Senator Penny Wong: It is with great pleasure that I rise to speak to this report. The road to marriage equality has been a long one. It was some 13 years ago that the Marriage Act was amended to explicitly exclude non-heterosexual couples. Since then, the debate has been hard fought—a fact that would come as no surprise to all senators.

For those of us who fight for equality, it is a deeply personal debate. It is deeply personal because the law excluding us from the institution of marriage is a clear statement about how our relationships are regarded—a clear statement that our relationships are regarded as lesser than those of our heterosexual brothers and sisters. It is also a clear statement that, despite all the progress in Australian society, we have a long way to go in achieving equality. On the other side of the debate, whilst I do not agree with the position of those who have fought against marriage equality, there is no doubt that their views are strongly held.

And so, with strong and deeply held views on both sides of the marriage equality debate, it is no surprise that this debate has, unfortunately, so often descended into a partisan, acrimonious debate. It is a truth of which no political party in this place is innocent. Not too long ago, I said in this place that momentum for change continues to build and the forces of change will not go away. Certainly, we have seen those forces working to win the hearts and minds of Australians. Most Australians no longer ask why; they ask why not.

Support for marriage equality does not require political courage. It requires members of this place to do what they were elected to do, and do what the overwhelming majority of Australians want: to put aside partisanship, to work together, to compromise and, above all, to come on to the floor of this parliament and vote. The example of this select committee and its establishment is one we have to look at. Led by Liberal Senator Fawcett, it is a committee that includes members from the coalition, Labor, the Greens and the Nick Xenophon Team—a multiparty committee, established to work to achieve common ground in the interests of progressing the debate on marriage equality, to discuss and interrogate competing rights and freedoms: the right to marry, the right to religious freedom. And the result is a historic consensus report on marriage equality legislation.

This committee, made up of members of parties from all corners of this parliament, has reached a historic agreement on how we can move forward and achieve marriage equality. And we ought pause to consider the enormity of that achievement. In a debate so often mired in partisanship, mired in acrimony—a debate characterised by finger-pointing—we have a spirit of cooperation and agreement around this report. The parliament should follow the example of the Fawcett committee.

The committee reached agreement on several difficult issues, including whether ministers of religion should be permitted by law to act on their beliefs should they decline to marry same-sex couples, whether there should be a separate category of ‘religious marriage celebrant’ and whether civil celebrants ought be required to uphold the law if marriage equality proceeds. The report also seeks to ensure that exemptions for religious organisations in relation to same-sex weddings should be precisely defined. There are and will be parts of the report that I am sure I will not personally agree with, and there will be parts with which I do agree, but I am certain others in this place will not. Surely that is the definition of compromise.

This report is a historic step. This committee has demonstrated that this parliament can work together, that we can put aside partisanship, that we can balance competing views and competing rights and freedoms and achieve a just and sensible outcome. And I do want to congratulate Senator Fawcett, the chair of the committee, and Senator Pratt, Senator Kakoschke-Moore, Senator Kitching, Senator Paterson, Senator Rice, Senator Smith and Senator Williams for their work on this and the way in which they have approached their task. The report represents a significant and important moment in this debate.

The clouds of partisanship have parted. Let’s take this moment and use it well, because we must now, together, take the next steps, to work together, to compromise, to end this debate and to achieve what is the will of the overwhelming majority of the Australian people.

Chamber Senate on 15/02/2017Item COMMITTEES – Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill Select Committee – Report Speaker: Wong, Sen Penny. Parliment of Australia unedited Transcript used for News Reporting