CEO Update - A moment to be celebrated. And a moment to remind us of who we aspire to be.

Lachlan Searle

Yesterday we saw a memorable moment at Parliament House. The historic vision of almost all Members of the House of Representatives gathered on the same side of the House to demonstrate support for new law to establish marriage equality.

It took too long, the process was flawed, unnecessary damage was done to the people whose lives were judged in the court of public opinion, but in the end we made it. All Australians will now enjoy equality under our marriage laws. A moment to be celebrated. And a moment to remind us of who we aspire to be.

Because as we know too well, our laws often tell us more about our aspirations as a society, than who we really are.

Laws outlawing robbery, or assault or murder, have not prevented robbery, assault and murder from occurring.

As we have seen with the revelations associated with the #metoo campaign globally, laws that should have protected women from predatory sexual aggression have not been adequate to prevent a tsunami of assaults.

And as we have seen with laws intended to protect vulnerable people from discrimination, including people living with mental illness, laws alone are not enough to prevent practices that we should all rightly be ashamed of.

Changing behaviour sometimes requires a change in the law, but it also requires something much deeper than that.

Some of us will remember the Bank of New Zealand campaign, earlier in the year encouraging same sex couples to “hold on”.  To continue to hold hands in public spaces where such a simple display of affection would have been unsafe historically. 

While those same couples may now chose to marry under Australian law, and while the establishment of that law sends a powerful signal about who we aspire to be, we are still some way from living in a country where all our citizens are not just safe, but validated.

Equality is not a right to be gifted or bestowed by one powerful group to another less powerful group. It is a universal value that must first be recognised by all, and then protected and nurtured by all.

Last night I attended a concert in Canberra and I had the good fortune to be introduced to two women I had not met before. Just minutes after the vote in the House of Representatives yesterday, they announced that they had decided to marry after what they described as a “35 year engagement”.  It was a moment of exuberance and joy shared by those of us gathered around them.

But I also found myself unsettled by a deep sense of sadness. How could we have made these two fine women wait so long for recognition? How many times have we created environments where their loving hands would quietly drift apart, rather than risk adverse public reaction?

So let’s celebrate the milestone represented by the passage of marriage equality legislation, but let’s not abandon the task of ending the discrimination that too many members of our modern, progressive society live with every day.

Warm regards.

Frank Quinlan
Chief Executive Officer

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