Make Marriage Equality in Australia a Reality

I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017.

As I did in 2012, today I proudly rise in support of marriage equality. But today I do so for different reasons. Five years ago I was convinced the argument was all about justice, that all should be equal before the law. But in those five years I've had hundreds of conversations with the LGBTIQ community, their families and their friends, and what has become apparent to me is that, yes, this is about equality and, yes, this is about justice, but, most importantly, it is about love: the right of all Australians to love who they want.

At the time of former President Obama's birth, in 1962, his parents could not have been legally married in 16 states of the country he governed, because his father was black and his mother was white. Three years before he was born, a trial judge in Virginia sentenced an interracial husband and wife to one year's jail, with the words:

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages.

In 1967, the US Supreme Court would unanimously overturn that ruling in a famous civil rights case. There was a deep irony in the surname of the couple that brought the case: Mildred and Richard Loving. In Loving v Virginia, the Supreme Court ruled:

Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," …

In an interview, the famous conservative US lawyer Ted Olson recalled this case. He said that in preparation for it, a lawyer asked Richard Loving, 'What shall I tell the justices of the Supreme Court?' And he said, 'Tell them I love my wife.' That's what this is all about: love.

The Australian people have delivered a strong statement about equality, about justice and about love by voting in favour of legalising same-sex marriage in Australia. I'm delighted and proud that the ACT recorded the highest percentage of 'yes' votes of any state or territory in Australia, with 74 per cent. I'm particularly delighted and very proud that my own electorate had the highest percentage of 'yes' voters in the ACT, with 74.1 per cent, and also the highest turnout in the ACT, at 83.2 per cent.

That said, I do acknowledge that there are members of my community who did not vote yes, and I respect that. During this survey and over the course of my time as Member for Canberra, I have always underscored the need for respect and tolerance. Deputy Speaker, in October 2013, the ACT Legislative Assembly legalised marriage equality, becoming the first jurisdiction in Australia to allow same-sex couples to marry under law. A few weeks later, the decision made in the assembly was overturned. Couples silently sobbed as the High Court ruled that the ACT law was inconsistent with federal marriage legislation. The Canberra Times reported that as couples left the courtroom that day they were heard saying to each other, 'It's not over.' They were right, and nearly four years later we are here, hopefully, ensuring that it is actually and finally over.

I congratulate the LGBTIQ community and their families and friends for their commitment and persistence over many years and decades and through the course of this survey, which has been deeply confronting. Imagine that an entire nation has stood in judgement of your relationships, of your character, of your morality, of your worth and of your love. LGBTIQ parents have been scared witless about the toll that this was going to take on their children, as the nation stood in judgement of them as parents—of their right to be parents and of their ability as parents. I bitterly resent this and I take deep offence at it, because I was raised by a single mother. I bitterly resent and take deep offence at the fact that after being raised by a single mother I am somehow damaged or dysfunctional.

We know that families come in many forms.

Over the ages, children have been raised by aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings, cousins, friends, benefactors, the church, the court, nannies and boarding schools. What is critical is that children in all circumstances are loved, respected, nurtured and safe. This is the case for children raised by single mothers—as I was—and children raised by LGBTIQ mothers and fathers.

On the day of the results of the marriage equality survey, there was a lot of nervous energy here in Canberra as people gathered in workplaces and around the city to hear and watch the outcome. A week earlier, we had the race that stopped the nation, and this was a survey, as we know, that stopped the nation. Across the ACT, you could hear a collective intake of breath as the results were read out. The images of before and after the result showed the amazing weight lifting off the shoulders of, particularly, the LGBTIQ community, their families, their friends, and supporters of marriage equality. It was a weight that had been bearing down on some of them for decades. In Lonsdale Street, in my electorate, there was a block party where Canberrans came together to celebrate the result. It was a celebration that was spontaneous and exuberant. Thousands flocked to the party. Couples embraced each other. Children armed with chalk created a rainbow that went right across the street. They were so proud and so happy that long-awaited change had finally come—in the form of a survey, anyway. It was in the form of the affirmation of the nation. They were so proud and so happy that our nation had affirmed its commitment to those qualities that are part of our social fabric and DNA here in Australia: fairness and equality.

Next week, I celebrate my 20th wedding anniversary on 13 December. My marriage is the most important thing in my life. I'm very much looking forward to celebrating that significant date with my husband even though, unfortunately, he's not going to be with me on the night. My husband is my best friend. He's my greatest supporter. He is the love of my life. I cannot imagine what my life would be without him. Our marriage has enriched my life, and I'd like to think that it has enriched his life. It has enriched my life in untold ways. I want every Australian to experience the enrichment that you can get from a successful marriage—and I do classify mine as a successful marriage. Here we are, nearly 20 years on—20 years; who would have thought?—from that day that we first struck our union.

Mr Buchholz interjecting—

Ms BRODTMANN:  Thank you. In closing, I want to commend and thank ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Canberrans Tom Snow, Stephen Byron, Terry Snow, the Snow family, the Byron family and Claire Dawson for their leadership on this issue. No-one arriving at Canberra Airport or driving across Kings Avenue or Commonwealth Avenue bridges could be left in any doubt about Canberra's views on marriage equality. I also want to commend and thank the thousands and thousands of Labor members and Rainbow Labor who've campaigned on this issue over the course of this year, over the course of the last decade and over the course of decades. I want to commend and thank the hundreds of Canberrans who came up to me in the streets, at mobile offices and at coffee catch-ups to express their support. Here, I want to particularly acknowledge those Canberrans who are over 70, because a lot of attention has been rightly focused on the fact that we had such a huge response to this survey from so many young Australians but what has really struck me is the fact that there have been so many older Canberrans—particularly over 70—who have been strong advocates and strong campaigners on this issue. They've approached me for 'yes' badges, stickers and posters in bulk for their children and grandchildren.

I want to commend and thank Senator Dean Smith for his courage in drafting and putting forward this bill. It has required considerable resilience and bravery—the sort of resilience and bravery that so many have shown over decades—and, for that, he needs to be acknowledged. Thousands and thousands of Australians also need to be acknowledged. They are those thousands and thousands of Australians who've been victims of hate crimes, vilification, discrimination and ridicule. They are those thousands and thousands of Australians who've been shunned, shamed and estranged from family and friends in country towns and metropolitan cities.

Those thousands and thousands of Australians who've led secret lives or entered into marriages or relationships that did not reflect who they were, who they are. Those thousands and thousands of Australians who've been denied the most basic of human rights—the most basic of human rights—to be themselves.

I also want to acknowledge my friends who've tirelessly fought the good fight for equality, friends who are now in their 50s and their 60s who have suffered unspeakable discrimination since their teens. I want to acknowledge my friends who are no longer with us, who died in their 20s, in the dreadful, dark, frightening early days of AIDS in Australia in the eighties. And I want to acknowledge one friend, who we discovered last week may not be with us at Christmas thanks to spinal cancer. His name is Chris Grady. Chris and I first met at the ACT Assembly in the very early days, when he was working with Terry Connolly. I really want to take this opportunity, Chris, to say how deeply moved we were to speak to you last week, and to say thanks for your friendship, thanks for your contribution to Canberra and thanks so much for the good times.

Now is the time to give Australia's LGBTIQ community the best present ever for Christmas: the opportunity to love and to celebrate that love in union before their families and before their friends. Because as Ted Olson said about half a century ago when he was challenging California's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, 'This fight shouldn't be considered a liberal issue or a conservative issue; it should be considered a matter of equal rights and equal dignity to individuals.' He said:

People are not, do not choose to be gay. They are born with characteristics that cause their sexual orientation to be what it is. They deserve happiness and equality and dignity and respect and absence of discrimination in their lives the same as the rest of us do.

In 2012, 42 of us voted in this chamber for LGBTIQ Australians to live the same as the rest of us do. Only 23 of us are still here today. This week, I look forward to the majority of this chamber joining with we 23 from 2012 to realise the sentiments of Ted Olson more than 50 years ago, and make marriage equality a reality.

An incident having occurred in the gallery—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Vasta):  Could I please ask the members of the gallery to refrain from clapping during the speeches.

Tweets by @TwitterDev