05 December 2017

The people have spoken. Over 7.8 million or 61.6 per cent of eligible Australians voted yes for marriage equality.

Over 80 per cent of eligible voters participated in the postal survey.

I am proud to stand here today as the member for Blair, based in the Ipswich and Somerset region, because 60 per cent of the people in my electorate voted yes, and I was one of them.

We voted yes because it was a vote for love and against discrimination. We voted to treat people in the LGBTIQ community—our neighbours, our families and our friends—the same as ourselves.

This postal survey was unnecessary, hurtful, divisive and expensive; however, the result validated what many already-published polls said: that Australians overwhelmingly support marriage equality.

I am certain that the Turnbull Government's postal survey was a delaying tactic and a way to paper over Government divisions. Here we are now, doing what we should have done a long time ago: having a vote in parliament. Last week the Senate dealt with this Bill, and now we are doing our duty and voting in this place on this issue.

Only in the last generation have we seen the decriminalisation of homosexuality. This has been achieved in the statute books in all of the states and territories. Only in the last decade has discrimination in most areas of the economic and social life of the nation been ended, usually under a Labor Government, in this place and elsewhere.

Our country continues to change, as do the institutions of marriage and family.

In my career as a family lawyer, I saw people in all different types of families who were good parents and those who were not. I learnt the most important thing for children is to grow up in an atmosphere where they are loved.

I can understand why some of those in the minority voted no based on their faith. I respect their views, often deeply held, but, respectfully, I disagree with them. I am a Christian and a member of my local Baptist church.

I have thought long and hard about the issue of marriage equality, and prayerfully considered this matter. In my faith God is love, and the second greatest commandment is to "love your neighbour as yourself".

I was left asking myself the question: "what is the loving thing to do?"

I believe it is to affirm love and sanction love, to have love sanctioned by law in marriage; to see love expressed in words of commitment among friends and family.

One of the greatest days in my life was when I pledged my love and loyalty to my wife, Carolyn, on my wedding day. I want to see the LGBTIQ community be afforded the same rights I have so couples in committed, loving relationships can make the same pledge I made.

In no way does this diminish my marriage, nor does it demean the institution of marriage.

There are many Christians- Protestants, like me, Pentecostals, Catholics and other denominations- who voted yes in the postal survey and supported marriage equality, defying the officially defined positions of their denominations. I am one of the dissidents.

In the end, I think this is a simple issue, an issue about love and equality. I cannot vote for the various amendments to be proposed in the House, which were voted down in the Senate. It would be a repudiation of the emphatic vote for 'yes' both in my electorate of Blair and in wider Australia, including my home state of Queensland. Like many people in Blair and across Australia, my views about marriage equality have evolved over time.

Before the last federal election I told voters in my electorate that I would vote for marriage equality if they re-elected me. I declared this openly. I said it in media interviews. I shared it with anyone who asked me what my position was. I even, clearly, stated my views and support for marriage equality in a debate hosted by the Australian Christian Lobby.

In 2016 I was re-elected with the largest margin I had ever achieved in my 10 years in this place. That margin was 8.9 per cent. But that vote was surpassed even further by the 10 per cent margin in the Blair electorate in the postal survey and the 11.6 per cent margin nationally achieved by the 'yes' campaign.

If 61.6 per cent of the vote of the 'yes' campaign were replicated in a federal election, the governing party's benches would stretch right across here and probably behind me. That's how overwhelming the impact would be for the 61.6 per cent vote.

I respect the concerns of those held by people of faith who voted no in the postal survey, but I want to assure them there are protections in this Bill. This Bill is a cross-party compromise. The protections specified in this Bill, in proposed section 47(3), include:

A minister of religion may refuse to solemnise a marriage despite anything in this Part, if any of the following applies:

(a)   the refusal conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of the religion of the minister’s religious body or religious organisation;

(b)   the refusal is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion;

(c)   the minister’s religious beliefs do not allow the minister to solemnise the marriage.

Additionally, proposed subsection (4) does not limit the grounds on which a minister of religion may refuse to solemnise a marriage.

Proposed section 47A of the Bill provides similar protections for the new category 'religious marriage celebrant'. This covers marriage celebrants who are not ministers of a recognised religion but, all the same, claim a religious objection to solemnising same-sex weddings.

Proposed section 47B provides further protections for religious bodies—churches, synagogues et cetera- in these terms:

(1) A body established for religious purposes may refuse to make a facility available, or to provide goods or services, for the purposes of the solemnisation of a marriage, or for purposes reasonably incidental to the solemnisation of a marriage, if the refusal:

(a) conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of the religion of 27 the body; or 28

(b) is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of 29 adherents of that religion.

I echo the words of the shadow Attorney-General, who said:

"This Bill provides appropriate protections for freedom of religion in relation to marriage while also implementing the clearly expressed will of the Australian people to make marriage equality law. There is no need for further amendments."

I hope these protections are able to alleviate the angst and anxieties that some may hold and allow them to respect the outcome of both the postal survey and the passage of this Bill. I believe they are consistent with the doctrine of separation of church and state—a doctrine which finds its expression even in our nation's founding document, the Australian Constitution.

I believe the protections in this Bill strike a fair and reasonable balance.

I thank and congratulate the many advocates of the LGBTIQ community in Blair, including their friends, relatives and partners, and of course the yes campaign nationally and all of those associated with it. Many people have spoken to me in my electorate office, on the phone, at events and at my mobile offices—they know who they are.

You have shared with me your personal stories and your desire to be respected and have equal rights. I have heard your voices and I want to thank you for your courage in speaking up and speaking out.

This vote, I cast for you.

It is for you and with you and with the majority of the people in the Blair electorate who voted with you and have stood with you.

For that reason I say yes to marriage equality.