Page 3566 - Week 12 - Tuesday, 22 October 2013

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The government has long held the belief that marriage equality is necessary if we are to end discrimination against same-sex couples and deliver equality under our law. We went to the 2012 election with a public commitment to continue to legislate for an end to discrimination on the grounds of gender or sexuality, and the passage of this bill delivers partly on that commitment, with much more work to be done.

There is no doubt that Australian society has come a long way in its understanding and acceptance of same-sex relationships. In fact, my own view is that the Australian people have moved much faster than our political institutions have been able to respond. The fact that fewer people in Australia today have to live in fear of ridicule, isolation or hate as a result of their sexuality is progress that we should indeed celebrate. But where institutional discrimination persists, governments have a responsibility to remove it, which is what the Marriage Equality Bill seeks to do here in the ACT.

The bill provides for a law to allow people of the same sex who cannot marry under the commonwealth Marriage Act to marry. Here in the ACT, for the first time in Australia, same-sex couples will have the opportunity to have their relationship recognised and registered as a marriage. They will have the opportunity to celebrate their commitment to each other with their family and friends in the same way heterosexual couples do.

The bill provides for eligibility, notice of intention, dissolution, annulment and other regulatory requirements, and we expect it will be operational before the end of this year. Couples from interstate will be more than welcome to come to the ACT and marry under these laws.

I would like to acknowledge the broad spectrum of opinion on the issue of marriage equality. I have received many letters from Canberrans and from people across Australia offering support, thanks and encouragement. I have also received letters expressing concern over the bill. I want to acknowledge all of these views today. The engagement shows our democracy working as it should. Your voices have been heard and I respect your views.

I do want to respond to some of the comments which have been made in opposition to the bill. Some members of the community have said they are concerned that this bill dilutes the value of marriage and opens it up to new, variant forms. This is not the case. It does not provide for polygamous marriage or variant forms of marriage. The bill clearly provides that a marriage is between two people—between two unmarried and consenting adults. And, as with any marriage, the value of a same-sex marriage will rest with the two people who have committed to it.

Some say this is an area of law that only the commonwealth has jurisdiction over. We disagree with that view. Some in the community suggest that we have rushed into this reform without properly consulting or flagging our plans. Our intention to legislate for marriage equality was a clear and public commitment made during the election a year ago.

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