Senator MOORE (Queensland) (12:59): I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. In August 2004, which was not too long after I was elected, I stood in this place in a very worried way. At that stage, my party had agreed with the proposal being put forward by the government to define marriage as being 'only between a man and a woman'. That has never been my personal opinion, but, being part of the process, I acknowledge that the decision was made by the caucus and that the debate was going to be had. I worried about whether I should say something, particularly at a time when I was so disturbed by a whole range of issues around that process. I came to the conclusion that I should.
I don't regularly go back to read past speeches, but I did have a look at this one, and I liked it. What I talked about was my concern about the fear, the arguments and the elements of distrust that had been placed in our community around that debate. If people remember, this place was packed; the whole gallery was full. There was an atmosphere of enthusiasm for the change that was before the parliament. There was also, for me, a deep disappointment not just at the position but also at what had led up to this position being taken. I talked about the way that the debate had occurred. I talked about the hundreds and hundreds of emails that I'd received which talked about real division and real distress in the community that hinged, at times, on elements of hatred.
As we know, that vote was successful and we then had a definition of marriage in our nation limiting marriage to a man and a woman. But, as I said in 2004, the argument did not go away; the debate did not go away. I'm sorry to say that, for a long period of this time, the fear has not gone away either. What we have are allegations about motivation, allegations of lifestyle and allegations of future activities. What we haven't seen until relatively recently is an opportunity for people to have an open discussion about the issue without judgement-an openness to learn about people who feel differently and an openness to learn about issues and questions you may not have thought of before. There has been an increase in that process.
I feel that the debate we're having around this piece of legislation in 2017 is distinctly different to that which we had in 2004. There is more openness and there is a wider acceptance of change, and we also have an overwhelming feeling in the community that change will occur; that this time we will acknowledge that one strong level of discrimination in our community is about to be removed. It has taken way too long, but we have an opportunity now, in the next couple of weeks, to ensure that overt discrimination against people who choose to live and love together will be removed. It's been far too long, and so many of the issues I've heard now about how we have to have protections into the future and we have to ensure that no-one is forgotten-surely, those discussions have to take place. But I've been thinking, as I've been listening to some of the contributions, that those discussions probably happened in the past around other groups that were not accepted by the wider community.
In terms of issues around women's rights, I know there were whole areas that women were not allowed to be active or public in. There were fears about the way that the world would change if discrimination against women in a whole range of areas was removed. And yet governments across the world did take up that challenge. Maybe there are some that need to do it more overtly now, but we no longer have signage, we no longer have reduced employment opportunities, and we no longer have locations which are not able to be accessed by women. Similarly, we no longer have signage about racism. We no longer have preclusions on where people of different races can go. We never see that there is discrimination against people choosing to marry and to love interracially, yet there was. There was strong rejection of that right, and families were not able to be formed between people of different races. That was by law, but it has changed. There is also, in the area of disabilities, much more understanding and openness about this. But, for so long in our community, the law has not caught up with, I think, the views of many, many people to ensure that we have genuine marriage equality in this country.
A whole range of other legislation has been passed which says that there will be no discrimination against people who are homosexual. That legislation has been passed, and people have celebrated it. However, there has always been this lingering area of marriage that, for a long time, wasn't talked about. In 2004, it was actually legislated that there would be no same-sex marriage in this country. We've moved beyond that now: we are able to say as a nation that we reject that discrimination.
I know many senators have talked about the number of other countries that have already made this change and, every time a nation makes a decision of this kind, it is more affirmation and a celebration for people to have their freedom and a statement that their community respects them. For many reasons-not just here in Australia where I am so pleased that we are now at this stage of the debate-the decision that we will be making over the next few weeks, and I know it will happen, is a message for other countries who have not reached this level of maturity as yet. We know that active discrimination against homosexual people is practised in the most horrific ways in some areas of our globe. We stand up, as a nation-we speak out against it in all kinds of fora saying that we reject this kind of discrimination. But there is a certain irony in that we talk about atrocities that are happening to gay people in other parts of the world whilst we have not taken that step, as the Australian community, to say: we want equality and to ensure that same-sex marriage is entrenched in Australian law. We have the opportunity to do that now, and we also have affirmation from a large number of our community, through the survey-and, really, we didn't need that survey to know that, but we now have the figures.
Isn't it funny? Now that we have the figures, people are trying to distort them. It never ceases to amaze me. Now that the count is in and Australians have said yes, people who wanted to have this survey, plebiscite or count so badly are trying to manipulate the survey results to prove that not that many people voted that way and, if they did, they didn't know what they were doing-they actually made a mistake, because they did not know what they were doing. I think more highly of the community: I think people had a range of motivations when they ticked that form on the box, as they do on most decisions. Many thought it was about time that we had genuine equality, marriage equality, in our country.
We've heard a lot from speakers about the need for protections in this legislation. My view is that we should always listen to a range of views. No matter what views people wish to put forward, we need, as a parliament, to respect those arguments and listen to them. My own view is that we have antidiscrimination legislation in our nation at both state and federal levels. Debates around discrimination and protection should be in conjunction with that legislation. We have a job to do in parliament, which is to ensure that the limitation from 2004 is removed from the legislation. That's our job. We need to listen to the concerns being raised to see what stacks up and what does not, and come up with a response to that. But we shouldn't be hiding behind the fear that I talked about in 2004. We shouldn't be generating that fear any longer. We should be looking beyond that fear so that there can be genuine openness and looking at the real issues, moving away from the sense of other-as long as we continue to have a sense of other we will not be us; we will not be together.
Many people have talked about acknowledgement. I'm thinking today of some of my friends whose ceremonies I have attended. We had no doubt when we attended those ceremonies that we were watching a genuine commitment and an exchange of love and that these people were married. They now can be, and that joy and expectation we had when we were celebrating those unions will now be able to be officially shared by the community and they will be able to have a piece of paper that says 'marriage certificate'. I think that's a really important statement, because from 2017 onwards that marriage certificate will be able to be shared by consenting adults who want to make that commitment to each other. I think that is an extraordinarily positive element for our community.
In 2004, I said that discussions would continue-and they will. The vote in this place and over in the green area in the next couple of weeks won't end the discussion, it won't end the debate and certainly I don't think it will end all the fear. But it will be a positive statement by the Australian parliament that we reject fear-mongering, we reject labelling and we reject any sense that this debate is dominated by any kind of false motives. I do want to pay respect to Dean-he must be getting concerned about so many people saying such wonderful things about him-and the other members of the parliament who have worked together on this process. There always needs to be someone who drives it, and I think Senator Smith has shown courage, has shown resilience and has shown humour when not often is anyone exposed to this much personal 'focus'. I think that is the right word. Congratulations to you, Senator Smith, and to so many others who have maintained the decision and maintained the commitment that we, as a parliament, can do this.
Being a part of this process is extraordinarily exciting. We should enjoy the feeling and we should venerate the people who have stayed so loyal to this debate when it has been difficult. Senator Abetz talked about rejecting the views of others. We do not reject or trample or ignore people who disagree with our views. What we need to do is engage with them to ensure that views are respected, but we will not run away from the core business, which must be, and will be, ensuring that we have marriage equality in Australia in 2017.