Monday, April 16, 2012

Response to Senate Inquiry into Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010

Since I received an email today indicating that submission to the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010 has been released as a public document and numbered Submission No. a1070, I thought I'd share my submission here.


 To the Senate Enquiry on the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010,

On December 6th of 2011, the USA’s Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, delivered a speech to the United Nations to mark International Human Rights Day, in which she explained the importance of recognising the rights of the LGBT community on an international scale. In her speech, Clinton made the argument that, while “some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct; […] they are one and the same.”

Addressing the rights of a group of people who have been subjected to discrimination, vilification and violence, Clinton’s speech was being heralded as historic from the moment it became available to the public. And, as with Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, or even Kevin Rudd’s 2008 apology speech to Indigenous Australians, Clinton’s speech makes a simple but powerful point: that, recognising and acknowledging the mistakes of the past, we can and must move forward.

By passing the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010, Australia will be able to do exactly that.

In her speech, Clinton made the following point that I believe is of particular importance to the matter that is currently being put before the Senate:
“[…]progress comes from changes in laws. In many places, including my own country, legal protections have preceded, not followed, broader recognition of rights. Laws have a teaching effect. Laws that discriminate validate other kinds of discrimination. Laws that require equal protections reinforce the moral imperative of equality. And practically speaking, it is often the case that laws must change before fears about change dissipate.”

As the situation currently stands in Australia, with various polls showing that over 60% of people believe that same-sex couples should have the right to marry, our laws are lagging behind cultural change. And, while it is true that there have been many changes made to our laws to address inequality based on sexuality, this Bill presents the Senate with an opportunity to further address the broader issue of homophobia in this country by acknowledging that ‘separate but equal’ is not, in fact, equal at all.

The United Nations recognises the right to marry as being a human right; and, as Clinton argues in her speech, “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” Marriage equality is one step that we as a nation can take toward creating an environment in which same-sex relationships are no longer seen as abhorrent or unnatural. It is an opportunity for us to acknowledge that same-sex relationships are not somehow antithetical to our concept of family, but that families come in all shapes and sizes. And it is an opportunity for us to send a message to our LGBT youth that they will have all the same choices available to them as their heterosexual counterparts, while also letting their heterosexual peers know that discrimination is not supported by the Australian government.

In closing, I wish to once more quote Hilary Clinton’s speech at length and suggest that the members of the Senate should keep these words in mind when they are voting on the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010:

“As it has happened so many times before, opinion will converge once again with the truth, the immutable truth, that all persons are created free and equal in dignity and rights. We are called once more to make real the words of the Universal Declaration. Let us answer that call. Let us be on the right side of history, for our people, our nations, and future generations, whose lives will be shaped by the work we do today.”

Kind regards,
David Lenton

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