Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Member of NSW State Parliament SPEAKS NOW

Member of the Legislative Council, the The Hon. Walter Secord, gave the following speech to the New South Wales Parliament's upper house, in support of the motion which will go to the vote tomorrow (May 31).  His comments about his parents' situation, in Canada, is valuable personal testimony. 
(It should be noted, in regard to his final comments, that neither of the Bills before Federal Parliament would require churches to conduct same sex weddings, were they to make it into law...)

The Hon. WALT SECORD [May 24 - 12.12 p.m.]: 
I take this opportunity to speak to the motion on marriage equality.
While laws relating to marriage in Australia are Commonwealth responsibility, the question of gay and lesbian marriage is now debated widely in our community and around the world. About 10 countries recognise same-sex marriage, including South Africa, Canada, the Netherlands and Argentina. In the United States, Maryland is set to become the eighth jurisdiction to grant same-sex couples the right to marry.
Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and the District of Columbia all recognise same-sex marriages. The Maryland law is scheduled to take effect in January 2013.
However, earlier this month North Carolina joined about 30 other States by banning same-sex marriage, while President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden indicated their support for gay marriage.

That said, in recent years Australia and New South Wales have undergone considerable gay law reform. In Australia the Federal Labor Government introduced more than 80 amendments to give same-sex couples equal rights before the law regarding issues such as superannuation and taxation. In 1999 the New South Wales Carr Labor Government introduced reforms to State relationships laws in relation to property interests if a relationship broke down. This included amending the definition of "de facto spouse" to include same-sex cohabiting couples.
In 2008 the New South Wales Labor Government introduced further same-sex relationship reforms, including providing for a consistent definition of "de facto partner" that incorporated same-sex partners, across most of this State's laws. As a result, de facto couples have the same access to a wide range of legal rights and entitlements. In New South Wales on 1 July 2010 the Keneally Government commenced the operation of the New South Wales Relationship Register to make it easier for unmarried couples, homosexual or heterosexual, to prove they were in a committed or de facto relationship and have access to legal entitlements.

Last year in New South Wales 420 same-sex relationships were officially registered with the New South Wales Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
Australian people have strong views about gay marriage with more than 60 per cent supporting the concept. However, younger Australians overwhelmingly support the right of same sex couples to marry.
This suggests that an element of social norms is influencing our views on a legal rights issue. As those norms shift over time, the legal position will be less coloured. Therefore, I believe marriage equality is inevitable in Australia. I have grappled with this issue for a long time.
Members of this Chamber will be aware of my views on a range of subjects. I support Aboriginal reconciliation, I am an advocate for the elderly and other minorities, and I believe in education against genocide, prejudice and racism. This leads me to my position on marriage equality.

Over the years, one factor that informs my view is my personal racial background. I am the product of an interracial marriage: my father is a Mohawk-Ojibway Indigenous person and my mother is an Anglican Anglo-Canadian of European descent. As a child growing up in rural Canada, I saw firsthand the prejudice towards my parents' relationship. At that time, when I was a very young child, no doubt some people felt that Indigenous people and Europeans should not marry—particularly, an Indigenous male and a European woman.
If Canadian law had purely reflected some of the views of the community and that generation, my parents' marriage would have been illegal. For the record, while interracial marriages were not banned, they were highly unusual and it is safe to say that they were frowned upon.

Indeed, not so long ago in this country—in fact, up until the 1930s—State officials were allowed to determine who Aborigines could or could not marry.
In Queensland, these restrictions were to limit black and white unions, and in Western Australia it was to prevent so-called "half-castes" from marrying other Aboriginal people.
It was not until 1967 that the Supreme Court in the United States ruled that a ban on inter­racial marriages was unconstitutional and removed that stain from American society. The reality of today is twofold.
Firstly, my parents remain happily married and have been exceptional role models to their family and our community. Secondly, we all agree that withholding the right to marry on racial grounds is repugnant. In my view, the parallels on the prohibition on inter-­racial marriage and same-sex marriage are clear. We can no more deny someone's right to enter a civil union based on their gender or sexual orientation than we can on their skin colour. Therefore, the right to marry restricts a person's full citizenship.

On human rights grounds, all Australians must be treated fairly and equally, regardless of their sexual orientation. All people are equal before the law and should be entitled to the same fundamental rights.
Therefore, I believe allowing same-sex couples the right to marry removes a legal and social discrimination; it supports full and equal citizenship.
If we prohibit one section of the community from marrying another, it is a violation of their human rights.
Therefore, I support the motion before the Chamber that the Federal Government should amend the Commonwealth Marriage Act 1961 to provide for marriage equality. This motion is similar to the one passed successfully by the Tasmanian House of Assembly in September 2011. However, I stress that just as I am cautious about the role of personal beliefs in determining laws, I am equally cautious about any attempt for the law to impinge on personal religious beliefs.

I acknowledge the strongly held views against same-sex marriage on both sides of this Chamber and on the crossbenches. I also agree that sanctioning gay marriage will not remove homophobia and discrimination in our society.
Many people, particularly those of strong faith, believe that a marriage can only be between a man and a woman. I therefore strongly agree that religious institutions should not and must not be forced to officiate marriages that they do not wish to.

I conclude my comments with a brief personal note. On 18 August 2006 I attended a same-sex civil union celebration in Sydney between two male friends, Mr Justin Di Lollo and Mr Marek Craker. It was conducted under United Kingdom law at the British Consulate-General with the assistance of the British consul-general, as Mr Craker is a British citizen. In total, the couple has been together for more than 16 years. They are still together in a loving and committed relationship.
I ask: On what grounds could I possibly deny their right to enjoy the same public recognition of their commitment as I, a heterosexual, have access to?
The issue of marriage equality for same-sex couples is about the granting of full citizenship. We all deserve the same and equal recognition under Australian law.
In conclusion, I acknowledge my colleagues, the Hon. Helen Westwood and the Hon. Penny Sharpe for their hard work and commitment to this policy area.
I commend the motion to the House.


  1. Mr Secord, I'd like us to take a closer look at those countries that have already introduced SSM. Especially at the state of marriage in those places.

    So I did a hunt around for some facts on the general divorce rate in those countries that have introduced SSM. I couldn't find any set articles, so I had to do my own digging.

    As the honorable member states, there are just ten countries that allow full state recognised same sex marriage. And, in all of them, more than one in three of all marriages (same sex or otherwise) in in divorce.

    Now some of these stats are a bit wobbly. For example, Spain has only recently allowed divorce, so the rate of divorce hasn't really settled down. (Currently, a marriage breaks down every 3.19 minutes - but that can't go on forever.) Anyway, for what it's worth, here's the rate of divorce in those countries which have changed the definition of marriage:

    Argentina 33%
    Belgium 64.5%
    Canada 40.7
    Iceland 39%
    Netherlands 41%
    Norway 43%
    Portugal 30%
    Spain 75%
    South Africa 50%
    Sweden 50%

    This is broad stuff. I'm not a statistician. And it doesn't reflect on the blokes (they're all blokes for some reason) I know who are in same sex marriages. But I think it does indicate that same sex marriage isn't a direct expression of cultures with a high view of marriage. I think that's what you see when you look at things the other way - all the countries with low divorce rates (like India, Sri Lanka and Japan) have a traditional understanding of marriage and no plans to introduce SSM.