Mr GAFFNEY (Mersey) - Before I start, my speech is a bit of an epic so some in the gallery might wish to duck out and buy some groceries or have a coffee or pay a bill and then return for the close. If you are watching at home, close the washing machine, grab a book or a crossword. Colleagues, you might take this opportunity to go and get some other draft speeches and legislation.
I feel a bit flat this morning but, as with other MLCs, there has been a lot of time expended in thought, discussion and crafting of speeches so I will try to keep it somewhat interesting and trust that if you do have a little catnap you remember the camera is always on.
I wish to thank the honourable members in this place for their valuable contributions on a somewhat controversial social issue. The diversity of views echoed by my colleagues demonstrates quite clearly the range of opinion that exists within our community. Indeed, the number of emails, letters, conversations, meetings and phone calls I have received and the amount of media attention the Tasmanian Same-Sex Marriage Bill has sparked, has been quite staggering.
Communications have been received from individuals within my local community, statewide, nationally and even internationally. I have responded personally to most letters and emails that I have received, although replies to some email addresses bounced back. I have had a number of valuable phone conversations. I must admit that I chose not to respond to the text messages I received on my mobile phone; that would not have been an effective use of my time, as my texting skills compared to my nieces' and nephew’s leave a lot to be desired.
For the record, the vast majority of the few thousand responses on this issue were respectful and quite clear in the message they conveyed. Many encouraged me to vote in a certain way. As we are all aware, it is not possible to accede to all demands and thus it is important that as members of this House we listen, we clarify, research and absorb the information and documentation relevant to this issue.
We reflect and draw on our own values and experiences. We consider the views of our constituents and the likely impact of the legislation on fellow Tasmanians. Only after this process are we then in a position to make a determination.
It is rare for me to spend a significant amount of time at the podium as I usually try to keep my speeches relatively brief and to the point. I often do not like to repeat information that has already been expressed by other honourable colleagues as I find that to be a futile exercise; I prefer to spend more time in committee, advancing the bill.
However, as I have mentioned, regarding the Same-Sex Marriage Bill I am more than comfortable in digressing from my own conventions. I believe it is important for me to place all the cards on the table, so that regardless of whether they agree with my decision or not, individuals from my electorate can draw comfort from the fact that I researched and investigated this issue in significant depth and that my vote reflects the genuine feelings of many of those in the Mersey electorate.
It is not possible to appease every individual, nor is it my role to convince others that their opinion is not correct or valid. There are many strongly held if not ingrained beliefs on both sides of this debate. Opposing opinions are clearly articulated and reinforced with numerous studies, professional opinions, well-credentialed research and a host of other tools to support or disprove that opinion.
Indeed, I have discovered there is a huge amount of information about same-sex marriage. It should also be noted that, as with many issues debated in parliament, there is a degree of misinformation in the community; the views of certain groups and individuals are at times misrepresented.
I do not believe that it is correct nor appropriate to suggest that people who do not agree with same-sex marriage are homophobic. Nor do I believe that associating acts of depravity with GLTBI community is fair or reasonable. I was very disappointed to hear the term 'bigotry' used by a member of the House of Assembly in reference to the arguments presented by the honourable Leader of the Liberal Party during the 2011 debate on the same-sex marriage motion.
Although the member concerned later expressed regret at the use of the term, I thought that my English students whom I taught in London would say, 'That is out of order, Sir'. And it was totally out of order.
Unfortunately, this disrespectful behaviour amongst parliamentarians was repeated in last week's federal debate. Some disgraceful comments were made and yes, the word 'bigotry' popped up again.
I was very pleased, however, to read the comments of the Leader of the Opposition, Will Hodgman, in Hansard:
“I also want to say from the outset that, despite the repeated claims of my political opponents, some lobbyists and indeed a number of reports in the media, I have never denied Liberal Party members a conscience vote on this issue. That is totally and utterly untrue. No member of my party has been denied a conscience vote. It is a fact that we are unified in our position and as the leader of my party today I speak to this bill on behalf of all Liberal members.”
I was somewhat surprised that not one member of the Liberal Party was supportive of the Same-Sex Marriage Bill. On percentages, one out of 10 people - or even more - within the community. Other than Mr Hodgman, they all chose not to participate in the debate. Regardless of this stance, it is pleasing to note that with Mr Hodgman's position on the record, the honourable member for Pembroke and all other members in this place are free to exercise a conscience vote.
This is in contrast to the position at the federal level and will mean that the vote on the Same‑Sex Marriage Bill in the Upper House in Tasmania is an accurate reflection of the personal view of its members. This will allow each member to voice and follow his or her own convictions regarding this bill. I am certain that the member for Pembroke will take advantage of this opportunity as I have often heard the honourable member speak passionately about the need for a truly inclusive society.
I remember well the member's inaugural speech:
“I am a proud Tasmanian. I want to see our state advance and be innovative, socially inclusive and environmentally responsible. We must be in a place where children will be equipped to achieve their full potential and where there are worthwhile jobs to keep skilled Tasmanians and their families here. Bluntly, we must stop the exodus of young Tasmanians interstate.”
I agree with every word.
I make no assumptions as to whether the member for Pembroke was referring to Tasmanians leaving the state to find employment, for study at mainland institutions and perhaps rarely returning, or leaving because of this discrimination they face in Tasmania.
However, the fact remains that the social environment in Tasmania has not been conducive to gay people feeling comfortable in identifying their sexual preference, showing virtually any sign of being in a relationship in public, or speaking out about the discrimination suffered as a result of these first two points.
Throughout the course of the bill's passage, I received many pieces of correspondence which indicated that many of our young people have departed the state because they feel being openly gay here, to paraphrase, is too hard for themselves and/or their families. It is quite unsettling and disappointing, that not only should they feel they have to leave, but think of what gifts, skills and talents go with them.
Emotive issues of such importance as same-sex marriage do generate a number of viewpoints. These viewpoints range on a scale that extends from the legal and/or fact‑based information to unconvincing rants. The latter arguments I have chosen not to mention as I believe those assertions would not contribute to the quality of the debate in this House.
In commending this bill to the House, the Honourable member for Murchison stated this bill is about social reform that matters so much to so many Tasmanians. Indeed it does and for Tasmanians on both sides of this discussion. In my time as a member of this House, this is one of the most significant social reforms this parliament has debated in this chamber.
The representations I have received that are against the introduction of same-sex marriage highlight the following. Firstly, this bill is undertaken without a mandate. As we are all aware the Tasmanian Labor Party went to the last state election clearly indicating that their party position, as with their federal Labor colleagues, was against same-sex marriage.
Furthermore, just one year ago, the Premier expressed her position as being completely contrary to the introduction of legislation to legalise same-sex marriage. I understand the confusion and disappointment experienced by Tasmanian voters when a government appears to backflip on issues that may have influenced their decision to select certain candidates of parties. Given Labor's position at the 2010 election, this sense of disillusionment is valid.
The Labor Party was unable to form a government without the support of the Tasmanian Greens and as we have repeatedly witnessed at the federal level, coalitions of parties or elected members will result in compromises, reviewed policy positions, and ultimately some legislation being supported from unexpected quarters.
If we were to simplify the argument to a numerical level, five members of the government are members of a party which openly supported same-sex marriage prior to the election. Ten members, including the Premier and Deputy Premier, are members of a party who were elected by voters who accepted their position of not supporting same-sex marriage.
Whilst it might be pointed out that the Tasmanian ALP agreed at their 2011 and 2012 conferences to support same-sex marriage, this was not the case at the time of the election. I believe it can be legitimately argued that the state government does not have a mandate from the people to progress this issue.
In light of these facts, it has been suggested by some that this bill is for political rather than socially motivated ends. However, as the honourable member for Hobart inferred yesterday, regardless of how it has arrived, there is legislation in front of us and it has to be judged on its merits.
It has also been suggested that this bill represents reform about which there is little irrefutable social research. Research is inconclusive on the benefits of same-sex marriage and same-sex families. Although many countries are undertaking the reform, I suggest to members that same-sex marriage reform has not been instituted long enough to understand its impacts on all sectors of society. I would suggest to honourable members that before undertaking any significant social reform, we should be very sure what the impacts would be.
I put to the honourable members that where the state wishes to change the status quo they must be reasonably certain there will be no detrimental outcomes especially considering once change is instituted it will be exceptionally difficult to reverse. Given the emotional impact the passage of same-sex marriage would have on heterosexual and homosexual couples, the last thing parliament would want to do is a flip-flop on the issue as more evidence comes to light.
However, I do acknowledge that for both sides of this debate it would be difficult to provide irrefutable research. From such a position I can only suggest that evidence and research is inconclusive. Given the social experiment this bill represents, it could be reasonably suggested that inconclusiveness does justify the maintenance of the status quo.
It could be argued that this bill is reform on which there is no conclusive legal opinion. There is a significant weight of legal opinion that suggests that the Marriage Act 1961 covers the field and any state legislation would be inoperable.
It is arguable that state legislation would withstand a High Court challenge and could ultimately be proven to be a costly exercise in futility, diverting valuable resources from schools, hospitals and other activities and services needed to support the disadvantaged during a period of fiscal austerity.
One constitutional matter relates to section 88EA of the Marriage Act. This prohibits marriages solemnised overseas between gay couples. Although the Tasmanian bill is not expressly inconsistent with section 88EA, it clearly undermines its purpose - that is that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Furthermore, it is apparent that the commonwealth parliament does not support the same-sex legislation given the overwhelming position in a recent vote. The Tasmanian bill would further undermine what is a clear statement by the commonwealth legislature.
Despite the bill's noble objectives, it does not resolve the issue of inequality at a national level. Prior to 1961 marriage was the realm of the states. The states decided to hand their power over, obviously implying that nationally consistent laws would be in the better interests of the nation. I tend to agree.
In 1961, Attorney-General Garfield Barwick stated that the purpose of the Marriage Act was, 'to produce a marriage code suitable to present day Australian needs.' He went on to say:
'As this country increases in international stature we should have uniform law of marriage applicable throughout the commonwealth.'
The gay community is seeking full equality. This is perhaps a noble endeavour which should be supported, for some have claimed that the Tasmanian bill will not be recognised by the commonwealth Marriage Act, thus full equality can only be given by the commonwealth government. It is reasonable, and could be defended, that the Tasmanian bill would entrench inequality in our society.
It has been suggested that passing this bill would remove the last bastion of discrimination. Furthering an idea that removal of discrimination from marriage as a law for the commonwealth, is the fact that the commonwealth implemented the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1984. Despite these laws, racism is still obvious in Australia. Unfortunately one only needs to see the public discourse in relation to the asylum seekers for evidence of this. Sexism, fortunately my experience to a lesser extent, is also evident in modern day Australia even in parliamentary circles, with Senator Bushby's unacceptable catcall to Senator Wong earlier this year.
People always have their own personal views on homosexuality. It could be suggested that a number of constituents have used the Same-Sex Marriage bill as an opportunity to pass comment on the wider issue of homosexual lifestyle which has not been entirely conducive to their arguments against the Same-Sex Marriage Bill being viewed as reason. To the point, and relevant in terms of specific efficacy of the bill, as opposed to a general protest against homosexual lifestyle and individuals.
Community group representatives suggest that the extent to which this bill would alter Tasmania's personal view or reduce discrimination is overstated. Discrimination will still exist. In addition to this point of minimising discrimination, members will note countless discriminatory laws against homosexuality removed by the federal government by the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws - General Law Reform) Act 2008.
Members of the community have expressed their concern to me that this bill may represent the start of other changes in the way marriage is defined. There is a genuine fear if this bill is passed that society may not be able to justify saying no to other demands such as polygamy. Some people fear changes in definition will lead to a decrease in the value with which marriage is held.
Finally, I am the elected member for Mersey and like the honourable member for Murchison whose constituents were overwhelmingly in favour of same-sex marriage, there has been a 50:50 split in the Mersey electorate between constituents contacting me in support of this bill and those urging me to oppose it. This was affirmed in the recent EMRS poll that showed that 52 per cent in the north and north-west supported same-sex marriage. Fifty-two per cent is far from conclusive and again I reiterate that more than a majority support is desirable for such a significant social reform.
It is clear to me that at least a significant proportion of my electorate could regard progression or change as not always being for the betterment of our society. I have heard the supporters of same-sex marriage predict that millions of dollars may flow into Tasmania as a result of an avalanche of same-sex couples wishing to marry in this state. However, personally, I believe this is a social issue not an economic one and therefore I will not dwell on the financial advantages.
In line with my position that same-sex marriage is a social issue and not an economic one I will not make detailed comments on the potential cost of a High Court challenge if the bill is successful. There seems to be a difference of opinion between qualified legal teams and experts about potential financial impost, so therefore both positions rule themselves out in my mind.
I suggest to honourable members that the facts I have outlined so far make this bill one of the more uncertain bills to come before this House in terms of its social, political and constitutional legitimacy. However, this bill, even if it is not passed, is a representation of how far Tasmania has advanced in regards to same-sex couples. Just 16 years ago same-sex relations were illegal; just 16 years ago members of the public and parliamentarians on both sides of this debate may not have been able to have the reasoned and compassionate discussion that we are currently experiencing. I believe Tasmanians of all backgrounds should take part in this progress.
It has even been expressed that it is too soon for Tasmania to take a lead role in what is perceived as a commonwealth issue, although it has also been expressed that with same-sex marriage rights floundering on the federal stage, it is exactly the right time for Tasmania to introduce social equality and lead the rest of the nation.
I mentioned earlier in my speech that it is important when making decisions regarding social legislation that members of parliament uphold the values that their position affords and are responsive to the current and future needs of their own community and all Tasmanians. Whilst decision-making at times includes compromise, parliamentarians need also to remain true to their own values.
In my inaugural speech I mentioned issues of dignity and respect. In assessing and evaluating the viewpoints of constituents regarding the Same-Sex Marriage Bill it was important to me to return to my inaugural speech and reflect on the ideals and personal values as outlined in that speech.
Like many Tasmanians, the people on the north-west coast and especially those in my electorate of Mersey are down-to-earth, practical, caring and supportive people who want their representatives to have the capacity to make objective, rational and transparent decisions. Constructive debate, problem-solving and working with each other to manage complex issues are what living in and being part of a dynamic community is all about and my electorate will expect me to represent them with integrity and sensitivity. Many people understand and appreciate the need for a community to have a diversity of opinions and that each person's experience and background will orchestrate a range of ideas and viewpoints which may be in direct contrast to their next-door neighbour. I am a good listener and I look forward to conversing with many people on the myriad issues which will arise.
Life is about networking with all types of people and communities and having the capacity to adapt, adopt and learn from others. It is about expanding our personal and communication networks, and having the ability to draw on those experiences and thus make more informed judgment and enlightened decisions.
This speaker, while fundamentally an optimist, and that is how I choose to live my life, is also acutely aware of the realities which exist in our communities, this state and country and indeed the global society. There is a need for resilience, community support and care, tolerance, empathy and respect, freedom of speech and acceptance of responsibility. The capacity for an individual to choose a lifestyle without fear of ridicule, embarrassment and discrimination is also very important aspects of a considerate and empowering society.
In my former career as a high school teacher, I found that throughout I was forever drawn to and working with students and families who were doing it tough. After completing a graduate certificate at the University of Newcastle specialising in emotional disturbances and behaviour management I became very interested in student behaviour and the relationships with various groups. I was intrigued with the challenge of reconnecting students into schools as part of a community-building process.
Young people are very special beings who need to be nurtured and who need to belong. While at times they need their own space - and I have no idea where that is - they also need to be connected to and at least feel as though they are a part of a caring community. Even more so at risk the students were as they were growing up, questioning their own sexuality, which is quite a normal process, then subject to many feelings, comments and behaviours which can be detrimental to their health and wellbeing.
In 1994, I assumed a leadership role within my municipality as an elected member and was the deputy mayor for four years and continued as mayor for the past 11 years. Over 20 years in local government, I became acutely aware of the need to provide safe and supportive communities. I was therefore interested in a number of socially inclusive processes such as community-based learning, restorative justice and principles of restitution.
Throughout this journey of the same-sex marriage legislation, my role as mayor has enabled me to access and contact many individuals and a host of community groups to listen to their diverse views with a variety of perspectives and backgrounds. Interestingly, whilst there were some very passionate views from people at either end of the spectrum, I discovered that there was also a large contingent of people who are quite ambivalent towards the issue. Many commented that they could not see what all the fuss was about and that there were many other more important issues that the government should be focusing on.
I believe one of the most vital factors in successful, trusting and invigorating communities regardless of the size or the socio-economic status is the quality and the vision of the leaders. The importance of the trust the community has in its leadership group cannot and should not be undervalued or underestimated. As the debate on same‑sex marriage has encouraged a variety of opinions, one does not expect the leader or a leadership group could possibly agree with the position of everyone in their community. However, I firmly believe there needs to be a healthy respect for processes that ensure people can express their opinion without fear of ridicule or retribution and that their opinion will be valued.
Like the member for Elwick I purposely chose not to indicate my position on this bill before today so that each person who contacted me could focus on their own thoughts and opinions without having to worry about thinking that I had already made up my mind or that I have judged them in a less favourable light if their view was different to my own. My opinion might not agree with the view presented by individuals, however each person would feel as though they had been listened to and will trust that their leaders will make an informed and justifiable decision. Leaders should not feel that they are all‑knowing, nor are leaders infallible. However, the issue is how leaders build that trust, what steps are utilised and what attributes we recognise in successful communities. How do we retain, regain, improve and protect the communities' trust in our leaders?
I believe there are four building blocks or foundation stones that are integral to this process. Firstly, there is a need for affirmation of each individual and group, business, club, society or school within our community. People need to feel valued as an integral part of the community regardless of race, gender, religion, language, lifestyle, background, sexual preference or place of birth. An individual's self-worth needs to be respected and each person has the right to be affirmed as part of our inclusive society. Secondly, individuals and groups need to be able to communicate their views, feelings and opinions to others within the community without fear of reprisal.
Legislation is developed where necessary to ensure that the rights of individuals and groups are supported. Minority groups need to have the same rights and opportunities that are available for the majority. There are many times when decisions are made that will directly impact on individuals and sections of the community. Sensitivity and empathy for those negatively impacted must also be a priority for competent and well-intentioned leaders.
The third building block that is fundamental in successful organisations, clubs or communities is cooperation. Tasmanian communities are exceptionally fortunate and have many volunteers who are willing to offer their skills and services for the benefit of others. Cooperation is a cornerstone to volunteer community groups and is a vital ingredient in communities who show initiative and a willingness to be involved.
Unfortunately, in recent times, there are so many controversial issues surfacing in Tasmania that our state is struggling to come to terms with some of those issues - forestry, mining, fishing, planning reforms, to name a few. We must at least put to rest and/or deal with other issues that present as challenges. Same-sex marriage is one of those issues that need resolving.
The fourth and final building block is the need for community-building opportunity, be it activities, events and celebrations or support of a local neighbourhood watch, RSPCA, children's triathlon or the opening of an art exhibition. Local councils and service clubs such as Lyons, Rotary and Apex all play an important role as they generate community events that draw people together - people from all ages and walks of life with a diversity of life experiences and backgrounds. Many same-sex attracted individuals and couples volunteer their time to add to the social fabric of community in many different ways.
Once communities succeed in defining the four building blocks, there is already a greater chance for successful outcomes for enlightened, positive communities. However, having the blocks in place is fine, but key understandings need to be shared and developed by community members and leaders alike. Whilst Tasmania as a state is fortunate to have many of the building blocks in place, it is imperative that we continue to strengthen and look at the weaknesses in each area or each building block. I believe that all four building blocks are an important platform for a strong, caring society.
How do we affirm that everyone is important? What can we do to improve communication, cooperation and promote statewide events and activities? I believe there are a key number of understandings that are required before a community can trust the decision-makers and leaders. Self-respect in all we seek to be or do. We must ensure that our young and our elderly, our frail, our strong have the personal strength to believe that their thoughts, feelings and actions have at the core a value of self-respect. Regardless of what confronts each person we, as elders and leaders, must ensure an environment that promotes self-respect and indeed allows and understands that individuals will make mistakes, will make wrong decisions and at times will need guidance and support to retain, regain or repair their self-respect and self-worth. We need to break down the barriers that stand in the way of equality and equal access.
I have heard from some honourable members about their view of respect and I must admit that their definition of respect and how that is demonstrated differs far greatly to my impression of the world and what that means. Caring for others is a fundamental key understanding that allows communities and societies to grow and to be strong. An individual or community group that is self-absorbed and self-focused loses sight of the importance of the need to care for others. It is difficult for some to believe in this key understanding if indeed they have never experienced nor have been the recipient of care by others.
Too often we appear to worry about how a decision may inconvenience or marginally impact on our own life instead of focusing on the tremendous support and feeling of self-worth that decision can give others. Thus, resilience is a much-desired personal trait as individuals face hardships and learning times. The impact of death and damage on communities is at times obvious. Caring communities face tough times, but also show remarkable support and resilience. Unnecessary deaths through tragic circumstances because people feel as though they do not belong or are second-class citizens need to be addressed. Individuals who are not accepted for their own being need to be able to access the same support networks and legislation that is available to others in their community.
The next key for a strong community is thinking before reacting. Too often knee jerk responses or offhanded comments do not help the situation and indeed can exacerbate social issues or community problems. Whilst decisions need to be made at all levels and we realise there are numerous scenarios which we need to agree or disagree on, we must also ensure that our response is well thought out, justified and seeks to address the issues, not to harm, hurt or ridicule an individual or group or vulnerable sections of our society.
There are many times when challenges and issues that have had very damaging effects on individuals could have been avoided, or negative outcomes minimised if community members had thought carefully before reacting and, as the saying goes, 'perhaps walked a mile in their shoes'.
The next element or key understanding is to expect the best. I always try to maintain a positive outlook, and to expect the best out of each interaction or each situation I find myself in. It does not always work, but I firmly believe it is a lot more effective and potentially rewarding than the opposite scenario, which is expecting the worst.
In relation to the Same-Sex Marriage Bill it is not all doom and gloom, nor should it be. If we remain optimistic and raise our expectation then there is a chance that the relationship and interaction between individuals with different views might improve and a way forward could be reached.
Madam President, whilst at times it focuses so much on the differences of opinions we must also draw strength and optimism from our similarities. Sometimes fear is formed from ignorance and lack of understanding. Barriers go up where none are needed. These barriers occur when one is not exposed to other lifestyles and conclusions from innuendo and uncertainty are drawn. Largely it is a matter of education and exposure, and having an opportunity to discuss issues in a non-threatening and relaxed environment. I still play Australian Super Rules Football. It is for old people.
This year there are four Tasmanian teams and we train together once every five weeks in Campbell Town. The players come from all over the state and it is a central place to play a practice game. It is reasonably low key, it is competitive and at the end of the game we head back to the change rooms for a shower and a beer. I do not know a lot of the other players, only by first name and usually a nickname - that happens in football. They are not blokes I have had a lot of conversation with as yet.
However, at the end of training I was showering in the large communal shower with three others under the showers and 10 or so waiting in the same area. It was a great joke, Madam President, when 'Gardy' said as I was shampooing, 'Gaff, what is your view on same-sex marriage?'. My response was, 'Gardy, now is not the time'.
After everyone stopped laughing - it continued for about 10 minutes - I could see many of the players relaxing and talking about the issue and I was pleasantly surprised with their willingness to accept a diversity of views. It was giving them the opportunity to have that discussion. This in no way makes light of the importance of the Same-Sex Marriage Bill but it does try to find some common ground even though people can have different viewpoints. I am also firmly of the belief that we are here for a good time not a long time.
I do not think that some conversations would have occurred 10 years ago. A number of emails and letters that I received have had some concerns about same-sex marriages and as with any couple getting married there is always anxiety, but we should always expect the best. The final key to understanding is one that to me is obvious - if we want a successful, positive and peaceful community it is fundamental that we look for solutions in a peaceful way. We need to decrease the opportunities for violent and harmful responses or reactions. I believe that there is no place in Tasmanian communities and our society for promoting or justifying any form of violence or acrimony.
Now that we have the four building blocks and a community awareness of the five keys for increased understanding including personal awareness and acceptance, our community is ready and better prepared to cope with conflict. When conflict arises within families, neighbourhoods or communities where these structures and common goals are in place, people can search for creative and common ways of resolving that conflict. These issues in turn encourage people to view conflict as an opportunity for growth and to be open to new solutions. Individuals should take time to discuss the issues and the outcomes as a community to ensure that there is an adequate opportunity for reflection.
Individuals who trust in the process and in their leaders are able to accept conflict as part of the community progressing and evolving. Indeed, transforming conflict into positive outcomes reinforces the importance of the time, commitment and effort needed to construct the building blocks. When one identifies that there is mistrust and an eroding of community confidence we need to refocus our energy and commitment to revisit and invest time and effort into re‑establishing a building block or key understanding to re-establish that trust.
My message is not focused on particular individuals, leaders or political parties, it is about the integrity of the underlying principles that are fundamental to our democratic process. Leaders want communities and regions to be safe and successful, for all people to be connected and valued. I think that most Tasmanians would want our state to be alive, dynamic, inviting and able to realise its potential to be attractive to many who come to visit, work and play and wish to marry.
I want Tasmania to be a place that we can continue to be proud of and where we can support an environment for all Tasmanians to contribute in meaningful and productive ways. To lose the trust of our communities is quite debilitating and cancerous and whilst political leaders at certain times do resort to attack mode to prove a point, to embarrass, to cast out - unfounded or not - Tasmania's decision-makers must also appreciate that consistent negativity and misuse of trust is disablising and undermines the very reason we are chosen as leaders. One of my goals is to ensure that people in the Mersey electorate who I represent - and some may disagree with my opinion - will be at the very least secure that they have confidence and trust in my ability to give due consideration and arrive at a just decision.
I hold trust to be a most important asset. I hope that by my past, present and future actions I will provide leadership stability as the Legislative Council member for Mersey.
The debate surrounding same-sex marriage has once again highlighted the vital importance that so many in our community attach to the institution of marriage. From the thousands of pieces of correspondence I have received it has been made abundantly clear that in an age marked by declining levels of attachment to organised religion and greater variation of social norms and values, marriage remains a highly-respected institution that many in our community wish to support and access.
The economic benefits of marriage are obvious. For dual-earning couples, marriage is a partnership that brings with it greater economic certainty. It frequently ensures an additional safety net that can be relied upon before state-funded social security. But more importantly, marriage is an institution that is strongly associated with social acceptance. The act of marriage remains an important way for couples to publicly celebrate and declare their love and commitment to one another. Social acceptance and economic security are universal needs that are facilitated by marriage. I believe that all people regardless of the sexual preference should have the ability to fulfil these human needs.
In my capacity as Legislative Councillor, I have given careful consideration to the many arguments raised by the members of my own electorate of Mersey by those in other parts of the state. I have noted in particular the argument frequently posed by those who oppose same-sex marriage that suggests that a marriage is inherently about children. As a couple of the same sex cannot produce children without outside intervention, a same-sex marriage can never truly be a marriage, so the argument goes. Many letters I received commented on the rights of children and said that marriage represents the best environment for children to be brought up in. By implication this argument suggests that children flourish best with a mother and a father. I find that these child-focused arguments are misleading in two ways.
Firstly, those arguments do not question the legitimacy of heterosexual married couples that do not have children, either as a result of choice or biological incapacity. Secondly, those arguments do not accurately reflect the diversity of modern marriages or the reality that many same-sex couples already act as loving and supportive parents.
This is supported by the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute's 'Adoption of Children by Same-Sex Couples' paper which uses census data from 2001 to show that in Tasmania 547 persons reported living in a same-sex relationship. The paper goes on to state that up to 20 per cent of these couples are likely to be living with children. Although the census data is 11 years old, I would suggest the number of persons living in a same-sex relationship has only increased.
Madam President, the Tasmanian parliament recently passed the Surrogacy Bill - thank God for the upper House - enabling all couples, including same-sex couples to use a surrogate to carry their child. This legislation acknowledged that same-sex couples are capable of raising happy, healthy and safe children. There is evidence to support this.
In 2002 the Australian Journal of Family Law published research that shows no discernible differences in levels of happiness and social adjustment, sexual orientation, satisfaction with life or moral and cognitive development between the children of heterosexual and homosexual parents.
In 2007 the Australian Psychological Society published a paper stating:
Parenting practices and children's outcomes in families parented by lesbian and gay parents are likely to be at least as favourable as those in families of heterosexual parents despite the reality that considerable legal discrimination and inequity remain significant challenges for those families.
Finally, the American Psychological Association published research showing that 'there is no scientific basis for concluding that gay and lesbian parents are any less fit or capable than heterosexual parents or that their children are any less psychologically healthy and well adjusted'.
Furthermore, in Tasmania the Adoption Act of 1988 was amended in 2004 to include gender-specific terms that had previously precluded some same-sex couples from applying to adopt. Under the act couples may adopt if they are married or parties to a significant relationship. The significant relationship includes heterosexual and same-sex couples related to the child. There are other restrictions, however Tasmania recognises same-sex adoption and same-sex surrogacy, not to mention that same-sex couples are able to be foster parents and carers.
If this debate encompasses children's rights, then do we not owe the children the right to grow up in the stable environment that a marriage brings? In light of the evidence, the argument that marriage should remain a bastion for heterosexual couples in order to protect children is reduced. On this, Professor Lee Badgett states:
Overall the experiences of same-sex couples in two countries, the United States and the Netherlands, suggests that same-sex couples and their families are strengthened by a policy of marriage equality for same sex-couples.
Moreover, I suggest that given society's collective belief that marriages strengthen communities and the partnerships of the individuals concerned, it is only logical to accept that children of same-sex couples will benefit from a sense of stability when their parents are able to marry.
As a society we are concerned about the rights of the child and often it is proposed that a married couple provides stability and certainty for children. If we follow through with that concept and line of thought, adopted, surrogate or foster children who have same-sex parents - which is legal - will have greater opportunities and security if those parents can marry.
Or, as a society, are we implying that surrogate, adopted or foster children of same-sex couples do not deserve the same security and care that is afforded to children of heterosexual couples? I cannot believe we would wish a different scenario or outcome for any child other than the best possible environment, merely based on the sexual orientation of both of their parents.
I have heard some honourable members refer to their electorate as 'their patch'. All of us have received many communications from individuals within and outside of our patches. For instance I have received many emails from the east coast. There are obviously many creative, passionate and caring people and they speak highly about their village or town and also their community and their elected parliamentary leaders. They express their desire for same-sex relationships to be equal with that of their heterosexual neighbours and friends. They express the view that has always been expressed and supported by a number of heterosexual couples. They recognise the inequity that currently exists.
Many of the messages suggest that children are not the main game behind the Same‑Sex Marriage Bill. The main aim for same-sex marriage is the right for consenting adults to commit to having a loving, caring and respectful relationship. The right to commit, to feel love and to be loved by a partner, and to look after them in sickness and health. Gays, when finding a soulmate, just want to ask the question, 'Will you marry me?', instead of, 'Would you like to sign a deed of relationship?'.
As a community are we not trying to promote stability, care and togetherness? Why should the right of marriage not be available for each and every adult? Is it really fair to say what they have already is enough? Or, why would they want to get married anyway? Those words come so easily when you have the choice - same-sex couples do not. In fact, as one partner put it:
We work full-time and have done so for our full working life. We pay taxes, we conduct volunteer work and have many friends and family here and we operate a small hobby farm. As far as I am concerned we should have the same rights as any other couple to marry.
The law-making process is never a simple one. As the debate surrounding the Same‑Sex Marriage Bill has demonstrated, it can be one that requires us to take a step into uncharted territory. I have listened and considered the view voiced by some in our community that state-based change for marriage equality is insufficient because it can never deliver true equality. Indeed, it might be right that state-based reform will always be a poorer compromise to reform at the federal level, but this argument is not one that should stop us from at least beginning the process of marriage equality here in Tasmania, especially when a change at the federal level at this stage is unlikely.
In this context, it is also worth bearing in mind that marriage equality tends to be a process that is implemented from the ground up. In Canada and the United States same‑sex marriage legislation has been implemented on a state-by-state basis. Indeed, Australia would be bucking the trend internationally if recognition of same-sex marriage were not commenced at the state level.
Also I wish to comment on the important issue of the constitutionality of the bill. The issue of constitutional validity is one which has weighed heavily in my decision-making process in relation to the Same-Sex Marriage Bill. As legislators we must never abandon our responsibility to act cautiously and to listen to experts. I have listened carefully to the advice of legal experts, including Professor George Williams, who expressed the following thoughts on the matter of constitutional validity:
Constitutional uncertainty is not a good reason to deny passage to state same-sex marriage legislation. Parliaments often pass laws unsure of their status. Otherwise no attempt would have been made to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes or a host of other laws, such as the federal Native Title Act or Racial Discrimination Act.
It is par for the course that the opponents of significant social and economic changes test new laws in the High Court. It is their right to do so and is part of the normal process.
We must remember that no legal expert will ever be able to provide a certain answer as to constitutional legitimacy. I agree with Professor Williams in that. Lack of a certain answer should not and must not hold us back from implementing this reform. There are people in the community, and in parliament, who are assuming this bill will be challenged in the High Court. This is not certain. Honourable members may not be aware that in order to gain standing to support a challenge in the High Court, the applicant must be particularly affected by the disputed law. Given their power over heterosexual marriages the commonwealth can challenge. Beyond the commonwealth's obvious standing, it is difficult to see who could challenge this bill. For instance, legal experts such as Professor George Williams have cast out over whether Christian lobby groups can challenge the law.
In the context of constitutional challenge, it is worth bearing in mind Tasmania's history in Australia's highest court. It was 1983 when our then state government argued its case in the High Court against the commonwealth government's plan to protect the Gordon below Franklin dam, now one of Australia's and the world's most significant environmental sites. In 1997 the Tasmanian state government was again before the High Court, this time as a defendant for upholding discriminatory laws that criminalised homosexual conduct by consenting adults.
As these cases demonstrate, Tasmania has not always been associated with the right side of history. Indeed sometimes, as in 1993, we have openly attempted to frustrate the path towards ensuring equality and access to human rights. The Same-Sex Marriage Bill, which ensures that the right to marriage is extended to all Tasmanians, ultimately reflects the compassionate and caring spirit inherent in our Tasmanian community.
If a constitutional challenge was mounted, this bill with its legislative intent of equality and fairness is one that all Tasmanians could and should feel proud to defend. Furthermore, as a legislator I have no concerns if the bill is challenged. There are several issues regarding marriage and its definition that need to be resolved. If this bill serves to push the issue at the federal level or the High Court clarifies the state's ability to legislate in regard to same-sex marriage, then I am happy to support this bill.
The possibility that the bill may be declared invalid does not change my position. If the possibility of an invalid bill stopped us from legislating, very little reform could be undertaken. The constitutionality of this bill can be heavily debated but this house is not the place for it. No‑one can say outright whether Tasmania will win or lose a High Court challenge. Leadership is about challenging the status quo.
In summary, questions around the constitutional validity, or otherwise, of this bill should not be a determining factor in honourable members' support or otherwise of this bill. Admittedly, only the High Court can answer the questions of this bill's validity. However, genuine concerns about what the High Court's answer may be should not stop us from asking the question in the first place.
Some people argue that this legislation will redefine marriage. Implicit in this argument is the belief that marriage is some immutable institution. It is not. Government defines marriage. The commonwealth defined it in 1961. Prior to this it was in the realms of the state. Government is able to redefine it as it wishes, in order to reflect the majority of society's values which are fluid and ever-changing. Government did not discover marriage - it constructed it.
To provide an example of the fluidity of the term, in the 1700s marriage between a Catholic and an Anglican was not recognised as law. Such a stance would be ludicrous now. Changing this aspect did not lessen the value of marriage and nor will changing marriage to incorporate same-sex couples. Furthermore, protecting the rights of women within marriage, or divorce laws and reproductive control, are all social changes that have influenced the evolution of marriage.
Marriage has changed and evolved over time. It is not static. Extending the opportunity of marriage to all Tasmanians is another positive refinement that will strengthen the institution. It will not weaken it. I reiterate that marriage is not immutably fixed. This does not mean that we start on a slippery slope where people will be able to marry without any societal boundaries. While I cannot predict the future, I trust that future community leaders will legislate with respect to acceptable community values and standards.
This bill has little impact on anyone not in a same-sex relationship. I am sure that 10, 20 or 50 years down the track, not allowing same-sex couples to marry will be viewed in a similar vein as we viewed previous definitions of marriage.
Some weeks ago, I received correspondence from two men in their 70s who have lived in northern Tasmania in a committed relationship for 40 years since the 1970s. We can imagine what they have been through and endured through many challenging times. The strength of their relationship is one that I can only admire. Interestingly, legendary screen actress Elizabeth Taylor had been married eight times to seven husbands, in some cases with prenuptial agreements. However, Ms Taylor's standing in 'society' was, seemingly, more acceptable than the two Tasmanian men who are not able to marry. Similarly, reality television star, Kim Kardashian's 72-day marriage, nor Britney Spears' several failed marriages, nor Tiger Woods' repeated, possibly innumerable, incidences of breaking his wedding vows through infidelity, are not deemed to be causing damage to the institution of marriage.
One does not have to look at celebrities to find examples of behaviour which might indicate a less than healthy respect for the preservation of what is entered into as a contract for life. In our country one in three marriages end in divorce. That means 33 per cent of these life contracts prove to be a semi-permanent arrangement.
I can fully understand why the two elderly Tasmanian gentlemen feel wronged in not being able to get married. It is not fair; it is not just, and I believe it is not the Australian way.
I received many letters that were grounded in religion. I understand the importance of faith, and that fellowship is integral, and plays an important role for many in our community. I also understand and accept that marriage, for a long time was considered the cornerstone of, and synonymous with, religion. However, in modern times, the reality is that civil celebrants conduct 70 per cent of marriages. Faith and value should play an important role in our choices but we must remember that, above all, we are a secular state and religion cannot determine the rights of society.
If I may be blunt, the Marriage Act 1961 and the Family Law Act 1975 are the two pieces of legislation which dictate the conditions for establishing and dissolving legal marriage. Whilst the legal act to performing a marriage may be conducted by a religious institution, the reality is that this is a cultural decision reached by a couple who choose to involve the church and religion in their marriage. There can be no doubt for religious people that a ceremony involving the traditions and blessings of their church is often considered pivotal to their union but this does not make their marriage any more or less legally valid than a civil one. In the unfortunate case of divorce it becomes readily apparent that the dissolution of marriage is not a religious but a legal matter, regardless of whether the marriage was solemnised by civil or religious authority.
It is my understanding that there are concerns in the community and amongst church groups, that legalising same-sex marriage could lead to religious organisations being forced to perform ceremonies for homosexual couples. I can certainly accept, given the interpretation of the Bible on the subject of homosexuality by many churches, that this would be quite alarming.
However, this bill imposes no obligations on religious institutions to solemnise the marriage of same-sex couples. They are free to choose who may marry in their church as they are to decide who may be baptised or receive blessings and they have no obligations to marry same-sex couples. I do not believe that politicians would seek to impose this secular legislation on a religious group, any more than gay activists would disrespect the right of the church to determine which criteria apply for eligibility to partake in religious rites.
I understand the importance of the church and its fellowship within our communities and societies. The church and its leaders find themselves in the unenviable position where, for many, a marriage is between a man and a woman for life, sanctioned by God. Even within the church there are different points of view. A reverend in the Anglican Church wrote to me and suggested:
I do speak as an Anglican Christian and believe that the loving God that is revealed in Jesus Christ is shown in the love of all people. I believe that the Holy Spirit urges us forward to be a community of inclusion, rather than exclusion.
I pray that the debate in Tasmania will be a respectful one where disagreement might occur in a manner which is caring, loving and respectful. I pray for your deliberations on this matter and that your parliament may have the courage to bring about a positive change that will build community, rather than ongoing oppression.
In speaking to the local reverend, who is a friend of mine and whose opinion I greatly respect, he said -
Michael, if we used the analogy that life is like a football game with many struggles and people are battling with other elements and to control the ball, the main aim is for the man and a woman to kick the ball through the goalposts, which signifies the ideals of marriage between a man and a woman. Now the advocates of same sex marriage wish to move the goalpost.
I thought about that for a while because he is a pretty clever reverend, and I understand that a goal for some people might be marriage - a place where a man and woman can grow together and share a life - committed to each other. However, I did respond and passed the comment to him that I do not think that the goalposts have moved. I believe that same-sex marriage increases the size of the playing field, which will allow more people to experience the joy of marriage and achieve their goals and it would not interfere with the other players. It might make for a better and more inclusive game and a more inclusive society.
I return to a recent Tasmanian EMRS poll on same-sex marriage. It is noteworthy that 95 per cent of participants in the 18-24 age bracket support same-sex marriage. It is pleasing to see young people so overwhelmingly in favour of fairness and equality. I received a letter from a young Tasmanian woman saying that young people do not need to accept or come to terms with same-sex equality and they do not need to decide that we want to share our marriage laws with them. We know instinctively that all people, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, should enjoy equality before the law and support from their communities.
It is clear that Tasmania's future lies in good hands. It is a future that we should all look at proudly. Turning back to he EMRS poll, 61 per cent of participants support same-sex marriage. Four of the six age brackets supported same-sex marriage; all regions of Tasmania supported it. In only two demographic groups out of the 33 there was a majority that did not support the same-sex couples' right to marry. There is obvious support for this bill.
One point that should be noted is that while 61 per cent of participants agreed that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, 55 per cent believe that Tasmania should enact its own laws and eight out of 33 demographic groups disagree with Tasmania enacting its own laws allowing same-sex couples to marry.
Whilst consensus is still in favour of Tasmania's same-sex laws, I found the distinction between the two numbers quite illuminating. According to the poll there were some in our community, most notably those aged 55 and over, of whom a majority were not in favour of same-sex marriage. nbsp; It is only natural that we become more conservative as we grow older. Often those in the older age groups have come from more conservative backgrounds than many younger people today. To this group I would like to share an email I received from an elderly man who made the observation that although he had been married to his wife for well over 40 years many elderly couples feel threatened by the ideal of same-sex marriage. He said, 'Old timers are resistant to change and it does not surprise me that many of my friends are against this legislation.'
Sitting suspended from 1.00 p.m. to 2.32 p.m.
Before lunch I was talking about a poll that indicated the majority of those in our community aged 55 and over were not in favour of same-sex marriage. I said it is natural that we become more conservative as we grow older. Older voters have come from more conservative backgrounds than many younger people today.
However, I would like to share an email I received from an elderly man who has been married to his wife for over 40 years. He observed that many elderly couples feel threatened by the idea of same-sex marriage.
Oldtimers are resistant to change and it does not surprise me that many of my friends are against this legislation. Daft buggers, as if it is going to affect them.
It is interesting the view some people have expressed over their ownership of the word 'marriage'. It is pleasing that many feel so strongly about the word and what it means. However my wife and I are quite willing to share that word. Having two women or two men also being able to marry does not mean that Mel and I are less married. Indeed I do not want to give the impression that the majority of the elderly are against same-sex marriage.
I also received this correspondence:
Dear member of the Tasmanian Upper House. I support marriage equality because I want my gay granddaughter to be able to marry her partner. I hope you vote in support of this important reform. Yours sincerely, 87 year old mother of seven, grandmother of eight, and great-grandmother of six.
Some members have expressed concern that a consequence of this legislation might be its impact on education in schools. Madam President, I taught sexuality in Tasmanian high schools and overseas for 17 years, beginning in 1984. What do people think we talk about during that discussion within the classroom? Mr and Mrs Smith, two boys, one girl and a dog called Spot and everyone lives happily ever after? If you are responsible for teaching sexuality education and you are worried about how to discuss same-sex attracted individuals with students, then you should give up teaching sexuality in any school, as you are obviously way out of your depth.
I was very interested in the contrary speech by the member for Nelson on the floor yesterday regarding the urgency motion tabled by the honourable member for Elwick. Whilst Mr Wilkinson commented that he was somewhat unprepared, I felt it was one of his better and more eloquent oratory masterpieces. One of the comments that resonated with me was when he said:
I spoke with a counsellor a couple of weeks ago and he said that there are people who have been considering suicide as a result of what is happening within their forests.
It was of particular interest to me, because on Tuesday morning this week I met with the mother of Nick, a 20-year-old man who came out when he was 17. Nick's parents, Peter and Els love their son very much and are exceptionally supportive of him. His mother said that in a relatively recent Hobart Mardi Gras event they proudly carried a placard demonstrating their love for their son. A photo was taken showing the placard and it appeared in the local paper. Nick, who lives on the mainland, is very proud of that photo and he is the envy of many of his gay friends who do not have any, or have little, family support. Interestingly, Nick's father, Peter, works in the forestry industry. Not long after the photo was published in the paper, one of Peter's forestry mates knocked on the door, walked in, closed the door, and quietly said, 'Peter, can I speak with you. I have a gay son and I do not know what to do'.
It comes as no surprise that there are still so many parents and family members whose first response would be exactly that - 'I do not know what to do'. If this bill is ultimately unsuccessful, at the very least its presentation for debate in both houses and in the media has served to highlight many of the relevant issues and get people talking.
The potential increase in suicidal tendencies of Tasmanians working or previously employed within the forestry industry, as mentioned by the honourable member for Nelson, is alarming and our families, friends and community members are right to be concerned. Similarly we should be concerned about the statistics regarding homosexuals and bisexuals. A paper from the Australian Psychological Society journal in 2007 indicated that homosexual and bisexual people are almost three times as likely to have had suicidal thoughts - 34 per cent versus 12 per cent of heterosexual people. They are five times as likely to have suicidal plans - 17 per cent versus 3 per cent, and four times as likely to have attempted suicide -12 per cent versus 3 per cent.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that these rates, particularly suicidal ideation or suicide attempts, are much higher in rural and remote areas where the effects of social isolation and stigmatisation are often amplified.
If we as leaders have an opportunity to provide equal rights to every adult in our state, why would we choose not to legislate when it is within our power to assist with protection of a small group of men and women who just want to be able to legitimately ask their mate four words - 'Will you marry me?'.
The debate about same-sex marriage has given us all an opportunity to reflect on the fundamental nature of government and leadership. Through this debate I have found myself reflecting on the fundamental characteristics of a good leader and it is through this process of questioning that I have reached the conclusion that the most important and vital quality of a leader is the capacity to see both sides of an argument and to be persuaded to change positions in the interests of justice and fairness. Australia, and our state of Tasmania, has seen this kind of genuine leadership on many occasions.
We only need to reflect on the tragedy of Port Arthur in 1996 that prompted the then prime minister, John Howard, who, barely six months into his first term, and in the face of much community opposition, made the bold decision to implement comprehensive gun law reform in this country. In Tasmania we have also experienced bold decision-making from our leaders. In 2006 Tasmania became the first state in Australia to issue a formal apology to, and establish a designated compensation fund for, members of the stolen generation. While we are not the first state to apologise, Tasmania was the first to do both - that is, to apologise and create a fund.
I would ask the honourable members present to consider whether the decision they are going to make today on the fate of the Same-Sex Marriage Bill reflects those vital characteristics of leadership. Does the decision you are going to make today embody your ability to see both sides of an argument and to make an informed decision in the interests of fairness and justice, even if it is not in line with your original position?
This debate has not only stirred up questions about the characteristics of good leadership, it has led us to question the role of our government institutions, including the Legislative Council. I have heard the same catchcry and I am sure that we have all experienced it at one time or another - that the Legislative Council is a retirement home for mayors. Or as some would put it - inaccurately of course - that it is the ancient history section of the museum of Tasmania and we are the dinosaurs.
If we are dinosaurs, then we may be from different periods. I will allow members to assess whether they are from the Triassic, Jurassic or Cretaceous periods - a time span of over 100 million years. Of course, Madam President, you may absolve yourself from that decision. In the case of Legislative Councillors perhaps the time span is symbolic of generational differences.
Whilst I am sure we believe these sentiments are misguided, they should prompt us to think about the public perception of the Legislative Council, especially when we are confronted with issues of social significance such as same-sex marriage. The truth is that whilst the Legislative Council plays a vital role as a check and balance on the actions of the lower House and indeed as an important initiator and regulator of legislation, as was evidenced in the much improved surrogacy bill, this institution has not always kept pace with changing times. Indeed, the Legislative Council for many years obstructed change such as the deregulation of shop trading hours, a move that few now would argue was not in Tasmania's best economic interests. I have already mentioned it was the Legislative Council's decision not to remove discriminatory provisions of the Tasmanian Criminal Code which criminalised homosexual conduct between consenting adults which led to the successful challenge in the High Court in Croome v Tasmania.
I believe, as I am sure the rest of honourable members present would agree, the Legislative Council is a relevant and vital part of the system of government in Tasmania. The examples of inaction on the part of the Legislative Council which I have highlighted only serve to remind us all that we need to make certain that when an important social issue arises, even it is a controversial one, we, as Legislative Councillors, consider our role in ensuring that the law moves with the times. It is through this reasoning process that we remind all Tasmanians, particularly in an era of tough financial times and increased public accountability, that the Legislative Council is vital and relevant. As councillors and community leaders, I believe it is incumbent on us to recognise that community perspectives do change over time. In our role as legislators, we must be ready to respond to changes in community views when the opportunity arises.
In the context of the debate surrounding same-sex marriage, I had cause to reflect on how different life really is for young people growing up in today's society than it was for me when I was a young adult. Young people today are now far more accepting and aware of the diversity in all its forms than ever before. With the benefit of migration, a changing Tasmanian economy and a greater opportunity for interaction with the international community through the rise of information technology, the Tasmanian community is not only far more diverse than ever before, we are more able to access and experience the breadth of human experience from across the world. Our young people, with their ready access to technology and tech-savvy ways are in fact at the forefront of this rapid process of globalisation. Their world views are adapting accordingly.
Our future leaders, indeed our future Legislative Councillors are now far more accepting of sexual diversity because they experience its diversity through social media, television and even through the school curriculum. The vast majority of health curriculums for young people now directly address the reality that sexual experience and emotional feelings are not the same for everyone. Indeed, we are now fortunate to live in a time when, for the most part, our young people are being told from an early age that it is okay to be gay. Why should our policy making not reflect what our young people and our future leaders are being taught in our schools? Our young people may well ask why our laws on marriage deliberately exclude a love that they are taught is as valid and as worthy as the love between a man and a woman.
As we have heard from honourable members today, the issue of same-sex marriage is a deeply personal one. It is for this reason that I firmly believe that the issue of same‑sex marriage is one which requires a conscience vote from all members. I say this because same-sex marriage is not a political issue. To the honourable members present who feel bound to toe a party line on this bill, I would urge you to remember that this is not left versus right or a progressive versus conservative issue or indeed a minority versus mainstream issue.
Fundamentally, this bill is about equality and the freedom to love. It is about saying that whom we love is a matter of choice and that our choice to commit to one person to the exclusion of all others is one that the state of Tasmania will legally recognise.
In calling for all honourable members to act on their own conscience, I would like to reflect briefly on the very personal nature of this bill. The fact is discrimination against gay and lesbian people affects us all. For those who openly identify as gay or lesbian, the law as it stands says to the Tasmanian GLBTI community that their love is less worthy, less equal and less respected than the love shared by heterosexual people. It says to the GLBTI community loud and clear that in our society they do not have the right to marry the person they love.
Some of us will have a close and personal connection to this issue. For others, the connection will be less personal but let us remember that the legal discrimination against gay and lesbian people affects all of us, including those outside the gay and lesbian community, for as long as this discrimination remains there will always be a parent, a brother, a cousin, a friend or a colleague who must live with the reality that someone that they care for very deeply does not have the same rights before the law to celebrate and declare their love.
Honourable members, our young people are right and perhaps much more closely connected to what is happening in the world around them than we were when we were growing up. There is hardly a reality show or dramatic series or comedy on TV that does not include people who live and contribute to our community whilst comfortable in having a different lifestyle. Young people today are quite resilient and more accepting of different lifestyles. It is time that we allow same-sex marriage to be part of our social landscape and not to alienate from it.
Again, to those of you who still remain undecided on this issue or who are inwardly battling against a sense of compulsion to toe a party line, I say to you, for every email, letter or text message you were sent on the issue of same-sex marriage, stop and reflect for a moment on the ones that never reached you - the ones that could have been sent but weren't because of the sense of personal shame, embarrassment or community prejudice, such as the email from the 15-year-old boy who is struggling with his own sense of identity in a community where it is just not acceptable to tell your parents, your friends or even your teachers that you think your feelings might be different from other people's. These people, young and old, live in our electorates. They may not be vocal but they are there. This bill sends a public message to them that their feelings are okay, they are valued and that in Tasmania we recognise that love comes in all different shapes and sizes. We must never underestimate the power of this bill to reach out to those who may be questioning their identity.
Quite simply, the issue of same-sex marriage and marriage equality is and always has been beyond politics. I urge the honourable members present to vote with their conscience on this bill in the knowledge that it is not a political issue, it is a personal one. Further, we must remember that the reform we make today, if this bill is passed, will be historic and have an immediate and long-lasting impact on the Tasmanian community.
I urge those of you who remain undecided on how to vote today to consider this: even if Tasmania decides to bury its head in the sand for a few more years and pretend that this issue is not one that should be acted upon now, change is coming. Even if we vote this bill down, even if we do nothing and the discrimination against gay and lesbian people, the issue of marriage equality will not go away. Canberra is alive to the issue of marriage equality, the states are alive to the issue of marriage equality and, most importantly, the Australian public is alive to the issue of marriage equality.
If Tasmania does not move now it will be another state who will take the first step. Tonight members of the GLBTI community in Tasmania will return home from work to their partners, to their families, to their children to wait again for a change that is only inevitable. Why not make that change today and in this place? The great teacher, reformer and leader, Dr Martin Luther King, once said that the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
This debate has reminded me again of the heavy burden and responsibility that I and all of us bear as legislators to make decisions that are informed and just. Speaking personally, I have been told by some my constituents that they will not vote for me again as their Legislative Council member if I vote in favour of this bill. I have listened to them and I genuinely thank them for their participation in the debate and taking their time to share their views with me, but ultimately as a parliamentarian I must have the ability to both listen to the views of my constituents and to make decisions that are fair and promote equality and ultimately leave a better Tasmania for our children and our children's children.
My length of service in this chamber is not anywhere as important in my lifetime as the need for me to remain true to myself, my values and my principles. I support the same-sex marriage bill, not because it is the easy decision, but because I believe it is fundamentally the right decision. I urge the honourable members present to vote with the courage of their own convictions and support the Same-Sex Marriage Bill today because if we do not vote for this change in this place today, it will be for another parliament in another state to take the inevitable first step for marriage equality tomorrow.
If anyone still believes that Tasmania is the poor, inward-looking cousin of the mainland states, this bill will change their mind. If anyone still thinks that Tasmania is an inequitable place incapable of change, this bill will change their mind. If anyone doubts the compassion and fairness of the Tasmanian people then let this bill serve as a reminder to people of where we have come from and that Tasmanians are the leaders of the nation when it comes to building a fair and just community, which welcomes people of all backgrounds and persuasions.
Madam President, that was my initial attempt at putting on record my thoughts regarding the Same-Sex Marriage Bill. I understand there will be those in my electorate who believe that my vote does not reflect their point of view. I can live with that and I can also live with the differing opinions surrounding the issues generated by this bill. For the record, I could nothold my head up if I did not think I could make one last plea for the honourable members in this House to rethink and reassess their decision.
Good leaders have the capacity and fortitude and strength of character to change their mind. I am by nature quite a calm person. I tend to remain reasonably level headed, and I rarely expose my friends and family to any uncontrolled behaviour. However, every now and then, as in the surrogacy bill, emotions will surface that I find difficult to explain. Last night after we closed in this place I actually felt anger, and it was a secondary emotion. I tried to work out what was its motivator.
To explain to the honourable members what I mean by a secondary emotion, if you stub your big toe and you feel pain you can then choose how to respond. Some people get immediately angry with being so stupid, some will grab their toe and hop around and laugh, waiting for the pain to go away, some will hold their breath, reasoning with themselves that the pain will go away, while other people will choose to sit down and cry. Why did I feel angry after last night's session?
I thought to myself it is late, I am tired, I have not eaten much and like everybody else in this chamber I have been in the long hours and I feel completely drained. But that is not unusual. Anger is not something I experience very often. It is not familiar space I frequent or like to be in. Then it became clear to me. I was so disappointed by what occurred in the chamber yesterday and last night that my response to that feeling was one of anger. Once I recognised the source of that frustration it did not take me long to pull it apart and determine the reasons behind it.
My disappointment stems from the following. I am not certain if we all attended the same briefings yesterday. My recollection of the morning was the arrival of every member of every affiliated church group known to mankind meeting in committee room 1. From where I was sitting down the end of the table I could see the light, hear the trumpets and heralds singing; all was well with the world.
Then a reality check - the lead spokesperson of the congregation said 'blah blah blah' and 'marriage is all about protecting the rights of children'. What? I looked at the bill in front of me to check I had the right bill. It was the Same-Sex Marriage Bill and it was referring to marriage and the bringing together of two consenting adults.
When I asked my wife 23 years ago if she would marry me, whilst waiting for the answer somewhat nervously I did not have a second question up my sleeve like how many children she wanted because marriage is all about children. What nonsense!
Most people in my world ask someone to share their life forever, committed in marriage. Some choose to include God in that arrangement, but it is shown by the statistics the majority of people in this country do not. People get married, they interact, they learn to live with one another, they work together to create trust, understanding and draw comfort from that commitment.
Married adults gain strength and security from each other in providing each with a safe place. They may look at renting or building a home, buying a dog, caging a budgie and feeding a goldfish so they can work at all arrangements to fulfil those roles and perhaps if they all live happily and there is enough money coming in they discuss the prospect or possibility of having children.
For the record, Madam President, I do not think anyone seriously cares if the goldfish floats to the top - win some, lose some. However, marriage is not about children, it is about adults. When that relationship is solid and the foundation is strong then children may or may not result and they will benefit from that relationship and institution of marriage.
I appreciate, however, that there are many who find solace and comfort in religion and accept that the definition of marriage is between a man and a woman for life and that that is the most appropriate way for children to come into the world, in a stable and loving family environment. That is fine and wonderful for those people who choose to travel that path. They are able to do so.
I also acknowledge that there are those in the heterosexual non-religious world who do not like to share the word 'marriage' with poofters, gays, lesbos and dykes and you are also entitled to your opinion and you are allowed to marry. But I do not confuse the act of marriage with the role of parenthood.
Many people choose not to be parents and yet their marriage is still important and still relevant. We should recognise the importance of the worth of married people in our community who do not choose or cannot for a number of reasons have children. We should also recognise the importance of the single parents, the grandparents, the divorced, the gay couples and extended families who love their children and all contribute greatly in the raising and protecting the rights of their child or caring for foster children.
I know in my heart that the direction we are going in and the decision we are making collectively in this chamber at this time is not the right one. I know that in my heart and gut that we are not fulfilling what we as legislators have the opportunity to do. We can make this right. We only need eight leaders in this place to bring joy and hope to hundreds of long-term, same-sex couples in Tasmania and perhaps thousands across Australia.
Yesterday we also had representations from the pro same-sex group. The first relay change included longstanding and respected advocates of the GLBTI community supported by a pre-eminent constitutional lawyer. For the record, I find his understanding and appreciation of the constitutional situation more enlightening and precise than others that have been rolled out recently. It included Family Law Court and mental health experts and experienced marriage celebrants.
For me, where the rubber hit the road yesterday was the five presentations from people who are community members. These are also the people we represent. These are the individuals who, from day to day, live, work and play in our very community. People who are part of the GLBTI community are part of our social fabric. They weave their lives in and around mine and yours. While some have the confidence to identify as same-sex attracted, perhaps a greater number choose not to identify, for a number of reasons.
We have all received emails from those who at least had the courage to voice their opinion and support the Same-Sex Marriage Bill, gay or straight.
The five presentations across the board were very important to this bill. One young lady spoke eloquently about losing her 19-year-old gay brother to suicide because he could no longer cope in this world on the north-west coast of Tasmania. The lady's partner, a young man, spoke about the imminent death of one of two significant mothers in his life. He spoke so passionately about his wonderful upbringing and family life. They will not have the right to be married before one of them dies. He said he was the product of great parents. He was not the product of great gay parents; he was the product of great parents.
One courageous young man does not want his relationship to be second best. He wants to marry his best friend and soulmate and he wants the same equal rights as many others in that community. His has not been an easy lot but I detected no bitterness in his voice, only hope and courage for a better future and a better Tasmania.
One mum spoke about her 29-year-old gay son who also needed to move to the mainland. She firmly believed that marriage has a way of pulling families together to make them, and ultimately society, stronger, to break down the misconception in intolerance. The love for her gay son and straight daughter was obvious and a commitment to her family was palpable. She reminded me of my mum in a very nice way. The mother hen will do all she can to protect her brood.
There was the north-west coast farmer who raised all four children with his wife; he raised them the same; he has good Christian values and it happens that one son is gay. How proud I was to be a person from the north-west coast. There is a family who had their priorities right. There is a family, through thick or thin, that is doing what I believe families should do. They love, unconditionally, their children and each other. That is their reality and they want the best for their children.
I always thought that I was in this place to help pass legislation to assist and provide guidance for society to support people in achieving their dreams and to create a level playing field. But, instead, we hide behind statements like 'let's focus on other important things like forestry, mining, fishing and trawlers'. Those issues are important but they come and go and they will continue to go on and on.
I refer back to the analogy of birds: Tasmania can play a lead role; one where the smallest bird in the flock can fly to the front of the V to lead and let the rest of the states and territories follow until we get tired. Now it is our time in Tasmania to lead. These people are tired, they are exhausted and they are oppressed. On the other side I feel people who are exuberant and happy because it looks as though they have won the fight for another day.
No healing in communities is happening in this state today. If we could only get the church to loose their stranglehold on the word 'marriage' and not continue to drive a larger wedge between the haves and the have-nots, and those who have a right to marry and those who cannot. Maybe we could hide behind a referendum, but as if that is going to happen and as if it is going to pass. Maybe we could hide behind the argument that we cannot possibly afford a challenge in the High Court because it might cost us, and besides, we need to have enough money so that we can put Hawthorn Football Club on the football field for the next three years. That is where we get our political punch.
I ask the members what price we place on human rights and equality. If we truly believe in social inclusion, and not only say it because it looks good on paper, then why are we not supporting this bill? Or we can fall back on the old favourite against social change: the time is not right, we need to wait a bit longer. Wait for what? Someone else to lead, someone else to take the pressure and while we wait and wait, how many other young people do we lose to the mainland and how many other members of our disenfranchised will take their lives because we do not have the courage to stand our ground and fight for what is right? I am disappointed as an elected leader of this state. I am so ashamed of the lack of regard we have exhibited in this debate for our fellow Tasmanians. I feel as though we have missed the chance to right a wrong.
I can only apologise, once again, to you whose lifestyle choices are not treated justly and who are denied the right to marry. Once again you are affirmed as not equal here or not accepted on the same level as your parents, your neighbours, or your friends.
I feel that what we are doing today, is confirming that you are not allowed to play in the heterosexual space; you are not worthy of marriage. Those comments make me feel ill. Perhaps we are dinosaurs. Yet to give you hope, ice ages come and go and with climate change, you never know, it could be sooner than later.
In closing, I hope that somewhere, in another place in Australia, there are leaders who are more relevant, more concerned and more caring.
I am truly sorry.
Applause from the gallery.
Madam PRESIDENT - Order. I remind members of the public that this is not a show. It is not for the audience to participate and I ask you to refrain, as you have done wonderfully over the last 24 hours. I expect the same courtesy to be delivered to every member of this House.