Respecting LGBTIQ Canberrans Means Respecting their Right to Marry.

10 August 2016


Below is my speech calling for the Federal Liberal Government to call off their intended plebiscite and deliver equality for all Australians through a vote of parliament. 


In 2013 when this parliament legislated for marriage equality I asked local couples to let me read their stories onto Hansard as recognition of the impact discrimination has on people’s lives.

One of those couples was Jess and Amy who, at the time, were 6 months pregnant with their first child.

They said that marriage equality mattered to them because when our child asks us if we’re married, I would like to be able to say we chose not to, not that we can’t.

It makes me personally angry that their child is now old enough to ask that question, and his mums still can’t give the answer his family deserves.  

From people who support a plebiscite there has been a call for a respectful debate on marriage equality. I do not know if that is possible.  

Even if we put aside the crude, demeaning and hurtful statements made by the likes of Lyle Shelton and Chris Miles that I refuse to amplify by repeating in this place, I still fail to see how it is possible to have this debate in a way that is respectful to families like Jess and Amy’s.

I fail to see how it is possible to respectfully say that someone should not be equal under the law.

I don’t know how you can say with any kind of respect for a person that they aren’t worthy of an institution that, for many people, represents stability and family.

I fail to see how someone can respectfully say that their own beliefs or faith should be recognized to the exclusion of faiths that choose to recognize same-sex relationships.

And I genuinely don’t know what a respectful version of the message that the gender of people in a relationship determines their value as parents, could ever look like.  

What I do know is that the attitudes our laws endorse and the divisive language that has been used when the LGBTIQ community has pushed for recognition has a lasting impact on people’s lives.

 We have come so far it is easy to forget that a 50 year old today was 10 when the debate about the decriminalisation of homosexuality raged in SA, 18 when it passed in NSW, 24 when Queensland amended their laws and 31 when a High Court challenge finally delivered change in Tasmania in 1997.

There is a generation of working age LGBT Australians who spent their young lives hearing from the state, from elected representatives and from very loud voices in their community that who they were was illegal and immoral.    

When I speak to gay and lesbian people of that generation who survived those messages, and I don't know how they did,  I am struck by the way they defined their own self-worth, changed attitudes in our community and forever broadened the definition of family.

Their courage has led to the place we are in now, trying to protect another generation of young people from damaging messages and legal discrimination.

It is my deepest hope that we do not have a plebiscite on marriage equality. It requires no constitutional change and it can and should be passed by a vote of parliament.   

However I support Ms Burch’s motion because if the Liberal party force this matter to a plebiscite I want every LGBT Canberran and their family to know that the ACT Government is unequivocally on their side, that they are a valued part of our community and that contrary to any messages they may hear from our opponents, that they have our respect.