New Labor MP Stephen Jones rose in parliament yesterday to move an amendment to Greens MP Adam Bandt’s motion to push for a consensus on the issue of gay marriage. He went on to deliver the case on why Labor must embrace the change.

… I do not pretend to be an early activist on this issue. When I think about the issues that I campaigned on this year, they were about dealing with youth unemployment, which stands at around 14% in my area, reforming our economy to make it more sustainable and preserving our planet for future generations. It was about improving infrastructure and access to health and education services.

Now, having focused on the issue and having applied the core Labor values of equality, fairness and dignity, I believe that there is a case for change. Indeed, it was these values that led Labor, in its first term, to conduct an exhaustive review of all Commonwealth laws to identify and remove all areas of discrimination against same-s-x couples. In the last parliament the Labor government amended 86 separate pieces of legislation to this end.

The second observation is that if change is to occur it must be built on community consensus. If legislation is to be changed it will require consensus, which will require more votes than any single party can muster in this chamber. That will not be achieved by a heroic dash but by careful advocacy that respects different views, respectfully. On this issue there are different views. There are some who, on theological grounds, believe that to celebrate marriage of two men or two women is an affront to their religion. I have thought carefully about this objection, and I cannot help but draw the conclusion that the real objection here is not to the marriage but to the relationship.

We can be thankful that we live in a society in which those who hold this view are as free to hold it as I am to say, respectfully, that I do not agree. We on the Labor side are opposed to discrimination. This Opposition is grounded in the value of fairness and equity, and we are opposed to treating people differently because of gender, race, religion or s-xual preference.

There are others who argue that same-s-x marriage is an affront to tradition. I have more sympathy for this argument because I am a great believer in the importance of tradition. It is often the stuff that binds us together, but it can also be the stuff that excludes and impedes genuine progress. We in this place must be very careful of mindless genuflection to tradition, because traditions change over time. There have been many matrimonial traditions which we now think of as absurd, if not abhorrent. Betrothal, dowry and a wife’s matrimonial vow of obedience to husband come to mind as examples.

The third observation I would make is that marriage is an important institution in our society. It is a special relationship where two people say to each other and to the rest of the world that they agree to be bound together in love, exclusive of all others, for life. I believe it would diminish us all as a society if we were to say that we may exclude gay and l-sbian couples from this celebration. That marks them as somehow less worthy or even as biological oddities. I respect the right of religious organisations and others in our community to disagree with this view and to continue to practise in accordance with their beliefs. Indeed, no motion or act of this place can of itself change those beliefs. But it is an entirely different thing to ask of the state to enforce it.

Finally, I come to this place as a representative of my party and my electorate. I will advocate for change, but I will do that in my electorate and in accordance with the rules and processes of my party in this parliament.

Peter Fray

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