NSW Greens MLC Cate Faerhmann opened debate in the NSW Legislative Council on her motion urging federal parliamentarians to act on the issue just after 11am by telling the chamber that the ban on same-sex marriage sent a “clear and devastating message” to LGBTI Australians.
“[That message is] not only are you different, but you are not worthy of this special institution which is held by so many to be so sacred,” Faehrmann said, “The message is clear – you don’t qualify, you’re not good enough.”
“I know that many of you here are married. Think about your wedding day. Think about this day – the ultimate expression of your love, the ultimate validation and recognition for you and your partner in front of your family and friends.
“Same –sex attracted people are of course just as capable of commitment as heterosexual people but our current marriage laws send a message that says ‘you are less stable, less resilient and of less value to your partner, family and friends, and you are less value to society.’ This kind of negative message justifies homophobia in our communities but even worse it builds on the devaluation, fear and self doubt that same-sex attracted people can experience every day.”
Liberals MLC Marie Ficarra is the first speaker from the Coalition, and opposes the motion, saying that she sympathises with same-sex couples who seek recognition of their relationships, but claims the ban on same-sex marriage does not amount to discrimination because same-sex couples have already been granted all the on-paper rights given to heterosexual couples under federal law.
“The only thing homosexuals don’t have at present is marriage,” Ficarra told the Legislative Council.
“There has been no election commitment to change the laws governing marriage in the state of NSW or in the nation. Is same-sex marriage a burning issue to NSW voters? I sincerely doubt it.”
NSW Christian Democrats leader Rev. Fred Nile is the second speaker to speak against the motion, telling the Legislative Council that the Labor Party had broken an election promise in changing its policy at its national conference.
He said the timing of the motion was designed to pressure Tony Abbott to give his members a conscience vote which he said would also be breaking an election promise.
Nile said he had been campaigning against same-sex marriage “since the 70’s.”
“My position is based on my Christian faith and my Christian belief and I cannot move away from that as the foundation of my life,” Nile said, telling the Legislative Council that marriage had been created by the Christian god.
Nile warned that if same-sex marriage was legalised, children would be taught that they existed.
NSW Nationals MLC Trevor Khan has become the first Coalition member to speak in favour of the motion.
However Khan will be adding an amendment to the motion calling on all sides on the issue to engage with each other civilly, and stressing the importance of religious freedom and that churches who do not wish to marry same-sex couples will not have to.
Khan said that polls had shown a majority of Australians supported marriage equality and that politicians would inevitably have to bow to that majority view.
Khan said that same-sex marriage should be supported by conservatives as it would strengthen support for the institution of marriage.
NSW Labor MLC Penny Sharpe is the first Labor member to speak in favour of the motion – congratulating the NSW Coalition on giving its members a conscience vote on the issue.
Sharpe told the chamber that reforming the Marriage Act was something that the Australian public wanted done and dusted, and listed the many groups for whom marriage equality was a personal priority.
“If we truly believe that citizens should be equal under the laws of our country then we cannot sustain the argument that says certain citizens are less equal than others,” Sharpe said.
Liberal MLC Natasha Maclaren-Jones speaks to oppose the motion, despite what she says is the Liberals strong record of supporting rights for same-sex couples.
Maclaren-Jones claims the LGBTI community is divided on the issue, as is the heterosexual community and says that some people want civil unions instead.
Maclaren-Jones says the campaign for same-sex marriage is “a push by a vocal minority to change the structure of the traditional family unit.”
“The institution of marriage is sacrosanct and has served it well for centuries. Marriage is focused on providing stability for a child that goes beyond cultures, religions and even social trends.”
Maclaren-Jones says children have a right to be raised by heterosexual couples and to a mother and a father.
Labor’s Walt Secord MLC speaks in favour of the motion and tells the Legislative Council that same-sex marriage has been legalised in ten countries and what is soon to be eight US states.
“I believe marriage equality is inevitable in Australia,” Secord said.
Secord said that he was the child of an Indigenous Canadian and a European Canadian and that if Canadian law had reflected the views of many Canadians at the time, his parents marriage would have been illegal and noted that it had not been so long ago that the state had dictated who Indigenous Australians could marry.
The Liberals’ David Clarke MLC and leader of the Liberals’ Christian Right faction opposes the bill – no surprises there. He says the motion is against his religious conviction and most Australians would oppose it too.
Nationals MLC Sarah Mitchell supports the motion and Trevor Khan’s amendment calling for tolerance in the debate on the issue. She says that marrying her husband last year was the best day of her life despite already having all the rights of a de facto couple. She wants same-sex couples to be able to feel the same joy.
Liberal MLC Peter Phelps speaks very briefly to oppose the motion and tables a speech to allow others time to speak, and to say that he believes a clause in the motion is contradictory to the constitution of the NSW Parliament. He says he believes the institution of marriage should be “privatised” – suggesting that he thinks that Government should get out of the business of marriage altogether.
Christian Democrats MLC Paul Green opposes the motion.
Liberal MLC Scot MacDonald supports the motion. He says that while the issue is a federal matter the motion goes beyond mere symbolism. He says he couldn’t look his gay cousins in the eye and say that they are any less worthy of respect.
Greens MLC David Shoebridge says that many opponents are opposed because of their Christian faith. He tables a speech detailing the history of how religion has been used to dictate the marriage rights of other groups of people.
Labor’s MLC Helen Westwood, the longest serving lesbian in the NSW Parliament, is in tears as she speaks to support the motion. She says that marriage rights are the final plank in the struggle for LGBTI rights and speaks of the discrimination she has faced as a lesbian in her public life.
Just before 1pm more time is sought for MLCs to speak on the issue on another day and debate adjourns. Debate should resume on the next Thursday that the Legislative Council sits.
You can watch the debate live at http://stream.ac3.com.au/NSWLC