I'm delighted to be finally debating a marriage equality bill that might pass parliament

Read the full speech below. 

Ms BUTLER (Griffith) (11:53):  I'm delighted to be here finally debating a marriage equality bill that has a chance of passing the Australian parliament. I'm even more delighted to be doing so in a week when we hope that we will be voting on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. I'm particularly delighted, because I have spent so much time working with the LBGTI community, both publicly and within the Labor Party, for marriage equality to be made a reality. The commitment that Labor has to marriage equality was demonstrated very well by the fact that Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, took to the 2016 federal election a commitment to legislate for marriage equality in the first 100 days of a Shorten Labor government in the event that we were elected. It's a shame that we as a parliament have taken so long to get to a point where we're even allowed to have a vote on marriage equality. Were it not for the work of Labor over many years, including the work of the member for Whitlam, Senator Louise Pratt, Senator Penny Wong and the members for Sydney and Maribyrnong, it's absolutely the case that we wouldn't be in a position to pass a marriage equality bill through this parliament. It is because of the work of Labor over many years that we now have a situation where it can be passed through the parliament.

In the midst our delight, gratitude and relief for the imminent passage of marriage equality, I think it is important to recognise that there's also distress. Harm has been caused not just by the fact that there has been so much delay in relation to marriage equality and not just by the fact that we have had a situation where we weren't even allowed to have a vote in the House of Representatives until now. It is the fifth year of this Liberal government. That is how long it has taken for us to even be allowed to vote on a bill to have a free vote on marriage equality. But it's not just about that delay; new and creative processes for delay were created—like the plebiscite, which was defeated, and then the postal survey, which couldn't be defeated because it was a creature of administrative government. It's not just those things; it's the hurt that was felt during that postal survey. I don't want to gloss over it. I've had enough of hearing from people about the hurt that they felt when their kids came home from school and talked about what had been said to them about whether their family was normal.

I heard from the Victorian AIDS Council about middle aged men who were feeling like they were being judged. I went to the candlelight vigil for World AIDS Day on Friday night in Brisbane. As I looked around me at the men in their 60s and 70s, and women, from the LGBTI community, it was impossible not to think about how the shame and stigma of the 1980s was being brought up for them again in this situation where we had a national opinion poll about their relationships, their families, their identities. In speaking on this bill, predominantly I want to celebrate it. But I can't brush past that, and nor should anyone else.

Every member of this House would have received information from the mental health group ReachOut, who said that they'd had a 40 per cent spike in demand for their mental health services from LGBTI people through the survey process. And they were particularly concerned about that because LGBTI people who use their service were shown by research to be 40 per cent more likely to be at risk of suicide. These are not minor issues. They're issues that should be acknowledged. I think it is important to say to my LGBTI friends who are in the gallery, or listening somewhere else, that I acknowledge the price that you have been asked to pay to have the same right to marry as everyone else. It's been a high price. But, as I said, I predominantly want to celebrate the fact that we look like we're on the cusp of achieving marriage equality in this country.

So many people have talked about the personal stories they've heard—whether it's from close friends, family members or complete strangers. As I said, I was at the World AIDS Day vigil on Friday night, and I ran into my friend Phil Carswell. I won't say his age because that would not be polite. He is now planning a wedding—between bouts of dialysis. I had a party on the weekend. Some friends of mine, John and John, came along—again, I won't say their ages but they're very distinguished gentlemen. And I thought: how long they have had to wait just for this acceptance of their relationship, this acknowledgement that their relationship is not any more or less equal than anyone else's.

We've heard the personal stories from our friends, from our families and from complete strangers. Those people deserve to know that this parliament will rectify the discrimination that is presently entrenched against them in our marriage laws. I want to congratulate everyone in this parliament who is doing that. To those who do not support this change in our marriage laws: I of course respect your right to disagree but I don't accept as legitimate those who sought to create fear in relation to marriage equality, those who sought to make us fear this change. If you are afraid of what the consequences might be—as much of my incoming correspondence from people who voted 'no' in this survey would suggest—I hope you will take heart not from me as a Labor Party member but from the compelling conservative case that has been made for marriage equality by many people.

For example, it has been made in Cameron's Britain but also by my friend Senator Smith, who is a deeply conservative, genuine Liberal in the Senate. He has made a strong, conservative and compelling case for marriage equality. I think my politics could not be more different to Senator Smith's. I hope that those who voted no in good faith will take heart from the conservative case that has been made in respect of marriage equality.

I also want to acknowledge that this is not the bill that I would have wanted had I been able to wave a magic wand and change the law myself. I know it's got concessions in it, and they are significant concessions. I know that this bill creates a new class of religious marriage celebrant and that the bill grandfathers existing civil celebrants so that they can move into that class within a short period so that they can continue to discriminate if they wish to do so. I acknowledge that that is the creation of a new right to discriminate. That is an additional carve-out from our anti-discrimination legislation, above and beyond the existing carve-outs that already exist in anti-discrimination law.

I acknowledge also that this bill creates rights for others based on religious belief. Of course I acknowledge that it is hurtful that we will have a form of service provider who's entitled to discriminate against you because you're in a same-sex couple. I know it's a significant concession, and I hope that those who feel hurt by the concession will agree with us that this is an acceptable compromise—not the bill that we necessarily would have wanted but an acceptable compromise in the circumstances.

This bill will allow two people to marry. That's what it'll do. It won't detract from anyone's rights; it will increase people's rights. It will make us a more equal society. It will seek to remove discrimination to a large extent. It's something that should be celebrated. It's a bill that I think Senator Smith can, rightly, be very proud of. I acknowledge his colleagues who have worked so hard for it: the member for Goldstein—and congratulations on your engagement—the member for Brisbane; the member for North Sydney; the former member for Brisbane, Teresa Gambaro; and, of course, my very good friend the member for Leichhardt, who has done an excellent job, and it's a wonderful thing to see you back here today in the chamber.

Mr Snowdon interjecting—

Ms BUTLER:  It is—it's wonderful.

I also want to acknowledge the strong leadership that's been shown over many years on the Labor side of this House by the Leader of the Opposition; the Deputy Leader of the Opposition; the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, who has borne a much more personal and heavy burden than anyone else with her leadership role; and the Shadow Attorney-General, who has undertaken a great deal of detailed technical work in respect of this bill and previous bills. Like many other speakers, I want to thank Rainbow Labor, including my friend Sean Leader from Queensland, who worked for so long to change our platform. I remember, just over six years ago, our national conference, where Sean, despite having some terrible things going at home with family members' health, still made it all the way to the conference, went to Sydney and argued for us to change our platform. It's because of the work of people like him, hundreds of rank and file members of the Labor Party, and the leadership of members of parliament that the platform was duly changed.

I want to thank my colleagues on the parliamentary 'yes committee'—there's a committee for you: Senator Louise Pratt, the member for Bruce and Senator Sam Dastyari. I also want to thank Penny Sharpe MLC, who did so much work coordinating volunteers to go and observe the postal survey process—an important part—but also for her leadership over many years in relation to marriage equality. I want to thank just.equal. I see that Rodney Croome is here. I'm not sure whether Ivan Hinton-Teoh has made it, but they have been excellent advocates. Shelley Argent from PFLAG is here—someone who has worked so hard over decades for marriage equality. I want to thank Sally Rugg from GetUp!, who is here—she has made it in. Sally has worked incredibly hard over a very long period of time. I also acknowledge A4E and AME, and all the people who have already been acknowledged who are in gallery. I feel like I could recite Tiernan Brady's stump speech to you, I've heard it that many times—but I couldn't do the accent!

But also I thank Shirleene Robinson, who is not here, and my local Queenslanders from AME and A4E; Pete Black; Nita Green, who ran such a hard and strong campaign; and, of course, Brisbane Pride and Deeje Hancock; and all of the local LGBTI campaigners and their families and friends, who just made thousands and thousands of telephone calls and who doorknocked, went to public events and held public events. I had amazing groups in my electorate, like the Bulimba marriage equality group who would be out on the roundabout with amazing colourful signs. It was really something special. I also want to thank Rainbow Families, and all parents who sought to protect their kids from being hurt when the nation was asked to pass judgement on their lives. I want to thank mental health organisations like drummond street, Qlife and Switchboard—excellent LGBTI-led organisations of the community that helped people through the difficult process—and, of course, mainstream organisations like Orygen, ReachOut and headspace. I thank The LGBTI Legal Service in Queensland, which bore a lot of the brunt of receiving information about some of the worst aspects of the public campaigning against a marriage equality 'yes' vote. And I particularly want to thank—and it's important that I do so—the assistant national secretary of the Australian Labor Party, Paul Erickson, and his team in our national secretariat.

Of course it was a very broad campaign, and people from across different parties were brought together to work together. I acknowledge the work of Andrew Bragg and Luke Barnes and Liberals and Nationals for Yes.

But when you want a massive grassroots campaign, you want the ALP national secretariat and the labour movement of this country behind you. And between Paul Erickson and his team and the work of all of those labour movement campaigners, they really mobilised a lot of people to make phone calls and knock on doors and produce materials; they really got a lot of grassroots campaigning done. If it had not been for all of those people, I think that we would not necessarily have seen the result that we did see.

So thank you to everyone: to everyone who has campaigned, and I mean not just in the survey but for years; to everyone who has worked; to everyone who has taken really annoying phone calls from me, demanding answers at short notice—Anna Brown is smiling at me! And thank you to everyone who has stood up and fought for a fairer nation, a nation with less discrimination and with greater access to human rights, and to everyone who has not necessarily been part of an organised campaign or up the front but who has stood up for marriage equality on every possible occasion. Thank you very much. You've done your nation proud. And there will be many, many weddings that you'll be attending in the near future, so I hope you've got a lot of money for gifts organised! Thanks very much. I commend the bill.

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