Marriages Bill

Marriages Bill

(Bills - Second Reading Debate, 6 June 2018, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament) 

I welcome the Miscellaneous Acts Amendment (Marriages) Bill 2018, which updates State laws to reflect Federal marriage laws that now finally allow same-sex and gender diverse couples to marry each other. I thank the Attorney General and his staff for the consultation with me and other lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex [LGBTI] advocates on this bill. I especially highlight the work of Anna Brown and Lee Carnie from the Human Rights Law Centre for their work and dedication across this country on this and other important legislation impacting the LGBTI community. As many members know, I was the co-chair of the successful Yes campaign and worked alongside more than 15,000 Australians to shape Australia as a fairer and more equal place for all. Despite a disgraceful campaign from the No side, we succeeded, and now all Australians can marry the person they love in the country we all cherish.

The bill is an important part of that. It will ensure that where laws in New South Wales refer to a spouse, the reference is inclusive of same-sex and gender diverse married couples. It is an update that is required by the Parliament of Australia, and I am pleased we have made it some months ahead of the December deadline. Tomorrow is the six-month anniversary of the Federal Parliament legislating for marriage equality, and already 2,500 couples have married. That has been an expensive exercise for LGBTI Australians, our friends and families. Whilst most changes are consequential to Australian marriage laws, removal of the forced trans divorce provision or a married requirement eliminates a very cruel and discriminatory provision that has plagued State laws and has had a destructive influence on the lives of many trans people.

I acknowledge the work of the former Federal Attorney General, George Brandis, and his staff in ensuring that changes to the Federal marriages Act also mandated ending forced trans divorce. I also acknowledge the ongoing advocacy of Australian Greens Senator Janet Rice on this matter. Prior to the passage of this bill, a person was able to change their sex on the birth, deaths and marriages register only after they had undergone gender transitional surgery and if that person is not married. Trans people who have had sex affirmation surgery and are married are required to choose between having a correct birth certificate and staying married to their lifelong partner, who has supported them through their transition. This is untenable and poses a challenging and unfair decision for married couples in that situation.

An incorrect birth certificate means disclosing one's former gender when applying for a job and having difficulty accessing medical services. Trans people often experience discrimination and stigma, and it should be their choice whom they inform about the deeply personal matter of their transition. The trans community is a minority group with alarmingly high rates of attempted suicide and mental health concerns. An incorrect birth certificate only contributes to feelings of isolation and social rejection. But divorce is also an undesirable option. Why should a couple divorce when they are in a loving and supportive relationship? Marriage exists to protect and support relationships that provide stability and belonging for the people involved, which is vital to a person who is undergoing a gender transition.

I first worked on legislation to achieve this in 2014 with The Greens upper House member and soon‑to‑be Federal Senator, Dr Mehreen Faruqi. At the time, we shared with the media and the Parliament the story of Elisabeth White, who began her transition in 2010 while she was married to her wife, Lisa. She told theSydney Morning Herald that she was put in the humiliating position of being forced to disclose her former gender when applying for a job. She and Lisa had been married for 20 years, yet she was forced to make a cruel choice. As she put it:

You either deal with discrimination or you divorce.

Many couples stay together after one person transitions and the law should protect the vital emotional support that comes from marriage. The Australian Human Rights Commission, the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the World Health Organization have all identified forced trans divorce laws as human rights violations. While abolishing forced trans divorce, the House should also abolish other humans rights violations against trans people. The bill does not remove provisions that currently force trans people to undergo irreversible surgical procedures to change their sex on their birth certificate. Gender affirmation surgery is not always wanted, safe or available, and is neither the only nor the most common option to transition. Hormone treatment is more common.

The vast majority of trans people live within their true gender identity without surgery, but because of existing laws the majority of trans and gender diverse people cannot change their legal sex or gender to access an accurate birth certificate that reflects the gender they live as. In 2015 I worked with colleagues across the Parliament to draft a bill to remove the requirement for forced surgical intervention for people transitioning sex or gender. I announce to the House that, along with colleagues from the Government, the Opposition and The Greens, I will again proceed with this important legislation following consultation with stakeholders, colleagues and relevant experts. Birth certificates are used by employers, including for police checks. They are also used to access services and benefits, and the State should hold the correct personal documents of its citizens, with all citizens able to access an accurate birth certificate. All a person needs to do to get their true gender on their passport is provide a letter from a medical practitioner certifying that they have had or are being treated for gender transition. This model is supported by the Australian Human Rights Commission and the World Health Organization.

The New South Wales Parliament dealt with the issue of marriage equality and many other important LGBTI reforms in a civilised and respectful way, and I hope that we will not be afraid to take the next step in helping trans people get full recognition. Trans people are some of the most marginalised people we represent, and they live across the State. Every member of this Parliament has trans constituents; this is not an issue limited to inner-city electorates. I would like the Minister in reply to make a commitment to consider changes to provisions that force trans people into surgery as part of the move towards equality that is covered in this bill. In recognising that a couple made up of two men, two women or two people with one or both being gender diverse, the bill represents a big step towards equality. But much more needs to be done to reach full equality and I am committed—as I know other members across the political spectrum are—to achieving this in the current Parliament and in future parliaments.

For young people coming out without the love and support of family and friends, marriage laws that discriminated against LGBTI people instilled feelings of being different and inferior. Unfortunately, this has had lifelong impacts on people who are now adults. LGBTI people are between three to 14 times more likely to commit suicide, with one in six young LGBTI people having attempted suicide and one in three having self-harmed. During the postal survey, the No side acted with supreme cowardice in attacking some of the most vulnerable in our community, including the trans and gender diverse community and the children of same-sex parented families. Australia rejected their appalling and damaging campaign, and instead voted for love, equality and fairness. It is with pleasure that I say we can now move on from the despair of the past, including years of inaction in the Federal Parliament, after a majority of Australians stood up for their LGBTI friends and family members and supported marriage equality.

I thank everyone who put their blood, sweat and tears into achieving marriage equality, those who literally knocked on the doors of their neighbours to get their vote for them to be able to marry, and our Federal colleagues, who finally did their job and legislated for marriage equality six months ago. I commend the bill to the House.


To read the speeches of other Members on the subject, click HERE

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