SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

SPEECH

15 February 2017

SAME SEX MARRIAGE SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE REPORT

TOPIC: MARRIAGE EQUALITY

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It is with great pleasure that I rise to speak to the report of the Select Committee inquiry into the Commonwealth Government’s exposure draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill.

The road to marriage equality has been a long one.

It was thirteen years ago that the Marriage Act was amended to explicitly exclude non-heterosexual couples.

And since then, the debate has been hard fought – a fact that would come as no surprise to senators.

For those of us fighting for equality, this is a deeply personal debate.

It is deeply personal because the law excluding us from the institution of marriage was a clear statement about how our relationships were then regarded.

It’s a clear statement that our relationships were lesser than those of our heterosexual brothers and sisters.

It also a clear statement that despite all the progress in Australian society we still had a long way to go to achieving equality.

On the other side of the debate, while I do not agree with the position of those who have fought against marriage equality, there is no doubt that their views are strongly held.

And so, with strong and deeply held views on both sides of the marriage equality debate – it is no surprise that the issue has – unfortunately – so often descended into a partisan acrimonious debate.

It is a truth of which no political party in this place is innocent.

Not too long ago, I said in this place that momentum for change continues to build – and that the forces of change won’t go away.

Certainly we’ve seen those forces working to win the hearts and minds of Australians.

Most Australians no longer ask “Why?” they ask “Why not?”

Support for marriage equality does not require political courage. It requires members in this place to do what they were elected to do, and do what the overwhelming majority of Australians want.

To put aside partisanship.

To work together.

To compromise.

And above all, to come onto the floor of this parliament and vote.

The example of this Select Committee and its establishment is one we have to look at.

Led by Liberal Senator Fawcett, it’s a Committee that includes members from the Coalition, Labor, the Greens, and the Nick Xenophon Team.

It is a multi-partisan committee – established to work to achieve common ground in the interests of progressing the debate on marriage equality.

To discuss and interrogate competing rights and freedoms – the right to marry, the right to religious freedom.

The result is a historic consensus report on marriage equality legislation.

This committee, made up of members of parties from all corners of this parliament has reached an historic agreement on how we can move forward and achieve marriage equality.

And we ought to pause to consider the enormity of that achievement.

A debate so often mired in partisanship, mired in acrimony, a debate characterised by finger pointing, we have a spirit of cooperation and the agreement around this report.

The parliament should follow the example of the Fawcett committee.
The Committee has reached agreement on several difficult issues, including:

• Ministers of religion should be permitted by law to be able to act on their beliefs should they decline to marry same-sex couples;

• A separate category of “Religious Marriage Celebrant”;

• Civil celebrants ought to be required to uphold the law if marriage equality proceeds;

• It also seeks to ensure that exemptions for religious organisations in relation to same-sex weddings should be precisely defined.

There are, and will be, parts of the report that I am sure I won’t personally agree with.

And there will be parts with which I do agree, but I am certain others in this place won’t.

Surely that is the definition of compromise.

This report is an historic step.

This committee has demonstrated that this parliament can work together.

That we can put aside partisanship.

That we can balance competing views, and competing rights and freedoms and achieve a just and sensible outcome.

I do want to congratulate Senator Fawcett, the Chair of the Committee, Senator Pratt, Senator Kakoschke-Moore, Senator Kitching, Senator Paterson, Senator Rice, Senator Smith and Senator Williams for their work on this, and the way in which they have approached their task.

The report does represent a significant and important moment in this debate.

The clouds of partisanship have parted.

Let’s take this moment and use it well.

Because we must now, together, take the next steps, to work together, to compromise, to end this debate, and to achieve what is the will of the overwhelming majority of the Australian people.