Federal Labor MP Tim Watts has given a powerful speech in favour of marriage equality following the coalition's decision to deny a conscience vote on the issue.
Watts was speaking this morning on another marriage equality bill, the one introduced by opposition leader Bill Shorten, when he addressed comments allegedly made by conservative senator Eric Abetz that gay men don't really want to get married.
A clearly emotional Watts told the story of his uncle Derek, who was in a long term same-sex relationship when he died of AIDS when Watts was a child.
"I'm tossing the script and I'm talking about a gay man that I knew," Watts said. "A man who I called Uncle Derek. But who my uncle Ian was never able to call his husband."
Watts spoke of his family's long struggles to accept Derek as gay even as the couple's love just seemed normal to a young Watts himself.
"Other members of my family counselled him not to come out to my grandfather – remember this was the Queensland of the 1980s," Watts said. "But he did come out, and it was not a smooth process. There was not instant acceptance."
Watts said that eventually Derek was accepted by the family.
"He was the uncle who did the Christmas planning. The uncle who was the life of the party, who people just wanted to be around. He was particularly good with kids – he would have been a great dad – as his partner, Ian, is with my kids."
Watts then spoke of watching his uncle die from AIDS.
"It's a horrific thing to watch someone die from AIDS," Watts said. "It was particularly horrific in the Queensland of the 1980s and '90s. To have to do so not only with the horrors of the illness, but the indignities and the horrors of a lack of recognition from the society around you. To have to deal with being beaten by hateful thugs in the street while your body was destroying itself from the inside."
Watts told the story of his uncle planning his own funeral, and of his grandfather slowly coming to accept Derek. The MP then directly addressed Senator Abetz's reported comments (which the senator denies making).
"[Uncle Derek] would have wanted me to say to Senator Abetz, do not claim to understand what gay Australians want. Do not tell them what they do and don't want. Do not use the law to deny them the equal right to choose the same recognition for their relationships as heterosexual couples."
The speech was instantly praised by LGBT Australians, including ACT chief minister Andrew Barr.
Watts told BuzzFeed News that he hadn't planned to give that speech, but last night's events forced him to speak from the heart.
"It's obviously a very personal issue," he said. "I haven't spoken publicly about this at all. Being confronted with Tony Abbott telling another generation that it would have to wait again was the last straw. I couldn't stop thinking about my uncle and a generation of gay men who died before being able to see the opportunity to have full equality under the law."
On prime minister Tony Abbott's apparent preference for a popular vote on marriage equality some time after the next election, Watts says the time to act is now.
"It's a complete abdication of responsibility from Abbott. I think the best way to deal with this is through a vote in the parliament now."
Rob Stott is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Rob Stott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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