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.