I am supporting the legislation before us, the Marriage Amendment Bill (No.2) 2012. I am not married but I could be provided I chose someone who identified not as a woman. In terms of the process, in the same way that I can marry I can vote, I can actually take out a loan, I can receive social security payments and I can walk freely in the streets of the city. All these rights were not automatically gained. Looking back over the history of our nation and other nations, whenever there was a need to establish a right for any person in the community, there was a process that it had to go through. People had to identify the right that was involved. They had to see why they thought that right was necessary, they had to do their work to investigate the background, they had to work with the community and then in most cases they had to talk with the politicians of the day to ensure that the politicians were able to reflect appropriately the needs of the community. In that way rights have been achieved and it is important that we see this outstanding need: the human rights issue that gay and lesbian people have talked to us about as their political representatives and said, 'We want this right the same as anybody else in the community.'
Australia justifiably promotes our human rights history. We are the signatory to a number of human rights conventions. We celebrate our successes and we exhort other countries to follow our lead, to talk about freedoms and rights and equity. Indeed, in many ways for gay and lesbian people there have been great advances and we have talked about those things in this parliament. We have talked about the fact that we have identified discrimination and then we have talked to the community, we have listened to what they have said and we have made laws that appropriately reflect these changes. But somehow there still seems to be a particular debate about the term, the institution of marriage.
Several years ago when in this place this parliament made changes to the definition of marriage to make it absolutely clear that lesbian and gay people would not be able to marry in this country, I agonised at that time over whether I would speak in that debate. In the end I did and my argument was I was so upset and angered and hurt by the level of hatred and discrimination that came out in that debate. We had a result in that process and we have moved forward to today when we are actually having a chance again to look at the issues around the rights of gay and lesbian people to marry in our community. I acknowledge that there has not been, I believe, the degree of vitriol and hate in the debate at this time as there was several years ago, so I think we have moved forward, and that is important. However, what I ask of our community and what I ask of our parliament is this: why are we so determined not to make this change?
I come from a very large Irish Catholic family. We celebrate everything that happens in life and we really do enjoy a good wedding. We enjoy a marriage and we actually celebrate it. We celebrate it when it occurs. We actually mourn the fact that many of these marriages do not last, and the statistics are clear. In our community we know that every marriage is not a permanent commitment before our god, which is something that people claim as theirs. We also shamelessly speculate as to the motivations of the marriage and speculate about its success rate. I do not know the absolute motivation of the 26,530 marriages that were actually registered in Queensland in 2010. I do not know what caused those couples, men and women, to go before whatever form of process to make their formal commitment to each other. I do not know why they did it in an all those 26,530 cases. I know that only about 25 per cent of those cases actually had any form of religious ceremony. Most of the people in my state decided that they wanted to publicly proclaim their togetherness, their commitment and their marriage not in a religious form. We acknowledge that and that is part of our public law.
To all those people who have emailed, phoned and written to me with their views-and I thank you-I want to say: I have read every one of those emails and I acknowledge the rights of every one of you to give your opinion and to suggest, direct and, in some cases, demand that I respond in a way that you want in this debate. What I say to all of you is that everyone has the right to put their views forward.
We in this place will be voting in this process, in a short time I hope, on what will happen in the parliament. What I do not understand, amongst the many views I did receive, is the view that somehow making a change to the Marriage Act will impact on the integrity, the sanctity and the reality of marriage vows at the current time. I have never understood if two people make a commitment to each other to a loving relationship into the future why that will impact on anybody else in our community in making their own choice-an argument that Senator Marshall has just made in his previous contribution. This seems to have been an ongoing issue coming forward in the correspondence of the people who have written to me while feeling that their marriages will be somehow affected by any change in the definition that this parliament puts through. I firmly believe that the decision to marry is very personal. I firmly believe that everybody will make that decision in their own way for whatever reason. By far the majority of the people who have spoken to me have talked about the fact that they wish to share their lives into the future and that they have a love and a commitment to each other which they wish to publicly proclaim. That is the hope that I have for the people who have asked us to give them our trust and to move forward with this decision about the status of gay and lesbian people in marriage.
I remember amongst all the weddings that I have attended two particular occasions. One was when I was quite young. I went to a wedding ceremony and I noticed that only half of the church was full. I asked people around me what had occurred and I found out that the decision of these two people was that they would marry outside their own religious basis, so only half of the invited guests turned up. I went back and I said to my family, 'It wasn't the same. There was not the joy, there was not the celebration and there was not the pride in the ceremony.' Quite recently I attended another service in Brisbane of two of my close friends who are gay and who wished to have a ceremony for their commitment to each other. There was joy and pride at that ceremony but there was also fear because one of the people involved in this ceremony was employed in an area whereby if anyone had found out that she was actually going through a commitment ceremony, with the hope of having the marriage blessed, that person could lose her employment. That is not an equitable way of living, of celebrating and of having a process in 2012 in this country.
I particularly want to thank the people from Rainbow Labor in Queensland and my friend Sean Leader, who has kept me informed and supported and has given me the strength and the trust of people who are prepared to tell me their stories, often very painful stories about their past and what they hope for the future. I say to them: I thank you for your trust in giving all of us in this parliament the opportunity to hear those and, hopefully, to be able to make decisions that reflect your need.
I also particularly want to thank the people from PFLAG who have given us wonderful information about being parents and friends and family of people who are gay and lesbian and saying directly to us, 'Why can't our family have the same opportunity as everyone else to do that celebration?' That celebration I talked about that happens in my family.
To all the people who are involved in this debate I thank you for actually having the strength to put forward your arguments, to listen respectfully to other arguments and to genuinely think about the issues that are in front of us. We need to continue to have this debate because this will not go away. We as a community, as a parliament and as a country have a commitment to our citizens that we will maintain a sense of equity and justice for everybody in this community. We will ensure that their issues are considered, that their aim and goal of true equality will be acknowledged by their parliament and that people will be able to celebrate and join in their own commitment.