that we are married and that we had the opportunity to be married 31 years ago. But what about all of those people who haven’t had the opportunity to be married, particularly the ageing couples who have a partner who is dying? That’s what people are asking for. They are asking for their relationships to be treated equally, as all other people’s relationships in this country are. Not having our relationships treated equally has gone on far too long for us.

We know that we’ve got a majority of parliamentarians in this parliament who support equal marriage. We know that there is a majority of Australians across the country who support equal marriage. Opinion poll after opinion poll after opinion poll show that to be the case. Yet, because of the internal politics of the government, we cannot move forward. It is so frustrating. There is anger and disappointment around the country, yet what is being proposed is just more delays—more of this torturous obstacle—and putting our rights to a public vote.

There are very good reasons why you don’t put issues of human rights to a public vote, as Senator Di Natale pointed out. The reality is we know what’s going to happen if we have either this plebiscite or this shonky postal vote: the hurt, the hatred, the attacks on LGBTI people are going to be amplified in our community. We have already seen evidence of that. We’ve already seen stories in the press today about the leaflets that are being prepared. They are saying that the children of gay and lesbian parents are more prone to ‘abuse and neglect’ and:

Married biological parents have a better record for providing safety and development of healthy, well-adjusted adult children. They minimise abuse and neglect of children.

This is awful stuff, and that is what having a plebiscite—putting our rights to a public vote—is going to unleash upon LGBTI people and their families.

You will have children of same-sex couples being told that their parents’ relationships aren’t as valid and, for some reason, in their families, they are going to be more prone to abuse and neglect. This is not what we need to be doing. In Ireland, where they had to have constitutional change, they had to have a public vote, and we have the evidence of the damage that that debate caused. We don’t need to do that here. What we need to do here is to move on as quickly as possible to having a free vote in this parliament so that our relationships can be legalised.

We are not going to be blackmailed by those who say, ‘If you, the Senate, don’t support this plebiscite then we’ve got to have this opinion poll’—this $122 billion, non-binding, non-compulsory opinion poll that we know is going to be illegitimate, that we know would have low voter turnout and that we know would disenfranchise young people. We are not going to be blackmailed into saying, ‘We’ve got to support this legislated plebiscite rather than go down that track’, because they are not the options that should be on the table.

The option that needs to be on the table is having a free vote in this parliament as quickly as possible. When we do that, we know what is going to happen. When we do that, when this legislation, as it inevitably will, passes this parliament, there will be celebration. There will be joy on the benches of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. There will be massive celebrations in the community. The end result will be that people will be able to marry the person that they love. That is going to be a wonderful thing. It’s something that has been so long in coming. I’m looking forward to that day. What I ask the government is to stop all of this torturous obstacle course that they’re putting us through—the torturous process that we’re being put through. Let’s move on as quickly as possible to having a free vote so that we can join in that celebration and join in the celebration of the love of two people for each other.

ChamberSenate on 9/08/2017 Item BUSINESS – Consideration of Legislation Speaker: Rice, Sen Janet/ Parliment of Australia Transcript used for News Reporting