May 26, 2015

Constituency Statements – Marriage equality

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (16:19):  Many of my constituents were overjoyed at the overwhelming vote in support of marriage equality in Ireland at the weekend.

This means at least 20 nations support marriage equality, including the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand.

It is now time for Australia to join the nations which have recognised that people should be allowed to marry the person that they love.

Institutions, just like society’s values, evolve over time.

Only 22 years ago, homosexuality was illegal in Ireland.

Now marriage equality is a reality.

When I introduced a Private Members Bill in my first term in Parliament to give same-sex couples equal rights on superannuation, it was seen as a radical proposition.

The Howard Government prevented it going to a vote.

By the time the Rudd Government removed discrimination on the basis of sexual preference in more than 80 pieces of legislation, it carried the Parliament with broad support.

Giving one group of people the rights they have been denied does not, in any way, diminish the rights that currently exist for the rest of us.

I fail to see how the institution of marriage is weakened if more people have the right to participate.

I strongly believe there should be a vote in this Parliament this year.

It should be a conscience vote.

That would enable parliamentarians to have a mature debate in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Whilst I have strong views in support of marriage equality, I respect those who hold a different view.

You cannot promote diversity and tolerance whilst not showing tolerance for those who disagree with you.

I have argued consistently that the Coalition needs to allow a conscience vote on this issue.

It is inconsistent to argue something different within the Labor Party.

In 2002, as a member of the ALP National Executive, I dealt with a report to resolve the issues surrounding the use of conscience votes in a process which included Labor’s pre-eminent authority on our internal history and processes John Faulkner.

There have been conscience votes on a range of issues over the year including the Family Law Bill 1974, euthanasia in 1996 and the Marriage Bill (1961).

The ALP National Executive decided unanimously that “the most appropriate model is the case-by-case, political model, but with consideration and tolerance of other factors relating to religion, the party platform and precedent’’.

As the document says: “These types of questions are not easily resolved in the party room, so conscience votes provide a way in which divisions over contentious social or moral issues carry over into the Parliament without adverse repercussions for those who differ from the majority view.’’

There is also a pragmatic reason to argue for a conscience vote across the Parliament and it is this.

It is my judgement that there are now majorities in favour of marriage equality in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

There is therefore no argument to delay this reform.

Let’s get this done.