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Greens seek to have Parliament decide marriage equality

Speeches in Parliament
Robert Simms 12 Nov 2015

Mr President, this Bill aims to end discrimination under the marriage act by finally legislating for marriage equality in this country.

This has been a long road to equality for same-sex couples, but the time has well and truly come for the parliament to resolve this matter and to recognise that just as love does not discriminate, neither should our law.

When my colleague Sarah Hanson-Young first put this bill to the parliament back in 2008 on behalf of the Greens momentum for marriage equality was building in this country. We had an opportunity then in Australia to be leaders - to support the growing international movement for equality. Unfortunately, we are now well and truly on the wrong side of history with countries like Ireland and the United States this year joining the mounting list of nations in support of marriage equality. We are not just at risk of lagging behind, we are well and truly behind. And we need catch up.

Indeed, I note that on Monday Australia was subject of some criticism (and rightly so) on the international stage when members of the 23rd session of the Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group considered Australia's human rights record. Iceland, Ireland and the Netherlands all identified the need for Australia to take action on the issue of marriage equality in their reports.

So this parliament is behind the international community, but also behind the community we are elected to represent. Poll after poll shows this is a reform that not only enjoys majority community support but support from a sizeable majority of the community. Indeed, 72 per cent according to the latest Crosby Textor poll. Year after year, poll after poll shows that Australians support this. As thousands continue to march for equality in our nation, it is clear this movement will not be silenced. The community is looking to the parliament to legislate for this reform. It's in our power to do so.

That's why the insistence that we need a plebiscite is so frustrating and quite frankly insulting to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community and their families and friends. John Howard didn't need a plebiscite when he legislated for homophobia in this parliament back in 2004, when he legislated to make it expressly clear that marriage could only be between a man and a woman. At that time, I didn't hear conservatives taking to the airwaves, jumping up and down advocating that the issue was so fundamental to democracy in this country that we needed to take the nation to the polls to decide on the matter.

Yet, apparently, we are now lead to believe that when we are looking at removing discrimination, moving away from that kind of homophobia then the matter is so complex it requires some kind of plebiscite. Apparently, it's in the too hard basket. We don't accept that. What a slap in the face to same-sex couples.

We recently had a senate inquiry into this matter of a plebiscite and it found that it was going to be costly and potentially damaging to members of the LGBTI community. Indeed it would cost almost $160 million dollars to hold a plebiscite outside of an election.

At a time when there are huge demands on the national budget, can anyone seriously suggest that we should be spending more than a hundred million dollars of tax payer funds on asking a question we already know the answer to? "Do Australians support marriage equality?" Well, Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison, The Greens can save you some money, as you seek to craft your first budget. 'Yes!' The answer is ‘yes.' Let's have a vote in the parliament and let's legislate for this reform.

The other thing that concerns The Greens about this plebiscite approach is the implications for young same-sex attracted people and these were canvassed within the recent Senate inquiry. Make no mistake homophobia is still a big issue in our country. And growing up, dealing with those issues can be a difficult thing for any young person. It's an isolating time. I know I've been there and I don't want others to go through that. The last thing I want to see is taxpayer money being spent on a divisive campaign against marriage equality. A state sanctioned, state funded hate campaign. A hate campaign levelled against LGBT people, their families and friends.

And make no mistake, this campaign would come. There is a small but vocal hate lobby in this country. They have a lot of money and they are good at making a lot of noise and creating a lot of unhappiness. They peddle lies, they peddle misinformation and they fan the flames of hatred and division. As an Adelaide City Councillor, I experienced their wrath first hand when I dared to propose painting a strip of rainbow in the CBD to celebrate the 40th anniversary of decriminalisation of homosexuality in SA. There were some truly revolting, hateful emails levelled at myself and my council colleagues as a result. There were even the utterly bizarre suggestions that rainbows are apparently dangerous to children. Indeed, these kind of absurd claims give clutching at straws a whole new meaning.

In the City of Marion, residents letter boxes were also filled with homophobic filth after the Council voted the fly the Rainbow Flag over its chambers.

This is the same kind of nonsense that for many years tormented South Australians on the streets of Adelaide as they went about their daily business. The so called ‘street preachers,' who think it's somehow OK to carry signs equating homosexuality with murder, rape and paedophilia. They've even carried these signs at LGBTI festivals and events. Standing with megaphones shouting that people are going to hell. Ugly hate speech. Imagine what these kind of bigots, these kind of hate merchants will do if they get their hands on taxpayer funds to run a campaign against marriage equality.

I'm scared about the harm this will cause. I don't want to subject young people to that. I remember attending a Feast Festival (Adelaide's LGBTI festival) when I was in my early 20s and seeing these street preachers standing there carrying signs that suggested gay men are paedopphiles, murderers and rapists. It's hard not to be wounded by that. Let's consider the impact that kind of thing has on a young person who is scared, dealing with their own sexuality. I don't want that kind of disgusting homophobia to go national.

The human rights of the LGBT community should not be tied to a giant opinion poll. It's wrong to do that. It's wrong to do that when we have the power to change the law without subjecting people to that.
Mr President, of course the truly sad thing about this debate, is that so much energy is being expended talking about the process, we sometimes forget what this is about. Ultimately, this isn't a discussion about complicated processes and procedures, it's about equality and love. It's about real people and their stories.

I'm reminded of my good friends, Ben and Iain who I know from my years at university. Their story is similar to many of the straight friends I know who are married. Ben was working at JB Hi Fi in Adelaide when he met Ian who was a customer at the store. They've moved interstate and supported each other through various changes in their lives. Indeed they now live in Melbourne. More than ten years on they still together and they want to get married. Why is it in our nation that the law says that that's wrong? Why are they denied the same opportunity to have their love and commitment celebrated in front of family and friends?

But this isn't an issue that just impacts on couples who want to get married, it's an issue of fairness and equality. I talked in my first a bit about my experience growing up as a gay man. And since making that speech I received a number of positive messages from young people dealing with their own journey with sexuality. The work that we do here, does have an impact. We can chose to send a message of hope and love by supporting marriage equality. And that will have a big impact.

My President, I am proud to be a member of a political party that supports marriage equality in this parliament - every vote, every time. No delays and no excuses.
I commend this Bill and encourage the chamber to join with the Greens in supporting so that we can finally make marriage equality a reality.

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