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It's time to put love into law

Speeches in Parliament
Janet Rice 15 Sep 2016

I rise to speak on the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2013. This bill has actually been on the books since 29 September 2010, introduced by Sarah Hanson-Young on the first sitting day of the 43rd Parliament, almost six years ago. It builds upon the first bill to legislate for equal marriage in this parliament that was introduced by a former Greens member of the House of Representatives, Michael Organ, in 2004. Then there were Australian Democrats bills in 2006 and Greens bills in 2007, 2008 and 2009. I am proud to say it has been the Greens that have been there since the beginning—every parliament, every vote, every time.

The 2004 bill that was introduced by Michael Organ was introduced in the wake of the changes to the Marriage Act by John Howard, who redefined marriage as being between a man and a woman. And, no, he did not need a plebiscite to do that. He moved to do that because of the changes that were happening around the world. Equal marriage was legislated for in Canada and Massachusetts in 2004—12 years ago. But, of course, in Australia, under former Prime Minister Howard, we could not possibly be as supportive, as accepting and as non-discriminatory of equality as countries like that! So it has been a long haul.

I feel very honoured to have the baton as the Greens spokesperson for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people for the part of this quest. I am deeply hopeful that I will keep the privilege of being the Greens spokesperson when we finally get to celebrate equal marriage as quickly as we possibly can. This week has represented the highs and lows of humanity: we have had sides unite, we have had people trying to tear us apart and we have even had weird conspiracy rubbish. But what a farce it has all turned out to be for Malcolm Turnbull. We know that he supports marriage equality.

Malcolm Turnbull failed, before he was in this parliament, to lead us into a referendum, and now he wants us to trust him with a marriage equality plebiscite. Marriage equality has perhaps been the most public example of the Prime Minister's failure of leadership in his first year in that office. The Abbott government was the worst government I have seen: ruling for the fringes and forgetting that government needs to be fair. When Mr Turnbull took over one year and one day ago we had such high hopes. But what a disappointment he has been. What is the point if he is just going to do the same things that the Abbott faction was pushing for? We have seen in the parliament today how much Turnbull is completely controlled by the right wing, the reactionaries and the troglodytes of his backbench.

In question time yesterday we had Senator Brandis telling us how wonderful the plebiscite was going to be and how he had met with the LGBTI community. But it is completely clear that he has been listening much more to the right wing of the backbench rather than to the LGBTI community. I have met with those same people that Senator Brandis met with, and they have told me in no uncertain terms that they want to see marriage enacted in Australia through a free vote in our parliament, and they want to see it happen as quickly as possible. They do not want to see us put through a hateful, divisive and unnecessary plebiscite.

Earlier this week Rainbow Families and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG, came into parliament. They were here to highlight to representatives from all sides of politics that there was overwhelming opposition to the plebiscite from the LGBTIQ community. What they told us, and what was very clear, was that even people who do not feel they are directly impacted by discrimination in marriage and the possible consequences of the plebiscite are guaranteed to know someone who is—their brother, their sister, their son, their daughter, their friend or their workmate. Imagine walking down the street with your child and seeing a flyer or a poster questioning the legitimacy of your family. Despite what the Attorney-General claims, it is already happening. Just one example were the flyers being handed out at the footy at the MCG a few weeks ago saying, 'Two men cannot replace a mother,' and 'Two women cannot replace a father.' What absolute hateful, hurtful nonsense.

And a plebiscite, especially one where the no campaign is handed $7.5 million, will be giving these people a megaphone—a licence to hate.

We know that while there is support for marriage equality in the community there is also overwhelming opposition to a plebiscite to decide this issue. Eighty-five per cent of the LGBTI community do not support a plebiscite. PFLAG surveyed 5,500 members of the LGBTI community, and overwhelming they said, 'Don't put us through the hatefulness and the hurtfulness of a plebiscite.' The people who answered the PFLAG survey outlined their worries and concerns. One person said:

It's absolutely clear the plebiscite will unleash a torrent of abuse against our community in general, but, even more importantly, at our children.'

Another said:

I don't want to have to justify my family in public or beg my Facebook friends to be good allies.

Another said simply:

I don't want my children to suffer.

Recently, nearly 17,000 people had signed our petition against the plebiscite. Again, as part of signing this petition—it has gone completely viral—many LGBTIQ people, as well as their families, friends and supporters, outlined why they oppose the plebiscite. Owen said:

As a bisexual youth, and having had experience with organizing marriage rights events and attending them, there is OVERWHELMING support from young people to have marriage equality and safe, supportive environments for LGBTI+ persons in Australia. This is the next generation we're talking about, how could the Liberals be so ignorant and DANGEROUS as to propose this plebiscite? This puts the lives of every LGBTI+ person at risk by justifying discrimination and hate.

Helen said:

My son is gay and, whilst he is not in a serious relationship at the moment, I cannot understand why he should not be allowed to marry if he does meet Mr. Right.

Another, who did not want to be identified, told us:

As a bisexual man who already deals with a lack of understanding and support, the last thing I want is an invitation for the whole country to call me unnatural, perverted and disgusting. I already deal with depression, like many LGBTQ people. Please don't put us through this.

The Greens have listened to the community—we have a history of listening to this community, from when we introduced our first bill for marriage equality in 2004—and we will always stand with them.

I think of my partner, Penny, and myself, who have had the most amazing 30 years of marriage. We are very privileged to be one of the very few same-sex couples who have been legally married in Australia—but of course we are only so because Penny cannot change her birth certificate to reflect her gender, otherwise, because of our ridiculous marriage laws, we would have to be divorced. We have people across the country against same-sex marriage who say they are in support of marriage. We have marriages like Penny's and mine that are at risk because of our current marriage laws. It is up in the air whether the changes proposed by the Labor Party in Victoria are going to go through the state parliament that would allow her to change her birth certificate without having to show that she was not married. Currently it is being debated in the Victorian parliament, and is being opposed by the Liberal Party. I can tell you from personal experience that a heterosexual marriage and a same-sex marriage are no different. It is ludicrous to discriminate between them. I loved Penny when she was called Peter when we married, and I have continued to love her for the last 13 years as Penny. All other same-sex couples should have the right to be married like we are.

I think of the wonderful speech given by Senator McCarthy last night. She urged Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull:

… please reconsider your plebiscite bill. Please pull back from this brink of public vitriol and make marriage equality a reality in this parliament. We need only be reminded of the hateful and hurtful commentary on race that ended the career of an AFL hero in Swans legend Adam Goodes—do not let that happen here to any of these families in Australia.

It was a truly wonderful speech, full of hope. Yet the government persists, and we know why: the Prime Minister has lost control of his party. He is beholden to his backbench, and while this continues the discrimination continues.

This week we have finally seen the details of their proposal. First of all, we have a rigged question. The LGBTI community and same-sex couples are being asked to seek the approval of the rest of the country for their right to marriage. We have a question where excluded from the question is any mention of whether people who identify as neither male nor female would be permitted to marry. The government could make the Marriage Act gender neutral by replacing 'one man and one woman' with 'two people', but then the far Right backbench, who we know are going to everything they can to stop equal marriage, could argue that that was not explicitly covered in the plebiscite.

We have $15 million of funding—public funding; yours and my taxpayer dollars—for these campaigns, on top of the $160 million that we are already spending. That would mean $7½ million to propagate hate speech, to use a megaphone to say that there is something wrong with people like Penny and me, something wrong with the families we met yesterday. Then there is the issue that we heard about from Senator Brandis yesterday, that the advertising for this plebiscite will not be covered by the advertising standards. It will be considered political advertising, so it will not be covered. So it does not have to be factual. So we can have the most hateful, hurtful, harmful, completely untrue rubbish going out there—into everybody's letter boxes, on their streets, on their televisions—using our money.

And then finally, of course, the big issue with this plebiscite is that we can spend all this money, we can have this outpouring of hatefulness against LGBTI people, and politicians can still ignore it.

 

It is not binding, and we know that many members of our government are saying that they are going to vote against it anyway.

Parliament should protect the rights of minorities, not subject them to a harmful and hurtful debate. This is such a dangerous precedent to set. As Senator Dean Smith very courageously wrote in the Fairfax papers yesterday:

I have never heard a candidate standing for election say they want to represent their community - except on issues where it's all too difficult, in which case they will contract-out their responsibilities as a legislator.

Senator Smith asked:

In an age where public respect for the institution of Parliament is already at a low ebb, we can ill afford to further undermine public confidence by effectively admitting that our Parliament can no longer deal with the big questions. …

What will be the justification used to deny future plebiscites on euthanasia, on abortion, on military deployments, or even on spending cuts? Where will be the newline in the sand?

Senator Brandis yesterday also claimed that he did not expect to see, as part of the plebiscite campaigning, signs like those seen during the Irish referendum, such as those saying that kids are not complete without a mother and a father—such a ridiculous proposition. But, Senator Brandis, that is already happening, and this plebiscite and the public funding for this plebiscite will just give the haters a megaphone.

So I want to outline a way forward that lets the parliament do what it is meant to do and gives the LGBTI community hope for a simpler way to end marriage discrimination. First of all, we have to pull the plug on the hateful, hurtful, unnecessary, expensive plebiscite. I call upon the Labor Party not to leave the LGBTI community waiting for another three weeks before definitively announcing their position. They need to fully commit to rejecting this hateful plebiscite now. Australia is ready for marriage equality. We do not need a plebiscite to tell us what we already know.

Secondly, once we have rejected the plebiscite we need to let parliament do its job. There are currently two bills in the House of Representatives. The bill with the most chance is probably not going to be the bill we are debating today but a cross-party bill. I invite members of the Labor Party, members of the crossbench and—who knows?—maybe even some Liberal Party members to join together in introducing a cross-party bill in this Senate. Then, if the Senate so desires, we can have a respectful committee inquiry which can explore the cases for and against and what has changed since the last time we inquired into equal marriage—how the rest of the world has moved on, from Spain to New Zealand, from the UK to the US. We can be definitive about the level of support for marriage equality across the country. We can put together the case for and the case against and, armed with that information, members of the Senate and then members of the House of Representatives can vote. I am confident that we already have a majority of senators and members who, in a free vote, will vote in favour, and we can have wedding bells ringing by Christmas.

We can do this. We just need to work together. We can enrich the lives of many Australians through a simple vote in parliament.

When I first entered this place I said that I am here for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people and their families. Marriage equality is such an important step towards the goal of ending discrimination against them. I say to my fellow LGBTIQ Australians: the time is coming. Every day, we take a step towards achieving marriage equality. Every day, LGBTIQ people, our family, our friends and our supporters fill me with hope. We know that love is love, that love will prevail and that it is time to put love into law.

 

 

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