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The following address was delivered by AME campaign director, Rodney Croome, at the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee hearing into marriage equality on 3.5.12

Hundreds of thousands of Australians from all walks of life are excluded from one of our society’s most important legal and social institutions, marriage, for the sole reason we find love, fulfillment and commitment with someone of the same sex.

This exclusion hurts, demeans and diminishes us and our families, and we are determined to end it because of the social and personal good that we know will come.

Our exclusion from marriage re-inforces stereotypes of our relationships as unstable, short-lived and ephemeral. It says we are less worthy and capable of marriage than all the child abusers, rapists and murderers who can marry simply by virtue of their heterosexuality. This stigma weighs heavily, particularly on the young. You will hear evidence from others about the self-harm and suicide to which prejudice makes them vulnerable.

Our exclusion makes it harder to access the relationship entitlements we already have when these entitlements are challenged, as they too often are. Civil unions have been proposed as a solution to this problem, but I known from my experience in Tasmania that too frequently they are not.

Our exclusion demeans marriage and brings it into disrepute by making it a vehicle for prejudice rather than symbol of love.

Perhaps most important of all, by being excluded from marriage we are excluded from the way marriage creates and re-inforces family bonds.

When we marry we don’t just form a new relationship with our partner. They become part of our family and we of theirs.

My mother can say of my partner, “I think of him as my son-in-law”. But until the law is changed she cannot say, “he is my son-in-law”.

We know from the international experience that marriage equality has a direct and positive impact.

It reduces levels of anxiety and depression among same-sex attracted people.

It re-inforces the commitment between partners, and provides their children with a stronger sense of security and participation in family and community life.

It recognises the full citizenship and full humanity of a stigmatised minority and revitalises a traditional institution.

Yet there are still some who oppose marriage equality.

My response to them is this:

In contemporary Australia heterosexual couples can choose to have a non-religious marriage ceremony, and most do. They can marry whether or not they choose to have children. They can marry whether or not they want to adhere to traditional gender roles of working husbands and stay-at-home wives. Whatever their choice the law does not judge them.

This is because most Australians today understand that marriage at the most fundamental level is not about the blessing of God or the gender of the partners. It is about a lifelong relationship based on love, commitment, responsibility and respect.

As poll after poll shows, the majority of Australians understand that this definition of marriage – their definition – easily encompasses same-sex partners.

Increasingly, heterosexual Australians think of the love shared by the gay couples they know as equal to their own. Change the law so that they can finally say of their gay friends and relatives, “in every way, their love is equal”.