The last time we debated this issue here, I was about to get married.
I said then that if Louise and I had met in a different time at a different place we might never have been able to do that. We might never have been able to get married.
That’s because my wife, Louise is Vietnamese.
50 years ago interracial marriage was banned in most states in America.
In most Australian States and Territories for most of the 20th Century indigenous and non-indigenous people couldn’t get married unless they had the special permission of a government official, usually called a ‘protector’.
In NSW until 1963 it was an offence for an indigenous person and a non-indigenous person to even live together.
In South Africa the first apartheid law passed in the ‘40s was the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act.
When I think about this debate about marriage equality I think about those old laws – and I would feel if the law today said that I couldn’t marry Louise.
On the weekend I went back and I read the judgement of the US Supreme Court that overturned the ban on interracial marriage in 1967.
The case is called – quite fittingly – Loving v the State of Virginia.
Mildred Loving was a black woman. Richard Loving was a white man.
They lived in Virginia.
In 1958 they got married across the border in Washington DC.
A couple of weeks later, back at home, in the middle of the night, police raided their house, found them asleep in bed and arrested them.
They were charged with the crime of miscegenation.
Three months later a Virginia Court sentenced them to a year in jail.
The sentence was suspended on the basis that they leave the State of Virginia.
They did that, but they didn’t give up.
They fought all the way to the US Supreme Court. It took almost a decade, but that fight changed the law in the United States and it changes the lives of countless Americans.
Change doesn’t just happen. It happens because of extraordinary people, extraordinarily courageous people like Mildred and Richard Loving.
When the Virginia Supreme Court rejected their appeal in 1965 they said it was because it was important to preserve the ‘racial integrity of its citizens’ and prevent the ‘corruption of blood’ and ‘a mongrel breed of citizens’.
‘a mongrel breed of citizens’.
Just imagine how those awful, hateful words must have felt to Mildred and Richard Loving.
More than 50 years after they were written, by men on the other side of the world long since dead, they still affect me. They still make me angry.
They still sting.
I think – what would the people who wrote those words think of my little baby boy Jack - the most precious and important thing in Louise and my life.
Louise and I and little Jack are lucky that we live in a different time.
We don’t talk about miscegenation or mongrels any more.
Things have changed.
Because of people like Mildred and Richard.
And they keep changing.
It’s impossible to imagine us even having this debate about whether two people of the same sex should be able to get married 50 years ago. When Mildred and Richard were fighting for that same right.
But we are today.
And over the course of the last few months gay and lesbian Australians have felt the same sting of other people’s judgement of their relationships.
They have suffered that for a long, long time – but particularly over the last few months as Australians have cast their vote.
Out of this though has come a very clear message – most Australians think same sex couples should be able to do what Louise and I have done.
What Mildred and Richard did 62 years ago.
What most of us here have done – or will do.
What millions of Australians have done - some more than once.
And that’s get married.
More than 61 percent of Australians voted yes.
In some parts of Australia it was very popular.
In some parts it wasn’t.
One of those places is my electorate. It recorded the highest no vote in the country.
Some people were surprised by that. I have got to say I was not.
I know my local community pretty well.
I was born and raised in western Sydney. I have lived there almost all of my life.
I always thought my electorate would have the highest no vote in Australia.
And I have always been upfront with them about my view.
It’s a socially conservative place full of a lot of wonderful people.
A lot of people of faith.
And a lot of people from parts of the world where the idea of two people of the same sex getting married really is a foreign concept.
So the result didn’t come as a shock.
But since the results of the survey were released a number of people in the media and a number of people in my electorate have come to me and said ‘are you going to vote no now because the community has’.
Even though I voted yes five years ago, when my friend and colleague Stephen Jones introduced a Private Members Bill.
Even though I voted yes in the survey.
Voting yes isn’t a popular thing to do in my neck of the woods.
I know that.
But if all you seek in this job is popularity then you’re going to be constantly disappointed.
As a Member of Parliament you can never make everybody happy all the time.
The best you can do is to be upfront with people, be honest with people – and be true to yourself.
And ultimately in this job it’s yourself that you have to confront.
And in the quiet moments answer to.
I don’t like having a different view on this to my community.
But if I voted no here after everything I have said and everything I believe in, then I think I would be rightly criticised as a hypocrite.
As someone who lacks character and courage when it counts.
That’s not me.
At least it’s not the politician, more importantly it’s not the person that I aspire to be.
My electorate knows what the sting of discrimination feels like.
They experience it every day.
Some because of the hijab or the turban they wear, or the beard on their face.
Some just because their English isn’t perfect.
And when that happens I will stand up and I will fight for them.
I did it when Brownyn Bishop tried to ban the burqa in the public gallery.
I did it when this government tried to change the law to make it legal to offend or insult or humiliate someone based on the colour of their skin.
I did it when they tried to change the law only a few months ago to stop people who don’t have university level English skills from becoming Australian citizens.
And I’ll keep doing it.
I know there are some people who are concerned about what the impact of this legislation is going to be on their church or their mosque, their school, their faith.
It’s important to know nothing in this legislation changes the right of churches or mosques or religious schools to preach and teach their view of marriage.
This happens today. It happens right now.
A good example is the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church today often refuses to marry people who have been divorced if they haven’t had that previous marriage annulled.
That’s not consistent with the current Marriage Act.
But Catholic schools and charities don’t lose funding today because of that.
They are not breaking any law by preaching and teaching Catholic doctrine.
And this legislation, this change to the Marriage Act doesn’t change that.
But if there are gaps in the law to protect religious freedoms that are identified by the Expert Panel that the Prime Minister has set up, then I will be arguing in my party that we should fix them.
There was a time in Australia when being a Catholic meant you suffered terrible discrimination.
For most of the first 32 years of convict settlement in Australia Catholics were prohibited from even going to church. They couldn’t hold a Catholic mass.
There was a time in this country when if you were a woman you couldn’t even vote.
My great, great grandmothers never cast a ballot.
There was a time when indigenous people weren’t even counted as Aussies.
There was a time when indigenous Australian’s couldn’t even get a drink at the pub.
My grandfather used to run pubs in country NSW. My mum grew up in them and she told me the story the other day about her memories of her dad secretly serving aboriginal customers out the back.
Most of the people that I have the privilege in this place to represent wouldn’t even be here today if we hadn’t got rid of another set of discriminatory laws – some of the most odious policies ever conceived by this place – the White Australia policy.
We used to think it was okay though. We used to think it was alright to discriminate against people based upon their sex, or their religion or the colour of their skin.
We don’t now.
We treat people equally. Or at least we try to.
And we are a better country because of it.
And that for me is what this debate is all about – equality.
Equality before the law.
Giving every Australian the same opportunities in life that I have–
- whether that’s the right to vote,
- the right to practice your religion,
- the right to drink in the same pub
- or the right marry the person that you love.
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