Local, Independant and Effective

Time for Marriage Equality is now - Cathy McGowan

Posted September 14, 2015


CATHY McGOWAN (Indi) (13:25):  I am very proud to speak to this legislation today as a co-sponsor of the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2015. I do this because I believe this is the right thing to do. It is the right thing by me, by my community and by my nation. It will make Australia—and my community—a better, more inclusive place.

On Friday, 4 September, the Wangaratta Chronicle featured the local Anglican bishop, John Parkes AM, in both front page and editorial commentary. The headline was 'Bishop breaks ground' and the editorial was headed, 'Bishop's breath of fresh air'.

This regional paper in the seat of Indi was highlighting that Wangaratta's Anglican bishop has become Australia's first senior Anglican cleric to publicly recognise that same-sex marriage has become inevitable. In common with the rest of the country, many people in the seat of Indi are expressing an urgent sense of the need to reconsider the Marriage Act 1961 along the lines of this legislation. Around two-thirds of the Anglican diocese of Wangaratta lies within the seat of Indi. The bishop has invited his clergy and people to enter into a respectful discussion of marriage equality with each other and with the wider community.

Bishop Parkes' own position is that he hopes for a clear theology of Christian marriage and the blessings of relationships. He said he did not think that such a thing would be 'a betrayal of the Gospel or the end of the world.' The bishop has backed up his views with a substantial six-page document available on the diocese of Wangaratta website.

I raise this matter in the chamber today as a significant example of leadership—leadership that is coming from my electorate of Indi—on this most important community and social issue. I thank the bishop and his colleagues for their well-founded theological contribution to this debate. I commend the fresh thinking indicated in the bishop's contribution to this national discussion.

I believe a distinction can rightly be made between civil and religious marriage. In Australia, however, civil and religious celebrants both act on behalf of the state in precisely the same way: as agents to ensure that appropriate requirements are met and appropriate commitments are made. A religious ceremony does all of these things in the presence of God, asking and receiving God's blessing on the commitment made and the intentions offered. It is up to the various churches and religious traditions to decide for themselves whether and how they may care to respond to these developing understandings and acknowledgement of marriage equality within their own institutions and for their own people. This is a matter for them. No-one is going to force them to do anything.

The Parliament of Australia, however, is here to speak for the whole community and to legislate for the whole community, exercising basic principles of justice, equality and fairness, with appropriate safeguards and protections in place for groups who would not care to move in this way themselves.

It needs to be remembered—and I am happy to do so in this place—that there are many Christians profoundly supportive of marriage equality and who would deeply wish to have the religious or sacramental as part of the public commitment that they would wish to be able to make to each other in the presence of God. This, then, is not able to be characterised as a secular versus religious debate. It is much more complex. In any case, the ground is shifting all the time. The task of the parliament today is to legislate for justice, equality and fairness for all without discrimination.

In closing my comments today, I say to my colleague opposite that I believe that commitment is important, I believe that commitment for a lifetime is important and I believe that a lifetime commitment with legal obligations is one of the foundation blocks of our society. It is this that I am asking for for all my constituents, not just some.

This legislation is a call for all in our community. It is a call which says to all in our community, 'You belong, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. You are important. You are welcome. You can make your commitment—you can make a lifetime commitment with legal obligations in front of your family with the blessing of this parliament.' In particular, I say to Fleetwood and Ivy, 'I'm standing here on your behalf and on behalf of all rural Australians who support marriage equality.'

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