At the end of 2011, the Australian Labor Party voted to change its policy to allow for equal access to marriage for all adult couples, irrespective of sex, who have a mutual commitment to a shared life. The ALP also voted to allow a conscience vote on any legislation to give effect to this.
While this issue has never been my highest order, I believe there is a case for change and that is why, after the changes to the ALP Platform, I agreed to put forward a bill to give effect to ALP policy. I expect that the bill will be debated and voted on later this year. A copy of my speech is available here
Since being elected in August 2010, I have sought to engage in a mutually respectful exchange of views on this and many other issues.
My starting point in considering any issue is the application of the core values of fairness and equity.
I believe in the equal treatment of all, irrespective of race, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, or religious belief. And these values are at the heart of the Australian Labor Party.
Over the past year, I have had many people contact me arguing that the recognition of same-sex couples’ relationships as a ‘marriage’ somehow diminishes the status of marriages like my own.
I do not agree with this argument. While I see many things in modern life which I feel do diminish the special nature of marriage, such as celebrity wedding hysteria, “novelty weddings” or the
glamorisation of infidelity, I cannot see how recognising the rights of one group of people in regard to marriage in any way diminishes my own.
I recognise that marriage has a religious dimension particularly when being solemnised in a church; but it also is a legal, secular arrangement to have your relationship recognised by the State and I believe that legal discrimination by the State in this matter cannot be condoned.
Some constituents have argued that the recognition of same-sex marriage is inconsistent with their personal religious beliefs. Religious freedom is another fundamental principle that I hold dear. That is why I will defend anyone’s right to hold and practice their religious beliefs, despite the fact that I may not always agree with those beliefs.
There are a great many beliefs held by the large number of religious organisations and individuals in Australia. While religious organisations and individuals living in Australia are perfectly free to adhere to those beliefs and practices, it is another thing to ask the government to enforce them.
I am confident that the Marriage Act can be amended to enable same-sex relationships and at the same time maintain a strong commitment to religious freedom which means that no church or minister is required to perform a ceremony which does not accord with their faith or beliefs.
In my role as your elected representative, I endeavour to reflect upon the views of constituents in my representative function. I also bring my own beliefs, values and principles. These are the cumulation of the values instilled through my own family upbringing, education and the life lessons I have learned along the way.
While I don’t think it’s the most critical issue we face, it is nevertheless a significant one and, although we may not share the same views, I hope we can at least agree that we are indeed privileged to live in a country that allows such an open and frank debate.