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We must work together for marriage equality

Speeches in Parliament
Janet Rice 18 Jun 2015

“My wonderful partner Penny, who has been absolutely critical in my life achievements. We've shared 28 years of married life; a partnership of love and support. We are proud of our status as a same sex couple who were legally married in Australia, and I am resolute that all couples should be able to share this right”.

Those words concluded by my First Speech in the Senate in August last year in the presence of my fellow Greens Senators, and my family, including Penny and our two sons.

It was an immensely proud moment for me.

Speech for Marriage Equality

“My wonderful partner Penny, who has been absolutely critical in my life achievements. We've shared 28 years of married life; a partnership of love and support. We are proud of our status as a same sex couple who were legally married in Australia, and I am resolute that all couples should be able to share this right”.

Those words concluded by my First Speech in the Senate in August last year in the presence of my fellow Greens Senators, and my family, including Penny and our two sons.

It was an immensely proud moment for me.

But it was also a moment where once again the cruel reality of the lack of marriage equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer Australians was highlighted.

Penny and I are married, in fact are probably the only same sex couple who have been legally married in Australia in this chamber today.

Yet the legal inconsistencies and ridiculous hoops we are required to jump through as a couple mean that for Penny as a transgender person to officially change her birth certificate in my home state of Victoria we would be forced to divorce.

The law in our country has not caught up with the complexity and diversity of so many relationships within Australian society.

The referendum result in Ireland last month was an incredible turning point for our collective humanity.

To see a country so united where once it had been so divided is truly remarkable.

Yet for me here in Australia it was a stark reminder of how far behind we now are.

Australia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer communities and their families deserve equal treatment in the law and the community.

Time and time again, the Australian Greens have taken policies to elections affirming our commitment to marriage equality as defined as the marriage between two consenting adults regardless of sex, sexuality or gender identity.

We know that it is love that makes a family, not biology, and that so many Australian children living in rainbow families enjoy the same nurture, love and care of their parents, regardless of the gender or sexuality of those parents.

The law in Australian must catch up with this reality.

Last week I attended the Australian Human Rights Commission launch of the “Resilient Individuals –Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity & Intersex Rights”  National Consultation Report.

Join our campaign for equality >> http://grns.mp/marriage-petition 

This report is groundbreaking, but at the same time heartbreaking.

Some of the key challenges faced by LGBTIQ people identified by the Report include:

- A lack of cultural competency and understanding of the distinct needs of LGBTI people in the provision of public services, including education, health and aged care.

- Poor community understanding and visibility of the distinct issues that affect people on the basis of SOGII status, particularly in relation to gender identity and intersex status.
 
- Unacceptably high rates of marginalisation, bullying, harassment and violence.
 
But most notably…

- The legacy of State-sanctioned discrimination is significant in its legitimisation of institutional and interpersonal discrimination across society.

- Governments have had a leading role in creating this culture, and so must also take a lead role in undoing it.
 
- The theme of the role government can play is further emphasised in the first recommendation made by the report:

To ensure all Australians are treated equally and fairly by the law and government, the following law reform should occur promptly at a Commonwealth level:
Amendment of the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) to equally recognise the partnership of two adult persons regardless of the gender of the partners.

I can add to these recommendations of legal change with stories of so many passionate and inspiring that have been sent to me:

Stories of children wanting their mums to marry, of dads wanting their daughters to marry, of older gay men who began their relationships when it was still illegal to be homosexual and who are now desperately seeking this final removal of discrimination, to trans* parents  seeking legal certainty for their young children and the straight friends of LGBTI Australians who are putting off their own weddings as an act of solidarity.

People have written to me this week with a simple message – they want marriage equality.

One person writes: I want my 4 year old boy to grow up in an Australia that is fair, lawful, united, prosperous and caring. I also want him to grow up in a country that he is free to marry the person he loves, be that a woman or a man.

Another told me: Equality is a right all those who live in a democracy should be entitled to. Loving is more important than silly, antiquated laws, whose basis is at best, vague.

I want to share a few personal stories that people have sent me from my home state of Victoria . Harry is a 17 year old gay man who painted a picture of the rich diversity of our Australian society today.  When Harry was around 12 or 13, working out where he fitted on the sexual orientation spectrum, he says he was fortunate enough to have role models who taught him that being LGBTI is perfectly okay and nothing to be worried about. Harry is still too young to be thinking about marriage, but he shared the stories of three couples he looks up to, and how marriage equality will change their lives.

Harry’s uncle has been in a relationship for over ten years, and has proved love has no gender or age. The whole family wants them to get married so they are equal to the rest of the uncles and aunts. Harry also benefitted from the guidance of a queer youth worker. Her partner is a children's librarian, and they want to adopt a child and get married. They desperately want things that heterosexual couples take for granted, and even looked at moving to Canada or another country to get married, but decided they couldn’t leave home. Harry says “It pained me to see these two people who would make the most strong and loving family being denied the chance to live their lives in the way they deserved”.

Another two mothers Harry knows are raising three beautiful children, and have had to enter into a very complex legal arrangement to be able to get the same rights as heterosexual couples. Harry describes them as “the most amazing family”. It hurts Harry to think that, no matter how strong and committed he might be to a male partner, he isn’t able to be an equal among Australian society.

But he now sees marriage equality as within reach. In Year 12, he started a support group for LGBTI students. He says the enthusiasm and positivity shown by students, staff and parents was incredible. It showed him that nobody should be denied recognition based on who they love or the way they identify their gender.

It means so much to Harry that the tide has turned and the majority of Australians, and possibly a majority of parliamentarians, are now allies of the LGBTIQ community he belongs. He concluded his letter to me: “We can't change the minds of those who don't support marriage equality, but we can give every Australian the rights they deserve.”

Wise words from someone so young.

And then there’s Jenny, who wrote to me with a different perspective, but the same sentiment.

Jenny has been in a relationship with Maria for over 10 years. She says their relationship is based on a deep love for each other, which is strengthened by mutual respect and love for their child. They run a family business and spend the rest of the time  doing all the things other parents do like school pickups and activities with the kids. Their 8 year old son often asks why we can't get married and how much he'd like it if they did. This is not a question he should have to ask.

Maria is Spanish. In Spain, marriage equality has been allowed for many years now. It seems completely irrational that they can get married in Spain but not in Jenny’s home country of Australia. She ended her story with a plea to all of us: “Please consider the damage that is being done to us as people and, especially, to our  son. Please vote for equality.”

I also heard from Jeremy Wiggins, a community health worker, a partner and the father of 2 year old twin girls. Jeremey is a transgender man with a birth certificate stating he is female. He cannot marry his partner because they are, on paper, a same sex couple. Jeremey wrote to me. He wrote “We are the marginalized families that are locked out of the marriage debate. We want for all human beings in Australia to be able to have their love recognized equally before the law, regardless of their gender or sexuality.

I request that you consider that marriage equality is about family values and is about a modern interpretation of what a family or relationship is and that no matter your gender or sexuality, this law should be afforded to all people equally. I have so many more stories echoing Harry, Jenny and Jeremy’s. Thank you to all the people who shared their stories. Your contribution matters.

This motion is for Harry, Jenny and Jeremy, their friends and family, and all LGBTIQ people.

The Australian Greens have a long and proud history of standing up for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer Australians and our families.

I believe that collaboration and the development of a cross party Bill is the best way, the only way,  to secure the equality that  so many Australian’s deserve.

I am privileged to be the Greens LGBTIQ & marriage equality spokesperson at such a significant time in our nation’s history.

As I stand here today I want to thank those who have consistently stood up for equality and to end the discrimination faced by LGBTI Australians and their families, including Bob Brown, Christine Milne, Sarah Hanson-Young and Adam Bandt , and I want to applaud those who have now joined the struggle  - especially those Senators who will today stand up for the first time in this Chamber and call for marriage equality.

Penny's and my partnership shows that love is love, and is to be celebrated! The sooner we legislate for marriage equality the better.

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