It is with great pride that I present the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012 and the explanatory memorandum. Today is the eve of Valentine's Day-a big day for love in the Australian parliament. We have here the first equal marriage bill ever to be introduced in this chamber.
Last year, I successfully moved a motion calling on parliamentarians to consult their community about their views on marriage equality. We did that so that it could be understood in this place that outside views have moved on and that people in Australia want to see equality in our marriage laws. At the time I said:
Love knows no boundaries.
Love knows no limits.
And love knows when it has found its partner.
There have been many attempts through history to limit love. All have failed.
As we move further into the 21st century, I am confident that attempts to limit love will fail again and that full marriage equality will become a reality.
Today we are moving closer to that reality. This is an historic day for this parliament and the country. It is an important step forward for human rights. Today is a good day for those who believe in the power of love and the power of love to change things for the better.
This bill will amend the Marriage Act to provide equality for same-sex couples. The bill would remove discrimination under the Marriage Act so that marriage, while still a union between two consenting adults, is not defined by gender.
I want to be clear about what this bill does and does not do. This bill does apply to all marriages but it will also make clear that private religious organisations will not be required to marry anyone they do not wish to. This will mean that those churches or religious organisations that are not yet ready to change will be able to move towards change in their own time and in their own way.
The Greens have worked long and hard to get us to the point that we are at now on the road to marriage equality. In 2009 my colleague Senator Sarah Hanson-Young introduced a similar bill into the Senate and it was sent to a Senate inquiry. That inquiry smashed Senate records, receiving more than 25,000 submissions, more than any other Senate inquiry ever has. It was clear that there was enormous community interest in the issue. In early 2010, the bill was put to a vote and defeated, but Senator Hanson-Young and the Greens vowed to keep campaigning for full equality, and that is what we have done.
As the campaign in the community has grown, we have kept the issue on the parliamentary and political agenda. The issue was a central concern in my successful election campaign in Melbourne. I think I was perhaps the only lower house candidate in the country elected on a platform where the issue was so central. During the campaign and subsequently I have had strong feedback and almost universal support for the Greens' stance on marriage equality. I have received several thousand emails on the issue and over nine in 10 have expressed support for marriage equality. In a survey that I conducted in my electorate of Melbourne in November of the year before last, marriage equality was one of the top priority issues for respondents and, of the 475 people who responded to the survey, only one respondent expressed opposition to equal marriage rights.
One of my first actions in parliament was to move a motion on the issue, and Senator Hanson-Young reintroduced her bill into the Senate. It is now subject to a Senate inquiry. Over the last two years we have become part of a widespread and deeply felt community campaign across this country, and opinion polls show clearly that Australia is ready for change. I am confident that it will not be long before marriage equality is achieved, because love builds bridges where there are none. Love thaws hearts and warms minds. Love is a powerful force for good and a force for change. I believe that it is love that has brought us to this place in this debate and it is love that will carry us over the threshold of discrimination and fear to full marriage equality.
It is important to know that the push for equal love is not just important for those who want to get married. It sends a powerful message to the boy in the country town struggling with his sexuality or the girl at high school who wants to take her partner to the school formal. It makes it clear to them, to their parents and to everyone around them that this parliament, the highest law-making body in the country, believes that their love is equal.
I note that another member also intends to introduce a bill into the House today on this matter. I have been asked a number of times about why there is not just one bill on the issue. I want to be absolutely clear that I and the Greens would like to see one single bill proceed through this place on this issue co-sponsored by members across the political spectrum. In fact, when I announced last year that I intended to introduce this bill, I sought co-sponsorship. And so Mr Wilkie, the Independent member for Denison, and I are co-sponsoring this bill. The recent addition of people to this debate who have not been following it for some time is welcome because the way that we are going to get this bill through this parliament is by changing people's minds.
What we cannot do is seek to have any one party own this issue because, with the government and Labor divided on the issue, we will need members of goodwill from the coalition benches to get this through. That is why, if we are to have a successful chance at reform this year, we must proceed softly and carefully and aim to work together with members from all sides of the House, from all backgrounds. The worst thing we could do is bowl this up for a vote to make a political point only to have it defeated. I am hopeful that through that cooperation, through co-sponsorship from members from all across the chamber, we will progress the issue and we will see reform this year.
I am also concerned that, if we bowl it up for a vote prematurely, we may end up with the situation which some media reports have suggested and that is a vote that fails and then a renewed push for civil unions. Let us be absolutely clear about the status of civil unions. They would entrench two tiers of citizenship in this country. We need to push for full equality.
I know there are many in the coalition who believe that an individual should have the right to do what they like in their private life so long as it does not impinge on someone else. That classic definition of liberalism should lead members of the coalition to support this bill, and I know there are many who already in their hearts wish to support it. We need to allow the Senate inquiry to continue and we need to allay some of the fears that exist about this issue. By doing that, it is my hope that over the coming months we will get more and more people on board.
Last week members of the Washington state legislator, Republicans and Democrats, did exactly what we need to do in this House. They worked together to overcome partisanship and party allegiance to pass a law for marriage equality. If they can do it we can do it too. It is not just there: many countries around the world have taken this step. If Catholic Spain can allow two people of the same sex to marry each other then I am confident that modern, tolerant, democratic Australia can do the same.
There have been times throughout history when the civil rights of a group of people have been violated, often with legal sanction. Many of those struggles continue. The struggle to end discrimination and for full equality did not begin with marriage equality and it will not end when it is achieved, but it is an important turning point for that struggle.
Last year I referred in this place to the famous aphorism 'Love conquers all,' and I think we are showing the truth of that statement today. Love has brought us here and love will bring us through this impasse, because I believe the power of love will eventually bring this parliament into the 21st century, when we vote to make this bill law. I commend the bill to the House.
Bill read a first time.