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Topics In the News
Australian Senator Tells Parliament: "This [Marriage Equality] Debate Has a Personal Impact for Me"
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 09/17/12
Last updated on: 09/18/12
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Senator Louise Pratt.

On September 17, 2012, Australian Senator Louise Pratt, in an emotional speech on behalf of marriage equality, told her colleagues, "This debate has a personal impact for me." She said, "I am one of those hundreds of thousands of Australian citizens who knows that the laws of our nation hold our capacity for love and for commitment to be lesser because of the gender of our partner. . . . We know that those ideas are not true and that the laws that reinforce them are not right."

Pratt, a Labor MP who represents the state of Western Australia, has served in the Senate since 2008. Before entering electoral politics, she was active in the advocacy group Gay and Lesbian Equality, which she served as a regular spokesperson. When she was elected to Western Australia's Legislative Council in 2001, she became only the second open lesbian to serve in an Australian parliament.

Pratt used her maiden speech to the federal Senate in 2008 to break with the Australian Labor Party's then-opposition to marriage equality by calling for the legalization of same-sex marriage. In that speech, Senator Pratt revealed that her partner, Aram Hosie, was born female but had transitioned to male.

She said then, "I look forward to a time when we will have removed at a federal level all discrimination on the grounds of gender identity and sexuality, to a time when my partner is not denied a passport because his gender is not recognised under our laws; to a time when my friends' children all enjoy the same rights and protections under commonwealth law regardless of whether their parents are straight or gay; to a time when if my gay friends wish to be legally married, they can be."

In the speech delivered on September 17, Senator Pratt argued not only for the rights of gay and lesbian couples, but also for the rights of transgender and intersex people.

She pointed out that under Australian law if one member of a married couple realizes that he or she is transgender and transitions, the couple is forced to divorce.

In addition, she said, "Under the current law, there are also Australians who have the legal right, to marry no one. Because? they are legally and by biological fact, inter-sexed. That is they are both male and female. Irrespective of how they identify."

She also observed that "it is one of the bitterest, bitterest ironies of this debate that historically gay people have been stigmatized as promiscuous and immoral while being denied by the law the right to demonstrate the importance and consistency of their relationships in the way that any other Australian can. Think about that."

In her speech, Senator Pratt points out that according to polls a healthy majority of Australians are in favor of marriage equality. However, most observers do not believe that there are sufficient votes to pass the marriage equality bill this year. Although the Australian Labor Party endorsed marriage equality earlier this year, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who opposes same-sex marriage, has granted Labor MPs a conscience vote on the bill; in contrast, the opposition party has whipped its MPs to vote against the bill regardless of their personal views.

Senator Penny Wong, also openly lesbian, said that the very fact the issue was being fought on the floor of parliament was a victory.

"Sometimes you lose something then you win on a subsequent occasion--I've been in politics long enough to know that," she told Australian Radio.

Senator Wong said she believed significant progress had been made on the issue of same sex marriage, and that community sentiment supported it.

As Andy Towle at Towleroad observes, Senator Pratt's thoughtful speech deserves a wide audience.

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