Mr SHORTEN (Maribyrnong—Leader of the Opposition): Today we have a straightforward task, and it is a great privilege. With this legislation, with our voices and our votes, we will make marriage equality a reality in Australia. This is a chance for our parliament to demonstrate that we are worthy of the people we serve. It’s a chance to honour the courage of LBGTIQ Australians, to recognise their rights and to celebrate their love. It’s a chance to atone for the inaction and failures of the past. After years of discrimination, disappointment and delay, it’s a chance to write into law a truth that we know in our hearts: marriage is defined by love and loyalty, not gender.
And whilst this final legal change depends on the overdue vote of our parliament, today is not actually about the parliamentarians. For me, today is about the teenager in the country town who stood in front of his footy club and asked his teammates to support him for the person that he’s always been. Today is about an office worker in the city who challenged her colleagues to put aside their old thoughtless prejudices and respect her right to equality. Today is about tens of thousands of loving same-sex couples who prove every day that they’re wonderful parents and they’re raising great kids. Today belongs to all the LBGTIQ Australians who have borne the burden of the long battle for equality—some of whom could deservedly be described as proud warriors who remember when their very existence was considered to be a criminal offence but always knew it was the law that needed to change, not their love.
The labor movement was born believing there can be no progress without struggle. The labour movement believes that equality is both natural and fundamental. But we understand that equality is never inevitable. To Australians for Marriage Equality, to all of the advocacy groups and campaigners, to the union movement and to the corporate leaders, to everyday Australians who live in the suburbs and in the country towns who knocked on doors, made phone calls, had conversations, rallied support, raised awareness and played their part in driving this overdue change, we say thank you. In particular, I want to acknowledge young Australians. Young Australians sometimes don’t get the credit they deserve in our public discourse. Hundreds of thousands of young people corrected their enrolment addresses or enrolled. They spoke to their parents and their grandparents. When we vote for this bill, and when it is successful, we should recognise that young Australians have shown Australia the sort of nation we want to see in the mirror—a generous, inclusive and tolerant Australia. For that, our young Australians are demonstrating that they very much deserve to have the best future possible because they are gifting it to all of us.
In particular, though I salute LGBTIQ Australians for all that you have done and for all that you have endured. Despite the strong polls and the confident predictions, I know that, on the eve of this survey result and in the morning when they woke up, many were consumed by anxiety—and it wasn’t just the prospect of a ‘no’ vote and it wasn’t the unpleasantness of features of the campaign; it was something deeper. I cannot imagine what it is like to submit your relationships and your identity to an opinion poll of strangers across the country. For many of my friends, they all of a sudden had to question how welcome they were in their own society. It was a reminder and a reawakening of old fears: the dread of coming out and being shunned by friends and family who just didn’t get it, and the fear of being rejected, targeted and humiliated because of something as basic and natural and human as who you are and who you love. Even at the wonderful celebrations that Chloe and I attended in Lygon Street on the night of the ‘yes’ result, I spoke to so many couples whose joy was matched by relief. You saw the weight come off their shoulders. Unfortunately, the bitter truth of hard experience has taught the LGBTIQ community to sometimes have to expect the worst.
What a glorious day it was when the people of Australia did not let their friends and their families and their neighbours down. And now, the parliament will not let you down. I think this is an uplifting moment in our nation, but we need to be mindful to match our joy with our humility—the humility to acknowledge that, for too long on marriage equality, Australia has trailed the world and, for too long, this parliament has trailed the people of Australia; and the humility to seek forgiveness from LGBTIQ Australians. The forgiveness I speak of is for the long delay and for the injustices and the indignities, both great and small; forgiveness for subjecting you and your relationships to public judgement; and forgiveness for the hurt and harm that you and your families have suffered. We seek your forgiveness. We salute your courage. We thank you for including us in your historic moment.
Let me be clear, for me in voting for marriage equality, the campaigners for marriage equality have not just delivered equality for them; they have actually made the Australian identity better. The gift of this legislation is not just in allowing people to get married. The gift of this legislation is that it says that Australia can be a better place, a more inclusive place. To all those LGBTIQ Australians who found themselves in subsequent days examining the result, seeing it as some kind of reflection on them in percentage terms, let me declare this: you are not 61 per cent anything. You are 100 per cent equal, you are 100 per cent loved and you are 100 per cent right to live your life the way you want, and we are lucky to count each and every one of you as our fellow Australians.
This legislation will bear Senator Smith’s signature, and that is a worthy tribute to his patience and hard work down the years. To his Liberal and conservative colleagues who stood up to be counted, you know who you are and you know the value of what you did and have accomplished. There are, of course, many members of all parties who fought long and hard for this change. From our side, I acknowledge the member for Sydney, Senator Louise Pratt, the member for Grayndler and the member for Whitlam, whose marriage equality legislation I was proud to be one of 42 in the House of Representatives to vote for in 2012. And I look forward to that number being far higher on this occasion.
I want to acknowledge all my colleagues who have offered me counsel on this question as leader. I’m proud of the decisions that we’ve made together. I’m proud we went to the last election promising a free vote within 100 days. I’m proud that we opposed the principle of a plebiscite, the idea of a lawmaking process for LGBTI Australians separate to all other Australians. And I’m proud of how energetically and effectively our party and our movement campaigned for the ‘yes’ case.
But in particular today I want to pay special tribute to Senator Penny Wong. Penny, yours has often been a lonely road and a hard road. It’s the merging of the personal and political in ways that some of us who vote here will never have to contemplate. But I do know this: in 2011, your advocacy, along with others’, changed our platform. And, whilst you’re too modest to say it yourself, in years to come Sophie will be able to tell your children about the time that their mum helped change Australia.
Many more will make valuable contributions to this debate. I did want to address briefly religious freedom. The Labor Party believes in religious freedom. We understand it is central to our democracy and our society. It is a most important issue and one that we must all treat with respect. Australia is a remarkable country full of decent and generous people of good conscience drawn from all faiths and none. And the greatness of our nation is that every person is free to be proud of what they believe. We recognise that, for Australians of faith, religion is a base to build upon in public life even if it is also a destination for contemplation, solace and sustenance in private life. In our society, under our laws, whether we be Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists or atheists, we’re all Australians and we’re all equal—first, last and always equal under the law.
Respect for sincerely held views of people of faith and respect for the rights of religious institutions to practice according to their own tenets is proper. And it is right and proper for the parliament to take the time to consider what protections are required as a separate question to this legislation. We look forward to the recommendations put forward by Philip Ruddock’s panel and we will consider them carefully in the new year.
And it is also important to note that nothing in this legislation limits the right of any person to lawfully worship, practice or observe, or teach according to their religion. This bill is about extending equality, not reducing liberty, because enhancing the rights of one group of people does not diminish the freedoms of another. Fairness is not a finite resource. Equality has never been a zero-sum game.
The whole history of Australia tells us the truth of this. Every time this nation expanded the definition of the fair go, we have all gained from its deeper meaning. Every time we have enlarged the circle of Australian fairness, we’ve all gained new allies in our national success and the telling of the Australian story. Every time we have faced the failures of our past, it has helped us build a better future. It is why marriage equality is not the trading away of our traditions; it is about living up to them. It is not about breaking with our values; it’s building upon them. This law is not the end of the ancient institution of marriage; it is a new beginning for a more equal world.
I hope and imagine that, in a generation to come, Australians will look back to these days and this debate and most will wonder: what was the fuss all about? My children will attend the weddings of their friends and not give a moment’s thought to whether they are gay or straight, whether it’s in a church or a park. All that will matter is: does the couple love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together? All that will matter is that they are people like us: our friends, our neighbours, our family members, our loved ones, our fellow Australians. This moment of this debate this week belongs to all those who have waited. This moment belongs to all those who have fought. It belongs to all those who did not live to see their dream realised. It belongs to all those who have felt that the inequality in the law has meant that they are unequal in our eyes. We have come too late to this moment, but we are here at last.
Today is an outstanding day. When we vote on this bill, it will be an outstanding moment. It will be, I predict, an uplifting moment. So it is with joy, with humility, with privilege, with love for our brothers and sisters and with hope in our future that I commend this bill to the House.
Chamber House of Representatives on 4/12/2017ItemBILLS – Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 – Second Reading Speaker: Shorten, Bill, MP