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It is a pleasure to be with you all this evening to launch Yes Yes Yes: Australia’s Journey to Marriage Equality.
It is poignant, I think, that the book is being launched here in the Centre of Democracy for our journey to Marriage Equality reflects the best and the worst of our democracy.
Our journey reflects the unfortunate reality that sometimes, our democratically elected leaders fail to reflect the values and will of those who elected them, stand in the way of reform, and frustrate progress.
But so too does our journey reflect the ability of activists to create change, to work in their communities, to change hearts and minds, and to overcome barriers not only to change the laws of our nation, but to change the nation itself.
I last spoke in the Centre of Democracy just over a fortnight ago to launch another book – Clare Wright’s You Daughters of Freedom, which tells the story of the Australian women who won universal suffrage.
On that night I said that the truism that history matters still holds true.
Our history matters because it is both an anchor and a foundation.
Without it we lose our moorings. Without it we don’t see that on which we build.
Or what we can build.
Because to have potency, a story must be told. It must be heard and it must be understood.
Yes Yes Yes is an important part of recording and telling the history of our journey to marriage equality, and an important part of ensuring our story is heard and understood.
Yes Yes Yes tells our history from the perspective of its authors, Alex Greenwich and Shirleene Robinson: two members of the LGBTIQ community and two advocates who fought tirelessly to achieve marriage equality.
Through their experience working within Australian Marriage Equality for a decade, Alex and Shirleene are in a unique position to record and tell the history of Australia’s journey to marriage equality.
Together, Alex and Shirleene were there for many of the key moments in our collective fight – and so they bring an insight which gives important context to the many battles waged over that time.
And together, Alex and Shirleene travelled the nation working with activists across the country, with members of parliament from state, territory and federal parliaments and from parties major and minor.
And so they have been able to draw on the experiences and perspectives of many who contributed to the effort to achieve marriage equality.
Yes Yes Yes starts in the lows of 2004, when then Prime Minister Howard moved to amended the Marriage Act to explicitly exclude non-heterosexual couples.
It was an amendment passed with, regrettably, barely any opposition.
It was a sad day for the Federal Parliament.
It was a day which saw the Parliament vote to expand discrimination and drive division.
The message to LGBTIQ Australians was clear: we are different, we are lesser, we are not worthy of equality before the law.
On that day I was forced to vote for my own discrimination.
At the time, I said to my colleagues if it had been proposed that the law be amended to discriminate against couples on the basis of any other attribute, whether it be race or religion, that we would not countenance it.
And at the time, I said to myself that I would stay, that I would fight. That I would work to change the position of the Labor Party, and to help achieve marriage equality.
I knew that eventually we would reverse the discrimination legislated by the Parliament that day.
But, as Alex and Shirleene reflect in their book, “Few could have estimated just how drawn out the journey would be.”
Yes Yes Yes charts the long journey from that sad day in 2004 to the jubilant moment the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill passed the House of Representatives in 2017.
It provides insight into the moments of hope and joy, and the moments of despair.
It reflects the work of thousands of volunteers, members of the LGBTIQ community, our allies, our families and friends.
It tells the story those who fought within our communities and within our parliaments – to keep momentum behind the cause of equality.
It tells the story of Labor embracing the idea that its enduring value of equality should apply to LGBTIQ Australians. An achievement, made possible thanks to the hard work of many within the Labor Party, of which I am immensely proud.
It tells the story of the union movement committing experienced campaigners and organisers to hit the ground running for the Yes campaign.
It tells the story of bipartisanship – of members from the Labor, Liberal and Greens parties, and others, finally coming together, putting politics aside, and fighting for the common cause of equality.
It tells the story of how community activists, everyday Australians fought, side-by-side, for their own equality, for the equality of their family, friends, neighbours or colleagues, for the kind of nation we know Australia to be.
Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of the result of the Marriage Equality postal survey.
Australians overwhelmingly voted ‘YES’ for Marriage Equality.
As I said to thousands celebrating at the Lonsdale Street Party in Canberra on the night of the postal survey results – it was “a day of joy and grace and acceptance and inclusion.”
Australians proved they wanted the Parliament to do what it had proved it was unable to do – legislate to remove discrimination from the Marriage Act.
But we must not let the joy and relief of that day wipe away the memory of the unnecessary hurt caused to the LGBTIQ through the postal survey campaign.
The LGBTIQ community continues to wear the scars of the campaign we were forced to endure.
Throughout the campaign I saw the tears, I saw the hurt, and I saw the impact the arguments the No campaign had.
And I, too, felt it.
A price was paid for this achievement. But achieve it we did. We did it together.
Together, Australians affirmed that our nation is one of fairness and equality.
The ‘Yes’ vote was a profoundly important assertion of who we are.
And, yes it meant people could marry. Yes, it delivered equality before the law.
But most importantly, it was a powerful statement of inclusion and of acceptance.
We must never again allow the rights of a minority to be determined by a harmful public vote.
The overwhelming message of Yes Yes Yes is this: the cause of equality is persistent and enduring: together we can achieve it.
And it is on that happy note, that I have the pleasure of declaring Yes Yes Yes launched.
Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.