Finally … YES to marriage equality!

Published on Wed 6 December 2017 8:17pm

Marriage equality is not a gift or concession to LGBTIQ Australians, their families, their friends, their colleagues and their neighbours. To our families, our colleagues, our friends, our neighbours, it is the right of LGBTIQ Australians. They have fought for it; they have won it. In fact, it’s their gift to all of Australia, to all of us together, because it makes our nation a fairer place and a more cohesive, respectful and loving community.

Mr Wilson (8:17pm) — I am very glad to support this bill, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, because I believe, quite simply, that all Australians should be equal before the law, because I know that discrimination on the basis of sexuality is wrong, because I know that happiness shared is not happiness diluted, and because I know that giving all couples the right to choose the stability and commitment that marriage represents for some people—not everyone—is the right thing to do. In delivering marriage equality, which we do this week, Australia will move along the path of greater inclusion, equality, respect and love. While the change that we make this week is certainly not before time, there is no doubt that it is time.

The electorate I represent showed strong support for marriage equality. I was rapt to participate in a ‘Fremantle Says Yes’ rally underneath the iconic container rainbow. I did that in collaboration with the City of Fremantle, which adopted a strong advocacy position in support of marriage equality, initiated by my friend and former council colleague Jeff McDonald. That rally on a beautiful Freo evening, high above the port, was attended by nearly 1,000 people, representatives of many groups. We were fortunate to be addressed that evening by Tiernan Brady, who did so much for the campaign here in Australia and played a leading role in the successful campaign in Ireland. We also heard from my friend and colleague Senator Louise Pratt, who has been an inspirational and indefatigable warrior in the cause of equality and social justice for LGBTIQ people and for all people who face discrimination or disadvantage. Our final speaker that night was Emma Gibbens, who did such a fantastic job coordinating the ‘yes’ campaign in Western Australia. But the most amazing attendees were all the people who showed up in solidarity and celebration of the principles of equality and inclusion, in support of the change we make this week and in support of love.

There was a woman at the rally who travelled from the Perth Hills to attend. She said to me afterwards it was the first time she could remember feeling genuinely welcomed and accepted for who she was within a large community gathering. That was particularly meaningful to her because the rainbow sign that she had hung on her fence as part of the marriage equality campaign had been defaced the day before.

More than 82,000 people in Fremantle took part in the postal survey, which was approximately 80 per cent of eligible participants. The highest rate of participation was from those aged 70 to 74. On that basis, 70 per cent of participants supported marriage equality. Fremantle said yes. It said yes loudly, joyously and overwhelmingly. We have reached the point here, this week, that we could have reached earlier and more easily.

I have no doubt that the process of the postal survey was wrong, and we shouldn’t glide over that. There was no need and there was no justification for a non-binding, non-compulsory postal survey which came with a hefty price tag of close to $100 million. We have heard, frankly, a lot of waffle in this place this week about tradition and conservative values and the Westminster system, but there is no way you can reconcile a non-binding, non-compulsory postal survey with the tradition of legislative process in this place. Even in relation to this particular piece of law, there was no such process when former Prime Minister John Howard changed the Marriage Act previously. There was no such process on any number of significant changes that could just as easily be characterised as matters of conscience. I know there are a lot of people in my community and around Australia who were made to feel that their right to feel included and that their right to be equal before the law was being made subject to a strange and badly-fashioned popularity contest. But in the end, the people of Australia made it good. They made a bad process good by their participation, engagement and campaigning. That was uplifting to see, and we in this place owe them a debt of gratitude for that.

No meaningful change occurs unanimously. No person has their seat in this place unanimously. Very few have it on the basis of 70 per cent support, which was the result in Freo. No government has ever been formed with 133 seats out of 150 in the House of Representatives, yet 133 electorates around Australia supported the change we are making this week to deliver marriage equality. Every electorate in Western Australia, every single one of the 16 electorates, voted in favour of marriage equality. Let’s not be mistaken about the strength of feeling, the strength of reasoning and the strength of principle behind this outcome. Let’s go forward now, together, with a change that takes from nobody, a reform that simply makes our society more equal and a shift that allows all Australians to choose marriage if that’s right for them.

I say in welcoming the extension of that right—the right to choose—for people to live in loving, committed relationships with or without children, that those relationships are not any less worthy or any less deserving of respect if they don’t happen to be marriages. My wife and I married in 2006 or 2007—I will get in trouble now for saying that!—and we had been together for 11 years. We were in our second house; we had three children. We were married by a civil celebrant. We were very glad to celebrate our relationship with our friends and family, and we were fortunate enough to have that choice. That is what we deliver through this bill to people right across Australia, and it’s right that they have that choice, but it doesn’t mean, with all of the talk about what marriage means and delivers, that people who don’t choose to marry live in relationships that are any less equal.

As we make and celebrate this reform, let’s remember what has gone before and what there still is to be done. Delivering marriage equality builds on the hugely important reforms that occurred under the previous Labor government. It removed discriminatory terms and rules that worked to exclude same-sex couples from 84 different pieces of Commonwealth legislation.

Let’s also be clear that marriage equality, in itself, will not magically bring an end to other kinds of discrimination against LGBTIQ Australians. The wider pursuit of respect, the cherishing of diversity and the rejection of stereotypes are a matter of culture and character, and we’ve still got a long way to go on that path with respect to LGBTIQ Australians, as we do with respect to other sections of our community, particularly Indigenous Australians. But saying that doesn’t take away from the significance of this reform; it simply means that we have more to do.

Important struggles can only be won through leadership, and to some degree the big struggles create the leaders that they require. I think it’s also fair to say that the experience of disadvantage and discrimination can fuel the fire that burns as resistance to injustice, inequality and exclusion. It’s never been surprising to me that some people I have been influenced by in my involvement with Labor politics and progressive politics also have the perspective that comes with being a member of the LGBTIQ community: people like my very good and longtime Fremantle friend Justin Di Lollo, who bears some responsibility for having switched me on to the Labor Party in the early 1980s in Fremantle; people like Susan Brennan; people like Andrew Sullivan; people like Felix Pal. It’s not surprising to me that some of the leaders in progressive politics around this country—I’m going to talk about some in Western Australia—who fight for the rights of working people, who fight for social justice and who stand up for those who have least and need strong voices are also people who have that perspective, that resilience, that deep humanity and courage. They are people like Carolyn Smith, Stephen Dawson and, of course, my colleague from the other place Senator Louise Pratt.

There are many Labor parliamentarians who have worked on this cause for many years, but, in addition to Louise Pratt, I want to of course recognise the unstinting, essential, inspiring work of Senator Penny Wong. I also mention the work of my colleagues in this place the member for Whitlam and the member for Griffith, among others. I would like to recognise and pay tribute to the determined, reasoned, courteous and honourable way that this particular bill was created and negotiated by my colleague from Western Australia Senator Dean Smith.

As I said at the outset, I believe the change we are about to make is driven by a simple matter of the principle that people should be equal before the law. I say to the LGBTIQ community in Fremantle: I’m sorry that this has taken so long. I’m sorry for the extent to which you have been put through the wringer. I thank you for your strength of purpose, for your fierce commitment to seeing this done, for the way that you have lived the great, binding values of love, equality and inclusion. We owe you a debt of gratitude for leading us into the light.

Marriage equality is not a gift or concession to LGBTIQ Australians, their families, their friends, their colleagues and their neighbours. To our families, our colleagues, our friends, our neighbours, it is the right of LGBTIQ Australians. They have fought for it; they have won it. In fact, it’s their gift to all of Australia, to all of us together, because it makes our nation a fairer place and a more cohesive, respectful and loving community.

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