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Wednesday, 16 June 2004
Page: 30568

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (5:53 PM) —I rise this evening to support the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2004. Having listened to the contribution from the member for Brisbane, I might preface my remarks by saying that, like him, I am married—although I have been married a little bit longer than the member for Brisbane. In fact, I have been married to my wife for 37 years and we have three lovely children. But I do not speak tonight just because I have been married for 37 years and have three beautiful children. Like the member for Brisbane, I speak tonight to give genuine support to an issue that I think is overwhelmingly important to the nation. I have had strong support not only from my electorate but also from outside my electorate, from people who have known me or are perhaps part of an organisation and have felt that it was important to lobby not only their own member but also members in other electorates around Australia.

This bill seeks to amend the Marriage Act 1961 to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. Whilst these words represent the current as well as the historical legal understanding of marriage in Australian law, it is important that the formal definition in the legislation will govern all marriages in Australia. I think historically we have seen marriage as being between a man and a woman. It is interesting that section 46(1) of the Marriage Act already requires that a marriage celebrant who is not a minister of a religion or a recognised denomination must say to the parties to a proposed marriage in the presence of the witness:

Marriage, according to law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.

I have had some people ring my office on that very point. These people were interested in the fact that, whilst we are bringing forward this legislation, marriage celebrants had already been required under the Marriage Act to use those words that we want to insert into the Marriage Act to ensure that that is the definition of marriage within Australia.

I guess there are many of us in this place who understand that there are people of the same sex who seek to live together—and that is their wish. But I think it is of fundamental importance that, at a time when we live in a more globalised village, we know that if people of the same sex entered into a marriage situation under the law of another country, under our existing Australian laws, as I understand it, they would have been recognised in Australia. This bill will clarify the situation, and they will not be recognised under Australian law when this bill receives royal assent.

The important message that we send to the community is that we are supporting families and, importantly, we are supporting children. I think the basis of any successful nation is that the family is the rock on which we survive and, without that, the nation heads down into a situation of decay. The success of any community is strong family involvement in the community. By introducing this legislation, we are giving support to children and allowing them the opportunity to grow up with a mother and a father in their family. As the member for Brisbane said, not all marriages are happy and not all marriages are, as the Marriage Act says, entered into for life. I acknowledge that, but I think it is terribly important in the complex world in which we live that we give children the opportunity to grow up in a situation where they have a mother and a father.

If we were to see a situation where people of the same sex were to marry overseas, under a law that we recognise in Australia and then come back to Australia to adopt children, that would send the wrong message across this nation and, importantly, to young children, who need guidance and the opportunity to grow up with a mother figure and a father figure and use them as role models for building their own lives. I would like to read into Hansard a couple of comments from letters from my constituents in Maranoa. One constituent said:

I am writing to you as a member of your electorate to ask if you will be supporting the Prime Minister when he wants to amend the Marriage Act to make the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman only.

I think this is the important comment. It is one that is reflected over and over by the people I have met, the people who have rung my office and the people I saw on my recent rounds in the western part of my electorate. The letter continues:

This is a most important issue for the country of Australia and the stability of society itself and should not be subjected to party politics.

Contrary to what the member for Brisbane may have been asserting, we have done this in the best interests of this nation. We have recently seen in the United States that certain states are allowing under their laws people of the same sex to be married. If Australians of the same sex travelled there and were married in those states that allowed it under their law, they would have been able to return to Australia and be considered as married under our existing law. That is what this legislation will address. I can ensure my constituents that what we are seeking to do will address that very issue. Another of my constituents said:

Marriage is the bedrock of stable families, strong communities and a healthy society ... The government must and needs to support, strengthen and uphold the institution of traditional marriage.

Whilst I represent a very conservative electorate, I think those comments are reflected broadly across the community, and I certainly concur with them. The proposed amendment to the act will ensure that it is the parliament—and that is important—that determines the legal definition of marriage and that it will not be left to a court at some time in the future. It was one of my concerns—and I am sure that it is one of the government's real concerns—that, if we did not clarify this in law, perhaps at some time in the future we will see a court trying to determine this. We have seen this in a number of instances in the past. I think that, without this legislation, at some time in the future we could see a court determining that there could be marriage between same-sex couples. This will clarify the situation and make sure that the parliament is the determiner of the law regarding the marriage of two people.

Marriage is a highly valued institution in Australia, and I am very proud to be part of a government that seeks to further preserve the sanctity of the union of marriage. The amendment reinforces the long-term nature of this government's commitment to marriage and guarantees that marriage will remain a stable institution and not a concept which, in a modern sense, can be updated or toyed with. The amendment has my strong support. I thank the parliament for the opportunity to speak on a very important piece of legislation which I know has overwhelming support across my constituency and, I suspect, the overwhelming support of the nation as a whole.