Senator John Faulkner on gay marriage

Senator John Faulkner on gay marriage

Senator John Faulkner (Labor, NSW) supports gay marriage because he supports “equal rights for all Australians”:

I support the Marriage Amendment (No. 2) Bill 2012. I support this bill because I support equal rights for all Australians. This should not be a debate about the virtue and value of marriage as an institution, nor about its role in our society. Nor is it a debate about the role and prominence of religion—any religion—in our nation. It is a debate on the simple question of whether it is right for a government to deny some of its citizens access to a secular, government-recognised status on the basis of the gender of the person they choose to share their life with. I support this bill because I believe that no government should deny rights to any citizen on the basis of race, sex, religion, country of origin or sexual preference.

Human rights can never be at the mercy of individual opinions or individual prejudices. They are not privileges to be extended to one person and denied to another according to the winds of popular opinion or the whims of the government of the day. They are inherent in each and every one of us, quite simply because we are human—inherent in each unique, and uniquely valuable, person. ‘Recognition of the inherent dignity,’ the Universal Declaration of Human Rights starts, ‘and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.’ That inherent dignity, those equal and inalienable rights, belong to those who are different to us as well as those who are like us.
While as individuals we may fall short of the ideal of living without prejudice, of judging each and every person we meet purely on, as Martin Luther King said, ‘the content of their character’, we must always hold our government and its laws to a higher standard. It is not for governments to grant human rights but to recognise and protect them. It is not for any of us to approve of human rights, only to choose whether to respect or ignore them. Today the Australian parliament faces such a choice. Will we continue to deny the rights of hundreds of thousands of Australians because of the gender of their partner? Will we continue to refuse to accept the full citizenship, the full humanity, of our fellow Australians simply because of who they choose to live their lives with? This is not a complex question, nor should it be a difficult one. Removing this last legacy of discrimination against some of our fellow citizens affects no-one but them. Recognising their rights curtails the rights of no-one else.
There are times when governments must consider competing claims to rights. When, for example, a legislature passes a law providing for the imprisonment of individuals found guilty of certain crimes, they are weighing one citizen’s right to liberty against others’ rights to safety and security. So too must laws concerning defamation, national security, or even more mundane matters such as road safety, take careful consideration of the balance between the rights of different citizens. In all these cases, allowing some rights to be exercised without any constraint will infringe the rights of others. But this is not such a case.
No Australian will be denied any right if this legislation is passed. Those who are married will stay married. Those who are currently able to marry will still be able to marry. Married couples will not lose one iota of their current rights. Marriage celebrants will not be compelled to marry any two individuals any more than they are today. Those with personal objections to the marriage of any two individuals will be no more forced to attend their wedding than they are today. Contrary to some of the more colourful contributions to the public debate, this legislation will not cause a sudden outbreak of mass homosexuality across the country. In fact, this bill will strengthen the rights of those currently able to marry by recognising marriage as a right all adults have—one that government has no justification to deny. A right denied to some is a right secure to none. This bill will simply end the current discrimination against some Australians who are denied the right to formalise their relationship in law on the same basis as everyone else. There is no justification for continuing to maintain that discrimination.
There are those who object to the removal of this discrimination against gay and lesbian Australians because they believe that to do so would be contrary to the tenets of their religion. I respect absolutely the right of any Australian to hold to whatever religion they choose. But we live in a secular society, a society which respects both each citizen’s right to practice their religion and each citizen’s right not to have a religious belief enforced upon them. Our marriage laws already recognise the diversity of religious faith in this country and they recognise that many Australians subscribe to no religion at all. We recognise the marriages of Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Sikhs, Muslims, Unitarians, Buddhists and Hindus—the marriages of those of all religions, of mixed religions and of no religion. The Marriage Act is the civic law of a secular country and it has never been, and should not now be, shaped by the desire of some members of some faiths to dictate the behaviour of those who do not share their views.
There are those who object to the removal of this discrimination against gay and lesbian Australians because, they argue, it goes against nature. But marriage is not a natural occurrence; it is a social one. Like all of our social customs, it reflects different values and different expectations in different places and at different times. What was once, in most of Europe, essentially a legal contract between families to secure the transmission of property between generations is today an expression of mutual love and commitment between individuals. What was once the province of only the wealthy—the great majority of the population once simply ‘jumped the broom’ to show their commitment before their community—is today considered a right for members of all social strata, regardless of income, background or residence. What was once throughout Australia the legal obliteration of a woman’s individual identity—her personhood, her right to own property, work, or act in any way without the consent of her husband—is today the decision of two equal people to share a life together.
A nation’s laws reflect its values. I believe that our nation recognises the full and equal citizenship of all Australians, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual preference. I believe that our nation stands against discrimination against any person. And I believe it is time—it is past time—for our marriage law to reflect those values. I will be voting in favour of this bill.
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