by NICOLA ROXON
Let me say from the outset that I have attended same sex weddings. They happen in Australia often.
For those who haven’t attended one, there are many things you will find familiar. There are vows, rings, thousands of photos and even confetti. There are proud parents and happy friends dressed up to the nines. They get followed by receptions with food and wine, dancing and embarrassing speeches.
What they miss is not love, or family, or commitment.
What such a ceremony lacks is a legal certificate that our Commonwealth Marriage Act currently prevents it from having.
So these weddings are unofficial – but that doesn’t stop them from occurring.
The status of homosexual Australians has changed dramatically over the past 40 years. A major part of this has been legal change. We’ve gone from laws that criminalise and lock up gays, to laws that protect their rights.
In the sweep of history, much of this change has actually been quite recent.
Our Government has a proud history in this area.
Three years ago this Labor Government changed 85 Commonwealth laws to remove discrimination and equalise treatment. This covered areas such as Medicare, social security and superannuation – changes that have a financial impact; changes that put government benefits on an equal footing, laws that properly acknowledge caring relationships.
Earlier this year I was proud to remove the impediments for same sex couples to obtain ‘Certificates of No Impediment’ for marriage overseas in the various countries that already allow same sex marriage.
I admit that I have always believed that these myriad of changes in our legislation were the priority for reform – the practical matters that benefited all Australians wanting to be treated fairly and equally. In fact, it was not long ago that many in the gay and lesbian community also had this view – wanting to ensure protection for all who were treated unfairly because of their homosexuality, not just those who wanted to marry.
But the course of this debate has changed. People’s views have changed. The symbolism of same sex marriage has grown. And action to remove other discrimination has now served to highlight marriage restrictions as an ongoing barrier to equality.
It is time for us to accept that a person’s love and commitment for another is a cause for celebration and recognition, not for exclusion or derision.
The critics of this Bill are concerned about the fabric of our society and our values. I personally don’t see how this Bill will do any of the things that they claim. There will still be the same number of same sex couples, and the same number of straight couples. The only change is that it will remove a legislative statement that straight couples can achieve a higher “status” of commitment than same sex couples.
In fact to me the values that this bill promotes are conservative values. It is saying that if you love someone, you should form a bond with that person for life.
I, for one, cannot and would not say that my love for my husband is stronger or better or more worthy of Government recognition than the commitment of our gay friends who want to take this step. And I certainly can’t see how their marriage would in any way diminish or affect ours.
This change would actually strengthen and encourage commitment. It would say that Australia promotes monogamous relationships. It is saying that we promote commitment, love and family. Ultimately these are the values that strengthen our nation’s social fabric.
I know people of good conscience can have a different view of such things and that social change can be difficult and confronting for many. In my electorate I am lobbied strongly in both directions – for and against this change.
Particularly because of this division, I thank the Prime Minister for having the good judgement to allow Members and Senators of the Government, of the Labor party, a conscience vote on this issue. She has shown that she understands the diverse views on this matter and is willing for people to express them. This is significantly different from the Leader of the Opposition who has banned the Member for Wenworth and Senator Birmingham – among others – from voting in favour of this Bill.
The Prime Minister’s decision, and ALP Conference’s support – has allowed me, as the Attorney General with carriage of the Marriage Act, to voice my opinion which differs from hers – and support this Bill.
I am not confident, though, that this will be the year that same sex marriage will become law.
I believe that will happen when both sides of politics allow their MPs a free vote on this issue.
And I do believe this change is inevitable – so it is a matter of if, not when, it is achieved.
Nicola Roxon MP is the member Gellibrand and is the Australia’s first female Commonwealth Attorney General. This post adapted from the speech she gave to the Australian Parliament as part of the same sex marriage debate yesterday.
The same sex marriage debate is currently before the Australian parliament. Where do you stand on the issue?