Senator Rachel Siewert on gay marriage

Senator Rachel Siewert on gay marriage

Senator Rachel Siewert (Greens, WA) told ther Senate that she supports gay marriage “because it is the right thing to do”:

The Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012 and this issue are about a universal understanding of marriage, which is about love, commitment and relationships. That should be available to everybody, not just one set of couples. We really demean marriage when we use it in this way to discriminate and act prejudicially towards some members of our community. I was quite shocked to hear Senator Bishop from my home state of Western Australia this morning say in this chamber that he has not heard much talk about this in the community. He must be mixing with a different community to the one I mix with and the one I get emails from. If there is one issue that I have had an overwhelming number of emails about, it is this issue. This is important to Western Australians. This is important when you go out and talk to community groups. I have lost count of the number of rallies that have been held in Western Australia calling for marriage equality. I have heard countless stories of couples who have been discriminated against and felt discriminated against because they cannot marry and cannot have their loved ones, their parents and their children at their marriage.

When a similar debate was brought on under the former Howard government when it moved to disallow the ACT’s Civil Unions Act, I asked a simple question at the time: show me how changing this institution has been undermined in any of the states around the world where common sense has prevailed and won over prejudice and discrimination, and where in fact they do have marriage equality? Of course, no-one has been able to that and that is because it does not undermine marriage; in fact, it strengthens the concept of marriage when everybody, if they choose to, is able to avail themselves of that institution.
That was in June 2006. Six years later, the same opponents of marriage equality still rely on the same smokescreen of unsupported, vague claims and still say that the institution of marriage will be threatened by changes to allow marriage equality. They are nonsense arguments. They are out of date and do not express community sentiment. I maintain that the institution of marriage will be strengthened when everybody is able to be married.
Support for marriage equality is at a high level of 64 per cent. Many church groups are in fact recognising marriage equality. Internationally, 12 countries now have marriage equality as do eight states in the USA. We are even seeing the leaders of other nations standing up and voicing their support for marriage equality. Other nations such as New Zealand, Scotland, France and Brazil are also taking action in this area.
When I spoke all those years ago on the debate at the time, I told a story with permission of Graham and Damian Douglas-Meyer, who said at the time that they want to demonstrate their commitment to each other in the same way as their siblings had demonstrated their commitment to their respective partners, that the symbolic and ceremonial aspects of their siblings’ marriages were important to their families and that they felt strongly that they wanted the same.
They held a commitment ceremony in Perth in 2004 with all of their family and friends, and had the union blessed at the time by an Anglican priest. Even though this had no legal standing, to them and their families it was their wedding ceremony. However, they actually wanted the recognition of the wider community. They told me that all their siblings were married and had a state sanctioned contract to that effect. They could not do the same in Australia; however they could in Canada because at that time the country had recently changed its laws. So they travelled to Toronto in Canada and were legally married under Canadian law. Their marriage was registered on the central register of the province of Ontario in the exact same manner as heterosexual couples. There was no difference. On returning to Australia, the marriage was not recognised and that has severely depressed them since that date. They remain married because they were married in Canada.
In Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and various states of the US couples are married because their jurisdictions recognise same-sex marriage.
In those other countries I mentioned, they may also soon be recognised. In the eyes of their families and their friends and, most importantly, in their hearts, they are married. However, in Australia they are not recognised as married. I told this story six years ago. I am very happy to report that Damian and Graham are still together and still enjoy a very loving, supportive, caring relationship—just the same as many of my heterosexual friends are married and enjoy that same relationship. The difference for my heterosexual friends is that their marriages are recognised. Graham and Damian’s is not, yet their love is just as true and committed. Their support for each other is just as true and committed as that of my heterosexual married friends. Why are they being discriminated against?
Unfortunately, the MPs in both this place and the other place, I suspect, are not reflecting what the community wants and the support for marriage equality in the broader community. As I said, 64 per cent of people now support marriage equality. Unfortunately, I doubt that that is going to be reflected in this chamber. Relationships have evolved through the years and so should our legal definition of marriage. The ban on same-sex marriages sends out the message that same-sex relationships are second rate. It is used to justify discrimination against people. Discrimination on marriage sends young gay people the wrong message. It says that they are less valuable members of society and that they can hope in vain that their love can be celebrated formally in marriage. It is no wonder that gay young men and women have such a toll on the mental health. It is because as a society we are sending them a message saying they are not equal—that their relationships, their loving, caring partnerships, are not able to be celebrated like others.
Parents, family and friends are denied the joy of seeing their loved ones wed. Their children are denied the security and recognition that comes with marriage. Being able to celebrate your love for your partner in front of the people you care about and to have that love legally recognised by the state is a right that Australians expect—all Australians. Not just one section of our community but all Australians expect that. That right is being denied to same-sex couples. It is not good enough that in 2012 we are still denying people that right. Australians want marriage equality. They want people to be able to demonstrate their love and commitment to each other. This is an inevitable evolution of our laws. In the same way all laws evolve, so too must our marriage laws. Our community expects leadership from our members of parliament. Where is that leadership? It is not being shown.
I am really pleased to see that some states of Australia are starting to lead the way in modern democratic progress in our society. Our society does have changing values. They have evolved. We should be supporting changes to our marriage laws to recognise that evolution. I think that was demonstrated when Senator Sarah Hanson-Young’s Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010 went to a Senate inquiry. There were 75,000 submissions recorded—the highest on record for a Senate inquiry, I believe. Surely that sends a clear message that marriage equality’s time has arrived, that there is support in the community and that it is every Australian’s right to choose to marry. But it is not if you are gay.
Don’t worry about it if you are gay. You cannot expect that same recognition under the law.
We demean the institution of marriage by allowing it to be used as a tool of discrimination and prejudice. It demeans the very meaning of marriage to do that, because that is saying: ‘Your love is not valued. Your commitment to each other is not valued. It is not as real as heterosexual couples.’ It is saying that you should not have children and you should not be able to bring up children. What a load of nonsense. I cannot believe that in 2012 we are still hearing those demeaning arguments.
I have many friends are in same-sex couples who are raising children and who have raised children. I have met the most amazing young people who have been raised in same-sex relationships. They are gorgeous, loving, generous, good-natured human beings. I really get upset when I hear people imply that same-sex couples cannot and should not be raising children. That demeans the relationships of families. Apparently they are not families. Apparently, they should not be included in the definition of families. Is that what people are trying to say? That is outrageous.
The Greens have brought bills into this place around marriage equality four times, I think, now. Each time, unfortunately, we have not seen the support for same-sex couples and marriage equality that is in our community reflected in this place. It is time that we moved on. It is time that we had marriage equality in this country so that every member of our community feels valued in their relationships and have their relationships recognised under the law.
While I hope this bill gets through, I suspect the numbers are agin us. But we will not stop to bring marriage equality to this country. It is time that this place supported what the community wants: marriage equality. It has said it time and time again. Nobody is going to stop fighting for marriage equality until it is achieved. Otherwise, you are denying every member of this community the right to be married; denying them the right to say ‘I love you’ in front of their community, their friends and their relatives; and denying them the right to enjoy the same as rights as heterosexual couples in this country.
Why is it that we deny one group of people that right? Other countries around the world have recognised it and—do you know what?—those societies have not fallen apart, families have not fallen apart—in fact, I reckon you have brighter, happier communities, because you do not have that section of your community being discriminated against, that is being told, ‘You are second rate’. You have a place where young people can grow up knowing that they can marry the person they choose to, regardless of their sex. If we are really a fair, tolerant, caring, democratic country, we will allow that to occur, because that is what the community wants. That is what the people who have emailed me, come to my office, spoken to me in the street and spoken to me at rallies want. They want to be able to marry the person they love. What is so wrong with that and why should we be judging them? Why?
An honourable senator: Homophobia.
Senator SIEWERT: Exactly. Is it because they are homophobic? Yes, it is. Get over it—because the broader Australian community has got over it. Allow people to marry who the love—to show that love and commitment to the rest of Australia, to their family and to their friends—and do not make them have to go overseas to do it and then not recognise their marriage when they come back. Treat them equally. All we are asking for is to treat same-sex couples equally. That is why it is called marriage equality.
We will be supporting this bill because it is what Australians want and, in particular, because it is the right thing to do, so that the very important institution of marriage does not discriminate, does not judge, does not show prejudice against one section of our community. I will certainly be supporting this bill. I believe that our older political parties also need to be showing that leadership and supporting this bill.
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