SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

SPEECH

29 November 2017

THIRD READING SPEECH: MARRIAGE AMENDMENT (DEFINITION AND RELIGIOUS FREEDOMS) BILL 2017

THE SENATE

CANBERRA

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This day has been a long time coming, a day for which many of us have worked in our parties, a day for which many in the Australian community have worked, a day many of us have hoped for.

It was not long ago in this country that gay and lesbian Australians were targeted by the criminal law for who they were. It wasn’t that long ago that it was legal to discriminate against us simply for who we are. But equality is a remarkably persistent principle. It is a defining principle, a principle that springs from the simple and powerful precept of the inherent dignity of every individual, of every human being, and so it has been through human history. The aspiration for equality is the hallmark of our progress.

So today we stand on the cusp of a remarkable achievement and an historic event, and we pause briefly to reflect, just for a moment, on what we are a part of. We are part of an act of acceptance, an act of inclusion, an act of respect, an act of celebration—a day when this Senate declares our acceptance of our LGBTIQ brothers and sisters.

The bill that will be passed in this chamber was negotiated across party lines. It reflects an appropriate balance between delivering marriage equality and the protection of religious freedom. The Australian people voted to lessen discrimination, not to extend it, and we, the Senate, have respected that vote by rejecting amendments which sought to extend discrimination or derail marriage equality through debates which are better had elsewhere.

I acknowledge the Senators who have participated in this debate, which for the most part has been respectful. It is disappointing that the House won’t be able to progress this until next week, but I do hope when it does so that it follows the example set by this chamber and ensures this Parliament delivers on the promise to the Australian people and legislates for marriage equality.

Laws matter. They endow rights. But they do more than this. They express our values, who we are and what we believe as a nation.

I’m often asked what this law means for me and my family. This law matters to loving couples across the country, but what is more important is what it means for all of us. What it says to young LGBTIQ Australians, what it says to the young man struggling with who he is or the young woman who feels alone and ashamed, what it says to the children of same-sex couples who feel ostracised. It says to so many Australians: ‘This Parliament, this country, accept you for who you are. Your love is not lesser and nor are you.’ It says that you’re one of us.

This day would not have come without the courage and dedication of all who have campaigned and it would not have come without the decision of the Australian people to vote Yes.

In that vote, the grace and decency of our country men and women shone through, and in voting Yes they have pushed our Parliament to do what should be done. We may be their representatives but, in this, they have been our leaders.

Every day it is a great privilege to stand in this place, but there are some days which are of great moment, which change our country for the better. This is such a day.