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We are falling behind the world on marriage equality

Speeches in Parliament
Janet Rice 31 Aug 2016

Madam Deputy President, I also want to add my congratulations to your appointment. I think it is a wonderful thing to have another woman there as Deputy President.

When I first spoke in this place, I stood here and declared: 'The time for marriage equality in Australia has come.' Now, today, it is two years and three days later and marriage equality has the support of the Prime Minister, the opposition leader, a majority of both the Senate and the House of Representatives and an overwhelming majority of Australians. Yet here we are with a backward coalition backbench holding back a government that is holding back the nation.

We are falling behind the rest of the world. There are 22 other countries, including the US, the UK, Ireland, South Africa and—perhaps the one that is closest to us and hurts the most—New Zealand, who recognise the right of all loving couples to marry, no matter where they fit according to their sexuality or on the gender spectrum.

In the last few weeks, my home state of Victoria has announced changes that mean it is going to be possible for my partner, Penny, and me to stay married with Penny changing her birth certificate; we are not going to be forced to divorce. Penny and I have had 30 years of wonderful marriage, and we ask: why are couples in the same situation in other states not afforded the same right? Trans forced divorce is simply ridiculous.

Why are thousands of other couples in loving LGBTIQ relationships refused the right to show their love in marriage? We are told that we have to have a plebiscite. The excuse that the government has is a harebrained scheme to delay the inevitable that is a leftover from Tony Abbott and his band of merry troglodytes. There have been surveys of lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex and transgender people done in recent weeks that have shown that 85 per cent do not want this plebiscite, and we know that polls are consistently showing that seven out of 10 Australians support marriage equality.

In the past 99 years we have had one plebiscite, and the way it has impacted on my life is that earlier today, instead of singing God Save the Queen orWaltzing Matilda, I sang Advance Australia Fair. But the way marriage equality is going to impact on lives is that loving couples will be able to show their love before friends, families and the law. There has been no other issue of human rights in the last 99 years that has been considered or decided by a plebiscite. There have been so many human rights decisions that have been made—whether it is ending discrimination against women or ending discrimination against racial minorities. And, in particular, John Howard, when he was Prime Minister in 2004, did not need a plebiscite to change the Marriage Act to say that marriage had to be between a man and a woman. We do not need a plebiscite to change it back.

Of all the moral decisions that this parliament has made in the past 99 years, the government wants a very expensive opinion poll that will intrude on the everyday lives of every lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer person in this country. My partner, Penny, and I know how such intrusion plays out, including having photographers staking out our house. But we know that this is what can happen when you put yourself forward for public office. The hounding, the trolls and the attack ads of a plebiscite would seep into everyday life.

This plebiscite could cost lives. That is not an exaggeration. Just take the pamphlets being handed out at the MCG a couple of weeks ago suggesting that a child with gay or lesbian parents has been deprived. For every parent, imagine going along to the footy to see such a hate-filled pamphlet and having to explain to your children why some people think that you have been deprived of something. And then imagine that sort of hate being broadcast with a megaphone through every form of media—traditional and social—on posters and on billboards, and being talked about over the dinner table, at work and at school. Imagine you are a same-sex attracted young person feeling isolated, alone and unsupported, perhaps feeling guilty and perhaps, if you are a religious person, that you are a sinner, feeling that you are unworthy and that you are a lesser person, and having to experience that hate speech. Imagine that you are at a school where you have not got the support of the Safe Schools Coalition—in a school that does not believe that there are any same-sex attracted students in their mix and certainly does not support them. Imagine putting up with that hate speech. It is no exaggeration to say that a plebiscite will mean that some people will feel that the best way forward is to take their life.

So after everything that we have heard, I honestly cannot say that we could support this plebiscite. In my first speech I said that I am here for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people and their families. I cannot honestly say that I would have fulfilled this if we did not oppose the coalition's plebiscite. I think of the young man Harry who wrote to me a year ago—a young gay man who, fortunately, has had the support of a very loving family and a lot of supportive people around him. He is too young to be thinking of marriage, but he shared with me the stories of three couples that he knew, including his uncle and his partner, who he desperately wanted to be able to be married so that they were equal to the rest of his uncles and aunts. Another family, who are raising three young children, had to enter into very complex legal arrangements to be able to get the same rights as heterosexual couples. Harry described them as the most amazing family and no different to any other. It means so much to Harry that the tide has turned and we now have a majority of Australians and a majority of Australian parliamentarians who are allies of the LGBTI community and are supporting the rights of people who love each other to get married. Harry, his friends, the people that he knows, should not have to be put through the harm and the hate speech that would come with a plebiscite.

Another person who wrote to me a year ago was Jenny, who has been in a relationship with Maria for over 10 years. They have an eight-year-old son. They spend their life doing the things that families with eight-year-old sons do: picking them up from after-school activities. Their eight-year-old son asks why Jenny and Maria cannot get married and says how much he would like it if they did. The time for marriage equality has come now. We need our parliament to get on with the job and to have a free vote in the parliament so that people like Jenny and Maria can get married. Maria is Spanish. In Spain, marriage equality has been allowed since 2005. It seems completely arbitrary that they can get married in Spain but not in Jenny's home here. They did not need a plebiscite in Spain, just like we do not need one here in Australia. In deeply Catholic Spain in 2005 there was strong opposition from the church, but now, 11 years later, 85 per cent of the Spanish community support marriage equality.

There are plenty of bills that we are going to be discussing in this parliament over the coming months and years, and I want a marriage equality bill to be one of those that is brought on quickly, to have a free vote in this parliament so that we can vote on it and get it done. I really hope that we can, despite everything that the haters are throwing at us. We now have more publicly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex parliamentarians than at any time in our history. To Senator Wong, Senator Smith and the member for North Sydney, Trent Zimmerman, welcome back. Welcome to the member for Brisbane, Trevor Evans; the member for Bruce, Julian Hill; and the member for Goldstein, Tim Wilson. And a special welcome to Senator Pratt, who left this place as I entered but is now back. Together, with my colleagues in the Greens and the Parliamentary Friendship Group for LGBTIQ Australians, I believe that we can work together to help end discrimination of LGBTIQ people and their families.

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