Speech supporting Marriage Equality

In Parliament | 24.05.12

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE [12.01 p.m.]: I contribute to this debate to add my support to the campaign for marriage equality in Australia.

I do so as someone who believes that every person who calls Australia home has the right to be treated equally before the law. Pursuing equality is one of the reasons that I wanted to become a member of Parliament in the first place. The Australian Labor Party's commitment to a fair go is one of the reasons I am proud to be part of it. Equality before the law is not a luxury to be given by legislators; it is a principle that elected representatives have the responsibility to progress.

Later this year members of the Commonwealth Parliament will make the decision whether they will recognise the right of our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex citizens to equality before the law. This debate will be a historic moment in the history of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex law reform in Australia and the ongoing strides for equality. It is a history forged in the protest movement of the 1970s and the establishment of groups such as the Campaign Against Moral Persecution—better known as CAMP—and carried on by the many gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex organisations that have continued to fight over recent years. I acknowledge those who are in the gallery today.

When the Campaign Against Moral Persecution was established gay men were considered criminals and could be put in jail for up to 14 years for the crime of buggery. The medical profession defined gay men and lesbians as sick and in need of treatment. It is the refusal of our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex citizens, their organisations and supporters to accept second-class status that has led to the protests, campaigns, lobbying and many, many years of work that have made reforms in the last decades a reality.

We have come a long way. In 1984 the Wran Government decriminalised homosexuality. The Hawke Government in 1985 recognised same-sex couples for immigration purposes and in 1986 declared discrimination against gays and lesbians in the workplace a breach of human rights. In 1992 Labor ended discrimination against gay men and lesbians in the Australian Defence Force and in 1993 Labor passed the world's first sexual privacy laws. From 1999 to 2010 the New South Wales Labor Government and other members equalised the age of consent, recognised same-sex parents and removed discrimination in all New South Wales laws, which now guarantee that same-sex couples are treated equally in all areas of New South Wales law. Federally, the Labor Government removed discrimination against same-sex couples in 85 laws. Progress also has been made in relation to discrimination against transgender people. But there remains more work to do at a State and Federal level to progress equality for our transgender and intersex citizens.

In 2011 the campaign for marriage equality took an important step forward when the Labor Party changed its platform to support marriage equality for all Australians. As all members in this Chamber are aware, the Labor Party will grant a conscience vote to its members when the Stephen Jones private member's bill is debated later this year—as Labor also does here today. I congratulate Premier Barry O'Farrell and Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner for allowing members in the Liberal Party and The Nationals a conscience vote on this motion today. I hope that those on the conservative side of politics in Canberra will be granted that same right under Tony Abbott and Warren Truss, although at this point I acknowledge that looks unlikely.

I acknowledge the members on all sides of this House and from most of the political parties represented here who will give their support to this motion. I recognise the Hon. Cate Faehrmann, who was prepared to test the Legislative Council's support for marriage equality. Marriage equality matters. Try as many might, until it is made law it will be an issue that will not go away. As my colleague Penny Wong said recently:

There is nothing so persistent as the aspiration for equality.

Marriage equality matters to the majority of Australians who say through opinion polls they support it. It matters to the hundreds of thousands who responded to the Federal parliamentary inquiries to say they support marriage equality. It matters to the over three million people who watched the GetUp! video in support of marriage equality. It matters to the hundreds of people who emailed me urging me to support this motion. It matters to the gay and lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex kids who are growing up being told that that there is something wrong with them and that they are not worthy of equal treatment before the law. It matters to the intersex members of our community who can be denied marriage or required to divorce if their intersex is discovered. It matters to transgender members of our community who are told that they have to choose between having their gender recognised or divorcing their husband or wife.

Marriage equality matters to the mums and dads who want to celebrate the marriage of all their kids, gay, straight, transgender, or intersex. It matters to our families and friends. It matters to the children of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex parents who want to know why their parents are treated differently and question whether that means there is something wrong with them.

But specifically and most importantly, marriage equality matters to all the couples who want to celebrate their love and commitment to each other through marriage. It matters to my young friends Curtis and David. Curtis and David have been together for eight years, since they were both 18. Curtis and David knew they wanted to spend their lives together after only one year together. Curtis' mum and dad are both ministers of religion in the Salvation Army. Curtis' parents not only accept Curtis' relationship: they want to see their son marry. As Curtis puts it:

David and I are both Christians and go to church together in the Inner West. Our congregation accepts us and can't wait to be a part of our wedding, as do all of our family and friends.

Curtis has a sister who has been in a relationship with her boyfriend for almost eight years. Curtis said:

Last week they got engaged and are getting married in September. I am over the moon for them both but it's hard to ignore the fact that they can get married while David and I can't!

Sometimes it feels like your relationship is not as stable or secure as other people's because you can't get married. Despite this, David and I have stuck together through thick and thin, good times and bad, over the last eight years.

I feel that we, along with our friends and family, should be able to honour our commitment to each other just as equally as many of our straight friends have been privileged to do through marriage.

Marriage equality matters to this mum who told me:

I am a straight, Christian mother that works for a Religious Organisation and I see marriage equality as a legal and human rights issue not a religious one.

My son grew up with a strong spirit and a kind nature, very similar to his straight brother.

He is a gentleman and anyone that has him as a friend would count themselves lucky and I feel very wealthy and blessed to have him as a son as I do my other children (all mum's would understand that last comment—you have to treat them all as equal and not favour one over the other).

… So why doesn't my gay son deserve the same right or choice to marry as his brother and sister do … ?

Marriage equality matters to a man I know who lives in Parramatta with his partner. He said:

I have a very different experience from those around me. Denied to me are several simple pleasures that are not denied by law but by social convention, which prevents me from holding my partner's hand in public, and kissing him without worrying who might see, fearful of a reprisal of violence.

Supporting marriage equality is more than just about civil rights, and it is more than just about justice or any matter constrained by the law. It is a simple statement of legitimacy, one directed at the larger community. It is not for the state to tell me the value of myself and my partner and our relationship, because I already know the value of my family. Instead it is time for the state to send a clear unequivocal message to my neighbours, my peers, and my fellow humanity that it finally recognizes that same intrinsic value.

To allow loving couples the ability to wed the one that they love will hurt no-one. Legislating for marriage equality will have zero effect on anyone else's marriage. It will provide legal stability and recognition for two people who are seeking to commit to each other for life. If we truly believe that citizens should be equal under the laws of our country, then we cannot sustain an argument that says certain citizens are less equal than others.

In recent times our parliaments have passed laws that have advanced equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex citizens. These laws have made a huge difference to the lives of our brothers, our sisters, our families, our neighbours and our workmates. We can visit our partners in hospital. We can make decisions on behalf of our partners if they become incapacitated. We can keep our homes if our partners die. Our children are legally protected and recognised as our children. Children are able to find loving adoptive families that they otherwise would have been denied.

In New South Wales same-sex couples are treated equally before the law. I hope that when the Commonwealth debates the bill for marriage equality our elected representatives will again rise to the challenge of progressing equality for all couples, no matter whom they love.