Debate on Relationships Register Amendment Bill 2014

Debate on Relationships Register Amendment Bill 2014

(Second Reading Debate, 13 November 2014, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

I thank the Attorney General, the member for Port Macquarie and the member for Coogee for their contributions to this debate. I also welcome to the Chamber Senator Ricardo Lara from the California State Senate along with his guests, Alfredo Pedroza and Javier Angulo, and Daniel Harris from the Consulate General of the United States in Sydney who are here to listen to the debate. California is a State that has embraced marriage equality and where many Australians, same-sex and gender-diverse couples travel to get married. Indeed, I believe that approximately 30 to 35 States of the United States have marriage equality. Australian couples can go to any of those States to get married, but unfortunately, there continues to be Federal inaction in Australia.

I especially thank the member for Coogee for his contribution and his strong support for marriage equality and wider lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans/transgender and intersex [LGBTI] law reform. I have greatly enjoyed working with him in this Parliament and look forward to working with him in the next Parliament—that is what we both hope for. I must acknowledge the work of the Hon. Trevor Khan, the Hon. Penny Sharpe, Dr Mehreen Faruqi and the former member of the Legislative Council from The Greens, Cate Faehrmann whose motion in support of marriage equality actually passed the upper House but, as the member for Coogee said, the legislation to enact same-sex marriages was sadly lost by just one vote.

The aim of the Relationships Register Amendment (Recognition of Same-sex and Gender-diverse Relationships) Bill 2014 is to ensure same-sex couples and couples with at least one person who is gender-diverse who have married overseas can access the Relationships Register, which gives adults in de facto or couple relationships the opportunity to have their relationship officially recognised by the State, thus ensuring their rights as a couple. It is widely acknowledged that the register is most useful for LGBTI couples because they are at greater risk of having their relationship and rights challenged, and because of Federal Government inaction on marriage equality. But only unmarried couples can register their relationship, leaving many same-sex couples who marry overseas in limbo. These couples must deny that they are married if they want their relationship recognised by the New South Wales Government. This insults the commitment of these couples, who have travelled overseas to be married and undermines the aims of the register to protect these relationships.

While marriage between same-sex couples is, sadly, not recognised under the Australian Marriages Act 1961, such marriages are valid and recognised throughout the world, including in California where our guests today come from. In fact, to enable same-sex couples to marry overseas, the Australian Federal Government provides them with Certificates of No Impediment to Marriage, something I was happy to champion in my previous role as the National Convenor of Australian Marriage Equality. The last Census identified 1,338 Australian same-sex couples in which one person was described as the husband or wife of the other. It is likely that many of these couples were married overseas—that number would have increased greatly. Recent statistics from New Zealand reveal that between August 2013 and December 2013, 97 Australian same-sex couples were married in New Zealand. More recently couples are being married in the Sydney United Kingdom consulate.

I welcome the Government's changes to the application process for couples applying to register their relationship, as outlined by the member for Port Macquarie and indeed the Attorney General. This outcome follows my discussions with the Attorney General and his staff, and particularly the work of Emma Gittoes. This change directly addresses the aims of my bill. Under these changes, same-sex couples who marry overseas will be able to reflect their marital status on relevant forms and will no longer have to declare that they are not married. Marital status on the form will provide a new option for same-sex couples married overseas. The eligibility criteria will specify that these couples are eligible to register their relationship in New South Wales.

These important changes brought about by my bill acknowledge the growing number of New South Wales same-sex couples travelling overseas to marry in places that have embraced marriage equality, and remove impediments to their relationship being protected by the New South Wales law. Given these changes I will seek leave to adjourn debate on this bill. I remain concerned that couples with one or more person who is gender diverse, who marry overseas, will not have a specific option that reflects their situation. People who are gender diverse can have their sex on their passport reflect a different sex than their birth certificate or an "X" to reflect indeterminate, unspecified or intersex. They can marry in New Zealand as a person with an indeterminate sex. Many trans and intersex people do not see their marriage as same sex or opposite sex, and do not want to declare they are unmarried or declare that they have a same-sex marriage.

I understand that making changes to the application form to specifically address the concerns of gender-diverse people require detailed assessment, as they could impact on other operations of Births, Deaths and Marriages. I am committed to working towards complete equality and inclusion in all New South Wales laws for trans and intersex people, and have previously introduced legislation to end the practice of forced trans divorce. Of course, none of this would be necessary if the Australian Government got its act together to reflect the aspiration of Australians and legislate for marriage equality. The inaction of Federal governments, past and present, on marriage equality remains an embarrassing blight on our nation's reputation for fairness, freedom and equality. It is ridiculous that some Australians cannot marry the person they love in the country they love.

My marriage to my husband, Victor, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, was the most important day of my life. Our families came together to witness us exchange solemn vows, committing ourselves to each other in sickness and in health, till death do us part. Of course, we took our vows in Spanish because we were in Argentina, but I am pretty sure the translation was accurate. Returning home to Australia was hard, with the law not recognising our solemn vows. The majority of Australians support marriage equality and do not want our laws to treat the gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and intersex people as second-class citizens. In fact, recent polling from Crosby Textor indicated that 72 per cent of Australians support marriage equality.

A commitment between a couple can provide stability and belonging for the people involved; the law should value, protect and support this regardless of gender. Where there is love, the law should provide support. As newly voted Tasmanian of Year, Rodney Croome, AM, has said, "Marriage is about wants in your heart, not what's between your legs". Rodney has worked tirelessly for the LGBTI community for more than 25 years, and would make an excellent Australian of the Year. I thank him for his support and the support of Australian Marriage Equality for my bill. Equality in the law for the LGBTI community is needed to ensure fairness, prevent injustice and to provide protection, particularly in times of crisis. It is now time for the Prime Minister to stop blocking the path to marriage equality, and for our Federal colleagues to work together towards getting the reform through the Senate and House of Representatives.

Our Federal colleagues could learn a lot from the New South Wales LGBTI working group. The member for Coogee, the Hon. Trevor Khan, the Hon. Penny Sharpe, Dr Mehreen Faruqi and I have worked very well together to progress reform and, as the member for Coogee said, we got very close in the upper House. I know that is a challenge many of us are prepared to take on in the next Parliament. I acknowledge Federal Senator Sarah Hanson-Young for her tireless work to progress marriage equality. Senator Hanson-Young proposed a sensible bill in the Federal Parliament to recognise overseas same-sex marriage in the Federal Marriage Act. However, Federal Government and Opposition members blocked its progress. I thank the Attorney General and the Government for working with me to do what we can in New South Wales to recognise that growing numbers of same-sex couples are marrying overseas, and ensuring that when those couples return home—couples like me and my husband, Victor—there is no impediment to being recognised in New South Wales law. I thank all members for their contributions.

Let's work together to celebrate and protect our great city!