Statement | 24 May 2015

The referendum in Ireland should leave every Australian politician in no doubt. The debate about marriage equality will only end with one decision. That decision will be to legislate for two people to marry at law regardless of gender.

Communities like the one I represent in the parliament do not match the national opinion polls on this issue. The last time the campaign for marriage equality published seat by seat polling, the views in my part of Sydney were, as I had expected, the exact opposite of the national vote.

When the debate last came up in the parliament there had been an earlier resolution of the House of Representatives encouraging us to consult with our electorates on the issue and reflect that vote in the House. I did. Most of the MPs in my part of Sydney did the same.

I made a point of avoiding media on the issue, and chose to not speak in the debate. Part of the job is to reflect the community sentiment and I did that last time in the precise way my local area would have wanted.

My stance on this issue has developed considerably since the last time we voted on marriage equality. It had been my view that no matter how inevitable the change is, the more slowly Australia moved towards marriage equality, the easier it would be for those communities which have been strongly resistant to the change.

It is now clear the opposite is true.

As this debate drags on in Australia it is becoming harsher and angrier rather than kinder and gentler. This is coming from both sides. Those who are frustrated by the lack of progress are becoming quicker to brand those who have a very specific and some would argue limited, definition of marriage as homophobic and bigoted.

The campaign against the change to marriage equality earlier this year turned to particularly divisive and I believe cruel television advertisements which showed a child displaying mock tears because the child was being cared for and loved by a same sex couple.

This type of campaigning will only intensify and cause increasing division as long as the change is anticipated by some, felt as a threat by others, and experienced by no-one. 

The time has now come for the conversation in communities like mine to move to the fact that this change will occur. We need to get to the next stage of the conversation to explain why those who do not want the change will be unaffected by it.

The laws around the care of children have already changed. The laws around the treatment of de-facto relationships have already changed. These all occurred with little fanfare. They delivered a benefit to those who were directly affected and went largely unnoticed by those who might have otherwise thought to object.

It is a long time since the law of marriage matched the various religious views of marriage. There are some laws that precisely match principles that are enshrined in religious faith. There are other religious principles such as turning up to a church, mosque, temple or synagogue each week which no one in Australia would remotely suggest should be enshrined in law.

The various religious faiths will continue to have their own views and rules around marriage. The law of Australia needs to respect the freedom for people to practice their faith and it will.

But the days when the law of Australia can limit access to marriage in ways that are so far removed from the modern community view have long since passed. The longer this change takes, the uglier the community debate will become.

The best thing for community cohesion is for the debate to be settled and the law to be changed. Those who want to marry at law will be able to do so. Those who do not want the change will be unaffected by it.

When the issue is next raised in the Parliament I will be voting in favour of marriage equality.