THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
What a difference a couple of months can make.
In April I wrote a column for Mamamia saying it was time for marriage equality in Australia. I never imagined that just a few weeks later, we’d be talking about achieving it this year.
About 14 months ago, I sent a letter to all Liberal and National MPs asking them to co-sponsor a marriage equality bill with me. Unfortunately, no one came forward.
After waiting so long, and following the resounding endorsement of marriage equality in Ireland, Bill Shorten and I decided it was time to push things along in Australia.
So yesterday, we introduced a bill for marriage equality into the Parliament.
It was a historic step forward. Bill Shorten became the first leader of a major party to introduce marriage equality legislation into our Parliament.
That moment was a strong show of support for Australians in loving same-sex relationships. It was a statement about who we are as a modern, inclusive nation. It was a promise to young people right around the country, that Australia will soon be a nation where they can be proud of who they are, regardless of who they end up choosing to love.
I was delighted to second the bill yesterday. But we've always said the support of members of both major parties is crucial to this reform succeeding.
I would have stepped aside to let Liberal or National MP second the bill if they were prepared to do it. Regrettably no Liberal or National MP took up the offer.
In fact, only a handful of Coalition MPs bothered to turn up as the bill was being introduced yesterday. It was a disappointing sight to see row upon row of empty seats when such an important change was being debated.
But I believe now, the momentum for this important social change is unstoppable. More than 20 nations now have marriage equality, including many countries like Australia including the UK, New Zealand, and most recently Ireland. And a recent poll shows 72% of Australians support change.
Sadly, all we’ve heard from Tony Abbott and the Coalition on marriage equality are excuses.
First Coalition MPs said they couldn’t sponsor a bill for marriage equality because they’re not allowed a free vote. Then, they said they couldn’t have a discussion about having a free vote in their party room until there was a bill before the Parliament. Well with the bill Bill Shorten and I introduced into the Parliament yesterday, we’ve broken through the deadlock.
The ball is now firmly in Tony Abbott’s court. There are many of his Liberal and National colleagues that want to support marriage equality. Tony Abbott should allow his MPs a free vote. That’s the only thing now standing in the way of making marriage equality a reality.
At the end of the day, the most important thing to remember is this social change is about people - about treating all Australians fairly – about saying that it’s no longer acceptable to discriminate against a group in our society because of the gender of the person they choose to spend the rest of their life with.
A few critics have argued that this change is coming too quickly.
Tell that to Sandra and Lee from Tasmania who had hoped to marry at home surrounded by friends and family, and because Lee is terminally ill and has been told she only has weeks to live. The couple were forced to fly to New Zealand to tie the knot.
Or tell it to 87 year old John Challis, someone from my local community, who’s been with his partner Arthur for 50 years, and is still waiting for change.
At a packed rally in support of marriage equality last weekend, I shared a Maya Angelou quote: ‘Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.’
That’s how the campaign for marriage equality feels: full of energy and hope.
So no more waiting – let’s get this done.
This article was originally published in MAMAMIA