Speech in Parliament on the Marriage Equality Plebiscite Bill

1.45pm | November 07, 2016

I rise to speak on the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016. In some ways, we are in the most amazing position in Australia in relation to marriage equality. I have had some involvement in this issue over some years, and it comes as a real surprise to me—a pleasant surprise; a joyful surprise—that the majority of Australians are ready to take this next step. The majority of Australians are ready to recognise that marriage equality is about removing discrimination and affirming love—that love between two people of the same gender is of equal meaning and of equal value and is entitled to equal respect.

As many speakers before me today and at other times have said, people in same-sex relationships should not be made to feel like second-class citizens. Members of the LGBT community should not be made to feel that theirs is a second-class love. On this question the community have fought so hard. They have had the courage to present their voices and their stories. They have endured the public judgement that comes with exposing your own personal relationships and families to scrutiny and the unkind comments of people who would oppose them for personal values and for political reasons, ignoring the deep personal hurt that is delivered when an individual's family and an individual's love are rejected and diminished.

The community have been amazing on this issue. They have fought so hard. It has been my pleasure and, I think, Labor's pleasure to be able to stand alongside and support that community over that long journey. I am proud of the role that we have played, while acknowledging that in fact this is something that is being delivered by a very big social movement right across our country. Labor have stood for marriage equality. It was a policy that we took to the election. We promised that we would introduce marriage equality within the first 100 days of the parliament if we were elected to government. Sadly, that was not to be. It built on a long history of advocacy, from decriminalising homosexuality through Labor state governments through to the attempts to introduce marriage equality when in government in the ACT.

On a smaller but I think symbolically important thing, for many years now in my home town of Sydney Labor have been honoured to be welcomed into the Mardi Gras parade. I am proud to have been part of that, proudly marching with my Labor comrades. It is a story that in my own small way I feel very honoured to have been allowed to contribute to. I was very pleased to see our leader, Mr Shorten, participate in the march earlier this year.

But this speech today in the parliament is not in fact the speech I would like to give about marriage equality. The speech I would like to give is the speech that we will give on the day that a bill for marriage equality is introduced into this parliament and when all members have a free vote on the question and the Liberal Party are allowed to vote with their conscience to deliver marriage equality as the majority of the parliament demands and as the community expects.

Sadly, that is not the speech for today because today we are presented with something very different—a proposition for a plebiscite. I want to be able to vote in favour of equality for those across the country in same-sex relationships. I do not want to vote for a plebiscite. The problem, of course, is that the Prime Minister wants a plebiscite because he fears the social conservatives in his party more than he wants change. This plebiscite was a ploy. It is recognised by everybody that this is so. It was dreamt up by the former—and perhaps future—Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, to delay marriage equality. It is a fig leaf. It is an attempt to look like you are doing something when in fact you are very deliberately doing nothing at all. If the Prime Minister wanted marriage equality, we could legislate for it tomorrow. Why has he changed his mind? He has changed his mind because a plebiscite was part of the price that he paid for the job.

The parliament has a responsibility to decide on issues. That is our system of government. That is why we are here. Labor take that responsibility very seriously. In 115 years of our democracy, 44 parliaments before us have declared war, negotiated peace, signed trade deals, opened our economy, floated our dollar and legislated several changes to the Marriage Act without recourse to a plebiscite. It is unnecessary. It is wasteful. It would be ineffective because it would be nonbinding. And it asks something of the gay and lesbian community that we do not ask of other citizens when we are considering issues relevant to them.

This is not a bill I can support. We stand on the cusp of a great opportunity for Australians to recognise the real love that exists between same-sex couples and the families they have built, including their parents, their children and their friends all around them. It is a very great shame that instead of acting on that today we are simply being asked to consider this unnecessary, wasteful plebiscite. I cannot support it.