Cunningham says YES!

MS BIRD (CUNNINGHAM) (21:47):   I have to say, I am absolutely thrilled to rise to support the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 today, as I have supported marriage equality previously in this place. This bill is well considered, it's well balanced and it's well overdue. Today I have the greatest privilege to stand in this place to speak on behalf of my electorate, 65.7 per cent of whom voted yes. I want to use my time to give voice to the words of some of the amazing people who campaigned for love, kindness and fairness in my local area.

This campaign was actively supported by myself and my federal colleague the member for Whitlam, and by our state colleagues. Especially I want to note Paul Scully, the member for Wollongong, who opened his home to host phone calling nights. Our Labor councillors also worked hard. Thanks to Tania Brown, Jenelle Rimmer, David Brown, Janice Kershaw and Vicky King. Thank you also to Young Labor. I want to acknowledge members of the Liberal Party and the Greens in my local area who also supported a 'yes' vote. A big thanks for a campaign video from former Illawarra Steelers captain, John Cross. I want to say thank you to my dedicated office team—Nathan, Alison, Idalina, Dionne and Donna—who did have some tough days on the phones in the office.

Now to the words of some wonderful locals.

Richard Martin said:

While the survey is a waste of $100 million and it has hurt many people, finally 61 per cent of Australians has said to me "I am now equal". After 58 years of my life being like a second class citizen once the bill is passed I will be like ALL Australians. I never thought that day would come after all those years of fighting. Finally I am equal.

Roxee Horror said:

Being asked to be part of this campaign has been a crazy and fun journey. Originally I jumped on board for a night of fun and to put a few smiles on people's faces. But by doing this the whole yes campaign became such a close little project to my heart and when the overall vote came back as "YES" it just made everything so worth it! All the hard work that was put in has paid off.

We're one step close to equality. Seeing the work that everyone put in, donating things like time, food, and venues - all so willing to help each other out was so beautiful to see. The acceptance within the Illawarra, especially within the last few months, has been overwhelming to say the least. Not only on a level of community, but for myself, a personal level as well, Illawarra have embraced Roxee Horror and it's so surreal and humbling.

Chase Murray, who runs Alexander's Cafe in Dapto, which also hosted phone-banking nights, says:

The postal survey made me feel separated from the rest of the nation. Having my relationship and who I am as a person be probed and dissected made me feel alienated and hurt.

I am so happy that marriage equality is finally being put forward in the parliament and that the majority of the nation wants me and my partner to have equal rights.

This isn't just about marriage it is about LGBTQ people feeling valued and normal and our relationships and families being respected and embraced.

Caitlin Roodenrys says:

I was 11 when the Marriage Act was changed. I was 13 when I had my first crush on a girl. I didn't know what those feelings were, or why I was having them, or what I was meant to do. I only knew that I had an overwhelming feeling of being ashamed by them, that these were feelings that I had to hide.

That shame continued throughout high school, throughout every crush I had, and throughout the first time I fell in love.

It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that there is nothing wrong with me, that I am who I am and that's okay. That's also what this legislation says to me—that for the first time in my adult life, I can breathe freely knowing that my country recognised that there is nothing wrong with me.

I'm ecstatic that this legislation means I won't again in my adult life, feel ashamed of who I am. But more importantly, it means that 13 year old me knows that it's okay to be whoever you are, and that for every single 13 year old that grows up in Australia from now on, who feels different to their friends and isn't sure why, that they know that their country will support them to be whoever they are.

Jarrod Dellapina and Josh Talbot—these are their words:

We've been together for over five years now, and lived in Wollongong our entire lives. The postal survey made us experience feelings of insecurity, and a lack of self-worth. We wanted to make the LGBTIQ people of Albion Park feel welcomed and well represented, so we campaigned hard, letterbox dropped, door knocked, and put posters up around town. Every Thursday night we made phone calls with other equality campaigners to people all over Australia. We have to say a lot of the feedback was positive, however the low self-worth and insecurity continued to stay, with people pulling down posters, and people screaming obscenities at us, before slamming the door shut.

However, we never stopped fighting for our equality, we worked together with Illawarra Rainbow Labor, and the Equality campaign to make equality a reality for all Australians. We would like to thank our federal members Stephen Jones and Sharon Bird, as well as Paul and Alison Scully, and the Illawarra's equality coordinator Simon Zulian for representing us, and fighting with us, and help making marriage equality a reality.

The day after the results were announced, we went away for our anniversary, and are now engaged, and couldn't be happier. Thank you, Australia for saying Yes.

Ann Martin from Port Kembla says:

The marriage equality debate caused pain and suffering where it wasn't deserved. For those of us who are passionate about building a nation where respect, love and equity are the foundations of our society it gave us a chance to be part of history—to work together to make change happen for the greater good. We did that, we organised, we marched, we sought to bring others with us. The vote for marriage equality was a vote for fairness, commitment, and love.

Renay Horten, who is a florist in Port Kembla, wanted to say:

Yes! A word I use every day without a thought of what it would mean to the people I love so dearly over the last few months. I have watched my family and friends who are educated, tax paying, volunteers to their communities, carers to love ones, everyday people go from day to day life to being torn apart by vote that never needed to happen.

My mother when I was a child would tell me stories of her marching for human rights and equally in the 60's and 70's never in my thoughts as a child would I have thought that I would be marching and rallying for the same rights for my love ones 45 years later. The Yes vote is about human rights and we as human beings saying "YES" in 2017 we are seen as equal regardless of your sexuality.

Al Byrnes says:

When the postal vote survey was first announced I watched a number of my friends struggle and despair because their lives, their choices and their relationships would now be publicly judged by their friends, family and community—and not all of these judgements would be supportive.

My friends should not have to beg for equality and that's why I became so involved in the Yes campaign.

I want to thank my "Gold Star" mate Simon Zulian for coordinating the fight in the 'gong and for stepping up to fight this latest battle despite his vehement opposition to the survey. He led a great, united crew and ran an amazing and fabulous rainbow campaign to finally achieve marriage equality. I am sure Kane would be extremely proud of you and I am so very sad he is not here to celebrate with you.

Wendy Meyers says:

Not since the AIDS tragedy have I ever known my community under so much distress and attack. I have friends who live in the city and the country and all of them expressed deep disappointment that the Parliament put the vote out to the people. I have heard stories of family breakdowns where young GLBTIQ people have had falling outs with Grand Parents, Fathers fallen out with sons and young people in our community attempting suicide because they have had their identity crushed. Like any culture, the GLBTIQ community are proud of our heritage, our culture and our celebrations. We have come a long way in the last 50 years in this country.

The day of the Yes vote was a celebration, but it was also the end of an exhausting few weeks of supporting each other to remain strong against the possibility of a No. A possibility that we would be lesser Australians. I was proud that our allies turned out to support the raising of the flag at Wollongong Council. Personally I fought for this so that young kids knew we had their back. When the Wollongong Lighthouse was lit up the night before the announcement many of my friends were too distressed to come, deeply nervous of the pending vote. For me, seeing the lighthouse in rainbow colours was a defining moment. I felt accepted once again by my community. If only for a brief moment.

Since the vote we have seen so much hate generated toward the GLBTIQ community. I follow the DIY Rainbow Group on Facebook and some men have had hate filled notes put in their letterbox, murals graffitied and the recent standoff over young people flying the rainbow flag from their home is deeply distressing. We stand today at a moment in history, a defining moment that generations will look back on. The vote has been cast. Our grandchildren's grandchildren, whether they are born Gay or Straight will learn of this moment. On looking back they won't be interested in the wording, I am sure future generations will refine the details. They will look back on how we came together, how we spoke as one voice and said lets finally get something the majority of Australian Citizens have wanted for many years finally done. Let's get the Marriage Equality Bill Passed.

I stand here as a member of this House who's been married as an Australian and as someone who's been in a long, committed relationship where I choose not to be married, and I am so glad that gay and lesbian couples in Australia now have exactly the same choice, as they should, as other Australians. Finally, I'm really pleased that Cunningham said yes.

Watch my speech here.