Standing up for Canberra

Why I Voted Yes for Marriage Equality in 2012

I support this bill. I support it because, after much thought, I am convinced that it is an argument about justice that all should be equal before the law. So, in good conscience, I can make no other choice. I make this decision even though many people I know and some that I love violently disagree. I respect and understand their choices. I ask them to respect and understand the choices of others.

The highlight of my brief time in this House was a speech by the President of the United States, Barack Obama. At the time of his birth in 1962, President Obama's parents could not have been legally married in 16 states of the country he now governs 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?' He said, 'Tell them I love my wife.'

Ted Olson was one of the lawyers who successfully challenged California's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. His involvement shocked many of his conservative friends. He said 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 went on to say:

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.

I have wrestled with this issue, because I have honestly tried to weigh all the arguments. Some constituents tried to convince me to vote against this bill by arguing that the union of a man and a woman is natural and same-sex unions unnatural. Some gay constituents opposed it and some gay friends wondered why anyone would want to get married. Some constituents urged me to consider the children of same-sex unions now that the law, science and innovation has shattered the natural barriers to same-sex couples being parents. And it caused me to reflect on my own family, because this is not just an intellectual exercise. I cannot divorce it from my own experiences and the people I know and love.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I would have preferred that my father had not left my mother when I was 11. It was not my choice, it was not the choice of my sisters and it was certainly not the choice of my mother. 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 that family did not matter to me. The only thing I needed to know when I got home from school was that I had someone there to reassure me, to nurture me, to tell me that I was okay and that life was okay.

Then there is the experience of my wider family. I am the proud godmother of Alice Rose Uhlmann-Foy. She is a precocious five-year-old, with an unbridled passion for potato chips. She is a girl well on her way to being Prime Minister. I find it impossible to believe that she could have more devoted parents than Elizabeth Uhlmann and Kate Foy. Both know that nothing is more nurturing than the life and love of family. The world is a better place because Liz and Kate have two beautiful daughters, Alice Rose and Emma Kathleen. I cannot deny for them anything that I would wish for myself, and the best thing in my life is my marriage. My marriage stabilises me. My marriage energises me. My marriage encourages me constantly to be better than I am.

Kate and Liz know that their life has not been an easy thing for some in our family to reconcile. It directly challenged the deep faith of my beloved late mother-in-law, Mary Rose Uhlmann. Mary was devoted to her family and her church. She was the president of the Catholic Women's League. She argued in the committees of this House against the use of the kind of reproductive science that have allowed Liz and Kate to have children. And yet her love for Liz and Kate and her granddaughters was ferocious and it was unconditional. Liz and Kate gave their first daughter Mary's middle name in recognition of that strong love, because Mary found a path to love both her faith and her family, and in her dying words she implored us to 'love one another as I have loved you'. Yet I do not doubt that she would oppose this bill today, and Liz and Kate and I would expect nothing less.

Since this debate got a head of steam, I have met with many constituents on this issue. I have been struck by the most unlikely people being in favour of same-sex marriage, and the most unlikely being opposed to it. I have been struck by the strength and passion of both sides of the argument. Both sides have presented well-considered and well-grounded reasons for their views—many based on their faith and many based on their own morality. Both sides have been deeply respectful—in the main. And I say that because I have also been struck by the intolerance of a handful of people calling for tolerance and by the level of contempt among an invisible minority that peddles its views in the social media. I have been the victim of a campaign, as I am sure many in this chamber have been. Attempts have been made to 'out' me. Attempts have been made to put me on 'for' and 'against' lists. Some of these attempts have come from my own party.

In the short time that I have been a member, the thing that has disturbed me most about modern public life is the belief among some individuals and groups that I will be bullied into supporting their cause through blackmail, and that if I do not support a cause and then go out and advocate for it—as if supporting it is not enough—that I will be exposed to the world as an unbeliever. I have also been offended by the suggestion that those who do not support same-sex marriage are homophobic. Mary Rose Uhlmann was not homophobic. The constituents I have met who are opposed to same-sex marriage are not homophobic. Like those who support it, they are driven by a deep faith and a deep morality, and I respect that. But I respectfully disagree.

We are not here today discussing unions sanctioned by the church, we are talking about the sanctions 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.


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