Senator Doug Cameron (Labor, NSW) has spoken strongly in favour of gay marriage:
I am pleased to participate in this debate and I support the bill before the chamber. I think it is important that this chamber vote to remove discrimination against our fellow Australians who are gay, lesbian, transsexual or intersex. I think this bill has been misunderstood by some speakers in this chamber. I think it would be good just to go to the main points of the bill before I go to the arguments as to why I support the bill.
This bill will amend the Marriage Act 1961 to ensure that all adult couples who have a mutual commitment to a shared life have equal access to marriage. The bill seeks to end discrimination against same-sex couples who wish to have their relationships recognised by the state by amending the definition of marriage that is currently in section 5 of the Marriage Act 1961. At the same time, this bill protects religious freedom. The bill will permit a minister of religion, a person authorised under a state or territory law or a marriage celebrant authorised under the Marriage Act 1961 to perform a marriage between same-sex couples and will permit that marriage to be recognised in Australian law. In addition, amendments to section 47 of the act will reinforce the existing provisions that ensure that a minister of religion is under no obligation to solemnise a marriage where the parties to that marriage are of the same sex. That is the guts of the bill. It does not force any obligations on a minister of religion but what it does do is give our fellow Australians who are gay, lesbian, transsexual or intersex the same rights as every other Australian.
I became extremely concerned about the need to give gay couples the right to marry after one of my constituents, a mother of a gay son, rang me about three years ago and took me through in great detail the discrimination, the violence and the mental trauma that her son had to endure as a young gay man. When we hear about the problems for a gay son or a gay daughter it did not strike me until that mother spoke to me about the problems and the intimidation that her son had faced that this was not only a problem for the gay son; it was a problem for the whole family. It was a problem for the gay son’s mother, his father and his siblings, and the family were basically living in what she described to me as a siege mentality about trying to protect her son. I thought, ‘This is Australia’—I think it was in about 2010—’how can we continue to tolerate this type of intimidation and discrimination against a young Australian man?’ How can we? I say that we need to deal with it now. After I spoke to the mother, I decided to come out—no, I didn’t ‘come out’, but I did decide to say I would be very vocal in the Labor Party to say this discrimination had to stop, because quite frankly I was disgusted that gay members of the Labor Party had to basically deny their very being because of a policy position the Labor Party had that said: ‘Marriage is between a man and a woman and you as a member of the Labor Party are not as equal as other members of the Labor Party.’ It is not just in the Labor Party we have this; we have had High Court judges who are gay. We have police, who you expect to go out and protect you when you are in trouble, who are gay. We have brain surgeons, surgeons, lawyers, doctors and nurses who are gay—people that we expect to come and help us in our moment of need. And yet we say to them: ‘Because of your sexual preference, you are not equal. You cannot get the same rights as other Australians.’ I think that is wrong. I think the Labor Party needs to deal with it, and we have taken one small step towards dealing with it.
I agree with the other speakers who have said that, regardless of the outcome of the debate tonight, history is on our side and we will change this and we will make sure that the young Australian man from Greystanes who has suffered all that humiliation, violence and intimidation will have the right sometime, and sometime soon, to make a commitment to the person that he loves and marry that person. That is what we need to do. I think we have to do it. I think it is extremely important.
Not long after that mother rang me and after I publicly indicated my support for same-sex marriage I was in Albury and a gay man approached me at a meeting I was at and thanked me for coming out and saying that everyone should be treated equally. Again, the story that that man who lived in the country told me he had suffered in terms of discrimination his whole life would make you weep. It was just terrible. That is because we have stigmatised gay people over the years. We have treated them as if they are not normal. I do not want to personalise this debate, because I think it should be above the personal, but some of the contributions that I have heard—as I have listened to a lot of the contributions—are certainly rooted back in the fifties and sixties when we were not as sophisticated as we are now, when we did not accept that people had the right to have sexual preferences that were different from heterosexuals.
I also want to thank my friends and colleagues in Rainbow Labor. It is pretty hard when you are a member of a political party and you have got gay, lesbian, transsexual and intersex members of that party who belong to a party that says, ‘You are not equal; you will not get the right to marry.’ I cannot look my comrades from Rainbow Labor in the eye and say, ‘You should be treated differently from other people in this country.’ I just won’t do it. I don’t think it’s right.
I take the view that activists and courageous people like Senator Pratt are absolutely right in getting out there and supporting their right to have a marriage. The arguments I have heard tonight from some in the chamber about how a child will be disadvantaged by being brought up by a gay couple I think deny the reality of some children facing absolutely terrible lives with heterosexual couples. Gay couples who make a commitment to a child, in my view, make that conscious decision that they want a child, that they love that child and they will look after that child, and I think some of the arguments are quite offensive. It is offensive to argue any other way.
I come to this debate from a working class background. I was brought up in Lanarkshire in Scotland—a place called Bellshill that was pretty renowned for the sectarian divisions in that area of the west of Scotland between Catholics and Protestants. Years ago it was frowned upon if a Catholic married a Protestant or a Protestant married a Catholic. We have overcome that, so we have matured as a society and things are getting better. But in that working class background that I had there was a culture of discrimination, intimidation and violence against gay and lesbian people. I think it is reprehensible that we have not tried to deal with it before. It was fuelled by fear and fuelled by ignorance; it was fuelled by religious and cultural intolerance; and it was fuelled by a legislative discrimination in Australia even up until recently and right now.
I come to this debate not only as a working class man who has witnessed the discrimination and intimidation of gays; I come to this debate as a married man. I did find it quite offensive for Senator Brandis to generalise about the view of the Left on marriage. Yesterday was my 41st wedding anniversary, so I know a bit about marriage.
Senator CAMERON: Not ‘Poor Elaine’—I am very lucky to have met Elaine over 40 years ago
For Senator Brandis to say that the Left mock and deride marriage is just a nonsense. I could never have been prouder when I married my wife, Elaine. I did it in a civil marriage because Elaine was brought up a Catholic and I was brought up a Protestant, and 40-odd years ago that was still an issue, let me tell you. It was one of the reasons Elaine and I decided we would like to come to a country where religious discrimination would not be imposed upon my kids and my grandkids, and we have been lucky enough to do that. I suppose there are parents of gay couples who would want to be in a place where they can get some relief from the discrimination, and Australia should be that place and we should be making a big commitment to that tonight.
The argument from Senator Brandis that the Left mock and deride marriage is a nonsense. Another one of the proudest moments in my life was when my daughter, Lynn, got married. To have my daughter marry was of great pride to Elaine and me, but again it was a civil marriage. It had nothing to do with religion. There seems to be a thing in my family: my mother was a Catholic, my father was a Protestant, my daughter has married a Catholic and she was brought up with no religion because I am an atheist. I do not believe in religion; I do not think religion should be imposed upon anybody. If you want to be religious, my view is you have the right to be religious—that is part of people’s rights—but a civil marriage is no less important or valid than a church marriage.
Senator Brandis said that marriage is an institution based on law, custom and religion. Well, Senator Brandis, you are wrong. My marriage of 41 years was not based on religion. You hear much about the sanctity of marriage in these debates. My marriage is not based on sanctity; it is based on love. That is what my marriage is based on. And gay couples should have the same right to base their relationship on love and be married. My marriage is not about any holy writs, it is not about religious vows or beliefs. It is about love, it is about mutual support, it is about care, it is about understanding, it is about dealing with life’s ups and downs together. And why should a gay couple not be able to have that type of relationship under the Marriage Act in Australia? I just do not understand why not. We are not saying that the religious should change their views. If people want to belong to a religious group who say that gay marriage will not be recognised, so be it. I think it is wrong; I think it is dumb; I do not think it is based on a proper interpretation, as I understand it, of religion, but so be it. If that is what they want to do, I think that is okay. I cannot understand the logic of religion or custom being used to deny our fellow Australians who are gay the capacity or right to commit to each other and declare their love through the legal act of marriage.
Senator Brandis said everyone is entitled to their view of what marriage is, and I agree. But marriage is not and cannot be solely a religious or unchanging cultural institution. It never has been and it never will be. Marriage is a constantly changing institution. It is not about setting aside the history of civilisation, as I have heard in this chamber in the past couple of days; it is about learning the lessons of history. It is about evolving in marriage. It is about tolerance and understanding.
I take the view that the most sensible National Party member I have heard on this is the Hon. Trevor Khan, a National Party member in the New South Wales upper house. In an opinion piece on 25 June he said that ‘support for marriage equality by conservatives is both rational and sensible’. He quoted David Cameron, the British Prime Minister—he is not my relative; he is one of the black Camerons, this guy—who last year said:
Yes, it’s about equality, but it’s also about something else: commitment.
This is the British Prime Minister. He said:
Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other.
So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.
I am not here arguing the conservative line, but the arguments I have heard from the conservatives in the Australian parliament have been so far away from a logical position that it just makes you wonder what is going on. The Hon. Trevor Khan makes some very important points. He says:
My father has since acknowledged that he regrets not attending my commitment ceremony in 2006, adding that ‘I pray I will be given the opportunity to right my wrong and see my eldest son legally marry the man he loves’.
Again, it shows that people’s views are changing. The fathers and mothers of gay people want the same rights for their children as heterosexual couples. The Hon. Trevor Khan went on to say:
It is time for all of us to soften our hearts and accept that the expression of love and commitment through marriage should be available to all couples, irrespective of sexuality.
I wish that issue had been debated at the National Party conference at the weekend because I think that would have been a good use of the time of that conference: showing compassion and understanding the need to treat everyone equally and give gay couples the right to marry just the same as heterosexual couples because it would be a better Australia if we did.