Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017

My boy Patty is a typical 10-year-old in most respects. He loves his mum and argues with his dad about the amount of time he spends playing computer games. He is desperately looking forward to the end of school in two weeks time. Of course I am proud of him. But on the morning of 15 November he gave me one more reason to be proud of him. After breakfast, he asked me, 'Can I call Raph?' 

Raph is Patty's best mate. They do Cubs and they do circus and they do drama and they do just about everything else they can together. These are new millennial kids so a phone call to them means Facetime or Skype. When he managed to pull Raph up on the iPad, he saw his face and he said to him, 'Are you nervous?' 'A little bit', replied the boy at the other end of the iPad. 'I just want to wish you good luck,' said Patty. As Raph said 'thanks', his mum's face appeared behind him on the iPad. 'We are nervous and a little bit excited too,' they said. 'We have been baking rainbow cakes all morning to burn up the nervous energy.' It was eight o'clock; there were two hours to go. As I walked Patty to school that morning I told him he would remember this day, as I had remembered other important milestones from my childhood.                                                   

It is not often in the life of a statistician that they appear on television. It is even less frequent that the report from a statistician is prime-time viewing on every broadcast network in the country. In fact, if the international society of statisticians have got a record book, I am certain that David Kalisch smashed every record for the attention he received at 10 o'clock on that morning of 15 November. I want to congratulate him and his staff for the great work they have done in conducting the survey. When he revealed the result of the $100 million vote, there was no room for doubt; over 61 per cent of Australians had voted in favour and a majority was enjoyed in every state and in 133 of 150 electorates.

Raph and his parents could celebrate. My family would celebrate. It was a momentous occasion. For Raph and his family, it sent a powerful message: your family is not second class. To the young boys and girls who are  struggling with their identity, we have sent them a very powerful message too: it is okay being just who you are.

This is something worth celebrating. This is not the first time that I have spoken on a bill for marriage equality. My first year in this place, 2010, seems so long ago. I spoke on a motion in support of consulting our electorates on the very question. At that time I observed that the real objection to same-sex marriage was not to marriage itself but to the relationship. I still think that's true. The motion was the first important step in the House making its journey towards this debate today. I remember at the time when the member for Wentworth opposed it he wasn't alone. In February 2012 I moved a private member's bill for marriage equality. The bill was to give effect to Labor's national platform. In that speech

I said that I believe that God made us all equal but different, not differently equal. Forty-two members voted in favour of the bill. There were no coalition MPs amongst them. It was of course a much more controversial matter back then, even within my own party. And in my own branches there were threats against sitting members such as me who'd taken a stand on the matter. I say to those coalition MPs who have taken the journey inside their own party, I congratulate you. I want to take the opportunity to single out the member for Gippsland and the member for Leichhardt today. These are members like me from regional seats where it was thought that the call for equality was less strong than it is in the inner cities. Of course, that's wrong.

I'm pleased to say that those threats of political reprisals have now turned into vocal support within the party, within the electorate and now within this parliament. People have changed their minds. For me, the journey was a short one. I don't pretend to be an early advocate on this issue. But, when I applied the same Labor principles of equality and fairness that I would to any other issue, there was only one possible answer. The Prime Minister and many of his colleagues, and many of mine, like millions of other Australians, have changed their minds, too. And this is a good thing. The arguments of some of the opponents in my early days made it easier. I'll never forget being told that God would punish both me and my children for taking a stand in favour of marriage equality. Clearly this is not a God that I or the majority of people of faith would recognise, but over the course of the last five years many abhorrent things have been said in their name.

In my electorate of Whitlam, 62.3 per cent of people voted yes. There was a great turnout. It surprised me. Over 80 per cent of residents participated in the survey. I want to talk about regional electorates. There are 150 seats in the federal parliament, with 88 of those classified as metropolitan and a further 62 as regional or rural. Of the 150 seats, only 17 voted against marriage equality. If you applied the common prejudice that says that regional folk are less progressive on issues like this than are their city cousins, you'd conclude that the city overwhelmingly voted in favour and the regions overwhelmingly voted against. Well, you'd be wrong. Of the 62 regional seats, only three voted against marriage equality. This confounds those views that regional Australia is somehow less progressive on these sorts of issues and less welcoming of diversity than people in the inner cities. Regional electorates like mine have shown themselves to be open places that are willing to embrace same-sex couples.

At the start of this process I called on regional Australia to embrace this opportunity to show Australia that we embrace and celebrate all our citizens. I'm really pleased that the people of regional Australia have answered that call. I want to pay tribute to some of the campaigners. Sometime in the future the majority of Australians are going to look back and they're going to look at the passage of these laws as somehow inevitable. So much of what we look at now as inevitable and we also think of as easily won. This was neither.

There have been many tributes given to members and senators who have been instrumental in today's proceedings—from my own side, Senators Wong and Pratt and the members for Maribyrnong, Grayndler, Sydney and Port Adelaide. And we have just heard a fine speech from the member for Jagajaga. There wasn't a dry eye in the House when we heard the member from Barton contribute to this debate earlier today.

I would also like to give a special shout-out to the 'yes' movement. It was Ashley Hogan, one of the courageous LGBTI senior staff and a longstanding campaigner on the issue—within the campaign she was known as the 'clearance unicorn'—who shouldered the load of both quality control for the campaign and coordinating responses to the public. Most campaigns have entire departments of people who do this. It was Ashley and her team of dedicated volunteers who performed it during this campaign, and they deserve our sincere thanks. There was Joe Scales, campaign adviser and rising young union leader, who used up weeks of leave to volunteer his formidable skills to the campaign. There were Georgia Kriz and Audrey Marsh, the New South Wales field directors, two talented young leaders who were guided by the formidable Patrick Batchelor, who was the national field director.

But there were plenty of others who came before them. In 1979 an Illawarra based MP, George Petersen, an early mentor of mine, introduced a private member's bill into the New South Wales parliament to remove from the criminal statutes a whole heap of crimes that were directed at homosexual activity. I pay tribute to the early efforts of those early pioneers—George Petersen and those who supported him.

I also want to pay tribute to some of the community advocates. I see Sally Argent from PFLAG up in the Speaker's gallery. Sally has run a fantastic campaign on this issue on behalf of the parents and friends of people who are lesbian and gay. I pay tribute to Rodney Croome, who I met years ago in a leaders forum long before I ever thought I would join this place, for his tireless work. In my own region, there was Illawarra Rainbow Labor. I want to recognise Caitlin Roodenrijs and my dear friend Simon Zulian, who dedicated his tireless campaign work to his deceased partner, Kane—the love of his life who he never had the opportunity to marry. I salute you, Simon, for your tremendous work.

Many members who have spoken in this debate and who have opposed marriage equality have now sought to amend the bill to protect what they see as an erosion of religious freedom. I support religious freedom, but it is not unqualified. I do not support the proposed amendments, which are solutions to imagined problems. The amendments to permit same-sex marriage do not require a religious organisation to solemnise marriages that are not consistent with its faith. There has, for the most part, been a healthy dialogue during this debate between faith based organisations and the parliament on this matter. The churches have been very forthcoming in their advocacy for the status quo. This is their right. It is also the right of parliamentarians to speak frankly and to offer advice to faith based organisations. It is something that I do now. Instead of pursuing an exemption to the general law under the apprehension that a special right or protection is needed, a better course of action might be to take some time to reflect upon your own beliefs and the operation of this law.

There are many in the community who quite rightly ask of my own church, 'If marriage is such a central institution to our society, why don't your priests and brothers marry?' There are many instances where the changes in the law have affected the way that churches and other religious organisations have conducted the rites of marriage. I will give a few examples. It is no longer necessary that a minister of religion ask for a certificate from the Protector of Aborigines to conduct a marriage between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It is no longer permissible for a minister of religion to solemnise a marriage of people as young as 12 or 13. In my grandparents' days, this was allowed. It is now against the law. I cite these examples to make the point that marriage has changed over time and so can churches' and religious organisations' views of marriage.

Since the 16th century we have used the image of Lady Justice with a sword and scales but also a blindfold. When applying the law of justice, we are taught that justice is blind to the circumstances of the individual who stands before her.

In this place, we make those laws and we strive to do so justly.

I started with an observation of a conversation with my son, and this is where I would like to conclude. Like many members, I have young children. My two are aged 10 and 13. Like the statue of Lady Justice, I don't know today who they will fall in love with. I don't know whether they're going to be straight or gay. But I do know that, because of what we are doing today, the law shall not discriminate. If they decide to marry somebody who they truly love, who are we to stand in their way?