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Janet on additional safeguards during the postal survey

Speeches in Parliament
Janet Rice 17 Sep 2017

  I am rising to speak on the Marriage Law Survey (Additional Safeguards) Bill 2017 to say that the Greens will be supporting this bill, given the circumstances that we're in. We've been negotiating with the government and are relatively happy with the outcomes—but, as I said, given the circumstances that we're in. We are on a long, winding, damaging path to marriage equality, but I know we're going to get there in the end. So we are taking stock of where we're at, we are moving forward, and we accept that this bill is going to make some improvements on what would be an even more damaging process.

As people know, the issue of marriage equality is a personal one for me as well as a political one. My relationship with my wife, Penny, is one that's shared by not very many couples in Australia. It's an interesting if not almost unique perspective. When my wife, Penny, and I were married 31 years ago, she was a bloke. So we fitted the stereotype of being the perfect couple. We married in a church. We bought a house. We had two kids. We fitted hand in glove with mainstream Australia. Then, of course, some 17 years later she transitioned and became the woman she truly was. We went from being the perfect couple, the ordinary couple, the mainstream Australian couple, to being weird, to being discriminated against because suddenly our marriage wasn't acceptable. Suddenly, we were weird; we were not normal. Suddenly, if Penny wanted to complete her affirmation as a woman by changing her gender on her birth certificate, we were going to have to divorce.

Of course, we didn't want to get divorced. We were still a happily married couple. We had two wonderful children. But that was what our law said that we needed to do. So Penny's birth certificate has sat in her bottom draw since then. She hasn't been able to use it as her identity document. She hasn't been able to complete that affirmation of herself as a woman. Basically it is because we, as a same-sex couple, are still in our society seen as not being normal. When we presented as a man and a woman, we used to hold hands in the street. We used to kiss in public. But over the last 13 years we have self-censored ourselves. We generally don't hold hands in public. We got used to the fact that, if we are holding hands in the street, we need to be ready for the possibility of having a car driving past wind down its window and hurl abuse at us. That's what the reality of being a same-sex couple in Australia still is.

So we are on a journey to changing that. Australian society has changed incredibly over the last decades in the time that I have been an adult. Achieving marriage equality is going to be an incredibly important marker on that journey. I am imagining that, once we achieve marriage equality, we will continue on that journey where we will be able to hold hands in the street, where we will not have to worry about abuse or violence. We will be able to be who we are all the time. I am imagining that other people who haven't had the privilege that Penny and I have had of being married will be able to have that privilege. They will be truly equal. This is what we are fighting for. We are creating that Australia.

This postal survey is not the way that we wanted to achieve this equality. People's rights should not be put to a public vote. We should have had a free vote in the parliament and got it done and dusted, easily, straightforwardly, without putting LGBTIQ Australians—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer Australians—through the pitfalls of a public vote. The debate over the last month just shows how huge those pitfalls are and the difficulty of achieving the Prime Minister's respectful debate. We have seen those horrible posters. My social media pages have been filled with the most appalling homophobic and transphobic comments. I have spoken to so many LGBTIQ people over the last couple of weeks who feel that the world isn't as welcoming and safe as it felt a month ago. They feel not as sure of themselves in getting out of bed in the morning and facing what they see can be quite a hurtful and not protective environment. I have talked to mental health providers who have told us of the uptick in the number of people seeking support because of their sexuality or their gender identity.

Basically, this level of debate comes down to a base level that is still there in Australian society of homophobia, of transphobia, of not accepting that lesbian, gay, transgender, intersex and queer people exist and of believing that they should not have the rights of other people. People are feeling justified in passing judgement on others. That judgement has been very hurtful and very damaging to many people. Fundamentally, the reason this postal survey has not been the appropriate way to go is: why should they feel that they're able to pass that judgement? Why should they feel they're able to pass judgement on my marriage, on my relationship with Penny, on whether our kids have been well cared for? They didn't get that chance to pass judgement when Penny and I were the perfect heterosexual couple, but that's where we're at given the determination of this government, despite us here in the Senate rejecting the compulsory plebiscite for all the reasons I have been outlining, to put our rights, to put marriage equality, to a public vote. That is where we're now at.

We have picked ourselves up and are putting our best foot forward. We Greens, along with many others in this parliament now, are campaigning positively and loudly for love, with love. We are supporting this bill today as something that's patching up a damaged parcel. This bill is the string and sticky tape that's holding the parcel together. It's going to enable us to reach our destination of achieving equality. It's a journey that's bumpier than we would have liked, but I know we're going to get there. We will, at the end of this bumpy, quite damaging journey, achieve marriage equality. The provisions in this bill, the sticky tape and string holding the parcel together, that are of particular value—and I thank the government for putting them forward—are the authorisation provisions. At least we will know, when there are damaging, hurtful things being said, when there is discrimination and vilification as part of this public debate, that if the material is authorised there will be comeback against it. And, very importantly, we have negotiated vilification provisions to guard against such hurtful, hateful speech and public debate. I'm hoping that in fact there won't be any legal action as a result of this legislation. I'm hoping that having it will be a deterrent to such vilification and will mean there is a more respectful debate; that people will maybe take a step backwards; that having the threat of legal action hanging over them will make them hold off a bit from what they have been saying over the last four weeks. I'm hopeful—I'm always the optimist—that's going to be the case and that at the end of it we will achieve a resounding yes vote.

I know the level of support in the community. I know that—as long as we can get people out to vote—Australians are fair, are considerate and do want to achieve equality. Above all, Australians want this to be over and done with. Australians want to see equality reached. So many people I talk to about it say, 'Just get on and do it!' That's why we should have had a free vote in this parliament—because that would have been simplest, most straightforward and least damaging, and it would have been a celebratory moment in this parliament. We know that at the end of this non-binding postal survey we will still have to have that free vote, and we would not have had to go through this damaging, tortuous, arduous journey we've been put on. But I know that at the end of it, when we have achieved that free vote, when we have got legislation through this parliament, we will finally have achieved equality and two people who love each other, who are in a committed relationship, will be able to marry. I know that Penny and I will be able to stay married and she will be able to affirm her gender identity. The question we're being asked in this survey is about same-sex couples, but we know it's not just about same-sex couples. People across the rainbow spectrum, not just same-sex couples but transgender people, people who are gender fluid, people of intersex status—these are the people, all of these people, who will be treated as equal under the law in terms of being able to commit to the person that they love.

I'm so looking forward to the weddings that we're going to have at the end of this process, and I'm expecting to be invited to quite a lot of them. I'm thinking of so many of my friends who have been in loving, committed relationships over the years—sometimes decades—that I've known them. There are Felicity and Sarah. Felicity was one of the plaintiffs in the High Court. I look at their wonderful relationship and their wonderful children. I don't know whether they want to get married, but they are the people you should be thinking of; they are going to benefit from marriage equality. There are Mark and Tony; Sean and Jay, who have been engaged and are now just waiting; Kathleen and Helena—I could go on and on and on. These are the people, and their rainbow families, who exist and are waiting to achieve equality under the law.

Achieving marriage equality is a straightforward question of fairness and equality. Every Australian should be able to be treated equally under the law, and that includes being able to marry the person that they love. This legislation is an important part of reducing the damage of the journey that we're going on to achieve that equality. It's fixing up a flawed process, but this is the journey we are now on. I'm hopeful that, at the end of this process, when we achieve marriage equality, it will be a unifying moment for our nation. We will finally be able to include all Australians in our marriage laws. So I am really looking forward to just getting on with it. Let's get this done and we can all move forward and be celebrating love in our society.

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