Abbott: No voters ‘aren’t bigots’

TONY Abbott has called for MPs to respect the views of more than four million Australians who voted No to same-sex marriage as he spoke on the historic bill in Parliament today.

The former prime minister signalled his intention to move an amendment that would protect Australians who held traditional views of marriage from being penalised for expressing their opinion.

"They are not bigots but simply people who are respectful of traditions handed down from time immemorial," he said.

"I would like this to be a unifying moment for our country. And the best way to make this a unifying moment for our country would be to acknowledge the continuing concerns that many decent Australians have about freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and parental rights.

Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott reacts during debate of the Marriage Amendment bill in the House of Representatives. Picture: AAP
Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott reacts during debate of the Marriage Amendment bill in the House of Representatives. Picture: AAP

"The best way to make this a unifying moment the our country would be to ensure that the anti-gay prejudice of the past is not replaced by new politcally correct bigotry.

"We certainly do not want new forms of division to replace old ones."

Mr Abbott also congratulated his sister Christine and her partner Virginia on their upcoming wedding.

He also congratulated the Yes campaign, saying the support for same-sex marriage showed the warm acceptance the nation had for gay and lesbian Australians.

"There may indeed be a few homophobic individuals lurking amongst us but no-one should ever again claim that Australia is a bigoted or intolerant country," he said.


PRIME Minister Malcolm Turnbull called on Australians to be honest about the threat to traditional marriage during his speech to Parliament.

"I am utterly unpersuaded by the position that my marriage to Lucy or indeed any marriage is undermined by two gay men or women setting up house down the road whether it is called a marriage or not," Mr Turnbull said.

"Let's be honest to each other, the threat to traditional marriage is not from gay people but a lack of loving commitment, whether found in the form of neglect, indifference, cruelty or adultery to name just a few manifestations of that loveless desert in which to many marriages come to grief.

"If the threat to marry today is lack of commitment than surely other couples making and maintaining that commitment is a good example rather than a bad one.

"Gay people seek the right to marry and formalise their commitment to each other, holding up a mirror to heterosexuals who, regrettably in my view at least, marry less frequency and divorce more often."

He said the message to LGBTIQ Australians from the whole nation was: "We love you, we respect you, your relationship is recognised by the Commonwealth as legitimate and honourable as anybody else's."



A GAY Liberal MP has asked his partner to marry him on the floor of Parliament as debate kicked off on the same-sex marriage bill.

Tim Wilson asked his partner Ryan Bolger, who was sitting in the public gallery to marry him during his speech on the historic bill today.

The response was an immediate Yes.

It will be the first proposal to be recorded in Hansard, Australia's official account of Parliament.

Earlier, Mr Wilson choked back tears as he described the negative reactions of some friends when he initially asked his Ryan to marry him years ago.

"Many simply did not know how to react, many SMSs went unresponded, in conversation, some people politely changed the topic or fell silent entirely," he said.

Tim Wilson with his partner Ryan Bolger. Picture: Josie Hayden
Tim Wilson with his partner Ryan Bolger. Picture: Josie Hayden

"For a while Ryan kept pushing for an engagement party. The truth was, I kept delaying it, perhaps wrongly because the strong message I took from so many people's silence was that no one would come. On informing one person, they responded 'Why bother'."

Seventy-seven MPs are listed to speak on the bill this week, which will take up to 20 hours or at least two days to get through.

Labor has offered to extend sitting hours late into the night or cut speeches back to 10 minutes to speed-up the process.

Amendments will then be considered, which could take another two days, before a final vote is held.

Politicians have just four sitting days to finalise the bill, if it needs to be sent back to the Senate this year.


Kicking off the speeches this morning, veteran Liberal MP Warren Entsch issued a stern warning to his colleagues who wanted to stall passage of new laws.

Wearing a rainbow-coloured tie, an emotional Entsch described his "very lonely" journey - as a coalition MP advocating for change - as MPs began debating a private bill the Senate passed last week.

"In 2010 I came back from retirement because I felt I had unfinished business. I hope some of that business can be dealt with this week," he said.

"This bill will take from no-one. It simply makes a nation a kinder and fairer place. Delaying equality for every Australian, whether they be from Bundaberg or Fremantle, is simply not good enough."

"At the end of the day life is too short. We must vote on this and get on with it," he said.

"I wish all of those brides and all of those grooms the very, very best in their married futures."

Opposition leader Bill Shorten paid tribute in his speech to Labor senator Penny Wong, who made the difficult choice in 2004 as a gay woman to vote along Labor Party lines to change the Marriage Act to specify marriage was between a man and a woman.

"Penny, yours has often been a lonely road and a hard road," Mr Shorten said.

"It is the merging of the personal and political in ways that some of us who vote here will never have to contemplate.

"In 2011, your advocacy, along with others, changed our platform.

"In the years to come, Sophie will be able to tell your children about the time that their mum helped change Australia."


Earlier today, a Labor frontbencher warned the same-sex marriage bill might not be legal by Christmas if MPs sought to drastically change the bill in the House of Representatives this week.

About 10 MPs, including Treasurer Scott Morrison and former prime minister Tony Abbott, will seek to introduce amendments to the historic bill when it goes before the lower house this week.

Protections for the legal status of charities, for parents' rights to educate their children according to their moral views and a no-detriment clause for people or organisations that express traditional views of marriage are among the changes they want to make.

Another change expected to be debated will be a provision to allow civil celebrants to refuse to marry same-sex couples.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has confirmed he will back protections for charities.

Labor frontbencher Tony Burke warned this morning Labor would not support amendments to the bill after it passed the senate last Wednesday almost unchanged from the original bill put forward by Liberal senator Dean Smith.

"I'm concerned that if we have amendments in the House of Representatives, we could very easily get to a situation where the Senate has approved marriage equality in one form, the House of Representatives has approved marriage equality in a different form, and we get to the end of the year and we still don't have the change," he told reporters in Canberra.

"If the parliament becomes so broken that that's the outcome, I don't think the Australian people are going to be terribly impressed at all."

If amendments do pass the House, the bill will have to go back to Senate for approval where any changes are likely to be knocked back.

The back and forth could push out the time frame beyond Thursday, the final sitting day of the year for the Senate.

Mr Burke said a number of the amendments, including protecting the legal status of charities, dealt with issues that would not arise from the same-sex marriage legislation.

"If we have a situation where amendments are being moved because they serve a political purpose, rather than actually making any difference on the ground, then I'd be surprised if the parliament carried amendments of that nature," he said.

Yes campaign spokeswoman Anna Brown told Sky News today LGBTIQ Australians would not countenance any kind of delay on the bill.

"I think a vote for amendment this week is a vote for delay," she said.

Senior government minister Christopher Pyne said he would consider amendments but, unlike a number of his colleagues, did not think the bill needed to be changed.

"I'm satisfied with the religious protections in the Smith bill," he told ABC radio.

"They allow churches and religious ministers to refuse to marry same-sex couples because of religious reasons."

He highlighted that amendments put before the Senate by conservative Liberal senators David Fawcett and James Paterson did not pass.

Mr Pyne predicted the same-sex marriage bill would pass the House of Representatives by Wednesday evening or Thursday morning.

"It will take as long as it takes, we're not going to cut the debate short," he said.

"We're going to allow our colleagues to debate it as long as they wish to."

Mr Turnbull has previously said MPs would remain in Canberra until the bill has passed this year.

He delayed the House of Representatives sitting for one week to ensure the bill - and any outstanding citizenship issues - could be dealt with before Christmas.

Almost 62 per cent of Australians voted Yes in the government's postal survey in favour of same-sex marriage being made legal.