A day of joy
A historic moment, as the marriage bill passed the Senate
“I commend the bill, and move that it be read a third time.”
Quietly, clearly, with these plain words, Liberal senator Dean Smith concluded his speech in support of marriage equality, and put the bill that would achieve it before his Senate colleagues. A few minutes after that, the ayes had it, 43 to 12. It was “Yes”, again.
If you watch the video of Smith – who did so much to bring about this change, and who comes across in his public appearances as a calm and unshowy man – you can observe a moment just after the final word, as he is sitting down, when a small glimmer of well-deserved pride finds its way across his features. Applause floods the chamber. The shot cuts back to Smith, now nursing the smallest of smiles. Then, finally, just before the video stops, his face curls into one of those expressions that only appear when someone is doing their best not to break into the type of raucous celebration that is the only appropriate response to feeling absolute joy. Watch it yourself, then rewind those last few seconds, and watch it again.
The press conference that followed, which gathered together senators with those who have led this movement, both recently and for decades, was a reminder that politics is not the sterile, strategic boardgame it often pretends to be. Thanking Smith, “from one gay man to another”, NSW MP Alex Greenwich was suddenly in tears. Penny Wong said that she was lost for words, and appeared, at least for a very brief moment, actually to be so. Everyone wanted to thank others for the history that had been made that day, and especially to pay tribute to those who had paved the very start of the path that led them all here. It was two decades ago this year that homosexuality was decriminalised in Tasmania – just 20 years ago! – and so it was fitting that Rodney Croome, who had fought that campaign and this one, too, stood and spoke as well. These men and women made the case for one of the most significant social changes this country has seen, and today they watched that change pass the upper house of the Australian parliament. .
The sense of satisfaction was not unconstrained. Smith rightly reminded everyone that “the success of the Yes vote, the success of what we’ve just seen in the Senate, does not erase some of the pain and hurt that LGBTI Australians and their friends and family have endured over recent months. So when we celebrate, let us just remember that hidden in that celebrate is still a little bit of pain and hurt”.
Other things happened today. Labor senator Sam Dastyari is again embroiled in allegations around his interactions with a Chinese donor. There is no doubt they are damaging; the fact that Bill Shorten today felt the need to give Dastyari what amounted to a final warning testifies to that. This in turn will focus attention on donations reform (which is not the only issue in the Dastyari case), draft legislation for which is expected to be introduced before the end of the year. A deal was reached between the Nationals and the Greens [$] to deliver a banking inquiry bill, which will, sooner or later, cause great difficulty for the prime minister. More refugees on Nauru have been accepted for resettlement as part of the American deal, though some, too, have been rejected. And elsewhere in the country, another piece of historic law gathered the necessary votes, with the voluntary assisted dying bill passing the Victorian parliament.
All of those elements will play out over coming days, weeks, and years. And the marriage legislation itself still has to pass the lower house. But there is no gainsaying the fact that, in Smith’s words, “this is the Senate’s day”.
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