CR SRI: Thank you, Madam Chair. I’m proud and excited to speak in support of this motion. I’m confident that I speak on behalf of all Queensland Greens members and on behalf of the vast majority of Brisbanites when I say that support for same sex marriage in Australia is long overdue.
I’d like to commend the LORD MAYOR and the Leader of the Opposition for getting behind this motion and the many Councillors who’ll vote in support of it. One Greens member has asked me to remind the Chamber that we were strong supporters of same sex marriage before it was cool. I’m glad the other parties are finally catching up.
I’d like the acknowledge the long often violent history of oppression and discrimination that LGBTIQ Brisbanites have suffered and the hard work of generations of courageous activists who pushed boulders uphill for decades in spite of frequent landslides and obstructions.
Only a couple of decades ago Queensland’s then Premier publicly called gay men insulting evil animals. While such hateful language is now considered inappropriate in public discourse, I’m conscious that many Queenslanders still privately hold similarly bigoted views, which makes it all the more important that we, as elected representatives, take a strong public stand against homophobia and transphobia.
Same sex marriage is by no means the end game. LGBTIQ people continue to suffer direct and indirect discrimination by State and Federal governments and even by this City Council. I understand that only a few years ago this City Council initially supported a ban of a bus shelter ad that featured an image of two men hugging, and that in 2014 Council decided that an ad from the Queer Film Festival showing two men kissing on a beach was too confronting for the public.
I note that several Brisbane City Council laws continue to discriminate between married and de facto couples. Further discriminatory laws exist at State and Federal government levels. I could list them all but we’d be here a long time. Such discriminatory laws and policies are unjust and immoral and remind us that the fight’s a long way from over.
I’m pleased to acknowledge that Brisbane City Council funds important cultural events such as the Brisbane Pride Festival; however, I note that in contrast to other city councils around Australia, on a per capita basis, BCC provides comparatively little funding in the way of targeted support services for marginalised LGBTIQ people.
There is much more to be done in Brisbane to achieve the ever-elusive goal of substantive equality. I’d also like to acknowledge the various nuanced queer critiques of the same sex marriage movement and growing calls that queer relationships should not be valued and legitimated by reference to how similar they might be to heterosexual relationships, but because queer relationships, lifestyles and subcultures are legitimate in and of themselves. In a social climate of growing acceptance of cisgendered same sex relationships, we mustn’t become complacent about widespread transphobia and ongoing vilification and discrimination against gender-queer and polyamorous Brisbanites.
Personally, I feel that governments should have no role whatsoever in regulating marriage. While I support the call for same sex marriage within the current legal framework and socio-political context, I’m not convinced that the Australian Government has any legitimate business in regulating personal human relationships in this manner.
Marriage is a cultural institution but it need not and should not carry a legal status in any way distinct from other de facto relationships. Those who describe themselves as being in favour of small government and of less governmental interference in individuals’ lives, but who insist that the government should maintain discriminatory legislation that marriage only applies to heterosexual couples, would do well to reflect on the logical inconsistency of such a position. Over the last day or two I’ve received a small number of emails encouraging me to vote against this motion. The language used in some of these emails is disturbingly reminiscent of arguments that we used a century ago against interracial marriages.
We mustn’t forget that not so long ago bigoted people made comments along the lines of it is wrong for children to grow up in a household with parents of two different races, and expanding the definition of marriage to include interracial relationships will destroy the sanctity of marriage.
Just as a government has no business whatsoever in deciding whether or not I can marry a white woman, so too does the government have no business whatsoever in deciding whether or not I can marry a man.
I’ll share a brief excerpt from a letter written by a Brisbane gay man. “How will your marriage be harmed if I am allowed to marry? It will not. The only thing that will happen is my love will be respected and valued. Importantly, this will also send a strong message that gay people are not broken, inferior people, and this single action will greatly improve the mental wellbeing of myself and other gay people.”
I’d like to very briefly address the call for a national plebiscite on this issue. Poll after poll had demonstrated consistently strong support for same sex marriage, and it seems to me that a plebiscite is a waste of time and resources, but even if the support was less overwhelming, I would still support this motion because it’s the right thing to do.
The hypocrisy and inconsistency of elected representatives refusing to put other more controversial decisions to the Australian public, but then insisting that this issue deserves a nationwide plebiscite, is frustrating and baffling to me. The Australian Electoral Commission estimates the direct cost of the plebiscite at $158 million. Independent modelling by PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests the vote will cost a further $280 million in lost productivity.
To argue in favour of a plebiscite on this issue is to argue that you would rather see millions and millions of dollars spent on a glorified survey than on hospitals, domestic violence shelters and homelessness support services. A number of residents in my ward have raised with me their concerns that extended adversarial debate relating to a plebiscite on same sex marriage will have significant negative impacts on the mental health of many LGBTIQ Brisbanites.
At a time when we should be focused on finding positive common grounds and dealing with practical issues affecting the welfare of marginalised Australians, a plebiscite may well prove to be a divisive and unconstructive distraction. I’m ashamed to admit this, but as a teenager I was quite homophobic. I told bigoted jokes. I made fun of school mates who didn’t conform to so-called traditional gender roles. In short, I was a jerk and a bully, as were many of my peers. Perhaps you could say I was a product of my social environment. When young people are making their mind up about the world and learning about social and cultural norms, they’re influenced heavily by their family, friends and teachers who are in turn influenced by opinion leaders in the broader community, including elected representatives.
Whether regulating marriage is technically the responsibility of a different level of government is entirely beside the point. As elected representatives, we have the power to influence the opinions and values of people in our community. This power that we hold as opinion leaders in societies is in some ways far more significant than our formal power to vote on motions inside Council, but the two are directly connected.
The message we send to our community by voting in support of this motion is a strong one, with direct ramifications on how people are treated at home, at school and in the workplace. It will have an impact on the mental health of thousands of marginalised LGBTIQ Brisbanites and particularly on the children of queer couples.
It’s with great regret and embarrassment that I look back on how I once treated some of my school mates; that when reflecting on this aspect of my life I also find cause for hope and optimism. The fact that I and thousands of people like me can go from being overtly homophobic to becoming proud allies of LGBTIQ struggles, shows that human beings have the capacity to learn and evolve and to change their minds. Whether it’s racism, sexism, neoliberalism or homophobia, the vast majority of us do have the ability to critically reflect on our values and over time become more caring, more empathetic, less selfish individuals.
The Australian Government lags well behind most other western nations and behind the majority of Australian citizens when it comes to supporting same sex marriage. I strongly implore the Federal Government to abandon the distracting charade of a plebiscite and get on with the job of implementing the democratic will of the Australian people.
If two consenting adults love each other and wish to marry who are we to deny them that. We’ve waited long enough to put an end to this kind of discrimination. We shouldn’t have to wait any longer.