I Cried In Parliament House Because I Am Ashamed

It's love that makes a family.

21/09/2016 5:29 AM AEST | Updated 21/09/2016 5:30 AM AEST
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#wecandothis. Why don't we?

Last week, in Parliament House, I cried.

I was listening to a brave group of children from Rainbow families. These kids were telling me about themselves, who are they are and what they like, about their families and why they are fearful of a plebiscite on marriage equality. I was struck by their courage, and their generosity; sharing such personal things with me, a random guy in a suit.

I cried because they felt they had to do this -- that for them the personal had been forced to become deeply political. They had to open up their lives to me, and to explain what it could mean to have them opened to everyone's scrutiny and judgement.

I cried because their stories were powerful, and so bravely told.

I cried because their expectations were so modest -- to be treated like everyone else -- but are so far from being met.

But mostly I cried because I felt ashamed.

Today, as I write, I'm not crying... but I'm still ashamed.

Ashamed that I sit in a Parliament in which too many MPs seek to be commentators, not lawmakers. Who prefer pontificating on abstractions and hiding from their responsibilities to confronting the challenge of ending a discrimination which is hurting real people.

As representatives, we have failed. Obviously, we haven't delivered equality in Australia's marriage laws. But I fear it's more profound than this -- though it's not too late to change course.

We haven't given voice to those most affected in this debate: couples seeking to be married, just like their friends and neighbours; and their children.

Because this is their story. The marriage equality debate is about their lives, and when politicians ignore this, we diminish our politics as well as our society.

As Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews often says, equality is not negotiable. And this is what is really at stake here. This isn't a dinner party conversation about the cultural significance of the institution of marriage -- it's a question of whether we can continue to treat one group of Australians as somehow less than the rest of us, simply because of who they are. More pointedly, it has also become about whether we are prepared to risk harm to our fellow citizens for no good reason at all.

The expansive sophistry of the Prime Minister can't hide this. Think of his empty promise that his plebiscite on equality would be respectful. This falls at the first hurdle, as he now refuses to even say the word 'equality'.

Here is a fundamental point, disguised as matter of process. What the Prime Minister is really saying to hundreds of thousands of Australians is that he reckons an abstract institution, marriage, is more important than them. More important than their relationships, their feelings, their mental health. More important than who they are.

It's love that makes a family. I'm naive enough to believe that the vast majority of my fellow MPs and Senators agree with me on this.

For those who don't, I challenge them to listen to the amazing, brave kids who came to Canberra to see me last week.

And then to let those kids, and their parents, listen to us as we do our job and debate a bill to make marriage equality a reality in Australia. It needn't take long, and it won't cost $170 million. Let them judge us for what we say, not enable them to be judged for being who they are. That's how our representative democracy should work.

Let's just do this.

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