In November 2011, when independent MP, Peter Wellington, needed to impress on the Queensland Parliament the urgent need for Civil Partnership legislation, he devoted the greater part of his speech to reading a letter from Brisbane nurse, Phil Browne. The public gallery was silent as Wellington shared Phil’s unique perspective on the urgent need for legislative reform:
“I saw a case where man in his 50’s had been disowned by his family because he was gay. Decades later the family appeared at his hospital death bed. As legal next of kin, they ordered that the mans same sex partner of 30 years was not allowed to visit their son. Their son died without ever seeing his partner again in his final days.
If the man had an advance care directive, he could have nominated his partner as his next of kin, granting him visitation rights—however, like most people, this document was not in place.
This is the person he has spent 30 years of his life with—his partner in love and life. They had bought a house together, had joint bank accounts, their whole lives had been merged for decades, yet his partner was not allowed to be present when he died.
Regardless of your views on homosexuality, this is just plain wrong. It is only redneck hicks who consider this the right thing to have happened.
Had a Civil Union been available to this couple, the man’s partner would have been granted next of kin status and this cruel event would never have happened. … I urge you to do the fair and right thing and vote in support of the Civil Partnerships Bill. “
This month, when Adam Bandt’s same-sex marriage Bill was debated in the Federal Parliament, of all the thousands of submissions to the Senate Inquiry, Senator Larissa Waters chose to read a simple letter from Arthur Browne, Phil’s Dad:
“I love both my children equally and I want them to be treated equally – this is a matter of basic human dignity. A person’s fundamental rights, including the right to marry, should not be affected by their sexual orientation.How can I tell my son that he has less rights than my daughter has? Could you tell your own child this? I can not justify this.
Society is stronger when couples make vows to each other and support each other. I want this for my gay son.”
This same letter was read into Hansard this week by Ivan Dean, the independent MLC for Windermere, during the same-sex marriage debate in Tasmania.
The Browne family has a lot to say on the subject of same-sex marriage. Phil’s own experience as a gay man and a health-care worker (most recently providing peer education on HIV reduction to gay men) and Arthur’s personal battle to overcome his religious prejudices to embrace his son’s sexuality, means they have important insights to share. And some politicians are listening. Between them, Phil and Arthur have had their words read into Hansard three times in the last 12 months. Why? Obviously because politicians like Peter Wellington, Larissa Waters and Ivan Dean believe they have something very important to say.
So it is passing strange that Phil Browne’s own Federal MP, Teresa Gambaro, will no longer meet with him; or even answer his emails. And she should, because, frankly, Teresa’s ‘got some ‘splainin’ to do’.
As Phil notes in a media release issued this week, despite 73 per cent of Gambaro’s constituents in the Federal Seat of Brisbane supporting same-sex marriage, she failed to vote in favour of it. Further, she did not even speak up for the views of her constituents as some of her fellow Liberal party members chose to do.
“Liberal party members Malcolm Turnbull and Senator Sue Boyce spoke in Parliament strongly supporting same sex marriage,” says Phil.
“Despite not crossing the floor, their speaking up for marriage equality show they support equal treatment under law, and that they value all members of society equally.
Ms Gambaro on the other hand, has remained silent.”
“Ms Gambaro’s silence is sending the message that her gay constituents, plus their families and friends, are inferior and do not deserve to have their elected representative speak out in their support.
Bishop Desmond Tutu sums it up perfectly when he said – ‘If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor’.”
“I will always listen to your wishes and display the courage to stand up and speak for these aspirations as your federal member. I will work tirelessly on your behalf and be your voice in Canberra.”
“I will always listen to your wishes and display the courage to stand up and speak for these aspirations as your federal member. I will work tirelessly on your behalf and be your voice in Canberra, provided, of course, that your views accord with those of the Pope and his minions in the Liberal Party leadership.”
Because, it seems that, just like Liberal leader, Tony Abbott, Ms Gambaro does not so much represent the people of her electorate (73 per cent in favour of same-sex marriage), the people of Australia (64 per cent in favour [Galaxy, 2012]), or even Christians (53 per cent in favour [Galaxy, 2012]) as her own, narrow, Catholic views. It does seem a rather major omission that, in her maiden speech, Ms Gambaro did not flag her intention only to represent the Catholics in her Brisbane electorate.
Indeed, even if that were the case, Ms Gambaro may still have been honour-bound to vote for (or at least speak out in favour of) same-sex marriage. Because, (while I have no specific figures for Brisbane), some major polls from America suggest the majority of the Catholic laity also support same-sex marriage (Gallup, May 2012, Pew 2011, Public Religion Research Institute 2011). Given Australia is a far more liberal country than the USA it seems very likely that Catholic support for same-sex marriage in this country may be even higher.
So, if Ms Gambaro does not represent her constituents, the wider Australian population, or even Australian Christians on this issue, who does she represent? The answer should concern all Australian voters. Because, Like Tony Abbott, Ms Gambaro’s position on same-sex marriage seems to be channeled direct from the Vatican – and to hell with the 73 per cent of the constituents she pledged to represent.
Quite correctly, Phil Browne chides his elected representative:
“I’m not hearing you stand up and speak for my aspirations, as you pledged to do – nor the aspirations of the 73% of your constituents who support same sex marriage. I do not hear you being our voice in Canberra.”
I am not one who believes that politicians should always represent the majority view. Sometimes, the public does not have all the facts or the technical know-how to make the right decision. Sometimes, respecting the public’s long-held prejudices may hold back policies designed to protect and empower persecuted minorities. But, this is not the case with same-sex marriage. There is no good reason to oppose it and every good reason to approve it. Gay marriage will hurt no-one, but it will vastly improve the lives of many – including the children of same-sex couples.
It’s been said ad nauseum but same-sex marriage will not devalue anyone else’s marriage, it will not endanger children, it will not force churches to marry gay couples, it will not inevitably result in the legalisation of polygamous or incestuous marriages and it will not mean that your sexually frustrated, maiden Aunt Matilda will be able to enter into holy matrimony – and all that that entails (pardon the pun!) – with Bernardi, her libidinous bulldog!
Sometimes politicians need to lead rather than follow in order to effect the best outcomes for everyone. In this case, Gambaro didn’t even have to do that. Seventy-three per cent of her constituents would have backed her if she had done the right thing and supported same-sex marriage!
I have spent the last week conversing with my gay friends, including Phil, about this month’s decisions in Federal Parliament, the Senate and, now, the Tasmanian Legislative Council. They are, quite frankly, at the end of their tether. They are angry, teary, depressed and astounded that the people who are supposed to represent them have sold them out; that politicians like Teresa Gambaro, who take a hefty pay cheque to represent the views and aspirations of her constituents, are answering to long-held religious prejudices instead. My gay friends feel – and politicians like Ms Gambaro have made them feel – like second class citizens. But they are strong and they have the support of the majority of Australians and I know they will go on fighting for what is right.
As for Phil, I know he was distraught earlier in the week – his emotions were running high. Frankly, I was worried about him. But when it became clear his own political representative was determined to shut him out, he mustered his resources and made a video. Somehow, some way, Phil was determined that Teresa Gambaro should hear what he had to say.
I think Phil deserves an explanation from Ms Gambaro but she has, apparently ‘gone to ground’.
As Ms Gambaro won’t answer Phil’s questions, I doubt she’ll answer mine either. But, I’d like to presume on an old acquaintance with Teresa and ask them anyway:
Who do you represent? Who do you answer to? Do his initials, perhaps, begin with the letters “Joseph Ratzinger”?
If this is the case, Teresa Gambaro has betrayed her position as a political representative, her constituents and her country. She was not elected to represent the views of the Pope, the head of a foreign state. She was not elected to represent her own religious views. She was elected to speak up for her electorate and to make policies that will make her constituents’ lives better. On the issue of same-sex marriage, she has manifestly failed to do this. And, in refusing to deal with Phil Browne, she has simply compounded that betrayal.
Teresa Gambaro should be ashamed and she should certainly never be re-elected.
If you are one of the 73 per cent of constituents in the Brisbane electorate who support same-sex marriage, please consider sharing this blog post. Perhaps you might also like to contact Ms Gambaro’s office and ask her, “Why won’t you meet with Phil Brown? Why did you not represent our views in the Federal Parliament? Who DO you represent?” Both Phil and I would love to know the answers.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’m happy to pass messages on to Phil.
You’ll find all of Teresa Gambaro’s contact details here.