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Sarah's urgent motion on amending the Marriage Act to achieve marriage equality

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (15:43): At the request of Senator Siewert, I move:
That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The recognition that an increasing majority of the Australian community supports marriage equality and believes it is time for the federal parliament to amend the Marriage Act to provide for this.

This motion advocates true equality under Australian law for same-sex couples, a move that is well beyond its time, a move that we need to make in this country if we are to uphold basic standards of human rights, justice and fairness. Really, it should not be a big deal. We know that same-sex couples right around the world, in places such as Catholic Spain, Canada and now New York state, are able to celebrate their love for each other through having their marriage recognised under the laws of their state or country. It is an important step for Australia to take and it is something that has majority support amongst our Australian community.

An increasing majority of Australians support marriage equality, support the idea of giving same-sex couples the same rights as every other couple in Australia, believe that consenting adults who desire to have their love recognised and respected under federal law should indeed have it so. It is not just a matter for these individual couples-their families, their friends and their work colleagues are passionate about this. They want to have the love of their mates recognised under law just as everyone else's love of their partners is recognised. Recent polls suggest that over 60 per cent of Australians support the idea of same-sex marriage and marriage equality, and over 70 per cent of Australians believe that this move is indeed inevitable. That is even amongst those who suggest that if it was their choice this type of change would not be happening. Progress is a wonderful thing, and progressive reform is important for any country but particularly for Australia.

We have a wonderful history and a rich heritage to draw on, from giving women the right to vote to accepting, understanding and acknowledging Indigenous people as citizens in their own land and ensuring that Indigenous Australians can marry non-Indigenous Australians. These are progressive reforms that stand us in good stead not just in the current day and age but also for the future.

This is change that needs to happen sooner rather than later. We see that 71 per cent of Labor voters support marriage equality, over 50 per cent of coalition voters support marriage equality and over 86 per cent of Greens voters support marriage equality. This is beyond doubt an important reform but we should not get caught up in debating it. It is simply part of becoming a fairer and more just Australia. We know that there is a debate both within this place and outside about how important this issue is and that it ruffles people's feathers, but let us have a think about what this means to same-sex couples and those who love them most of all-their friends and family. I always reflect on the desire of parents to have their adult children recognised as citizens with the same rights as everybody else's children. Parents who have a gay son and a heterosexual son will want both of their children to be recognised equally under Australian law.

There is the famous quote from Shelley Argent, who asks why should one of her sons be treated as a second-class citizen. We in this place should not tolerate a situation where people are considered second-class citizens. In this day and age people should not continue to be discriminated against simply because of their sexuality. It would be wonderful for Australia to grab hold of this and prove itself to be a progressive country in the eyes of the rest of the world. In places like Spain, South Africa, Belgium and New York state, the sky has not fallen in. In fact, the sun is shining brighter. People in those places are proud of how open, accessible, compassionate and fair their laws are because they recognise same-sex couples as equals.

Another point I want to raise is the impact that not moving on this progressive reform would have particularly on young people. This issue is undoubtedly one of the biggest factors in young gay and lesbian Australians right around this country questioning their self-worth, whether they be in the urban cities of Sydney and Melbourne, the suburbs of Adelaide or Brisbane or indeed our regional areas of Tasmania or Victoria. They are young people who are struggling to work out who they are and come to grips with their sexuality.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics National survey of mental health and wellbeing released in 2007 indicates that homosexual and bisexual people are four times more likely to be homeless, twice as likely to have no contact with family or friends or have no family to rely on if there are serious problems, twice as likely to have a high or very high level of psychological distress, three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts, five times more likely to have suicidal plans and four times more likely to have attempted suicide. These are the stark statistics that relate directly to the representation of equality under our federal law. We cannot fudge these figures.

Young gay, lesbian and bisexual couples right around the country need to understand and feel that they are equal. They are not second-class citizens in this country-they are equal and they should be supported. This move to ensure that we have marriage equality under federal law will go some way towards helping those young people feel supported, not just by their friends and family but also by the governments that are there to look after them.

With these statistics, with the public support for same-sex marriage and marriage equality right throughout the country, across electorates and across the electoral divides of the different political parties and across the different opinions and political persuasions, this issue is a real issue that concerns many Australians, either personally or because mums and dads want their kids to be considered as equal, grandparents want to see their grandchildren considered equally, and friends and colleagues, workmates, want to make sure that their friends and workmates are considered as equals.

If two people are in love and they want to marry each other, let us bless that-let us not condemn it simply because of an outdated, archaic and backwards view of the world. We are better than that. We are a compassionate, fair and just country. We have taken progressive reform with both hands across different political issues and we have made a real difference to the lives of individuals. This is the next step by which this can be done. But it has to be done in this place.

The Australian community is far ahead of our political leaders and particularly the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister on this issue-streets ahead. I know there are people in this place on both sides, in the Labor Party and in the Liberal Party and the coalition-of course, the Greens have a policy for marriage equality-who want to see this change happen. There are individuals who know that this is the right thing to do. It is time for this place to step up to the challenge and ensure that progressive reform occurs, ensure that same-sex couples, their loved ones, their family, can all rest assured that under law, regardless of their sexuality, they will be seen as equal.

Let us not allow this to get caught up in the yuckiness of politics. This is about the love of two people. This is about two people who as consenting adults want to marry each other because they are deeply in love. They want that to be seen under the eyes of the law as legitimate. And so they should. If marriage is such an important institution, let us open it up. If Cupid does not discriminate, why should we?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Crossin): The time for debating this motion has expired. Question put:

That the motion (Senator Siewert's) be agreed to.

The Senate divided. [16:48]

(The Acting Deputy President-Senator Crossin)
Ayes ...................... 9
Noes ...................... 39
Majority ................ 30

Brown, RJ Di Natale, R
Hanson-Young, SC Ludlam, S
Milne, C Rhiannon, L
Siewert, R (teller) Waters, LJ
Wright, PL

Question negatived.


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