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Janet speaking on the marriage bill

Speeches in Parliament
Janet Rice 16 Nov 2017

Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high, there's a land that I heard of once in a lullaby. Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue, and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.

These lyrics are so fitting for the debate we're having right now. For so long lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people have only been able to dream of marriage and equality under the law. Marriage has been out of reach. Marriage has been denied. Equality has not been granted in our country's laws. I am almost overwhelmed that this dream is on the cusp of becoming a reality, because Australians voted yes.

I thank them so much for doing so. To my family and me, and to so many LGBTIQ Australians, it means that our dreams will soon come true. It means that our love, our relationships and our families will be equal under the law. It means that LGBTIQ people will feel safer to hold the hand of their partner when they walk down the street. It means that LGBTIQ couples will be able to get married and to celebrate their love in front of family and friends. And it means that young LGBTIQ people will feel safer to come out, knowing that their community said yes and that who they are and who they love is respected by law.

This process of achieving marriage equality has not been easy or fast. There have been many, many LGBTIQ campaigners and their allies whose commitment and determination has led us to this point over decades. I pay tribute to the community's leaders, campaigners, families and friends who paved the way, especially when it was far more dangerous and difficult to do so.

I thank especially the campaigners who have campaigned so hard over the last years, the last months and in particular the last two months. I thank the magnificent campaigners of Australian Marriage Equality Alex Greenwich, Tom Snow, Anna Brown, Tiernan Brady, Lee Carnie, Francis Voon, who is not here today, and all the rest of the amazing team. I thank Rodney Croome and Shelley Argent, from Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. I thank Felicity Marlowe, Ivan Hinton-Teoh, Corey Irlam and so many other campaigners whose work has led to the magnificent result that we got yesterday. But there are so many campaigners who aren't with us now, who have passed on prior to today, who have missed out on the joy of hearing Australians resoundingly say yes to our lives and our loves. We achieve this reform with them in mind and with their memories in our hearts.

And I want to thank those who came before me in this place and who stood for equality, especially when it was not so widely supported. I'm proud to be in a party that has unequivocally stood with LGBTIQ people to say yes to equality over the entire history of our party. Thank you, Bob Brown, Michael Organ, Kerry Nettle, Christine Milne, Robert Simms and all of our Greens forebears in this place. Our party room today continues on your work, proudly, and we build on your work—especially Sarah, who stewarded this portfolio for the Greens for many years. It's been a long road to be here.

It's been frustrating, to say the least, over the last few years to have a Prime Minister who didn't have the courage to stand up to those who want to continue to discriminate. We didn't need to have this postal survey. Parliament could have done its job way before now.

The last two months have been hard for LGBTIQ people. They have been so hard. Our identities, our relationships and our lives have been dissected and analysed and talked about. We've been told that we're not normal; our relationships are not normal; our families are not normal.

For my wife, Penny, and me, people's blatant transphobia was on full display, with people challenging Penny's trans identity and with offensive attacks on our marriage and our love. But we didn't need a yes vote to know that we are worthy of equality. Our community is one of the strongest that there is. We're more resilient than you know. We stand here on the shoulders of our LGBTIQ elders, in power and in love. We have endured. And now Australians have said yes. They agree with us. They have demonstrated that they think everyone should be treated equally under the law, and that includes being able to marry the person that they love.

We must fix the wrongs of the past and the present with this legislation. While LGBTIQ people will carry scars of discrimination, we can look forward to a brighter future with our country coming together to celebrate LGBTIQ people, our relationships and our families. So I am really looking forward to just getting on with it. It is time for parliament to do its job.

The bill before the chamber today, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, is the result of a long and deliberative process, one that I've been proud to be a part of. It began with the establishment of a Senate select committee at the end of 2016, inquiring into the exposure draft of the government's proposed marriage bill. In that inquiry, we took the government's draft bill on marriage equality, which it released with its original plebiscite legislation, as a starting point. We considered issues and ideas raised by faith groups, LGBTIQ peak bodies and community voices, civil liberties groups, legal experts, human rights organisations, marriage celebrants, doctors, scientists, local councils, state and territory governments and many Australian residents as individuals.

Senators from across the parliament considered many issues, including the definition of marriage, exemptions for ministers of religion, exemptions for marriage celebrants, exemptions for religious bodies and organisations, international jurisprudence on the introduction of same-sex marriage, goods and services, and the protection of the right to freedom of conscience and religion. There are a number of these areas where my views and those of the Greens do not align with those of my colleagues across the Senate, but we came to the table and we hashed it out. And the final report from that inquiry outlined a path forward which considered the issues falling out of a change to the Marriage Act and which responded to the considerations put by the full range of organisations that we heard from. These findings are reflected in this bill. If passed, this bill will remove discrimination in marriage and allow all LGBTIQ people to marry the person they love.

It would change the definition of marriage from being between a man and a woman to being between two people, and this would finally give not only gay and lesbian Australians but bisexual, trans and gender diverse Australians, intersex Australians—all Australians on the rainbow spectrum—the right to claim their fundamental right to that institution. I do want to focus on the concerns from the LGBTIQ community that we have heard from the time of the Senate inquiry through until now, that they want to see marriage legislation that does not add new discriminations to our existing law.

Our current law gives exemptions to religious organisations, and there is deep concern about expanding these exemptions to individuals on the basis of their personal religious beliefs. We've heard concerns about attempts to expand the scope of what the existing religious exemptions allow religious organisations to do. The Greens are acting in good faith in this debate. We want to see a bill passed by this parliament that reflects both the principles of equality and freedom from discrimination and the ability of people to act in accordance with the tenets, doctrines and beliefs of their religion. We are considering some amendments that we believe will improve the bill in this regard.

It's important, though, to make clear that this bill has already built in concessions from the Greens. This is not the bill that we would have introduced if it were up to us alone, but through the Senate committee process and through working with my colleagues across the chamber it has become apparent that this is the bill that can win the support of the parliament and finally enshrine equal marriage into law. It appears that in the committee stage debate in the week after next we will see many amendments moved by those seeking to expand the right to discriminate. I want to be clear: this is not what the Australian people voted on. This is not in keeping with the principles of equality and not what is being recommended by the legal community. We already have a set of exemptions in Australian discrimination law that religious organisations can access if they choose not to wed a same-sex or gender-diverse couple, if they choose not to provide the use of their goods and services or if they choose not to be part of any practice or action that they believe disagrees with their doctrines, tenets or beliefs.

The Greens actually think that these laws go too far, but this is not the appropriate place for anyone to add to or unwind these laws. We believe that any changes to those laws should be part of a comprehensive review of the scope and functioning of our national antidiscrimination laws and do not have to occur as part of amending our marriage laws. The Greens support the call of the UN Human Rights Committee for Australia to replace its patchwork antidiscrimination laws with a human rights act that would provide a legal framework for protecting human rights that balances these competing rights.

But that is not for this week, and achieving marriage equality does not have to wait for this reform. It's way past time for waiting. I said a few weeks ago in this chamber that the government has been playing games with the lives, loves and relationships of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, and we have had enough. The game is over. I say to the conservative members of this chamber, and indeed, in the House of Representatives: you demanded this plebiscite, and Australia voted. Respect that vote. Respect that result.

Australians voted to remove discrimination, not to entrench it. Australians voted for love. They voted yes, so these right-wing crusaders must accept the result. Because this is all about love. Everyone deserves to be able to celebrate their relationship, their love, in front of their family and friends—to feel cherished and that they belong. Everyone deserves to be able to have their relationship recognised by society in the eyes of the law. I want to share some love stories with you, stories of LGBTIQ people for whom marriage equality is deeply personal and powerful.

I'm going to mix up the LGBTIQ acronym and celebrate the BITQ first, because they have been forgotten too often in this debate. I will start with both the T and the B: Penny's and my story, a story I've shared many times over the last three years. As it seems the whole country knows by now, Penny and I have been married for 31 years. We have two wonderful sons. For the first half of our marriage, we fitted the stereotype—a perfect couple with a perfect family—but, 17 years after we first married, Penny transitioned, affirming her identity as a woman, and I still loved her. I affirmed my sexuality as bisexual. We went from being the perfect family in the eyes of others to being weird, and we started being discriminated against. Where we used to hold hands or kiss in public, we self-censored. You don't know the pain of having to let go of your partner's hand because you're not sure of the reaction you might get from people around you. Will it be a disgusted look? Will it be some abuse yelled at you from a car driving past? Will it be a violent attack?

This is the reality for so many LGBTIQ people. This was the reality for us. But we know that our relationship hasn't changed. Our love is still the same as it was 31 years go, and our two sons have become wonderful, well-adjusted young men. They are living proof that the hatred and attacks on samesex couples and the wellbeing of our children are groundless. They are based in nothing but hatred. We are looking forward to our laws changing so that Penny will be able to affirm her gender on her birth certificate without our being forced to divorce. It's going to take a change in state laws too, so, Victoria, you are on notice! I know that our story is replicated so many times across the country.

Let's move on to the I: intersex—people whose sex characteristics don't fit the typical binary notions of male or female bodies. It's profoundly important to them that this legislation allows any two people to marry, that it not just be same-sex marriage but any two adults. My friend Tony Briffa wasn't able to marry in Australia. Tony was raised as a girl, then lived for a time as a man, and now chooses to live as both female and male. Tony and his wife, Manja, had to travel to New Zealand to marry in 2013. It's way past time that we caught up with New Zealand for people like Tony.

There is the Q: the queer, the questioning, the non-straight, the gender fluid, the gender diverse. I'll quote the reaction of the amazing, inspirational StarLady to the yes vote yesterday: YESSSS! When the postal survey was first announced I tried to remember how I'd survived past homo/bi/transphobic era's. In the 90's when the streets weren't safe I first became a queer superhero, Starpower, I wanted to change the world. I thought today of all occasions I'd head back to my roots and celebrate my own queer history. I've moved beyond Supergirl and Wonder Woman now but they helped me along the way. Happy YES day!!!!

Let's move on to the L: lesbian couples. I know so many friends, so many gorgeous loving couples, some of whom will be lining up to get married as soon as they can, and some who won't, who just want to know that they can, that their relationships finally will be accepted as equal. My friend Suzanne shared some reflections yesterday too: I have hated the whole idea of this stupid [swearword] plebiscite, and I regard marriage as a patriarchal institution in general, and yet still today the remarkable voting results have hit my whole body in the strangest way, like crying but something way more. I guess it's the accumulation of decades and indeed a lifetime of never really being affirmed as a lesbian.

Finally there is G: gay. Earlier this year I spoke about a gay couple, Peter and Bon, who had been together for 50 years. I even delivered a letter to the Prime Minister on their behalf, calling on him to allow a free vote in parliament that would let them to celebrate their remarkable 50 years together. They didn't have much time. Bon was diagnosed with aggressive cancer two years ago. They couldn't wait. Unfortunately, they were denied this most basic right. Bon died on 19 May, and it saddens me so much. This is such a tragedy and so unnecessary. There are many, many couples like Peter and Bon, where the ability for legal recognition was denied, and now it's too late. The huge win yesterday and the bill we're debating now will, no doubt, be a bittersweet moment for Peter. Peter, I'm sorry it came too late for you and Bon, but this is for you and Bon.

It's so simple. This is about love. I say to people who voted no: I invite you to get to know us—get to know LGBTI people. I invite you to open your minds and your hearts to us. Nobody is going to be forced to marry someone they don't want to. No religious institution will be forced to marry an LGBTIQ couple. It's not about changing any of your rights or your relationships. It's about adding more love and more equality to our social fabric.

The word 'yes' has now been transformed into the definition of acceptance and love. The meaning of 'yes' is one that differs from person to person but, through this campaign, has blossomed into a universal sign of hope. And this is truly how we are going to move forward. It's time that we get this done. It's time for politicians to do our job. It's time to let those dreams of millions of Australians come true.

Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue, and the dreams that you dared to dream—they really do come true.

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