15 November 2010 

Andrew supports the motion of the member for Melbourne calling on members to gauge their constituents’ views on the issue of marriage equality in Australia.

Mr WILKIE (9:02 PM) —I am very pleased to support the motion of the member for Melbourne calling on members to gauge their constituents’ views on the issue of marriage equality in Australia. My support for marriage equality is well known. However, for me, this important issue is not just to do with same-sex marriage. It is about equality: that everyone, regardless of their gender, race, sexual preference or religion be treated the same under Australian law. In essence, I believe passionately that all people are equal and should be treated as such. The fact is that in Australia, if you are a man and a woman and not married to anyone else, you can go and get married, but if you are a man and a man you cannot. The same situation applies if you are a woman wanting to marry a woman. In other words, the law is not treating people equally. It is legislated discrimination that treats some lovers as second-class citizens simply because of the people they want to marry. And that is not fair.

Australia’s history has other examples of legislated discrimination. For instance, if you were living in Australia a little more than 100 years ago and you were a woman, you simply could not vote. It was less than 50 years ago that, if you were a woman working in the Public Service in Australia, when you got married you also signed up for unemployment and had to hand in your notice. Fast forward to 2010, with a woman as Governor-General and another as our first female Prime Minister, and these laws look archaic and unjust. A politician foolish enough to propose we ban women from voting, or demand that they quit work simply because they got married, would be derided and ridiculed as out of touch and sexist.

I note the government is still working to reduce most remaining areas of discrimination—for example, with a paid parental scheme to help reduce active discrimination against women in the workplace. It is also encouraging to see that the government is now taking the recognition of Indigenous rights to the next level, recently proposing a referendum to enable formal recognition in the Constitution. Yet here we are in 2010 when two out of three Australians are in favour of marriage equality but still we are discussing whether or not we should even canvass the issue of marriage equality. Remember that this motion is only to do with having a discussion in the community about marriage equality. It is not a motion to remove the discrimination in the law that states marriage must be between a man and a woman. Surely Australia, a nation that prides itself on giving everyone a fair go, is mature enough to have this discussion. Indeed, it is a discussion many of us have already had sitting around a dinner table, having a natter at a barbecue or on a Friday night over a drink.

It is beyond time that we as politicians listened to that discussion rather than bury our heads in the sand and leave it for our successors to sort out the mess—a tactic I am sure more than some members in this place would prefer. But to those members I say that events have overtaken you, the conversation has already begun and it is time we all joined in. If this motion fails to win support, I believe the parliament, already out of step with the community on this issue, will risk losing touch even more with the people it is supposed to represent—people who, according to the recent Galaxy poll, are two-thirds in favour of same-sex marriage. In other words, the majority of the Australian community is ready for a conscience vote on marriage equality, so let us at least agree to go so far as having a public discussion about the issue.

In closing, I need to remind members that this is not a debate about religion and who can get married in a church. Churches are private institutions and obviously it must remain up to them who they marry. All we are talking about here is the need for members to facilitate a discussion in their electorates about marriage equality. Doing so will reflect, I am sure, not only the breadth and strength of views in the community concerning marriage equality but also the fact that the majority of Australians favour marriage equality.

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