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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2011 Week 14 Hansard (Thursday, 8 December 2011) . . Page.. 5912 ..


Today I am introducing the Civil Unions Bill 2011, a bill to provide legal recognition equal to marriage under territory law for couples who are not able to marry under the commonwealth Marriage Act 1961. Today the Labor government is asking the Assembly to consider its commitment to human rights. We are asking the Assembly to consider its commitment to equality and diversity, and we are asking members of this Assembly to consider whether they are prepared to go on the record and say that they are prepared to give words to that commitment and to speak them out loud.

Discrimination is not a new concept; it has been practised by societies throughout history to exclude and persecute. The concept of “other” has been variously interpreted, but bigotry and prejudice have remained the same. Sixty years ago in America the colour of the person’s skin determined the course of that person’s life. It determined where they could live and who they could marry. It determined what education they received and what freedoms they enjoyed. Sixty years ago false assumptions about the colour of a person’s skin or ancestry determined that person’s protection under the law. Laws were made to keep people apart.

These laws, and the assumptions beneath them, created ghettos—concrete and figurative—and African-Americans were subjected to unspeakable injustice. Before the American civil rights movement it must have seemed impossible that African-Americans would enjoy the same freedoms as other Americans, yet, in our times, we reject the notion that the colour of a person’s skin should determine what they can and cannot do. It is no less absurd and no less unspeakable that any person’s sexuality should determine the rights and freedoms they enjoy.

Fifty years ago in this country, Catholics marrying Protestants were subjected to religious prejudice and bigotry. A Catholic marrying a Protestant was seen as an offence against decency and religion. Priests intervened to end romances; sons and daughters were disinherited and forever estranged; families were torn apart. In those times, you could find employment ads that would read “Roman Catholics need not apply”. In Rockhampton in the 1930s you could find a brochure titled “The Protestant’s Guide to Shopping in Rockhampton”. In those times, historians have observed, Roman Catholics lived in the ghettos—the quarters of the city reserved for minority groups who were the victims of discrimination. Fifty years ago in this country Catholics who married Protestants in a Protestant church were automatically excommunicated. Catholics marrying Protestants in a Catholic church could not be married in front of the altar because this would “offend God”.

Fifty years ago, before the 1967 Australian referendum, Aboriginal people were counted as fauna under the commonwealth Flora and Fauna Act. In parts of Australia, Aboriginal people were forbidden by law to mix or consort with others. Aboriginal people worked long hours for little or no wages. It took 10 years before the commonwealth would put the question to the Australian people: should Aboriginal people be counted in the national census, and should the federal government, not just the states, be able to make laws concerning Aborigines?

As we have seen, it has taken many decades to try and undo the wrongs done and the harms inflicted on Indigenous people during our short European history. Having


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