A Tale of Two Speeches

At some point today, Wednesday 19 September 2012, both the House of Representatives and the Senate will vote against legislation which would provide for marriage equality in Australia. The vote in the Senate will at least be close – the House of Representatives less so. This will be an incredibly devastating result for LGBTI Australians, and indeed all people who believe in a progressive and inclusive society, because it means that at least on a federal level, marriage equality will not happen for several years and quite possibly not until next decade.

Most of the words which could be written on this topic have already been, and much more eloquently than I could possibly write here. That is why I have instead chosen to reproduce two speeches here in full, taken from the Marriage Equality debate in the Senate on Monday. One is by the amazing Senator Louse Pratt, speaking in support of the Bill in the same articulate and passionate way that she has always spoken in favour of equality. The other is by Senator Ron Boswell, speaking against the Bill in well, the way that one would expect a bigot to speak.

The words of the speeches largely speak for themselves. The difference in the substance of the arguments – indeed the paucity of the arguments against used by Boswell – once again demonstrate why marriage equality is inevitable. The only shame is that it will not happen here and now, that instead we will have to wait. And the basic reason for that is that the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Opposition Leader, Leader of the National Party and the majority of our MPs will be voting against equality. Instead, they have chosen to align themselves with ‘Team Boswell’ and not ‘Team Pratt’. We should never let them forget which way they cast their vote today.

Monday 17 September 2012 Senate Hansard

Senator Pratt

(Western Australia) (10:39): Today we are here to debate a bill which will remove the last remaining discrimination against gay and lesbian Australians from our federal law. This legislation, the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012, has been a long time coming. I think it is ironic that this last piece of discrimination to be removed should be the most recently introduced. I, like thousands of other Australians, was hurt and dismayed when the federal parliament back in 2004 took steps to entrench discrimination into our nation’s Marriage Act. I have always worked for fairness and equal treatment for all Australians. That principle is at the core of my commitment to politics, and it is and always will be a touchstone for me.

I would support the removal of discrimination from the Marriage Act whether or not the act as it currently stands discriminated against me personally. But it would be disingenuous of me not to put on record that in this case the act does discriminate against me. I am one of those hundreds of thousands of Australian citizens who know that the laws of our nation hold our capacity for love and for commitment to be lesser because of the gender of our partner, one of the hundreds of thousands of Australian citizens who know that the laws of our nation say we are less deserving of rights, of respect and of recognition. And we know that those ideas are not true, and that the laws that reinforce them are not right. So this debate has a personal impact for me, in addition to the commitment I have always felt to end legal discrimination against any Australian. I have grown weary over the years of making that case over and over again that, yes, I am a person like everyone else and, yes, I deserve the same treatment under the law as everyone else. But I must say I have been strengthened, over and over, by the growing support in the Australian community to end discrimination once and for all. We can see in the history of this debate that about 38 per cent support for marriage equality in 2004 grew to more than 65 per cent of the Australian community today. What is more, more than 75 per cent of Australians believe that marriage equality in this nation is inevitable. And that is hardly surprising. The gradual reform of laws at a state, territory and federal level throughout recent decades has been accompanied by a growing realisation in our community that being gay, lesbian, trans or intersex is not something to be ashamed of, or something to be hidden.

As someone who has seen the laws that denied my rights fall, one by one, in my lifetime, as someone who came of age in an Australia where being who I am was, if not universally accepted, at least no longer a shameful secret and a source of fear, I want to put on record today how incredibly grateful I am to those men and women who went before us, those men and women who were brave enough to be open about their life and open about their love in a time when doing so put them at real risk of danger, who fought for our rights regardless of what it cost them, both personally and, for many, professionally. Without them, we would not be debating this bill today. Without them, I would not be here in this parliament at all. And without them, it would not now be the norm, rather than the exception, for gays and lesbians to live openly, to be accepted by their families, their workmates and their communities. Because of that openness, because of that acceptance, for many Australians today the question of marriage equality is not an abstract one—it is about equal rights for their daughter, or their brother, or their dad or their workmates, their teammates, their friends. And if there is one thing about the Australian character that we have always been able to rely on, it is about the commitment of Australians to a fair go for the people around them.

Support for marriage equality is, in my view, about that fair go. But, more importantly, it is about support for marriage itself—recognition of the importance of lasting, committed, loving relationships and the public recognition and display of that commitment. Historically, gay, lesbian and transgender people have been denied the opportunity to make that commitment in a public ceremony recognised by the laws of our nation in the community. I think it is one of the bitterest ironies of this debate that, historically, gay people have been stigmatised as promiscuous and immoral while being denied by the law the right to demonstrate the importance and consistency of their relationships in the way that any other Australian can. Think about that. If marriage is important to our society, if mutual commitment to a shared life is important and if it is valuable in and of itself—and I think it is—and for the strength it lends our community then we should be encouraged by the desire of so many non-heterosexual couples to enter into that lifelong bond.

The simple fact is that thousands of lesbian and gay couples are married here and abroad, and I take issue with Senator Brandis when he says this bill is in breach of custom. Take a look at Australia today. Take a look at the customs of Australia today. There are thousands of lesbian and gay couples who are married, in marriages like anybody else’s. They have the same characteristics as any other, bar the official recognition of the law of our country.

I understand that some senators may be concerned, as some who made submissions to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee are concerned, that the removal of discrimination in the Marriage Act would force religious celebrants who feel same-sex marriage is against the principle of their religions to nonetheless preside over such marriages. But you only need to look at the facts of the Marriage Act today. The Marriage Act contains provisions that clearly and unequivocally protect ministers of religion from any obligation to conduct marriages that they believe do not accord with their religious beliefs.

So I will be voting for this bill, and I hope that all my Labor colleagues will be voting for this bill. I know the majority are. I believe that this bill fits with a sensible reform agenda and with the passion for fairness and equality that our party has always prized. I hope, too, that opposition senators on the other side of this chamber will be voting for this bill because they support the importance of marriage in our society. I believe that this bill fits with the Liberal Party’s stated commitment to the rights and freedoms of equal opportunity for all Australians, and I remind National Party senators that a great many lesbian and gay Australians live in rural and regional Australia. They are your constituents too, and I ask you to recognise their rights.

I believe that this bill, as the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee recommended, should be the subject of a conscience vote for all federal senators and members. This in in fact consistent with the way the Marriage Act has been treated in the past. Australians believe that coalition senators and members should have a conscience vote on this question. This is not an issue that should divide left and right. It is not a conservative-versus-progressive issue. It is not a left-wing issue. It is not a progressive issue.

It is about our recognition of the importance—to individuals and our community—of people making together a mutual commitment to a shared life. It is about the importance of marriage in our society—the importance of marriage not to the few but to the broad breadth and depth of the Australia community. If we want marriage to remain an important institution in Australia — and I certainly do — then we must make this change.

I believe this bill is good policy. It is in line with principles of equality and in line with today’s community expectations. I would support this bill, as many in this chamber and in the other place support it and as many in the community support it, if it did not affect me. But, this is a bill that personally affects me, because marriage discrimination affects same-sex couples and also affects people with intersex and transgender partners. I am sure many of you do not know that under the current law we see married couples, with children, forced to divorce against their will when one partner realises they are transgender in order to have their gender legally recognised. It is a disgrace that those in functional families with children are required to divorce so that someone can have their gender recognised. Under the current law, there are also Australians who have the legal right to marry no-one because they are legally and by biological fact intersex — that is, they are both male and female — irrespective of how they identify. The discrimination in the Marriage Act directly affects me, as well as thousands and thousands of other lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians. But it also directly affects many, many more Australians than those because legal discrimination against gay and lesbian Australians hurts not just us but our parents, our children, our brothers and sisters, our friends. It hurts everyone who loves us, just because of who we love.

So in closing my remarks in this debate, I ask senators in this chamber to remember, when they are deciding how to vote, we exist, we already exist, our relationships exist, our children exist, our families exist, our marriages exist and our love exists. All we ask is that you stop pretending that we don’t. Stop pretending that our relationships are not as real as yours, our love not as true, our children not as cherished, our families not as precious—because they are. Removing this last vestige of legal discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians from federal law now has the support of the majority of the Australian community. It is my sincere hope that it also has the support of the majority of senators in this place.

Senator Boswell

(Queensland) (11:54): Madam Acting Deputy President Crossin, I understand we are debating your bill today. I find it a very serious debate. In fact, to me it is one of the most serious debates that we have ever had to face in this parliament, because it will fundamentally affect the way Australia reacts as a society. In my party, one of the basic philosophies is that the family is the basic unit of society and without a family you do not have a society. I cannot imagine a more severe attack on the family than undermining marriage. It is what the whole of our society is based on. It is what the whole of society over centuries—probably from the start of man—has been based on: a man and a woman getting together to procreate children and for those children to stay together under the care of a mother and a father. Without that, what do you have? What is society? That all stands before us. Fortunately, the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012 is not going to get through, but I have been around long enough to know that this is only the first attempt.

But what I want to say to you, Madam Acting Deputy President, is: yes, in the inner city suburbs of West End, South Brisbane and Redfern, there might be a bit of support for this, but there is certainly no support for it out in the western suburbs among the blue-collar workers, where the families are strong. Among the different communities, whether they be Catholic, Muslim or Jewish, it is an anathema. It is an anathema with my party. Senator Bishop said that he has not been lobbied very much. I can tell you, Madam Acting Deputy President, that I have not been lobbied at all except to say to me, ‘You stand up strongly for the basic unit of society, which is marriage and the family.’

I believe we now stand at the brink. We have to make a decision. Do we as a society turn away from everything we know and everything that our society is based on—the ideal that the family has been based on for thousands of years—or do we go the other way? Do we say, ‘Near enough is good enough, because it does not really hurt anyone, it does not cost anything and people want to do it; why not?’ and allow gay marriage and just give up on the ideal that the family is the basic unit of society and it gets there through marriage? We know from experience that the whole of the family—a marriage between a man and a woman—allows children to live in a safe, protected environment where they are allowed to grow into adults and pass strong values on to their children. The family is a continuum. We know this from experience, and therefore we continue with that ideal and look to uphold it.

I believe people have not thought this through. I think people in Australia do not give a lot of thought to these important issues, and we as members of parliament have to. From a distance, the issue of gay marriage looks a lot like other issues for Australian voters. From the outside it looks like it does not harm anyone, does not affect any individual who does not engage in it and does not seem to harbour any cost to the taxpayer or any other organisations. It seems relatively harmless—a relaxation of laws and conventions. If it does not hurt me and it does not hurt them, who does it hurt? It hurts society—that is who it hurts—and people have not thought it through.

What happens when the conventions are relaxed? What happens after the conventions have been removed? Marriage is based on a man and a woman, for the reason of having children. Two men and two women cannot conceive without some outside assistance. Marriage is not just a convention or a mere formality; it is a mechanism that was created by society to bring two sexes together and create a foundation of moral, social and legal protection and stability. Without this foundation, we are risking the lot. Like all things that have a foundation, society has a foundation. What is it based on? What is society based on? A man and a woman getting together, having children and then, in a broader sphere, an outer family of cousins, uncles and aunties, all providing support for the family, and that family fighting like crazy to make sure their kids get a good way of living, a good education and sometimes even the parents backing them into a home—people standing up for their family. The family is what people give their children. They send them to expensive schools and make great sacrifices for them because they believe in the family.

People think, ‘How does it affect me—a man marrying another man?’ If it is made legal they think it will not have an impact on their lives. But they have not considered the real harm that homosexual marriage can bring about, and there are three big harms in legalising homosexual marriage. It abolishes a child’s birthright to have both a mother and a father. Marriage includes the right to start a family. Under article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to marry comes with the right to start a family. If two men are legally able to marry, they obtain the absolute right to have a child via surrogacy. After gay marriage is legalised, a child can henceforth be brought into the world without ever having the right to a mother and father. Sometimes this happens inadvertently—through desertion or death—but it is not something we plan for; it is not something we want.

Same-sex marriage says that a mother or a father does not matter to a child—and it does. Two mothers or two fathers cannot raise a child properly. Who takes a boy to football? Who tells him what is right from wrong? What does he do—go along with the two mums? How does he go camping and fishing? Yes, there might be some attempt by one of the mothers to fill in as a father figure but it will not work. It is defying nature. And what about a young girl changing from a teenager into a young woman? Is it fair to say to her, ‘You don’t have a mother; your mother can’t take you shopping’ or to not be able to help her understand how her body is changing? What are we trying to do here? Why are we trying to defy what has been the right thing for hundreds of thousands of years? What suddenly gives us the inspiration to think that we can have gay marriage and it will not affect anyone?

I say to the people who very narrowly think this through or who do not think it through: it is more than saying, ‘It doesn’t hurt me; it doesn’t cost anything.’ It is a lot more than that. Once you have gay marriage in law, you have normalised the law, you have normalised homosexual marriage in law, which forces the normalisation of homosexual behaviour in the wider culture—

Senator Hanson-Young interjecting—

Senator BOSWELL: I will not be drawn in, Senator—especially in the school curriculum. I ask the people of the Western Suburbs: if you have gay marriage and it is legal, how can a teacher discriminate between normal marriage and gay marriage? He has to explain both as part of the curriculum. How can a teacher explain one part of the law but not the other?

So I ask these people who think it does not hurt me: do they want their children to be taught about gay marriage?

Senator Hanson-Young: Why not?

Senator BOSWELL: That is the question—why not? You do not find it objectionable from your side of politics. My side of politics finds it abhorrent and does not want any part of it.

But that is what we have to face up to, because these things are like a salami slice. You start off thinking, ‘It doesn’t hurt anyone.’ Then: ‘Oh, little Freddy’s got to go listen to why homosexual marriage has nothing wrong with it. Why is nothing wrong with it? Because it’s legal. This parliament has made it legal.’ I say to the people: do you want that for your children? Some of you will not object. Some will think it is a good thing. Certainly the progressive left will think it is wonderful. But I do not think they will think it wonderful in the western suburbs—the people who rely on the ALP to defend their jobs through the unions. That is why they are there. They are not there to have their kids taught about homosexual marriage versus traditional marriage. That is going to happen the very day this legislation gets in. Once you legalise something, you cannot discriminate against it. It is happening already in America, where homosexual marriage became law and the next thing in Massachusetts was the teachers teaching about homosexual marriage and traditional marriage.

I want to quote from the Australian Education Union. This is what the teachers said: ‘If Australia normalises homosexual marriage, the Australian Education Union’s 2006 gender identity policy would be implemented. Homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism and the intersexed need to be normalised. All curricula should be written in non-heterosexist language.’ I suspect the Greens would not see any objection to that but I suspect the Labor people would go into meltdown, because this will be out there. This is what the teachers union have said—and why shouldn’t they? If it is legal, they have to teach it. If it is legal, it has to be taught. You cannot just pick out what you want to teach and not teach.

If homosexual behaviour is legalised then schools will have to treat homosexual behaviour and marriage on the same basis as heterosexual behaviour and marriage. Parents will no longer have the right to object to these teachings. All conscientious objection to both gay marriage and the normalisation of homosexual behaviour in the school curriculum would be abolished. That is what those people who think, ‘It doesn’t hurt me, it doesn’t cost me; if it doesn’t, let’s just let it go through’ are opening up. Let’s think a bit deeper because it is your society, your Australia that you are playing with.

I ask people, particularly from the Labor Party—and I admire the people who have had the courage to stand up over there: do you want your children to go into classrooms that give equal weight to heterosexuals and homosexuals? I do not think many of them do. There will be a few who support the Greens and think it is wonderful, but they are hugely in the minority. John Howard, whose views I admire and respect, said last year:

Changing the definition of marriage, which has lasted for time immemorial, is not an exercise in human rights and equality; it is an exercise in deauthorising the Judaeo-Christian influence in our society, and anybody who pretends otherwise is deluding themselves.

I agree with him. We are told there will be certain legislation that will respect churches and that, if they do not want to perform certain marriages, they will be excluded, but it does not take long for the antidiscrimination committee, instrumentalities, the Greens and GetUp! to start to wage a campaign.

If business or the churches object to hosting homosexual marriage or to blessing them, they will be hit. They will put up a defence, but it will only last for a certain time. They will be crushed by the anti-discrimination laws. We have already seen it happen in countries such as Denmark. The churches will have no choice but to facilitate homosexual marriage. We might push it out three years, four years or five years, but it will happen in the end. We have seen it happen with the abortion laws. You cannot walk away from them. You have to offer it or if you do not offer it then you have to find someone who will do the job. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that any church situated in a member state where same-sex marriage is legal must marry same-sex couples or be found guilty of discrimination. It will happen here.

Marriage is a social institution with a biological foundation. All society does with marriage is to reinforce this biological fact, to keep men with their mate and then help raise their children. Society merely recognises that marriage is the most important relationship in nature and works to reinforce it. It has no right to reinvent marriage. Politicians have no right to redefine marriage, only to reinforce the biological purpose of marriage. I recall when there was discrimination—when there was huge discrimination—that I had a phone call from a certain minister who said, ‘We have just had a request for a gay doctor to bring his gay partner in and practice in a certain country community. We thought you would object, that you were the person most likely to object. If you let it go, it will go through.’ I said, ‘I could not possibly object to that, that would be discrimination.’ I think it was in 2008 that Warren Entsch brought in, or agitated through the party, that all forms of discrimination be removed. There is absolutely no discrimination against gay people other than the discrimination between heterosexual and same-sex marriage. Frank Brennan, the former chair of the National Human Rights Consultation Committee, said:

I think we can ensure non-discrimination against same-sex couples while at the same time maintaining a commitment to children of future generations being born of and being reared by a father and a mother.

I want to talk about commitment now. This was a commitment given by both leaders before the last election: ‘I won’t have gay marriage’. Both leaders said they would not condone gay marriage. Tony Abbott has stuck to his word. He knows how important it is to many of those people out there—not only conservative people but also family people who believe in the family. They want to go fishing, they want to have a few beers and they do not want a carbon tax. They are in the Labor Party because they think the Labor Party will protect them in their job. (Time expired)

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