SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

MINISTER FOR FINANCE AND DEREGULATION

OPINION PIECE

1 August 2012

MARRIAGE EQUALITY

TOPICS: FRONT PAGE NEWS, MARRIAGE EQUALITY

The debate over marriage equality can be a difficult one.

Given that some people find the concept confronting, while others find opposition to it hurtful, this is unsurprising. It’s also a debate which gets loaded up with irrelevant, even spurious, arguments.

Australia is a liberal democracy. Throughout our history, the principle that citizens should not be discriminated against has inspired reform of many social institutions and traditions.

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The will to overcome discrimination on the basis of personal attributes has been a constant in Australian life.

We once considered it appropriate to pay women less than men, and to make married women leave the public service.

We once believed the White Australia policy to be justified, and that Aboriginal Australians weren’t entitled to vote.

Our attitudes on marriage have changed too.

Remember that marriages between Catholics and Protestants were once frowned upon, and that interracial marriages were once considered undesirable.

This will to remove discrimination now faces its next test.

Should the state, through law, continue to discriminate against certain Australian citizens solely on the basis of their sexuality?

Should Australia continue to ban two consenting adults from marrying because, and only because, they are a same-sex couple?

Consider if the basis of this discrimination, this different treatment, were age or race. The Australian community would rightly regard this as unacceptable.

There are those who argue that the ban on gay marriage is not discrimination.

The discrimination couldn’t be more real. It involves different treatment and lesser rights on the basis of sexuality.

There are those who accept that banning same sex marriage is discrimination, only then to argue this discrimination is justified because marriage is a “bedrock institution”. But, so too, is equality.

Others also argue that marriage is a unique institution which needs protecting. How does marriage equality undermine marriage itself?

As one Labor Party speaker at a past conference declared: “I’m a mother and a grandmother, and I know a threat to marriage when I see one, and this ain’t it”.

Indeed, allowing same-sex couples to marry will not see fewer heterosexuals tying the knot, nor will it make those marriages less likely to last.

And then there is the argument which uses religious tradition to frame the institution of marriage.

The real question here is the line between religious teaching and secular laws – whether those who hold this belief should impose their views on all.

Freedom of religion is an accepted principle This is why the marriage equality Bill before the Parliament would exempt churches from any requirement to recognise same-sex marriages if this does not accord with their teaching.

But the majority of Australians now marry in civil, not religious ceremonies.

The real issue is whether the views of some who hold particular beliefs should determine the legitimacy and eligibility of those who choose to marry outside of religious services, and beyond their church.

Finally there is the argument that marriage is about children, and that same-sex couples can’t, or shouldn’t, have children.

To suggest that you can or should only have children if you are married is not consistent with reality of today’s Australia.

And to suggest marriage should be defined only by reference to children leads to a position that says marriages where there are no children or marriages in which someone is infertile is less of a true marriage. Clearly this is not the case.

Underlying this position is the view that some Australians aren’t worthy of being parents simply because of their personal attribute (that is, being gay).

But the quality of parenting will never be determined by a political argument. It is seen in the days and nights and years of love and nurturing and hope and so much more.

It diminishes what it means to be a parent to have it used in this way in the current political debate.

Don’t doubt parents’ love for their child simply because they’re gay.

Same-sex marriage is a further step towards equality, in a tradition of many steps already taken.

That’s why we see so many Australians, and even some Liberal politicians, supporting marriage equality.

And in the future our children will wonder why there was such a fuss over something as simple as equality.

Whether it be parenting or relationships, isn’t it time we looked to substance over form?

Rather than looking to someone’s sexuality, let’s judge relationships by markers such as love and commitment and respect.

Rather than fighting for discrimination, let’s remember there is nothing to fear from equality.