Back to All News

Sarah Hanson-Young's marriage equality debate speech

Speeches in Parliament
Sarah Hanson-Young 28 Nov 2017

Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (11:06):  I rise today to speak to this bill, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, with such joy and excitement. I've spoken on this issue a number of times in this place, as many of us have. It's one of those issues that, despite the fact that the law has been changed now for 13 or so years, people in Australia and people in this place knew from the beginning that the Marriage Act should not exclude but, instead, remain inclusive of all Australians and of all loving couples.

And look how far we have come. I want to give a shout out to my home state of South Australia because South Australia was the first state in the nation to decriminalise homosexuality 42 years ago. It led the way when it came to issues of adoption of same-sex couples. As states right around the country followed suit, we heard a grumbling from here in Canberra when the conservatives, led by the former Prime Minister John Howard, decided to stand up and block this progress towards equality and to outlaw love. In 2004, when the government of former Prime Minister John Howard pushed through legislation in this place to insert the words 'man and woman' into the Marriage Act, it was the stamp of ugliness on something that is meant to be about love and commitment, and something that is meant to be engulfed with joy and celebration. Yet, we had a Prime Minister of our country wanting to actively exclude Australian loving couples. It was the wrong decision in 2004. In listening to the speeches in this place over the last few days of debate, it is heartening to hear that even some people in this place who voted with that amendment in 2004 have now come to the realisation that it was the wrong thing to do. It was a bitter thing to do. It has now taken up to 12 years to reverse. No long-winded debates and no postal survey were required when former Prime Minister John Howard decided that he would single-handedly outlaw love.

On 12 August 2004, that bill was voted 38 votes to six. The six people who voted against that bill, Madam Acting Deputy President Reynolds, were three members of the Australian Greens and three members of the Democrats. Of course, the leader of the Greens at that time was former senator Bob Brown, a man who has always stood for the rights and equal treatment of others, and stood proudly in both the Tasmanian parliament and in the Australian parliament as a gay man. When Bob retired, in 2012, I said to him, 'Bob, I'm really sorry that we weren't able to reverse that awful law before your time was up.' Today I stand here with my Greens colleagues, finishing the job that Bob Brown started. Boy, this parliament has come such a long way. Twenty bills in this parliament have been introduced to reverse this awful law, seven of them embarrassingly so in my name. 20 June 2013 was a turning point in this place. It was on that day in June 2013 when former senator Sue Boyce, a member of the Liberal Party from Queensland, decided to do what was right and be the first Liberal in this place to cross the floor. I hope, today and when we finally vote on this bill, that Sue is very proud of what she did, because it was an important break in the rhetoric of the debate in this place and the other that reform couldn't happen. Well, it can, it must, and it is.

We now have the bill before us introduced by Senator Dean Smith, which is a fantastic demonstration of progress and how fighting for what is right will eventually win. Millions of Australians have fought for this reform to happen: inquiry after inquiry, protesting on the streets, meetings with members of parliament, lobbying in workplaces and voting yes. It is now time for the Senate to do its job and to get this done without the muddying of the waters from those who have always been opposed to equal love. The growth of the movement has been so strong and so profound, from activists gathering in pubs, meeting in community centres and organising amongst their friends, to cities and airports being lit up with lights.But why is this so important? It's because discrimination to some demeans us all; because equality is a symbol of a fair, caring and progressive society; because people know that equality in one's family is as important as equality in a country; and because we all have members of our families, our friends and our workplaces who deserve to be treated equally—equally under the law and in the eyes of society.

Some may say that marriage is simply symbolic and that that doesn't matter. They've missed the point. Marriage is one of the most important symbols of our society. When two people, under law, agree that they will look after each other and that they will be committed to each other and they ask their friends, their family and their nation to back them and help them in doing that, that is the strongest commitment to another person that they can make.

I grew up in a small country town of 1,200 people, so difference stuck out like a sore thumb. Everyone knew everyone else's business. In my high school, one of my best friends was gay and he struggled for a long time. I remember thinking I never did quite enough to have his back. He was one of my best friends and when we hung out every now and again I would tell people to bugger off when they tried to pick on him. But I didn't quite feel like it was enough. It was just, 'Well, that's the way you are, so that's the way people are going to treat you.' Young people in Australia deserve better than that. The yes vote that occurred two weeks ago is so important for sending a message to these young people, young people just like Jonathan, right around the country. It's not good enough that you're just treated differently. The resounding yes vote across the country is a symbol to every young person in this country that: it doesn't matter who you are, who you like, who you might have a crush on or who you fall in love with, the nation has your back. You are equal and you are loved.

There have been a lot of people who have fought long and hard for this reform. I remember when I first became a member of parliament and in my first two weeks of being in this place—I didn't even have proper furniture in my office—I was visited by a number of activists—Rodney Croome, Corey Irlam and Alex Greenwich. They came and visited me and said: 'Look, Sarah, we know that you care about looking after people. We know that you care about human rights. We would really like you to have a look at this Marriage Act thing.' They told me their stories. I said, 'All right, let's do this.' That was in 2008. My first private member's bill was to remove the discrimination in the Marriage Act, to remove those words 'man and woman' and replace them with 'consenting adults'. I want to pay tribute in particular to Alex. Alex opened my eyes to the fact that this reform, as much as it made sense to me, was not inevitable, that we would have to fight for this, that we would have to come together and fight to have it changed.

We made a promise to each other that we wouldn't give up until we had won. Thank you for being here today, Alex. It is his birthday tomorrow, so I'm hoping we can have a vote on the second reader as a birthday present for him. This reform would not have happened if it weren't for people, like Alex Greenwich, who tirelessly fought and put their own lives on hold for this reform. The movement is lucky to have your leadership, Alex, and the people of Sydney are very lucky to have you as their local member. I'm sure they're looking forward to having you back a bit more after this debate and campaign is over. And I'm very lucky to have you as my friend.

Fifteen November 2017 will go down in history as the day our nation repaired its broken heart. It will go down as the day when progressive reform was seen as achievable in this country. The street parties that happened across the country on the day and the night of 15 November were so joyful that you could feel the buzz and the excitement in the air. There was a huge sense of relief. People who had fought for this reform for so long had been vindicated. People who had wished a 'yes' result for their friends and family felt proud that they had been a part of it. The nation repaired its broken heart, which had been damaged by former Prime Minister John Howard's bill. It is now up to this place to make sure that we get the job done and finished properly.

Every state and territory across the country voted 'yes', and in 133 electorates the vote was an overwhelming 'yes'. There has never been a greater political mandate in this country than the one today for marriage equality. Yet, unfortunately, we have a handful of ultraconservative, right-wing MPs and senators who are trying to spoil the celebration and ignore the will of the people. Well, it is to their downfall and peril if they try to disrupt this progress now. They are kind of like that annoying relative who you invited to the wedding, and you wished you bloody hadn't! Go away. Sit down. Let the rest of us get on with the party. If you don't have anything nice to say about anybody, please, keep it to yourself. Fortunately, however, they are a shrinking rump in this place, and they won't get their way. The Australian people have spoken. They have voted. They demand that the parliament get this done and get it done as quickly as possible.

So many people have fought long and hard for this reform: Bob Brown, a former Leader of the Australian Greens; and Christine Milne, also a former Leader of the Australian Greens. Janette Rice, my colleague here in the chamber today speaks passionately about how this impacts on her in a very direct and personal way.

I'm so proud, Janet, that we're going to be able to do this with you, and for you and Penny. Nick McKim, former Leader of the Tasmanian Greens, fought extremely hard in Tasmania over these issues and must be very chuffed with the results in Tasmania. Former senator Robert Simms wasn't here for long, but when he was here he had fire in his belly for this issue. I want to acknowledge Senator Simon Birmingham. You've always been on the right side of history on this issue. I want to acknowledge the Leader of the Opposition, Penny Wong. This must have been an awful battle to have to weather, and kudos to you for your grace and determination.

We will get this done. We will stare down the haters. The Australian people have had their say and they want marriage equality delivered this year—no buts, no ifs, no excuses. As I said, discrimination against some demeans us all, and above all else, love is love and love matters, more than anything else in the world.

Back to All News