By Senator Pat Dodson*
As a Yawuru man representing Australia in the Senate, I am often asked about my position on same-sex marriage.
The truth is – I am a strong supporter of same-sex marriage. My views were known long before the debate entered the Parliament.
I support it because I have seen enough inequality in my life and I oppose all forms of discrimination.
We, the First Nations people, know all too well that stinging feeling of being consigned to a lesser status in our society because of our identity, our race, our experience of rejection and our non-recognition of who we are: the First Peoples of this country.
Institutional discrimination has to be overcome by good policy and fair laws. Personal attitudes and beliefs are often harder to deal with, but education and compassion are often necessary. They are often subjective and the result of our beliefs, knowledge and experience as well as our encounters with and treatment by others. Good law in our Parliament should work towards resolving such matters — balancing them and ensuring that human beings are put first, not our institutional prejudices.
I do believe that, slowly, our nation is becoming slightly more understanding and more tolerant of differences and diversity among Australians. My belief in the richness of difference and diversity and our capacity to celebrate it in our society underpins my desire to work within the Parliament. We as individuals may hold different views, but in our civil society, government has to make laws that are fair, balanced, and respectful of difference and diversity and for the common good.
Today’s decision to legalise same-sex marriage is a shining example of that. It comes with hope that we can extend that voice of equality to our First Nations Australians.
Marriage inequality is one form of institutional, systemic discrimination that we needed to fix. The result of the same-sex marriage survey provided the people’s guidance to the Parliament and how it should act. We have now acted.
There is no doubt this was a great challenge for the Parliament – with the voices of Australians on our shoulders, we had the responsibility and the capacity to make unions of loving same-sex attracted couples civilly supported, celebrated and legally sound.
Thank goodness we have now done that.
It was with great disappointment that I could not be present on the day the Senate voted on the issue. Many have asked about my absence in the chamber that day. I want to assure you that I would never have missed such an occasion if not for such urgent and personal matters. I was called back to my own community – for sorry business in the Kimberley. On the morning of the debate, before I had to help with funeral preparations, I watched the debate unfold on News 24. When it came to the vote, I stood up and declared “Aye!”
I am celebrating the legalisation of same-sex marriage. But I know that is a result that may not be welcomed in some parts of our nation and, indeed, in some First Nation communities.
I understand and respect the views of fellow Australians, including some First Nation Australians, who may feel that they cannot support same-sex marriage because of their own beliefs, whether those beliefs emanate from their religious faiths or from their understanding of their own social, cultural traditions. I respect their views and value their perspectives.
The Western notion of the marriage contract is a recent construct that has inserted itself into our First Nations ancient, ongoing kinship systems and societies. Marriage so often has, historically, been about private property, possessive ownership and the exchange of goods and chattels. Women have often been treated as equivalent to property. This is still true in some societies today.
But legalising same-sex marriage is a move away from that legacy — to treat partners not only as equals but also as equals to others who have married under Australian law.
Marriage equality is about precisely that — equality.
Marriage equality of same-sex couples sends a message that you are equal; you are entitled to fairness; you are as Australian as any other Australian; you are a valued human being; and you are loved equally.
Legalising same-sex marriage has taught Australians an important message – it has shown us that we hold more in common that those things which divide us.
When I reflect on First Nations communities in Australia, I see the diversity and inclusiveness of our own Indigenous societies, irrespective of our differences. Kinship connects all human beings so that no-one is less than anyone else. Our protocols embody respect for those who are different. They are included, not excluded or ostracised.
Many First Nations peoples who want to see acknowledgement of our own uniqueness in the nation state also want to see respect for those who are different to us in terms of their customs, values and practices. They too suffer exclusion, ostracisation and their uniqueness is not celebrated.
Now is a time for new beginnings.
* Patrick Lionel Djargun Dodson is a Senator for Western Australia. He is a Yawuru man from Broome.