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Wednesday, 16 June 2004
Page: 30575


Mr CADMAN (6:20 PM) —I rise to support the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2004. I think it is sensible and timely. Around the world the definition of marriage as the union between a man and a woman for life has changed and courts have taken an adventurous view of what the word `marriage' means. Until now it has meant the union of a man and woman for life, usually for the production of children. It is my view that people should be perfectly free to form other unions, but they should call them something other than marriage. We have an understanding of what the word `marriage' means and we ought to stick to it. If people want to form a legal, social and emotional bond, it is better for them to choose a word that describes that relationship. We do not call de facto couples married; we should not call same-sex couples married. The word `marriage' means the union of a man and woman for the purpose of producing children. It is a very simple fact: it is not discriminatory; it is just being clear on what we mean by one word. There is no discrimination implied. It is about clarity of thinking and it is a definitional process only.

The Labor Party wants to go into all sorts of ramifications about the bill and the definition that we are looking at today. I would be very interested if the member for Lowe endorsed the remarks of the previous speaker, but he must go along with the proposal to comb through legislation should the Labor Party come to government and remove what is described as discrimination. This legislation just proposes to insert in the Marriage Act the words:

...marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.

The reason that this needs to be done is that the courts in Massachusetts in the United States, in Canada and in other parts of the world have chosen to give a definition to marriage which is different to the one that the government have put forward. The Australian government are saying that we believe that the understood definition should stand and that we do not want courts changing that definition, because that creates confusion. It does not create discrimination; it creates confusion. The relationship between men and women is usually for children and the advantages of that stable environment for young lives are demonstrated time and time again.

There have been speakers today who have tried to suggest that the worst possible situation in which a person could live is that of a family. That is absolute nonsense. Every study and every piece of documentation presented to us in the House of Representatives Family and Community Affairs Committee indicated that the safest place for children is with their biological parents. The least damage—socially, mentally or physically—is done to children when they are with their biological parents. When there is a non-biological parent present that is when the risk factors start to rise. Biological parents look after and safeguard their children—both fathers and mothers. They look after their kids, they love and cherish their kids and time and time again it has been proven that the safest place for children to be is with their biological parents.

But there seems to be an argument in society that it is a dangerous or unsafe thing for children to be with their families. My colleague across the chamber, the member for Batman, can shrug, but the fact is that one of your own speakers advanced that argument earlier this evening, denigrating the fact that children should be in a stable relationship with their biological parents. The advantages of that to society have been documented time and time again. Somebody that you would not think would necessarily advance these thoughts, because of the time she has been through, is Hilary Clinton. In her book It Takes a Village she observed:

The instability of American households poses great risks to the healthy development of children ... More than anyone else, children bear the brunt of such massive social transitions.

In Australia, the social researcher Moira Eastman, in examining the claims of the American sociologist Jessie Bernard, said:

Despite Bernard's claims, research in a number of countries finds that being married is correlated with markedly better mental and physical health and higher levels of happiness than being never married, separated or divorced and that this is true for both men and women.

So it is a unique and different relationship that we are seeking to define today. It is not a relationship that we are seeking to change; it is a relationship we are seeking to perpetuate, and it is a relationship that I seek to encourage.

I have done some studies to try to measure what the marriage processes have created. I have to say that information about the disadvantages or advantages of marriage is not as readily available in Australia as in the United States. But Barry Maley, writing on divorce law and the future of marriage, has written in CIS policy monograph 58, 2003:

...a `fragmented system' of determining family law issues has developed and has been exacerbated by attempts to interpret constitutional powers in various ways.

This fragmented system—

and I think he is referring to the definition and living arrangements that we are discussing today—

has potential for incoherence in family policy. At the present time, 72% of couples cohabit before marriage—up from 31% in 1981. Of children under 15, 11% live within cohabiting couple families and 19.6% live with a lone mother or a lone father. In other words, nearly one out of three children under 15 (30.6%) now live in families where the parent or parents are unmarried. Bettina Arndt, quoting research by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, points out that parents of children in de facto relationships are usually from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and more poorly educated than married couples with children. All children have a crucial stake in the stability and character of their parents' relationship. Insofar as marriage, or its absence, affects that relationship for better or worse, there is potential to affect children for better or worse.

So the conclusion that Bettina Arndt and the Institute of Family Studies came to is that the married relationship is a very significant factor in the stability of children's lives. That is why it was established; it was established and named `marriage' for that purpose. It does not mean just any relationship between a man and a woman or any other group. As the classical and traditional definition says, and as it says here in the bill:

marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.

I would add, `and usually for bringing children into the world'. So the researchers indicate that marriage is a very safe place for children and children fare better in a marriage environment than anywhere else.

The process of deciding that children can be moved around between families is something that the parliament is struggling with currently, with changes to the Family Law Act on the non-custodial parent issue. That is something that is before the parliament now. The research that has come from that study and that wide-reaching inquiry strongly endorses the fact that, where it can be achieved, the stability of marriage promotes greater health, greater stability and a greater sense of achievement for men and women and for the children involved.

I do believe that, in this discussion before the House, saying it is a discriminatory process to define marriage is nothing but a furphy and we should ignore it. The Labor Party cast strange words around in their proposed amendment to this bill, on the grounds of sexuality. That has got nothing to do with what is before the House. What is before the House is the issue of what marriage does mean; if we are clear on that, we can call other relationships anything we like. But I think that, for the sake of children and for the sake of the future of this country, we have to be very sure of what we mean by `marriage'. It is a man and a woman for life, to the exclusion of others, and it is for bringing children into the world—and to me that is the most critical factor in this whole argument.

The adventurous judges of the northern hemisphere could create problems in Australia. If a couple have married overseas—and we normally recognise marriages of all countries of the world, whatever form those marriages may take—and declare themselves to be married, we normally accept that. But in this instance there are some countries that have changed what we consider to be the definition of marriage. So this legislation will guide the courts in determining what it is that Australians regard as, and wish to have determined as, marriage. What we are really saying to judges is that if somebody should arrive in Australia claiming to be married and they are married to somebody of the same sex then, under Australian law, that is not a marriage. A marriage should only be between a man and a woman, to the exclusion of others, and preferably for life.

I think that everybody in this House has experienced unexpected shocks and surprises when judges have gone off and done things that are completely beyond the realm of this parliament's consideration—not to the wild extent of the American Supreme Court, where they may in fact invent law, but we have had some unusual decisions. Some have been helpful in clarifying the law, but some have been law making.

I do not care how much I may be in dispute in this place with my colleagues opposite or those on the same side. It is our responsibility to make laws that are as clear as possible, to clearly set out for judges and for courts what the Australian people expect us to do and what they expect their laws to mean. If we cannot get it right, it is not the role of the courts to interpret. This is one instance where the government have said—and, I believe, rightly; the Prime Minister has been right from day one when he first raised this issue—we need to be sure that we do not get into a mix-up in trying to determine what marriage is because a court has made a pre-emptive strike. We need to be clear in our own minds what we mean by `marriage', and the definition of marriage, I am pleased to say, in subsection 5(1) of this bill amending the Marriage Act 1961, is this:

marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.