Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE (South Australia) (11:05): When Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced on 8 May 2016 that there would be an election on 2 July, resulting in the longest campaign in history, the whole of Australia let out a sigh, and rightly so. It was a long and exhausting campaign, but it was a campaign to elect the government of our nation; it was not a public survey on the human rights of members of our community; and, while campaigning for the election was rough, it was nothing compared to what the LGBTIQ people have experienced simply seeking the equal right to marry. No-one here can say they haven’t seen or heard about the level of vitriol directed at LGBTIQ people who are open about their sexuality and their families and friends. Nor can we plead ignorance about the impact this has had on the mental health of the LGBTIQ community as the nation decided whether they were worthy of a human right. Yesterday, as I stood in a room with my parliamentary colleagues, the anticipation of the result was palpable. When the TV froze for a moment, the room seemed to inhale and let out a collective sob. With the number of LGBTIQ people in the room, it seemed symbolic of the weight of the world on their shoulders during the campaign.
I want to recognise the courage of my colleagues for whom this was a deeply personal campaign. They have stood in this place, in front of the nation, exposing their personal lives to advance the legal rights of others. We wouldn’t be here today without you. Thank you.
I’ve said previously when speaking on same-sex marriage that, for most of us in this place, we can only imagine what it feels like to have our personal lives subjected to a public vote. But over the past few weeks my imagination has become more vivid as I’ve seen the effects firsthand. Initially, there was a tremendous focus on the Abbott family, like they were the only family dealing with conflicting views, but, throughout the country, conversations about how one would vote were going on between hundreds of thousands of families and households. Included in those families were people who hadn’t disclosed their sexuality—same-sex attracted people who were being told by a family member that they oppose same-sex marriage and would be voting no. Imagine knowing you were same-sex attracted and hadn’t told anyone and a public debate about your rights, your personal relationships, was in full swing and your family were voting against you, before you’d had the opportunity to be honest with them and to tell them who you were. I’m told it feels like a knot in the stomach that won’t go away, like you might throw up but it wouldn’t be enough to stop you feeling sick or feeling fear. I’m told it feels like the words just won’t come out, because what if they look at you differently? What if you’re treated differently?
If we think this debate is just about whether two people of the same sex can marry, then we are mistaken. This debate has been about our acceptance of human beings of the same sex loving each other and how we treat them as a nation. We’ve labelled and classified our family members, friends, colleagues and members of our community based on who they’re attracted to and who they love, and we’ve decided they get fewer rights than the rest of us. And there’s not been one single convincing argument during this campaign for why this should be the case. I’ll run quickly through some of these main arguments: religion—or, as Macklemore would say, a book written 3,500 years ago; children of same-sex couples would be disadvantaged; so-called gay agendas would fill our schools; and cake bakers and florists would be forced to provide their services for same-sex weddings, which they may oppose. Yes, these arguments are put simply, but they can also be refuted quite simply.
It’s widely accepted by parliamentarians that religious institutions will be protected under any bill that amends the Marriage Act. Children are more disadvantaged by the level of hate in this debate, by the lack of acceptance of LGBTIQ people and by being raised in households where there is no love. Marriage equality does not equal a school curriculum with a gay agenda and it’s misleading to say so.
Allowing wedding service providers to discriminate on the basis of a person’s sexuality is fundamentally wrong. How do same-sex couples determine if the cake baker is opposed to their marriage? A sign out the front of the door? Or do they wait to be asked and then have to be told to their face that their custom is refused because they happen to want to marry a person who happens to be of the same sex? What an awful situation to confront! It was heartening to read yesterday that the Baking Association of Australia has said that they don’t want to be involved in this debate, asking, ‘What cake baker in their right mind wouldn’t bake someone a cake?’
Such positive statements are so heartening, because the survey has been awful enough. That Australia has held what was essentially a mass opinion poll on human rights, and on a matter which will have no real effect on the vast majority of voters, is an indictment on this government. In 2004 the then Prime Minister John Howard amended the Marriage Act without such a poll. In fact, less than hour after he announced the proposed changes, which included banning gay couples from adopting children from overseas, the government rushed the legislation into parliament.
While we are walking down memory lane, there were many noteworthy movements of historical changes to marriage laws in Australia. In 1918 the Aboriginals Ordinance was passed to restrict marriage between Indigenous women and non-Indigenous men in the Northern Territory, and other state laws were in place to control marriage for Indigenous Australians. Until 1942, the minimum age of marriage was 12 for women and 14 for men. It was subsequently raised to 16 and 18 respectively.
Uniform marriage laws across Australia were established in 1961 through the Commonwealth Marriage Act, which made the minimum marriageable age 18. Until 1966 married women couldn’t be employed in the Commonwealth Public Service so that they didn’t steal men’s jobs and instead boosted the birth rate. Many women kept their marriages a secret as a result. No-fault divorce was legislated in 1975. No longer did couples have to prove wrongdoing and, as a result, the divorce rate temporarily skyrocketed.
While not Australian history, but perhaps as a symbol of just how far behind we are in this country, in 2001 the Netherlands became the first country to legalise same-sex marriage. Just three years later John Howard legislated specifically to prohibit same-sex couples marrying here. Twenty-five countries followed the Netherlands’ lead; only Ireland put the issue to a referendum. Australia held a non-compulsory non-binding survey. How embarrassing!
I’m proud to say, though, that in my home state of South Australia 79.7 per cent of eligible voters participated in the survey, returning a yes vote of 62.5 per cent, higher than the national figure of 61.6 per cent. As the youngest female member of the 45th Parliament—and I will give my age away: I’m 31!—I’ve been acutely aware of the perception that young people do not care about politics. How amazing is it then that this survey activated young people to register to vote and to turn out in droves to cast their votes. The future is bright for that reason alone.
So, here we are, having gone backwards as a country on this issue and now with an unprecedented national survey producing an overwhelming yes vote in support of changing the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry. I had the opportunity to participate in the Senate inquiry into what is known as the ‘Dean Smith bill’, which is the bill before us today. On this bill, the Nick Xenophon Team agrees with the comments made by the Law Council’s Fiona McLeod, who said:
The Smith Bill supports the protection of religious freedoms in two key ways. It permits ministers of religion and religious marriage celebrants to refuse to solemnise a marriage and it allows bodies established for religious purposes to refuse to provide goods or services for the purposes of the solemnisation of a marriage.
While the Law Council does not endorse every detail of the Smith Bill it represents a better balance from a human rights perspective and represents greater fairness, including those affected by winding back anti-discrimination laws.
On human rights, the explanatory memorandum of the bill says that it enacts Australia’s international obligations in respect of the human rights of freedom of expression, association, thought and conscience, and the rights of the child. What it doesn’t do is permit conduct which is unlawful discrimination under the Sex Discrimination Act. It protects only genuine beliefs which are not fictitious, capricious or an artifice. In removing one form of discrimination we must not, as legislators, replace it with another or, as some would propose, a more expanded form of discrimination.
Just as John Howard amended the Marriage Act in 2004 without delay, the 45th Parliament must amend it now because we have already been too slow, because the debate has caused too much harm, because we have a bill that has been through the Senate committee process and has had the appropriate level of scrutiny, because those opposed are playing with people’s lives and it’s time to say enough is enough. The very direct outcome of this debate can be and should be marriage equality, but the indirect consequences are vast. For those who are same-sex attracted and who couldn’t change even if they wanted to, their stories and indeed their lives may just be that bit easier. Once this task is done, we can move on to the other injustices in the law which relate to the LGBTIQ people in this country. We must keep moving forward so that same-sex attracted people no longer feel scared or sick or like they matter less and deserve fewer rights than other Australians. The government committed to passing a bill for marriage equality. Let’s get on with it. There can be no further reason for delay. They have all well and truly been exhausted. To borrow the words of Bob Dylan, stop criticising what you don’t understand. Love has won. Let’s hand it its reward.
Chamber Senate on 16/11/2017Item BILLS – Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 – Second Reading Speaker: Kakoschke-Moore, Sen Skye / Parliment5 of Australia Website Transcript used for Reporting News