State MP calls for marriage equality as Sydney gears up for Mardi Gras

Greens MP Jamie Parker spoke in the NSW Parliament, calling on the Federal government to end discrimination and allow for marriage equality.

Mr JAMIE PARKER, Member for Balmain:

Tonight I speak about the important matter of marriage equality, recognising that this weekend the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras will celebrate its thirty-fifth anniversary festival "Sydney Mardi Gras 2013—Generations of Love."

As a strong supporter of marriage equality I have joined my Greens colleagues in calling on the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia to amend the Commonwealth Marriage Act 1961 to provide for marriage equality, that is, to remove discrimination and allow people to marry regardless of sex, sexual orientation and gender. I highlight in particular the impact that discrimination in this area has had on our community—on our friends, our sisters, our brothers, our mothers and fathers, our teachers and our colleagues and leaders.

It places restrictions on something that should be our most basic freedom — the freedom to marry the person we love. I ask the people of Australia this simple question: do we want to live in a society that discriminates against people based on who they love?

When the former Howard Government amended the Marriage Act in 2004 in a political manoeuvre to wedge the Australian Labor Party, a renewed campaign for full equality was ignited. At that time a new definition was inserted into the Act specifically to exclude same-sex couples and to forbid Australia to recognise any same-sex marriage solemnised overseas. History now shows society's steady progress towards a more tolerant, fair and fully equal society with women securing the vote, the civil rights movement, with the first Australians being given the vote and the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Marriage equality has already been supported in countries such as Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, Norway, Spain, South Africa, Argentina, Mexico and a number of States in the United States of America. Marriage discrimination is simply institutional homophobia and it is all the more damaging because it engenders other, more insidious homophobia in our society. It feeds family rejection, social isolation, violence, homelessness and some of the most severe discrimination imaginable. This institutional homophobia cultivates the fear and self-doubt that same-sex attracted people can experience every day. How can we expect our children in the playground and our colleagues in the workplace to challenge homophobia when the laws governing and recognising families and love sanction transparent discrimination? What chance do we have of improving the lives of vulnerable young people when our leaders and parliaments fail to take a stand against such discrimination?

Recently, when the Hon. Michael Kirby spoke to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, he stated: "I have never had a satisfactory explanation of how my loving relationship with my partner in any way damaged the institution of marriage, or would, if marriage were available to us."

The institution of marriage is indeed an important institution and it will be strengthened by accepting diversity within the community, removing discrimination and allowing access to people who want it. The institution of marriage has always been changing and it has changed significantly in the past 20 years. The Australian Bureau of Statistics states that 31 per cent of registered marriages in 2010 were religious ceremonies, down from 58 per cent in 1990. In other words, in 2010, 69 per cent of marriage ceremonies were conducted by civil celebrants, up from 42 per cent in 1990. In the 20 years from 1990 to 2010, the proportion of babies born outside registered marriages rose from just over one-fifth, or 22 per cent, to just over one-third, or 34 per cent, of all births. Those statistics, the moral imperative and the need to end discrimination tells us that it is time for full marriage equality for all, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

I particularly recognise the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, Community Action Against Homophobia, ACON, Parents Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, the Gender Centre and all the other groups, activists and community members who have come out in support of marriage equality.

I also recognise the work of my colleague the Hon. Cate Faehrmann in the upper House and that of my Federal Greens colleagues, who are all committed to achieving marriage equality. I also note members from different parties in the Chamber and in other places who have stood up against discrimination and supported the concept of, and argued and voted for, marriage equality to be legislated. Many of these campaigners I have mentioned have sacrificed a great deal as part of the struggle for equal rights. To them I say thank you and congratulations on what they have achieved so far.

I will continue to work and fight alongside those organisations for the most basic freedom of all: for every individual to be able to marry the one he or she loves, free of discrimination and free of any aspect that does not allow the full nourishment and fruition of those relationships. As we have heard in the House today, and following the motion I moved this morning, I say happy Mardi Gras and congratulations to all those who will help to make it a great event. I appreciate the time of the House in order to make this contribution.

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