Politics

Here Are The Heartwarming Highlights From The First Day Of Debate On The Marriage Equality Bill

"This win is for and because of you."

The Senate started debating Liberal Senator Dean Smith’s proposed marriage equality bill today, and it’s already been pretty emotional. There have been tears, passionate appeals to protect rights on both sides, strange fish metaphors, and beautiful rainbow sartorial choices.

The debate will continue well into tomorrow and beyond, with plenty more senators lined up to speak on the issue. There’ll be many opportunities to dig back into the debate, but for now, here’s a look at a few of the day’s moving highlights.

After all, it’s not every day you hear the LGBTQI+ community supported in Parliament. It’s worth appreciating when it happens.

Sarah Hanson-Young’s Emotional Tribute To Her LGBTQI+ Friends

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young was one of the first to speak on the bill, and man, it was an emotional ride.

Hanson-Young spoke about her friendship with Greens founder Bob Brown, “a man who has always stood for the rights and equal treatment of others, and stood proudly in both the Tasmanian Parliament and the Australian Parliament as a gay man.”

“When Bob retired in 2012, I said to him, ‘Bob, I’m really sorry that we haven’t been able to reverse that awful law before your time was up’,” she said, presumably referring to the amendments to the Marriage Act passed in 2004, which explicitly prevented same-sex couples from marrying. She then broke down, in an emotional moment I honestly doubt you can get through without crying.

You can watch an excerpt from the powerful speech below.

All The Rainbows

A few of the politicians speaking today wore rainbows in solidarity with LGBTQI+ Australians. Tasmanian Labor senator Anne Urquhart wore a truly extraordinary rainbow shirt with matching rainbow pin, while Greens senator Richard Di Natale once again donned rainbow sneakers for the occasion (he also wore them the day the Yes vote was announced).

Di Natale explained the special significance of the shoes in his speech, noting that they were a gift from the daughter of Uniting Church Reverend Ric Holland, a staunch supporter of marriage equality.

“I’m wearing them today for three reasons,” Di Natale told the Senate. “Firstly, I wear them as a show of solidarity with people from LGBTIQ communities.”

“I also wear them to remind us that support for a change to the Marriage Act comes from all corners of the Australian community, including from faith communities. And I wear them to take inspiration from the change that we’re creating with our LGBTIQ communities, to go on and work harder and continue to pound the pavement for equality and justice with other communities that experience discrimination.”

Pretty moving, for a pair of shoes.

Lee Rhiannon’s Speech Of Thanks To The LGBTQI+ Community

Senator Rhiannon opened her speech with a thank you, and just kept thanking from there. She made it clear that one group was deserving of love, praise and thanks at this moment — the queer community that has borne the brunt of this campaign for decades.

“For years, the tireless efforts of countless LGBTQI and community groups have kept the issue of marriage equality on the national agenda and swayed public opinion in strong favour of marriage equality,” she said.

“There will be MPs and political parties who will try and claim this win as their own, but this win sits squarely with the LGBTI community and their supporters across Australia.”

Rhiannon thanked the ’78ers, the marchers at Sydney’s very first Mardi Gras, who were courageous in the face of violence from police and bystanders. She thanked the LGBTQI+ community who endured the 2004 amendments to the Marriage Act — an amendment she described as “a calculated and what I would call a hateful move”, “for really wrong and dangerous reasons”. She thanked unions, writers, collectives and activists who contributed to the campaign for marriage equality.

“It has been a long history and, for many, I acknowledge, a very painful journey to this point,” she concluded.

“To everyone who has been arrested, been the target of police brutality or been attacked on the street for expressing their sexuality, this win is for and because of you. To everyone who has kissed a partner in public in defiance of strange looks, who has educated a co-worker who used derogatory language about sexuality, who has stood up to a homophobic relative at a family dinner, this win is for and because of you.”

“I would like to acknowledge the entire LGBTI community, who have experienced blatant homophobia over the past months because of the way the Prime Minister chose to conduct this.”

These speeches were all rare and beautiful moments, and not the only ones. So many other politicians came out to thank and acknowledge the LGBTQI+ community and the harms they endured for this result. It doesn’t make up for those harms, but man it was lovely to see.

The debate will continue tomorrow, and we can only hope more of it is like this.