Senator DI NATALE (Victoria) (20:44): It is my pleasure to be able to speak on the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012 today. But before I start I would like to acknowledge some people in the gallery who are here for this debate. I would like to acknowledge Shelley Argent, the head of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. I would like to acknowledge Alex Greenwich, a very, very vocal, passionate and inspiring supporter of marriage equality, who heads the Marriage Equality movement. I would also like to acknowledge Sharon Dane, who is here with Psychologists for Marriage Equality. They are all here to listen to this debate in the parliament.
We have been very lucky to hear some very passionate debate on an issue that gives individuals one of the most important rights that exists—the right for each person to choose whom they love and to ensure that they have that love recognised by each and every one of us. It was a pleasure to hear, for example, the passionate contributions from people like Senator Pratt. You can have this discussion in the abstract, you can have this discussion about people's rights and what it means for the rights of people in the community more generally, but it is only when you hear from individuals who experience the discrimination, who experience the prejudice and who experience the hate that goes along with some of the views that we have heard in this debate that you understand just what this legislation means for ordinary people.
I do not, as a straight man, have the ability to talk about this issue from that personal perspective, but one perspective that I do bring to this issue is that of a health professional. I can talk a little bit about what this legislation means for the health of those people who are affected by the discrimination that currently exists. Before I get onto the issue of the health impacts of this legislation and what it would mean for the health of young people in this country, I want to talk a little bit about the politics of this issue. I am confident that I am on the right side of history; I am absolutely sure of that. I know that reform is inevitable. I know that we are talking about an issue that is about love, that gives rights to people without taking rights away from anyone, that does not cost anything and that makes people happier. So I am confident that we will win this fight. It may not be tonight, it may not be in the coming weeks, but we will win it. Before we get there we have to name what is at the heart of the resistance to this reform—and that is prejudice.
It is prejudice which says that the love between two people of the same sex is somehow less worthy and somehow not the same, not as valuable, not as important and not as significant as the love between a heterosexual couple. I keep hearing from people who oppose this change trying to elaborate on their arguments and trying to find a way of expressing their point of view without exposing their prejudice, but they tie themselves up in knots—they cannot succeed—because prejudice is what lies at the heart of this debate. Occasionally, we also get to hear contributions that do not even try to disguise the prejudice. Senator Boswell, for example, told us last night that same-sex-attracted people were not normal, that they did not have any right to bring up children. I can only imagine what it must be like to be someone like Senator Wong, for example, who has to sit back and listen to that prejudice. They are views that belong in the 1950s, when a woman's place was in the kitchen, when Aboriginal people could not vote, when blacks could not marry whites. That is where those views belong. And I keep hearing about this notion of family as though the only family that matters in this country is one where there is a heterosexual couple with two kids, with mum back at home cooking the meal for dad, making sure that the washing is done when dad gets back from work. That is the only family that seems to matter to members on my right.
I have a very different view of families. I come from a family where grandma might be at home, where cousins might be wandering through the house and where uncles and aunties might be looking after the kids. I have friends who have tried to have kids but have been unable to have them. They are just as important. That family counts just as much. I have single friends. I have gay friends. A modern plural Australia means having families who are more than what we hear from one side of this debate, which is the traditional nuclear family. This is a view from the 1950s. I heard the largely incoherent and rambling contribution from Senator Joyce, where, again, all the junk science kept being trotted out. We hear about the issue of kids being brought up with homosexual couples and the outcomes that they experience. This is all discredited. The science has been very, very clear that children who are raised from same-sex couples have the same psychological, social and academic outcomes as children who are raised by opposite-sex couples. We know that now. The science is absolutely clear. But, again, all the junk science is trotted out by those people with a vested interest.
It is very, very clear that when same-sex parents marry it improves both the health and the wellbeing of their kids and it gives their families really important legal protections. Yet, we hear from Senator Joyce that if you do not pass on your genetic material to your offspring it somehow diminishes the relationship you have with your children. How offensive is that, not just to same-sex couples but also to parents who adopt! He has just offended not only people who are arguing for this reform but any family who has been unlucky enough not to be able to have kids and who has adopted their children. The view is that their genetic material has not been able to be passed on and so somehow that relationship is diminished.
I am not going to get too hung up on Senator Joyce and Senator Boswell because they are hardly the heavy hitters of the opposition, but I do find the position taken by the opposition remarkable. We have the party of liberalism, the party that talks about respect for the individual, the party of small government, the party of individual responsibility, and here they are with the heavy hand of the state saying: 'We're not going to let you do this. We're going to vote against what it really means to be a true liberal.' Worse still, they do not have the guts or the courage to allow members of their party a conscience vote on this issue. They will deny them a conscience vote on this issue. You are running away from a debate that you know you will lose. You are absolutely gutless.
I have to reserve some of my criticism for the government. In this country we have, for example, Joe de Bruyn, a unionist and an influential member of the Labor Party, who spoke recently at the Australian Christian Lobby conference, a few weeks before the Labor conference. He said:
The key thing to understand is that this issue is not …going to be won or lost in the Labor Party on the question of merit, because on an issue of merit we will go down 80-20. It's … going to be won in the Labor Party if it is perceived to be electoral suicide if they go ahead and change their policy …
He is right: there is overwhelming popular support for marriage equality right. We saw Sarah Hanson-Young's bill, which reported back with a clear recommendation that federal marriage laws should be changed to give all people the right to marry. They were recommendations that were endorsed by senators across all political parties.
There are 12 countries in the world that have marriage equality—the first being the Netherlands. There are eight states in the US. Barack Obama has shown some leadership, his views have evolved and he has now voiced support for same-sex marriage. There is a conservative Prime Minister in New Zealand with a marriage equality bill coming before the parliament. David Cameron is another conservative leader and he is indicating that he will support reform in this area. And we have a situation where the rank and file of the Labor Party believe that this should happen and we have a Prime Minister who has gone missing. There is no leadership. She had an opportunity to take this debate on, to confront prejudice in a way that the opposition has clearly failed to do, and she squibbed it. She disappeared. It is disappointing that a Prime Minister who has done good things across some progressive issues has decided to walk away from this debate and this fight.
I have a few comments about the impacts on health that this legislation will tackle. As a health practitioner, as a doctor, I am acutely aware of how issues of discrimination and stigma can affect people's health and wellbeing. When we say that people of the same sex cannot get married, what we are saying to them is that their relationship is second-rate, that the decisions that they have made are less worthy and that discrimination against gays and lesbians is okay. It sends a very clear message to young people who are struggling with their sexuality and are confronting issues of identity—who they are—that their hopes for a long and fulfilling relationship with a partner who they love are in vain. In fact, the research is very clear on this point.
We recently had a contribution to this debate by Jim Wallace from the Australian Christian Lobby and Archbishop Jensen, who said recently that being gay is more dangerous than smoking. In one sense he is right, because discrimination is dangerous, because prejudice is dangerous. By his logic, being Aboriginal is more dangerous than smoking. The health impacts that are associated with people's sexuality are a consequence of discrimination and stigma. They have nothing at all to do with the choices that people make. We know, for example, that if you are same-sex attracted you are more likely to smoke, more likely to have had a chronic condition, much more likely to have experienced high levels of psychological distress, more likely to have had suicidal thoughts and plans, and more likely to have attempted suicide. Those statistics, as shocking as they are, have nothing to do with being gay and everything to do with the social prejudice, discrimination and violence that is perpetrated against lesbians, gay men and bisexual people.
Work in this area has been done for a number of years and we know that there is a psychological condition where people who are part of a minority experience particular stresses that are the consequence of the adverse social conditions that are experienced by members within a stigmatised social group. We saw one of those submissions to the recent Senate inquiry, pointing to the extensive research that demonstrates that one of the major implications for people who experience this sort of stress is that it increases their vulnerability to mental illness, because people internalise the negative messages that come from stigma and discrimination.
It is really critical that we tackle this issue head on, but we also need to tackle the people who make contributions in this debate and make an argument that suggests that it is something to do with the very essence of being a same-sex attracted person rather than the consequences that flow from the hurtful language that those very people themselves demonstrate. So it is clear that we need to do everything we can. I can tell you that when you have a young kid sitting in front of you who presents with a history of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and they are wrestling with the notion that they may be same-sex attracted, and we as a community send out messages to that young child that say, 'Your love is somehow wrong; the attraction you feel for another person is somehow wrong,' we make that person's health worse. This is a health issue as much as it is an issue about the basic rights of individuals. I am confident that we are going to make progress in this area. I am absolutely confident of that. I just think that in a nation like Australia, which has taken on so many important reforms, which has taken on prejudice when it comes to our Indigenous brothers and sisters and when it comes to the prejudice that women experience and the gains we have made in those areas, it is only a matter of time before we make gains in this area.
I know that Australians value a fair go and they value the notion of equality before the law, and they are values that are compromised by marriage discrimination. My own experience around marriage is something that I have reflected on through this debate. For me marriage was about being able to make a public commitment to my partner and being able to share the commitment that I made to my partner with those people closest to me. Being able to celebrate the love that you have for your partner in front of the people you care about and to have that love legally recognised by your community and by the state should be the right of each and every Australian, yet we are denying that right to same-sex couples today.
Marriage has never been a static institution. It has changed. We heard about the issue of no-fault divorce. There have been big changes to the institution of marriage, and this is one more change along that journey. By legislating for marriage equality we do send a positive message to young people who are coming out and coming to terms with their sexuality that your community accepts you, that your relationships are equal and valid and that your community loves you just as they love every member of that community.
It is no longer acceptable for both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott to impose their views on the entire Australian community. If nothing else, they should move out of the way and ensure that all of us in this place are able to express our views as individuals in an attempt to stamp out discrimination by legislating for equality in the Marriage Act. Love does not discriminate and neither should our laws. The time will come, and it is only a matter of time. As my colleague Senator Ludlam has said, I am sure it will be soon. It will be a great day for this parliament and I welcome that day.