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Marriage Equality

Sarah Hanson-Young 6 Jul 2011

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (16:48): I move:
That the Senate-

(a) notes that:

(i) the New York State Congress has legislated for marriage equality, and

(ii) in doing so, New York has joined the following states of the United States of America, Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, Washington DC and New Hampshire, along with more than 10 other nations;

(b) recognises that Australia is one of only a few democratic nations that does not provide same-sex couples with equal marriage rights; and

(c) calls on the Government to support marriage equality for all Australian citizens.

Question put.

The Senate divided. [16:50]
(The PRESIDENT-Senator Hogg)
Ayes ...................... 9
Noes ...................... 31
Majority ................ 22

Motion resolved in the negative.

Matter of Public Importance - Marriage Equality

I rise today to speak on a matter that is important to all those - both here and outside of this place - who believe in fairness. That issue is marriage equality.
Since I first introduced my Bill back in 2009 the momentum for this important reform has continued to grow.

Successive polls put support for marriage equality at more than 60 per cent, and a recent poll commissioned by Australian Marriage Equality, shows that the community now believes this reform will happen. In fact 75 per cent see it as inevitable. It's no longer a matter of if, it's a matter of when.

The momentum for change continues to build. Across the nation State Labor party organisations are gradually joining the Greens in declaring their support for marriage equality. South Australian Labor members endorsed the campaign, as have members in Queensland, Western Australia and the A-C-T. New South Wales will be debating it at their state conference in July. It is clear which way the tide is moving and it is time for the national leadership of the Labor party to get out of the way and listen to their rank and file.

We have also seen support for marriage equality continue to build at an international level. Just a few weeks ago, the New York congress legislated in favour of same-sex marriage, joining the US states of Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, Washington DC and New Hampshire.

The New York decision is a significant breakthrough. It's something many thought would never happen and demonstrates just how quickly things can change. It's interesting to note, rather than the sky falling in people took to the streets in celebration.

I must say I was a bit puzzled by the reaction of our Prime Minister. After proclaiming on her recent visit to the United States that "America can do anything" she was pretty quick to distance herself from the United States on this issue saying we don't need to follow America.

I agree with the Prime Minister on that. We don't need to follow the United States, on this issue, we can lead. Rather than adopting the piece-meal state by state process being undertaken in the US, we can set a positive example for the Obama administration by legislating for marriage equality at a federal level. Perhaps it's time that we showed the world that "Australia can do anything."

While we could lead by example when it comes to the United States, we are being left behind when we look at marriage equality on a global scale. A mounting number of nations have legislated for same -sex marriage: the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada, Spain, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Mexico City, Portugal, Iceland and Argentina.

What exactly is the reason for Australia's inaction? Why exactly is Australia being left behind? According to the Prime Minister, this is because of cultural and social tradition. Marriage is between a man and a woman - that is the way things have always been and that is the way things must remain. The leader of the opposition appears to share the same view.
Most of us here would recognise, however that to look at cultural and social practice as something static, that's' unchanging is to deny the reality. In fact, it overlooks why most of us are here in this place at all. If you don't believe in changing society, if you don't believe in social progress then why would you go into public life?

We all know that things can and do change over time. Just over a hundred years ago, the idea of a woman being elected to parliament would have been seen as radical and out of step with the natural order of things. A woman's role was in the home after all. Just 50 years ago, the idea of a woman Prime Minister would have seem fanciful.
Just over forty years ago, Aboriginal Australians weren't even counted as citizens.

Fortunately things did change. The parliament didn't just sit back and say ‘this is our tradition, so that's the end of it', they recognised that there was discrimination and that it needed to be overcome.

I know that as in the community, there are people on both sides of this chamber, who do recognise things need to change and that marriage equality is an idea that's time has come.

The Prime Minister and Opposition Leader are entitled to their views on this matter however they are not entitled to impose their views on the broader community. And they are not entitled to deny other Australians the same rights and privileges that they enjoy, on the basis of their own personal views.

Since I last rose to speak on this matter, my colleague the Member for Melbourne won support for a motion in the House of Representatives calling on all members o gauge the views of their constituents on this issue. Many have done so.

The next step is to give all members a free vote, so they can actually reflect the views of their communities in the Parliament. Issues of human rights are too important to be captive to party-lines.

A conscience vote would ensure that all members of parliament, whatever their political allegiance have their say. According to a poll released late last year, almost 80 percent of Australians think that a conscience vote is a good idea.

It defies belief that two of the most poll driven politicians in the country, Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard - turn a blind eye to this poll. It's time for them to take action.

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