Dec 4, 2017

Marriage Equality Speech – House of Representatives

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (13:06):  I’m proud to stand in support of the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 moved by the member for Leichhardt in this parliament today.

In June 1990, my courageous friend Paul O’Grady, a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council, came out as a gay man. He was most certainly not the first gay man elected to the New South Wales parliament, but it took until 1990 for someone to have the confidence to declare their sexuality openly. When I discussed this move with Paul, he said very clearly, ‘I am who I am.’ It was an act of courage that made it much easier for other people in the same circumstance as Paul to openly declare their sexuality. In 1993, three years later, he and his partner, Murray, were attacked and harassed on William Street. Paul O’Grady, a member of the Legislative Council, dialled triple 0. He tried to convince the person on the other end of the phone that he was being threatened by a gang of youths in what was known colloquially as ‘poofter bashing’, which occurred then and still occurs today. He was hung up on, a member of the Legislative Council.

When we talk about discrimination and the fear in society created by intolerance and hatred, it is important today to recognise the courage of those gay men and lesbian women over decades in which debate was far different to what it is today. People like Paul, I think, couldn’t have imagined us having a debate in the parliament with such broad support for marriage equality across the political spectrum. So today I begin by paying tribute to people like Paul; to people like Craig Johnston, a Sydney city councillor; to people like Lex Watson, the academic; to people like Julie McCrossin; to all those people who marched in 1978 in the first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. They marched not in a parade that was being cheered and shown on national television; they marched in a parade towards a confrontation with police, who locked them up, who assaulted them and who abused them.

Part of the reason that today is so important is that today, in supporting this legislation, we are saying that we are a tolerant nation, that we are a respectful nation and that we are a nation that is stronger because of our diversity. I think it is unfortunate that we will be one of the last advanced industrialised nations to recognise marriage equality when this legislation is passed. Nonetheless, catching up with the rest of the world is a good thing. I pay tribute to all those who did the hard yards—the really hard yards—to get us to this place.

In 1996, in my first speech in this chamber, I mentioned removing discrimination on the basis of sexuality. In my first term of parliament, after consultation with the gay and lesbian community, I moved the Superannuation (Entitlements of same sex couples) Bill in this chamber. It says something about where the debate was then compared with now that we couldn’t even get a debate on that issue; that legislation wasn’t even supported by every member of my own party. But what it did was lay some groundwork for a debate within my party about the need to tackle discrimination. And, of course, eventually, under the first term of the Rudd Labor government, we removed some 84 pieces of discrimination that were in legislation. This was discrimination not just in areas like superannuation, but in social security, immigration and health care.

When I was first elected, there were very real circumstances of partners of loved ones being denied access to their partners when they were in hospital. There were issues whereby couples who shared houses were thrown out of the house that they had lived in with their partner because of non-acceptance by the family of that partner. The scourge, of course, of HIV-AIDS was still having a massive impact—including, of course, taking the life of Paul O’Grady, who showed his courage once again in openly declaring that he was HIV-positive and therefore being able to lead a campaign for the care that was required. Of course, Neal Blewett, as health minister in the Labor government, led the world in responding to the HIV-AIDS epidemic, literally resulting in thousands of lives being saved.

So, today, this is unfinished business on that march towards equality, in the march towards respect for each other. It is a reminder that society does move forward, although not always in a straight line. Opponents of progress do fight for the status quo. Reactionaries do seek to turn back the gains of the past. But here in this parliament progress is moving forward. Human rights are moving forward. Parliament is not leading in this case, of course; we’re following. We are following the voluntary postal ballot that was held.

I am very proud to support this legislation, and I won’t be supporting amendments to this legislation. This has been through the process of a Senate committee. This itself is a compromise to this legislation. It’s one that will not have an impact on religious freedom.

Part of the reason that today is so important is that today, in supporting this legislation, we are saying that we are a tolerant nation, that we are a respectful nation and that we are a nation that is stronger because of our diversity. I think it is unfortunate that we will be one of the last advanced industrialised nations to recognise marriage equality when this legislation is passed. Nonetheless, catching up with the rest of the world is a good thing. I pay tribute to all those who did the hard yards—the really hard yards—to get us to this place.

In 1996, in my first speech in this chamber, I mentioned removing discrimination on the basis of sexuality. In my first term of parliament, after consultation with the gay and lesbian community, I moved the Superannuation (Entitlements of same sex couples) Bill in this chamber. It says something about where the debate was then compared with now that we couldn’t even get a debate on that issue; that legislation wasn’t even supported by every member of my own party. But what it did was lay some groundwork for a debate within my party about the need to tackle discrimination. And, of course, eventually, under the first term of the Rudd Labor government, we removed some 84 pieces of discrimination that were in legislation. This was discrimination not just in areas like superannuation, but in social security, immigration and health care.

When I was first elected, there were very real circumstances of partners of loved ones being denied access to their partners when they were in hospital. There were issues whereby couples who shared houses were thrown out of the house that they had lived in with their partner because of non-acceptance by the family of that partner. The scourge, of course, of HIV-AIDS was still having a massive impact—including, of course, taking the life of Paul O’Grady, who showed his courage once again in openly declaring that he was HIV-positive and therefore being able to lead a campaign for the care that was required. Of course, Neal Blewett, as health minister in the Labor government, led the world in responding to the HIV-AIDS epidemic, literally resulting in thousands of lives being saved.

So, today, this is unfinished business on that march towards equality, in the march towards respect for each other. It is a reminder that society does move forward, although not always in a straight line. Opponents of progress do fight for the status quo. Reactionaries do seek to turn back the gains of the past. But here in this parliament progress is moving forward. Human rights are moving forward. Parliament is not leading in this case, of course; we’re following. We are following the voluntary postal ballot that was held.

I am very proud to support this legislation, and I won’t be supporting amendments to this legislation. This has been through the process of a Senate committee. This itself is a compromise to this legislation. It’s one that will not have an impact on religious freedom.

In conclusion, can I say that this legislation is a good moment in this parliament. Some of the best moments since I’ve been here, whether I’ve been on the majority or minority side, have been conscience votes. I think we should have more of them, not less, frankly, whereby parliamentarians can make their contribution. I want to say that it’s particularly good to be with people like the member for Sydney, the member for Melbourne Ports and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Penny Wong, in particular, who has shown such courage over a long period of time, in internal and external debates, to get us to the position we’re in today. The member for Leichhardt has also shown great courage in advancing this issue within his party, and I pay tribute to him and others who have been prepared to really push this issue and ensure this reform happens.

It is, however, of course, the Australian people who have led the parliament on this issue. I’ve been convinced for some time that a majority of Australians had shifted their view to favour marriage equality some time ago. I hear many Australians say: ‘I didn’t used to support marriage equality. I do now.’ I don’t know of anyone who has said it to me the other way around—who has changed their mind from ‘yes’ to ‘no’. Australians want us to live and let live. They’ve decided that as individuals we have no right to cast judgements on love as it is felt by others. I commend the bill to the House. (Time expired)

 

Contact Anthony

(02) 9564 3588 Electorate Office

Email: A.Albanese.MP@aph.gov.au

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