A new Australian Labour party Senator has used her maiden speech to make a passionate plea for marriage equality.

Louise Pratt, the first member of the Australian parliament to have a trans partner, also spoke about the discrimination trans people face.

She was elected to represent Western Australia in the Senate.

As the youngest woman ever elected to Western Australia’s Legislative Council she was instrumental in pushing forward some of the most progressive gay equality laws in Australia, including equalising the age of consent, allowing same-sex adoption and banning sexual orientation discrimination.

Still just 36, she is a rising star of the Australian Labour party, and showed in her speech this week that she is not afraid to defy the leadership.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is opposed to gay marriage.

“I fought against Western Australia’s homophobic laws—laws that not only reflected but fostered
prejudice by discriminating against young gays, same-sex couples and their families,” said Senator Pratt.

“I was, and I remain, very proud to have been part of the West Australian government that completely removed this discrimination against same-sex couples and their children in all state laws.

“Despite the predictions of the nay-sayers, there has been no significant backlash against these reforms in Western Australia.

“In fact, I am very proud to be able to say that support for the removal of discrimination against same-sex couples remains very high in my home state.

“A recent Newspoll found not only that most Australians support federal recognition of same-sex
relationships but also that support for recognition was strongest in WA.

“I think that this just goes to show how potentially divisive issues can be an opportunity to combat prejudice and build community consensus in favour of progressive solutions—solutions for the challenges of a rapidly changing world.

“It is done with good leadership. It is our responsibility to offer such leadership.

“I look forward to a time when we will have removed at a federal level all discrimination on the grounds of gender identity and sexuality, to a time when my partner is not denied a passport because his gender is not recognised under our laws, to a time when my friends’ children all enjoy the same rights and protections under Commonwealth law regardless of whether their parents are straight or gay, to a time when, if my gay friends wish to be legally married, they can be.

“Conservative forces in this country do not offer the kind of leadership we need to face this and other challenges.”

In May the Labour federal government was accused of “playing to the politics of the extreme right religious lobby” after it forced the country’s Capital Territory (ACT) government to water down plans to legally recognise same-sex couples.

The ACT authorities wanted to establish ceremonies at which gay and lesbian couples could formally register their relationships.

The federal Attorney General warned the ACT legislature that he would not accept “legislation that mimics marriage” and threatened to use his power to overturn any such legislation.

The legislature instead passed a law allowing for the registration of same-sex couples without the ceremony.

The ACT becomes the third of eight Australian states and territories to recognise same-sex partnerships.

In 2004, under former Prime Minister John Howard, federal legislation banning same-sex marriage was passed.

Some had hoped that the defeat of Mr Howard and the Liberals in November 2007 and the election of a Labour government might move the debate about gay marriage forward.

In fact, while Labour has decided to tackle legal inequities between gay and straight couples, it maintains that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

Senator Pratt, who took office in July, is in a relationship with Aram Hosie, who was born female.

She is the second lesbian in the Senate, alongside South Australia Senator Penny Wong Ying Yen.

In December Ms Wong was appointed minister for water and climate change by Prime Minister Rudd.

The 39-year-old lawyer was the first Asian-born person to become a Cabinet minister as well as the first out gay person of either sex.

She was elected to the Senate in 2001.

Greens leader Senator Bob Brown is also openly gay.