Sussan Ley has officially entered her ‘yes’ vote for same-sex marriage, reflecting on her change in attitude over the past decade, after growing up in a time where homosexuality was considered illegal and immoral.
Well before she was Farrer MP, she was a year 12 student in 1978 – the year 53 people were arrested when Sydney hosted the first Mardi Gras in a bid to end discrimination.
“The Mardi Gras was seen by my contemporaries as somewhere between a confused celebration of immorality and an exotic curiosity,” Ms Ley told Parliament during her speech on Tuesday.
She had friends in the 1980s she did not know were gay because they kept it hidden to avoid judgement, including one couple who became sick from AIDS and died alone without the support of friends.
“I wish I could have had the opportunity to reach out a non-judgmental hand of friendship – society judged that was the problem, even if individuals did not,” she said.
“The rumour mill (around AIDS) was out of control. In rural Australia, gay people went underground.
“It is the unique circumstances of people growing up gay, lesbian and transgender in rural Australia that have really defined my approach to marriage equality. I have heard too many stories of loneliness, misunderstanding, rejection and ultimately tragedy not to know this legislation will do much to heal the anguish.”
But it had taken Ms Ley a decade to come to her position.
“I’m not sure that I would have voted yes 10 years ago - I probably wouldn’t have, five years ago I probably would have been ambivalent, today for me a yes vote is the only possibility,” she said.
“Acceptance of you, who you are – and your sexuality is a huge part of this - does much to prevent adolescent anxiety and self-harm.
“So many young people in regional Australia have described to me it is just so hard to be LGBTI growing up in a small town where everyone knows everyone, and there is no one to turn to for support.
“In the future, I know this stress and anxiety will be calmed by the sheer ordinariness of same-sex marriages.”
The MP said she also respected the decision of Farrer residents who had voted ‘no’ and would continue to listen to their concerns, but wanted to wait for the outcome of a report into religious freedoms before making a decision on those issues, instead of supporting the proposed amendments.
Debate on the marriage law will continue on Wednesday.