Warwick Smith: It’s time to extend marriage to all

It could be said that everything in Australia’s modern history is, at its core, about infrastructure.

We are a nation of builders. With extraordinary courage and conviction, we have built towns and cities, roads and rail. We have moved mountains.

We have forged connections across the nation and we have done so, always, with the strongest commitment to our country and its people, and with the clearest eye to the future.

While we have toiled and created a nation, we have also built a society, steadily and carefully, based on fairness and acceptance. We are now a country that celebrates how far we have come, while paying proper respect to history.

Obviously, as our country has changed, we too have changed. We’ve changed our landscapes. We have changed our views and we have changed our habits. And, over time, we have changed our attitudes towards social equality and difference.

I’ve been lucky in my life and career to have had a seat at the table when major decisions have been taken to transform and advance this country.

I firmly believe that it is now time to change the law and allow all Australians to marry the person they love.

I know that the changes we have made as a country have not always been easy and I am not saying this is an easy change for everyone to come to. As we have seen in recent weeks, some Australians are struggling with what it could mean to extend the rights of marriage to everyone.

This is not to be dismissed, and does not warrant an attack from those who are no longer struggling. Everyone comes to change at different times and through different experiences, and it is not surprising that some are still on the way.

Having the right to choose our faith, our words, our friends, our place of work and the place we live has not always been accepted.

In fact, pioneers in social equality over the years have faced tremendous legal, personal and political challenges in their campaigns to bring such equality to all Australians and to have it recognised.

But change, when it leads to a more inclusive society, brings clear benefits.

We have an opportunity ahead of us, now that there is broad and well-considered acceptance across Australian society for extending marriage rights to all.

I believe it is possible, and preferable, to advance the rights of all Australians in this way without dividing families and the country. It is also possible and preferable to do so with dignity and without resorting to name-calling, abuse and politicking.

Individual freedom is paramount to our way of life and should be celebrated. It is not up to the government to police individual freedom, where that freedom is causing no harm.

We should remember that it was not that long ago that our rights as Australians were restricted based on our race, ethnicity or gender. In these matters, change has come and surely most would agree the nation is much better for it.

We are now equal citizens under law, and our rights are determined by what unites and connects us, not by our differences. And when it comes to love, really there is little difference between us.

I know the right to choose one’s life partner is a gift and surely one of the most significant commitments in life. To have that commitment recognised by society as a legal and binding commitment is just as significant.

And I believe encouraging stronger commitments can only strengthen our society.

History has shown that expanding our rights to include all Australians does not impact on the rights of those who had them in the first place.

We now have the right under the law to free speech, to choose our faith, to vote not as a man or a woman but as a citizen of our great country.

All Australians should have the right to have their union recognised as marriage under the law regardless of their colour, their race, their gender or their sexual orientation.

This is the point we as a nation have come to, and this is the right thing to do and the right time to do it. I will be voting Yes.

Warwick Smith AM was communications minister in the Howard government and is a patron of Liberals & Nationals ­for Yes.