Same-Sex Marriage

19 October 2011

 

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:22): I move:

That this council—

1 . Supports same-sex marriage equality; and

2. Calls on the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia to amend the Commonwealth Marriage Act 1961 to provide for same-sex marriage equality.

This motion is quite a simple one: it calls upon this council to support same-sex marriage equality and upon the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia to amend the Marriage Act 1961 to provide for this to happen. It has followed in the footsteps of a similar motion that has recently passed one of the houses of the Tasmanian parliament. There, the Labor government, in coalition with the Greens, has in fact passed such an in-principle motion in favour of same-sex marriage, preferably at a commonwealth level.

This has been a historic step in what I imagine all members would understand to be quite a pressing issue of the current political scene. I note there that the Liberal opposition has actually moved as a bloc to oppose gay marriage, and I would hope that here that will not happen. I certainly imagine that it would be a good step of leadership to allow for a conscience vote on this issue, but I will get back to that later.

It is obviously going to be a very hot topic later on this year as the December national ALP conference debates this issue. As we saw last year, the state ALP conference certainly moved to support marriage equality—a very fine thing, I think, particularly as our state has such a proud history of having been the first state to decriminalise homosexuality. It is ironic (perhaps in Alanis Morissette’s version of the use of that word) that it is Tasmania that is now leading the way, given its more recent history in enabling the human rights of those who are same-sex attracted and gender diverse. I am happy for Tasmania to lead the way, but I would love to see South Australia take a place in that leadership role.

When the Tasmanian parliament debated this, Greens minister McKim did note that there are in fact economic benefits potentially coming to Tasmania because they have in fact indicated that they are prepared to go it alone if, at a commonwealth level, moves for marriage equality do fail. I do believe they will be revisiting this issue. They have certainly had a committee of inquiry and seem to be taking it quite seriously. While he says it is not the only reason to do it, he estimates that there might be about a $100 million economic boost to that state if they in fact did go it alone, in terms of the weddings and the wedding industry and the tourism that would be brought to that state.

However, there are actually much better reasons than simply a financial windfall in tourism and a boost to our economy, and they are put best in the words of South Australians themselves who would be directly affected should our state be part of a move to see commonwealth marriage equality. In words taken from The Potential Wedding Album, which is online, of real South Australians telling real stories, Martine and Zana who live in Adelaide say:

When I moved countries to be with the love of my life , I gave up my right to marry her. My religious home country (Norway), legalised same-sex marriage last year and society as we know it , never came to an end. What are you afraid of?

Holley and Lani, also from Adelaide, say:

Our celebrant read …’ Marriage is a supreme sharing of all of life’s intimate moments and one of the most significant decisions two people can make—to share the hopes and dreams and to build their future together based on true friendship, love, honesty and respect. Today in the presence of you all—their dearest family and friends—Holley and Lani are publicly expressing their love for each other and celebrating their physical emotion and spiritual bond.’ Our love doesn’t discriminate, so why does our government?

 

They had a celebration of love ceremony on 16 October 2010 where over 100 of their supportive family and friends gathered to celebrate that love and commitment that Holley and Lani have for each other. The celebrant read:

Sadly, the love that is shared between two women is not yet legally recognised in Australia, despite the fact that there are many thinking people who passionately believe that everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, has the right to publicly proclaim their love for one another and, if they wish, to commit themselves to each other in marriage.

Under the heading, ‘Philip and Hugh, Prospect, SA’, the entry says:

Philip and Hugh of Prospect have been together for 26 years. Behind them lived Lorna and Tycho. Lorna and Tycho were allowed to get married in Australia because they were a man and woman in love. Tycho became old and sick and Lorna could do everything for him. Philip and Hugh are not allowed to get married because they are 2 men in love. They worry what will happen if one gets sick. They have had to get enduring powers of attorney and guardianship for each other to provide some degree of protection. Neither Philip and Hugh , nor their neighbours understand why any government should oblige some of its citizens to have to do this.

Ian and Stephen from Unley in South Australia were actually married in Montreal in 2006. Ian says:

In 2005, on Australia Day, I was made a Member of the Order of Australia for community services —so I’ m recognised as an outstanding citizen . But I’ m also a second class citizen because I can’t do what a heterosexual m a n can do if he wishes.

Stephen adds that it is really a shame because their families and friends would have loved to have been with them, but that couple was forced to go overseas to get married. Zack and Shannon, also from Adelaide, say:

I ‘m [ a female to male ] transgender and despite being able to legally marry my [ girlfriend ] in 2 years once I get the paperwork done, if we could get married now while I was still legally a female that would be the best thing ever.

Imogen and Paige from Somerton Park say:

I ha ve loved Paige from the moment I set eyes on her nine years ago. We are fortunate enough to have a supportive and loving network of family and friends who all demand the recognition for our love which they have for theirs. I want to ask Paige to marry me, not ‘ civil union me ‘ , no r ‘ commitment ceremony me ‘ . Can it be degenerate in nature if nature inspires it in us … ?

Finally, Jason and Jeff of Adelaide simply say, ‘Love doesn’t discriminate and neither should the law,’ yet here we are as lawmakers in a position where we can take action now to ensure that the law does not discriminate against consenting adult couples who want to get married.

I would add at this point that nobody needs to get married if they do not want to. People will always have the choice not to marry each other; they can always choose to have whatever relationships they want to. But there are some people for whom the dream is to get married, and many Australians have taken to the streets in support of this very simple demand. Last year, in fact, was marked as the National Year of Action for Same-Sex Marriage, and I would say that that year has been an absolute turning point in bringing this debate to the fore.

I do congratulate those many thousands of people who have taken to the streets and those many thousands of people who have participated in the inquiry into Senator Sarah Hanson-Young’s bill in the Senate, both the previous incarnation and the current incarnation of that bill. The momentum for this bill is growing and, of course, this motion here today does pay some mind to the fact that that bill sits on the Notice Paper of our Senate.

The momentum is growing and the polls are growing in support. We have seen that the majority of Australians want to see same-sex marriage legalised in Australia. They do not want to see people discriminated against any longer. In fact, most people—probably all of us in this place—do not understand why we are still debating it.

We think that it is possibly a no-brainer and that we could, in fact, see a conscience vote in our federal parliament and have this debate out in the open, where it should be. Then all of the time and effort that people believe is being paid to this issue that should not be, those people could be happy because, if they allowed for a conscience vote at a federal level—if the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition simply allowed a conscience vote—the cards would fall where they may, but we would know what our parliament thought of this issue in reality, with their conscience—I would hope that their conscience would reflect the conscience of most Australians, but, of course, there is no guarantee of that.

However, the idea that consenting adults should celebrate love and commitment is such a simple principle, yet it is so controversial. What I do not understand is how removing discrimination can be controversial. We hear the same old historical arguments trotted out, that this would somehow diminish marriage as we see it and that somehow marriage is a fixed point in our culture that has never changed. Of course, that is not true, otherwise we would never see divorces in this day and age, and we would see arranged marriages in some cultures perpetuated, which I am pleased to say do not happen as much as they used to.

The history of marriage is somewhat interesting. For those who are interested in the religious arguments about marriage being a religious institution, I have been most intrigued to discover that St Sergius and St Bacchus, who were seventh century icons of the Christian religion and officers of the Roman Army in Syria, were tortured to death for their refusal to worship Roman gods because they were good Christians. Bacchus is thought to have died from severe torture, whilst Sergius suffered the initial torture and was then later beheaded. They were the protectors of the Byzantine army, with a feast day of l7 October—just this past week gone.

Yale historian John Boswell considers the saints to be an example of an early Christian same-sex union, reflective of those tolerant early Christians’ attitudes towards homosexuality. He bases this on the icon depicting what some claim is a religious wedding, with Jesus as the best man, in the still surviving writings of artworks that are available.Obviously I cannot table an artwork here today, but I will describe that St Sergius and St Bacchus are here and they certainly do seem to be being united and with Jesus overlooking them.The pairing of the saints, particularly in the early church, apparently was not an unusual thing. The association of these two men in fact was understood to be quite close, and in fact Severus of Antioch in the sixth century explained that we should not separate in speech (that is, Sergius and Bacchus) who were joined in life. More bluntly, in 10th century Greek accounts of their lives, St Sergius is openly described as ‘sweet companion and lover of St Bacchus’. In other words, this confirms what the earlier icon that I described before implies; that is, they were a homosexual couple who enjoyed a celebrated gay marriage.

Their orientation and relationship was openly accepted by earlier Christian writers. Furthermore, in an image that to some modern Christian eyes might border on blasphemy, the icon has Christ himself as their pronubus, their best man, overseeing their gay marriage. Professor John Boswell’s discovery at first was seen to be somewhat incredible, but he has certainly done his homework here, and he states that, contrary to myth, Christianity’s concept of marriage has not been set in stone since the days of Christ; it has in fact evolved as a concept and a ritual.

The ceremonies that Professor Boswell describes have all the contemporary symbols of what we consider to be a current day marriage: a community was gathered in the church, a blessing of the couple was undertaken before the altar, their right hands were joined as in a heterosexual marriage, they had the participation of a priest, they had the taking of the Eucharist, and they had a wedding banquet afterwards, and no doubt a few drinks were consumed at that wedding banquet.

The Hon. M. PARNELL: Not Bacchus.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: Not Bacchus, no. There are many other examples that have been noted. I am getting a lot of this information from a particular paper done by a Yale PhD candidate, so I acknowledge that and hopefully I will find the name of it in a second.

Another example from that particular paper notes that in the 18th century there is a woman-to-woman union recorded in Dalmatia, and certainly they go on and on. There are quite a few examples throughout history and in the Christian religion itself. I did find interesting that it certainly was not their sexual preference that saw Sergius and Bacchus meet an untimely fate, but it was in fact their religion.

On that, when we bring up contemporary Christian religion in this country, certainly we should not assume that all Christians oppose same-sex marriage. In the overwhelming number of responses that were received to Senator Sarah Hanson-Young’s bill when it went to committee, I have noted two particular religious groups: one, the Metropolitan Community Church of Brisbane made a statement that:

The Metropolitan Community Church has preached a three-pronged gospel of salvation, community and social justice for 40 years and has worked together to make a real world of justice and equality…We have celebrated more than 6,000 same sex and opposite sex weddings around the globe every year…We celebrate with our sisters and brothers who have already won the right to marry and/or have civil partnerships…Marriage equality is a civil rights and justice issue…Most religions have their own requirements for entering into a valid marriage…The Metropolitan Community Church believes that any person who wishes to enter into a civil marriage should have the right to do so…Religious communities should have the right to decide whether or not it will provide religious services to sancti f y that marriage…We will use our religious voice and our churches to both promote and provide religious services and blessings for lesbian and gay couples who wish to sancti f y their relationship before God…We will use our resources to speak out against the voices that would seek to demonise homosexuality and who are opposed to equal rights for same gender couples and full marriage equality…

 Another group who made a submission, who certainly believed that the prohibition on same-sex marriage in this country is an affront to their religion, was the Canberra Quakers. They say in their submission:

On 15 April 2007, Canberra Quakers celebrated the first same sex marriage in an Australian Quaker Meeting (Church). The wedding was like any other—a joyful occasion that brought together family, friends and community to affirm the loving and committed relationship of a couple who wished to spend their lives together.

Before the wedding, the Canberra Quaker Meeting supported the couple through the process of discernment about their desire to get married, as we do for any couple contemplating marriage . This discernment provided not only an opportunity for them to give deep consideration to the joys and responsibilities of marriage, but was also an opportunity for our Meeting to explore the meaning of marriage today.

Since our 17 th Century beginnings, Quakers have recognised marriage as a religious or spiritual commitment as well as a legal relationship. We have also been moved by a strong sense of the equality of all people. Our ‘testimony to equality’ inspired the first Quakers to recognise the equal place of women in spiritual and secular life. It has also inspired Quakers through history to work for the abolition of slavery, racism, religious intolerance and other forms of discrimination that deny every person’s inherent dignity.

The request to celebrate the 2007 marriage was the first we had received from a same sex couple. In considering the request, we recognised that to deny recognition of their committed relationship as a marriage would be inconsistent with our principle of the equality of all people. We decided to celebrate the marriage knowing that it would not be legally recognised.

The lack of legal recognition was not something we chose willingly. If the option had been available, the couple would have sought legal recognition, and we would have fulfilled the requirements for this to happen. It is a source of ongoing disappointment and disquiet to many Quakers that Australian law, i.e. the Marriage Act 1961, requires us to bring inequality and discrimination into our places of worship. Some heterosexual Quaker couples have, in fact, chosen to forgo legal recognition of their relationships because such recognition is not available to Quakers in same sex relationships.

For Australian law to permit us a truly free exercise of religion, it would need to allow us to celebrate same sex marriages exactly as we celebrate heterosexual marriages—including supporting same sex couples through the process of receiving full and equal legal recognition of their marriages.

Quakers across Australia are committed to end discrimination against [gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex] people. We note, also, that Quakers overseas celebrate same sex marriages. Most recently, on 31 July 2009, British Quakers affirmed their commitment to equality with a decision to recognise and celebrate same sex marriages in exactly the same way as for heterosexual couples, including seeking legal recognition. The continuing lack of legal recognition in Australia will increasingly present unnecessary complications for Quakers (and others) moving to Australia from jurisdictions where legal recognition is available.

It goes on to say that Canberra Quakers fully support the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2009, as it was then, and urge the Senate and the House of Reps to enact it as soon as possible. It states:

Canberra Quakers would also support the introduction of civil unions at the federal level , but not as an alternative to same sex marriage.

 They consider same-sex marriage to be a marriage like any other and in no way mimics a marriage, and they recognise that in fact some couples would prefer to seek legal recognition without using the term ‘marriage’ as they strive to reflect their relationship with integrity, and for this reason they believe that the alternative of civil unions should also be available to heterosexual couples who would choose to do so.

On that note, I would say that there is often a bit of a straw man argument, that is, why can’t those people who are same-sex attracted or gay have something that is a little bit different to what the rest of society has? I love the current poster that is doing the rounds of Facebook. It says, ‘I don’t really want a gay marriage because when I came here I didn’t gay park my car, and I certainly don’t necessarily want a gay marriage. I parked my car and I want a marriage.’ I love that little snapshot poster that is doing the rounds of Facebook because I think it sums it up.Those people who are gender diverse and same-sex attracted have the right to equality—nothing more and nothing less.

 I am very heartened to see that our current Premier, in recent days, has put out a statement in support of same-sex marriage. He has called on the commonwealth parliament to change the Marriage Act to allow homosexual couples to marry and enjoy the same full legal rights as heterosexual couples. I welcome that. While it is in his last days of leadership, given that this issue is at a time and place where we know that it will be discussed at the national conference of the ALP and in federal parliament, it is a welcome contribution. I believe the incoming premier seems to be similarly supportive of such a move towards full human rights and equality in our state.

 I would urge the Premier to think, ‘What would Don Dunstan do?’ He has indicated that, at the feet of former prime minister Whitlam and former premier Dunstan, he long ago learnt that discrimination against those people who are same-sex attracted was not something to be tolerated in our society. There is a way to go between simply standing by and letting discrimination happen and actually standing up and changing the laws of this country. I would say that the Premier could allow his political party—as could the premier of next week—a conscience vote on this issue.

That is not to dismiss the fact that the state Labor Party now has a position where they support same-sex marriage equality, so I would welcome a party vote on that as well. I certainly understand that it might be difficult for some members to bring themselves to support a party vote, given the recent history of the Labor Party and, in particular, the SDA in campaigning very strongly against marriage equality. I have been quite disappointed to hear arguments put that marriage is something that is a cultural institution that has never changed and never will change.

 As we all know, that is an absolute furphy. We have divorce now and interracial marriages, which three decades ago would have been unheard of. We have people of all cultures and creeds getting married. In our Western society and in our Western tradition we have now developed an institution of marriage based on love. However, as we know, it used to be based on property and certainly the woman was passed from the father to the husband. I am very pleased that that does not happen anymore and that it is certainly not carving up fiefdoms or properties and women are not seen as chattels. Feminism has certainly gone some way to changing that part of our culture. Personally, I think those are welcome things.

 Love, and the idea of romantic love, is a relatively recent concept in terms of its application to marriage. Marriage has previously been something that was a little bit more like a business contract. We also hear that apparently marriage is about children and procreation. Again, I see this as a bit of a furphy. If marriage was about children and simply for procreation, then of course people would have to have fertility tests before they got married, and anyone of a certain age who was possibly not fertile would probably be precluded from marriage. Of course we let—and I think it is a wonderful thing—people in the autumn of their life get married and nobody raises a fuss, but they are certainly not going to be having children any time soon. We celebrate their love and that is a fine thing.

People who do not wish to have children get married all the time. They may be fertile, but they may have no intention of ever having children. People who adopt or foster children can also get married and they do not necessarily do so with the express belief that their marriage is in some way going to facilitate the procreation of biologically-owned, if you like, children between that particular couple.

I have been disappointed by the idea, in the political debate of this state, that marriage is about procreation. I would point to the fact that it has not ever been so and will not necessarily be so in many of the marriages that we see in our society.

I note that the Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository is to thank for that history of marriage earlier and I thank in particular William N. Eskridge. On that note, I will also be bringing this motion to a vote on 23 November in this place. I recognise—

The PRESIDENT: My wedding anniversary.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: There you go, the wedding anniversary of the President of this council. What a fitting day. It is also a timely day in that it is a little over a week before the ALP national conference. So, I would dearly love to see our council and this parliament adding to the growing voice in support of true marriage equality and of equal love. With that, I commend the motion to the council.

 

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