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Shorten And Bandt Introduce Bills To Legalise Same-Sex Marriage

The Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, has introduced a private member’s bill into the House of Representatives to legaliste same-sex marriage.

The Greens member, Adam Bandt, also introduced a bill to achieve the same change.

Each man made a brief speech to introduce the bill. The debate was then adjourned. Video, audio and text of the speeches appears below.

  • Listen to the speeches (21m – transcript below)
  • Watch the speeches (21m)

Hansard transcript of House of Representatives proceedings regarding the same-sex marriage private member’s bill.

Bill and explanatory memorandum presented by Mr Shorten.

Bill read a first time.

Mr SHORTEN (Maribyrnong—Leader of the Opposition) (10:03): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Today is a chance for our parliament to prove its worth and fulfil its purpose. Today we can bring a new measure of hope and happiness to the lives of tens of thousands of Australians whose love has been denied equality under the law for too long. Together we can vote to make marriage equality a reality.

I stand here today to echo the sentiments of so many of our fellow Australians, who cannot comprehend why their children, their brothers and sisters, their friends and neighbours are considered equal in every right but one: the right to marry the person they love. I speak on behalf of Australians like Wilma Lorne. Wilma is 89; she has 14 grandchildren. Three of her grandsons are gay. After her husband of 62 years marriage passed away, Wilma wrote to me about her grandsons and their partners, saying: ‘I see the same love and commitment that my husband and I shared, just as much as all my other grandchildren, who are happily married. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to attend their weddings.’

I speak for Tony Rogers and Ken Armstrong from the Blue Mountains, who have shared each other’s lives for 23 years. When Ken needed a kidney transplant, Tony was the donor. Both men are proud Australians—they love our country. They can trace their ancestry back to the First Fleet. And there is nowhere else in the world they want to get married.

Today I speak for Sophie Meredith and Alison Gerrard, who have been together for eight years. They wear rings. They have two children, whom they adore. They fulfil all the obligations of marriage: care, respect, love and family. Yet they are excluded. Their relationship is, in the eyes of our laws, somehow different—somehow less.

Go down any street in Australia and you can hear these stories: hardworking people, raising children, building communities and serving the country made to feel like second-class citizens through one last, lingering relic of legal prejudice. It is in our power in this place to change that once and for all. That is why Labor promised to deliver marriage equality within our first 100 days. Today we seek to honour that promise.

I live in a blended family. I have step-children, who I love as my own children. Part of the reason Chloe and I chose to remarry is because we wanted a sense of formal equality between our other children and their baby sister. And, of course, from time to time you still hear people talking about the superior moral value of a traditional family. It is a narrowness I have learned to live with. But for LGBTI Australians and their families those criticisms are far more common, far more cruel and they are backed by actual legal discrimination. Why should the children of LGBTI Australians be denied the formal recognition of their parents’ relationship?

Some might say that marriage equality is a second-order issue: identity politics—mere symbolism. But what they need to understand is that if you already enjoy a legal right it is easy to take it for granted. For me it is as simple as this: in delaying marriage equality we are not just falling behind the rest of the world—21 countries who we consider our legal, cultural and social peers have already moved ahead of us—we are falling short of our own national sense of self: the country we want to see in the mirror, the Australia we tell our children to believe in. How can we call ourselves the land of the fair go if we discriminate against our citizens on the basis of who they are and who they love?

And we who sit in the parliament, trusted with the great privilege of representing all the Australian people—not just some of the Australian people: how can we call ourselves leaders if instead of acting to correct this unfairness we put the responsibility back on to the people who sent us here, with an opinion poll which will cost at least $160 million? The Prime Minister and the member for Warringah are both fond of quoting 18th-century Conservative Edmund Burke. They would know what he told the people of Bristol about the job of a parliamentarian:

Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

A plebiscite would represent a fundamental failure of this parliament to do its job.

In 115 years of our democracy 44 parliaments before us have declared war, negotiated peace, signed trade deals, broken down the White Australia policy, opened our economy, floated our dollar, built universal superannuation, passed world-leading gun control and legislated several changes to the Marriage Act without recourse to plebiscite. And, of course, they have done all of this with no recourse to a non-binding public vote. How can we look Australians in the eye and say that a piece of legislation three pages long—a straightforward change, which a majority of members in both houses support—is too much for us to handle?

How do we say that every question of human rights can be decided by the parliament but a special exemption—a new hurdle—must be imposed upon LGBTI Australians? As Justice Michael Kirby has said, the plebiscite in itself is a discriminatory step driven by hostility. And how can anyone justify spending at least $160 million on a compulsory vote when members of the government will not be compelled to respect the result?

The plebiscite is not a real vote—it is a straw poll—but it will cause real harm and real waste. The true cost of a plebiscite is far greater than $160 million. Putting the question of marriage equality to a national vote risks providing a platform for prejudice and a megaphone for hate speech comparing homosexuality to bestiality, bigamy and paedophilia. And on Sunday we learned the Prime Minister has already promised the ‘no’ case millions of taxpayer dollars.

Now, I respect that there are people of faith, Australians of good conscience, who do not support changing the Marriage Act, but it is not their voices that will be loudest in advocating a ‘no’ vote. Instead, there is a very real risk that LGBTI Australians will be subjected to a well-organised, well-funded campaign of vitriol and prejudice, denigrating their relationships and attacking their identity.

And nor should we forget the Australians who will not even get a vote in the plebiscite: the children of same-sex couples watching TV ads saying their parents’ love is not real and the relationship that they have is second-class, and hearing the hurtful words from those ads thrown back at them in the schoolyard and on Facebook. And then there are the teenagers who are gay. Growing up is hard for everyone, but, for young Australians who are grappling with their sexual identity, it can be so much more difficult. Every piece of expert advice tells us young Australians who are gay are more likely to contemplate suicide and more likely to take their own lives. The idea of young people, perhaps yet to come out, seeing the legitimacy of their identity debated on the national stage—that is not an ordeal which we should inflict on any citizen when we have a better path. Let me be as blunt as possible. A ‘no’ campaign would be an emotional torment for gay teenagers, and, if one child commits suicide over the plebiscite, then that is one too many.

Achieving marriage equality should be an occasion for joy, a unifying moment of celebration. That is why the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and I have brought this proposed legislation forward today. I say to the Prime Minister: this is an issue you said you cared about. You have been Prime Minister for a year now. You can get this done and, instead of a private member’s bill introduced by the opposition, let marriage equality be a truly cooperative achievement. Join with us and sponsor this legislation, or bring in your own and we will second it. We are prepared to work with the crossbench as well. We do not mind who gets the credit. A year, even a week, from now no-one will care whose name was on this bit of paper, but what will stand for all time, to the credit of the 45th Parliament, will be extending equality under the law to all Australians. What will stand for all time is this parliament’s statement that marriage is about love, not about gender.

It is up to us to summon the courage and to show the decency to make this happen. It is up to us to prove the parliament can lead and keep faith with the people. It is up to us to make marriage equality a reality.

The SPEAKER: Is the motion seconded?

Ms Plibersek: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

The SPEAKER: The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.

Bill and explanatory memorandum presented by Mr Bandt.

Bill read a first time.

Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (10:14): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This cross-parliamentary bill will remove discrimination from our marriage laws and finally achieve marriage equality in this country. It is time that our laws recognise this equality. It is time that our parliament finally says to every Australian, to every LGBTIQ Australian, that they and their love are equal. It is time that we end discrimination and promote acceptance, love and equality for all.

I say today that we worked together for marriage equality in the last parliament and now we can do it again. We find ourselves in the fortunate situation where, probably for the first time ever, if a free vote on marriage equality were held in this room now, a bill would pass. We have the prospect of making marriage equality a reality without the need for taxpayer-funded hate speech, which will be an inevitable consequence of the plebiscite. Funding a referendum that is not binding on this place is the equivalent of funding the schoolyard bully to go and insult other students. It is not only unnecessary, but it is hateful and hurtful.

That is why I am proud to join with the Independent member for Denison, Andrew Wilkie, and the Independent Member for Indi, Cathy McGowan, to co-sponsor this important bill. In the last parliament, seven members of this place from across the political spectrum co-sponsored this very same bill. Along with myself and these two Independents, we had two Liberal backbenchers, the member for Leichhardt and the then member for Brisbane; the Labor member for Griffith and the then member for Werriwa. The fact that we worked together, across the divide, to progress marriage equality, shows that love is love is love is love—that the love, bond and depth of a partnership between two people is equal, regardless of their genders.

We now have to ask ourselves, as a chamber and as a parliament, what is the best way to progress this reform, given that a majority of us want it? So I invite Liberal and Labor MPs again to join as co-sponsors of this bill to achieve marriage equality. If we all work together, we have a real chance to pass marriage equality through parliament sooner rather than later, without a divisive and wasteful plebiscite. If we all work together, wedding bells could be sounding before Christmas this year.

At the end of the day, what matters is that marriage equality is passed. The Leader of the Opposition is right: ultimately, no-one will care whose name appeared in what position on this bill. What they will care about is that the reform happens. Around Australia, people are looking to this parliament, where they know there is now a majority in favour of reform, to work together to make that reform happen.

I am worried that now that the issue of equality is firmly on the national agenda, if one person or one party tries to own it, it will fail. If we bowl a bill up only to have it voted down, we may find ourselves set back further. But the best path to reform will be a bill that has cross-parliamentary support, and ideally a Liberal backbench co-sponsor, that can be progressed through parliament.

I am pleased that the Leader of Opposition has indicated a willingness to work with the crossbench. I hope that there is now a willingness from either the Prime Minister or members of his backbench to work together as well. Instead of two bills proceeding, if we can all unify as co-sponsors of one cross-parliamentary bill or even get behind a government bill, it can become law.

We, the crossbench, believe that a bill that is not owned by one political party will have the best chance of attracting a Liberal co-sponsor. That is especially the case if legislation enabling a plebiscite is not passed by this parliament. It looks at the moment like this government’s plan to establish a non-binding, hateful opinion poll will not have the support of this place. If that is right, but the Prime Minister is serious about achieving marriage equality, then we will need a plan B. The best plan B is a bill that comes from the backbench and across the chamber from this parliament.

We must work together because, on this fundamental issue of equality, Australia is lagging behind the rest of the world. We are now the only developed, English-speaking country to not have equal marriage laws. Our laws continue to send the message to people who are same-sex attracted and in same-sex couples that their love is not equal. Our homophobic marriage laws are part of a system that for years has told young people who are coming to grips with their sexuality and identity that if you are not straight, you are not equal. They have been part of a system that has allowed the tragedy of young people who are same-sex attracted or gender diverse to suicide at rates many times greater than their heterosexual peers.

This bill is a chance to take another important step away from this discrimination and pain and towards creating a world where all people know and feel that they are equal regardless of who they love. This bill is a chance to say love is love. It knows no gender, it is beautiful and it is equal.

As a country, we are faced with a perverse situation where the leaders of the three largest political parties all support marriage equality, yet this parliament is being prevented from making marriage equality a reality. My party, the Greens, as a whole stand ready to support this bill. We have long stood up for the rights of same-sex attracted and gender diverse peoples and couples. I am proud to have introduced the first ever bill to achieve marriage equality into the House of Representatives, in 2012. Sadly, that was not passed because it did not get the unanimous support of either of the old parties.

Australians know they can trust us as a party to vote for equality. We always have and we always will. But the delays that are being forced on loving people across the country have reached a point where the situation is no longer tolerable. The Prime Minister says he supports marriage equality, but for various reasons we have a continuation of the previous Prime Minister’s policy of delay by insisting on a plebiscite. This pandering to the conservative rump of his own party is not good enough. His shotgun wedding with the right wing of the backbench cannot be allowed to stand in the way of equality. Australians are ready for equality—they have been ready for years—and there are loving couples who are running out of time and can no longer be forced to wait to celebrate their love. To have their love recognised as equal under our law is something that will mean the world to many people in this country. Instead of insisting on a wasteful and divisive plebiscite, the Prime Minister should stand up to his party and let this parliament do what the country wants and vote for equal love.

In the end, love will win. The question is how long we force loving couples to wait—how long we force LGBTIQ people to be less equal and have fewer rights than everyone else. So let us use this place for what it is meant for. Let us take a stand for equality and do something that matters to so many Australians. Let us open up our arms and our hearts to love.

The SPEAKER: Is the motion seconded?

Mr Wilkie: I am immensely proud to second this co-sponsored bill, and I reserve my right to speak.

The SPEAKER: The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.

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