I am pleased to have the opportunity to support the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 and to again express my support for marriage equality in this country. This legislation, if passed, would give same-sex couples in Australia the right to marry the person they love. After much thought over many years and much consultation, I am convinced the debate around marriage equality is fundamentally an argument about justice and that all people should be equal before the law.
Since I was elected the member for Canberra I have met with many, many constituents on this issue and I have been struck by the strength and passion on both sides of the argument. For the most part, both sides have been deeply respectful. However, I have also been struck by a very small handful of intolerant people in this debate who are basically calling for intolerance. I have also been offended by the suggestion that those who do not support same-sex marriage are necessarily homophobic. The constituents I have met who are opposed to samesex marriage are not homophobic. Like those who support it, they are driven by a deep faith and deep morality, and I respect that. But I respectfully disagree. I respectfully disagree, particularly on the issue of the impact on children. Some constituents have written to me about the impact on children.
In the speech that I made when I first spoke on this issue, I said that I would have preferred that my father had not left my mother when I was 11 years old. It was not my choice; it was not the choice of my mother; it was not the choice of my sisters. It was the choice of my father, and I bitterly resent and take deep offence at the suggestion that I was not raised in a family, or that I am damaged or dysfunctional because I was raised by a single mother—because families come in many forms. Over the ages, children have been raised by aunts, by uncles, by grandparents, by siblings, by cousins, by friends, by benefactors, by the church, by the court, by nannies and by boarding schools. What is critical is that children in all circumstances are loved, respected, nurtured and safe. Coming from a single-mother family, I know for a fact—I speak from experience—that the construct of the family did not matter to me. What mattered to me was knowing that, when I got home from school, someone was there to reassure me, to nurture me and to tell me that I was okay and that life was okay. As I said, I respectfully disagree with those who make this point about the supposed impact on children.
In my own eyes, before the law of this Commonwealth, all women and men should be equal. That is why I voted to support same-sex marriage in the past and that is why I will continue to support it in the future, particularly after seeing the joy that marriage equality has brought to people in Ireland and the US recently. It is time we achieved marriage equality here in Australia, and the parliament has the power to do so. The High Court has made it clear that this parliament already has the power to legislate for marriage equality, and, in this parliament, we as law-makers have an opportunity to ensure our laws reflect the principle of equality. We do not need an expensive plebiscite on marriage equality. Opinion polls show two-thirds of Australians support marriage equality, compared with one-third a decade ago. We do not need a divisive plebiscite to tell us what we already know. If marriage equality is supported by the majority of Australians, it is time our laws reflected that. I am proud that the party I represent has a clear policy. A Shorten Labor government will introduce a government bill for marriage equality within its first 100 days.
People do not choose to be gay. They are born with characteristics that cause their sexual orientation to be what it is. They deserve happiness, they deserve equality, they deserve dignity, they deserve respect and they deserve an absence of discrimination in their lives, the same as the rest of us do. We are not here today discussing unions sanctioned by the church; we are talking about those sanctioned by the state. No church should ever be forced to marry same-sex couples, and I will never support that, but the state already recognises unions, like de facto couples, that the churches do not. Before the law of this Commonwealth, all women and men should be equal, no matter their colour, their creed or their sexual orientation. People have the right to choose the individual they love and, if they choose to marry, the state should not stand in their way.
Strong relationships are the foundation on which we build a strong community. It is great to see bipartisan support for marriage equality; we now need to see that support flow from the Prime Minister, who we know supports marriage equality yet will not allow his MPs a conscience vote. If he did, we could achieve marriage equality in Australia by Christmas.