Last Sunday night, almost 2 million people tuned into a television programme and saw a taste of the conversation that has been taking place in the Abbott household around same-sex marriage.
In our home, it isn’t a theoretical debate. When we talk about same-sex marriage around our family dinner table, it’s not a discussion about something that impacts others, it’s a conversation about two real people who are sitting right there: me and my partner Virginia.
That means that even if we disagree on the wording of the Marriage Act we can do so in an environment of respect, kindness and love.
It’s clear that on the issue of marriage equality and how the Marriage Act is worded that my brother and I differ. I don’t doubt his principles or convictions and he doesn’t doubt mine. What’s important is that we can talk about what we believe and why we believe it.
In Tony’s own words, Virginia and I have been a positive influence on his life – and he has been the same on mine. The first people in my family I told about Virginia and me were Tony and Margie, and they responded with the love, support and kindness that we needed.
Tony and I might currently have a different view, but if the Marriage Act is one day changed and if Virginia and I decide to get married, then I have no doubt Tony would be sitting in the front row, being supportive of our relationship and sharing in our moment.
When the same-sex marriage bill was put to parliament last year it lost 42 to 98. It’s fair to say that was a drubbing, but I believe in the loss were in fact the seeds of future victory. I’m convinced that if we are ever to see marriage equality in this country then we need to move our focus beyond the three votes of Tony Abbott, Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd, and focus on the other 95 members of parliament who voted no. The mistake of the last vote was that we let it focus on the leaders and we focused on preaching to the people who already supported us, rather than having a nationwide conversation.
Those 98 MPs who voted no will only reconsider their position as more and more people tell them their stories. I’m not just referring to same-sex couples, I’m also talking about the mums and dads, brothers and sisters, and nephews and nieces of same-sex couples – because when someone gets married, they don’t just marry another person, they formally and legally join a family.
My relationship with Virginia has caused my brother to pause and reflect on the Marriage Act. Although Tony hasn’t changed his mind, I’ve warned him to expect a lot more conversations with me on this issue in the years ahead. I hope thousands of others will work on all the Members who voted no as well as saying thanks to the 42 who said yes.
I believe marriage isn’t just a piece of paper – it is, in every sense, the blessing of a society and community on a relationship. It’s a powerful force for good and as such, I believe, it should be open for all. After all, if our society can trust gay men and women to be our doctors, soldiers, nurses, teachers, firemen and police, then surely we can trust the same people to treat the institution of marriage with respect and honour?
In the next six months, all of the political parties will be campaigning to impress on the Australian community their visions for our country. As a member of the Liberal Party and the sister of the alternative prime minister, I will be doing the same and doing it in earnest. But I hope there will also be space to have a conversation, free from the usual partisan bickering, about the people we love and how we can make a country a better place by changing the Marriage Act.