Culture

Labor MP Tim Watts’ Passionate, Personal Speech On The Rights Of LGBTI Australians Is A Must-See

After Senator Eric Abetz invoked Dolce & Gabbana to argue against marriage equality, Tim Watts abandoned the script.

In a frustrating setback for the marriage equality movement, the Coalition government voted to keep its opposition to marriage equality intact and deny its members a conscience vote on the issue after a marathon debate session last night. The mood on social media and from progressive groups has been pretty despondent this morning, for obvious reasons; Labor Senator Penny Wong summed it up pretty succinctly when she ran into Treasurer Joe Hockey this morning.

But one piece of news in particular from that Coalition meeting is turning disappointment into anger. According to the Australian Financial Review, conservative Liberal Senator Eric Abetz argued against a free vote during the meeting on the basis that “lots of homosexuals don’t want to get married; Dolce and Gabbana never got married”.

Dolce and Gabbana, of course, being the Italian fashion designers who voiced their opinions against marriage equality back in March — comments that are routinely waved around by marriage equality opponents as “proof” that there’s no need for equal marriage laws. Why the opinions of two Italian fashion designers are informing Australian government policy on what legal rights can be extended and withheld from people is unclear, but Abetz’s remarks have rubbed salt into the wound for people already disheartened by the Coalition’s decision.

In response to Abetz’s comments, Victorian Labor MP Tim Watts gave a short speech in Parliament this morning. Abandoning his prepared remarks, Watts told the chamber of the man he knew growing up as Uncle Derek, his uncle Ian’s partner who was never able to be recognised as family under the law. Watts spoke emotionally of Derek’s warmth, the struggle he faced having his sexuality accepted by his partner’s family, and the constant dangers and indignities he endured as a gay man in 1980s Queensland.

He also recounted how, when he was dying of an AIDS-related illness, Derek planned his own funeral to be both a party and a political event to raise awareness and acceptance of homosexual people.

“I know that in light of the last 24 hours, that he would’ve wanted me to deliver a political message in the chamber here today. He would’ve wanted me to say to Senator Abetz: do not claim to understand what gay Australians want. Do not tell them what they do and don’t want. Do not use the law to deny them the equal right to choose the same recognition for their relationships as heterosexual couples,” Watts said.

“People like Senator Abetz and the Prime Minister are rightly viewed as anachronistic jokes on this issue by the majority of Australians. The absurd references to Dolce & Gabbana in yesterday’s Coalition party room will reinforce this. Believe it or not, not all gay men are Italian fashion designers.

“But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that while laughable, we are dealing with serious issues of human dignity and legal discrimination in this debate. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the LGBTI rights movement in Australia is a serious cause, with serious consequence for LGBTI Australians — a cause that has experienced some very difficult times in Australia in past decades, and a cause that all of us in this place should treat very seriously in our representations.”

The speech is already beginning to go viral, with people tweeting Watts in appreciation for his words.