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Wednesday, 16 June 2004
Page: 30581

Mr HAWKER (6:55 PM) —I rise to support the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2004, and to support it wholeheartedly and commend all those involved in bringing it forward. I must admit that in listening to the honourable member for Batman we were really listening to his talk of division and hate, and I found that very sad. I found it very sad because he was creating a problem that I could not quite see. It was sad because he could not avoid degenerating back into an attack on the Prime Minister, and that in itself demonstrated his own intolerance. He was talking about the problems of intolerance, yet throughout his speech it just came across to me as total intolerance of the Prime Minister. While he used lots of colourful language, while he wanted to abuse the Prime Minister, I think he completely missed the point. No-one outside of his own imagination was really demonising any group in the community. He had these colourful comments, but I think they were rather irrelevant. He was creating his own straw man, but not very successfully. Frankly, he was trying to create a straw man where none exists. He talked about denying rights. I could not quite see where this legislation denies people's rights; I do not see it there.

I do support this bill and I think it is worth just going back to the speech made by the Attorney-General when he introduced the legislation. I certainly supported him when he said:

This bill is necessary because there is significant community concern about the possible erosion of the institution of marriage.

He went on to speak of `the fundamental importance of the place of marriage in our society'. He said:

It is a central and fundamental institution.

It is vital to the stability of our society and provides the best environment for the raising of children.

The government has decided to take steps to reinforce the basis of this fundamental institution.

Those points really do sum up why this is necessary, and it is very important to emphasise them. Marriage is a central and fundamental institution. The place that marriage holds in our society is of fundamental importance, and I think it is important that we reinforce that basis. As the Attorney-General went on to say, that basis is this:

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.

The government believes that this is the understanding of marriage held by the vast majority of Australians.

I think that is a very important point that seems to be overlooked when others are trying to create division. It is interesting that opposition members have been trying to raise what the vast majority want. When you listen to some of the speakers you would think that the vast majority have a very different view. However, a research note that came from the Parliamentary Library talked about the question of same-sex couples. I certainly do not have any problem with same-sex couples; they do not concern or worry me at all, but we are talking about very small numbers. As has been pointed out, almost two-thirds of the electoral divisions in the federal parliament have less than a hundred same-sex couples, according to the 2001 census. I note that in my electorate of Wannon, for example, there are 36 same-sex couples. I have no problem with that but I do not think that we should try to pretend that this is a large number of people who are somehow being singled out, because I do not think they are.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—The member for Melbourne is in a fairly precarious position. He was warned earlier on.

Mr HAWKER —The other point that I would like to make about this whole debate is that I think it is quite proper that we have this legislation before the parliament, because as elected representatives we have the opportunity to make it absolutely clear where we in the parliament—the representatives of the people—stand on marriage. I think that is very important and it is very proper that we should be able to legislate for that. I do not accept that it should be the role of unelected, appointed members of the judiciary to possibly make changes to the position that Australia holds. If the parliament makes a decision, it is the decision of the elected representatives. I think that is a very important point.

I believe that Australia is a much more tolerant society today than it was a few decades ago, and we do recognise a range of relationships. I would be the first to say that I think that is fine, but I do not think that it means that we therefore have to change what we believe is the definition of marriage. When we talk about tolerance, it is very interesting to see that some sections of the community do not want to display the same level of tolerance that I think just about everyone in this chamber would. I will quote from an article that appeared in the Australian in May, headed `No hatred in keeping marriage laws sacred'. It says:

Defending marriage is now vilification.

It goes on:

... a spokesman for the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby suggested that George Pell's defence of traditional marriage and opposition to gay marriage on this page on May 4 incites hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.

I do not know; it is a free society and people ought to be able to express a point of view. Whether you agree or disagree, you have got the right to say so. It goes on to point out the obvious:

Vilification laws ... try to shape a values-free society.

I think that is an important point. When the lobbyists who are trying to push an alternative point of view claim vilification, as has been pointed out in this article, we have really got to see what their motive is. The article goes on:

The gay lobby's grab for vilification laws in defending gay marriage suggests its agenda is not just gay marriage. It is to take us further down the path to moral relativism, where all lifestyles are seen as equal.

I do not share that view. It continues:

So we are threatened with legal sanctions for stating the obvious ...

What is the obvious? The obvious is, despite all the problems and the faults that everyone can see:

Our marriage laws are premised on discrimination because society has always placed a value on linking parenthood and marriage.

That puts it very simply and clearly. I think that, rather than toying about with ideals, we need to talk about reality and what we basically know in our own hearts is still the truth. The article goes on:

The evidence confirms what we know intuitively: children do best when raised within a stable marriage by their natural parents.

I do not think that has ever been doubted, and I will say that you could always find exceptions. We all know we can find exceptions, but that does not alter the fact that this is an ideal that holds up against alternatives. Again, I agree with the article when it says:

Few would challenge the need for parity of rights for gays in certain areas, such as pension rights. But should that translate into parity of rights in every area?

That is really what this debate is about, and I think we have got to come back to that point. Everyone loves to talk about rights, but they are not so quick to talk about responsibilities these days. The article goes on:

Why is a child's right to a mother and a father of less value than the rights of the gay minority to marry and adopt?

That question hangs on those who want to argue against this piece of legislation. I challenge them to try to find the answer to that, because I am not sure that they have one. I think that their position changes according to the argument they want to muster, and in this case it is one that tries to avoid that question. I come back to the point which I think is quite critical and central to this debate. The article concludes:

We can respect gay relationships without making them the same as marriage. Treating gay relationships as different to marriage should not amount to unlawful discrimination. If it does, we have gone too far down the road of moral relativism.

And I think that is really what so many of the alternative views that are being put in this debate are about. They are not saying it in so many words, but they are trying to argue the question of moral relativism. I think that is wrong and it comes back to the basic point: the reason for this bill is to reaffirm what marriage is, but it is also, most importantly, to recognise that marriage is and has been the cornerstone of the society that we all value so much. If we devalue that cornerstone then, over time, we run a very real risk of undermining the very society that we all value so much. That is why this bill is so important. It is also very important to restate that marriage as defined in this bill, whatever its faults and for all the problems that people can identify—and we have all seen them first-hand on many occasions—is still the best way to raise children. There are examples around the world where alternatives have been tried, and I do not think that, over time, those alternatives stack up as superior.

I support this bill. I believe it is important. As I said earlier, it is very important that the parliament, as the elected representatives of the people of Australia, define quite clearly what we mean by marriage and legislate accordingly and that we do not leave it to appointed but not elected members of the judiciary to choose to make a definition which may change over time. Therefore, I commend the bill to the House.

Before I conclude, let me say I looked at the amendment put forward by the member for Gellibrand and I find quite extraordinary the arguments she has had to muster to put forward her amendment. In the first part, she talks about `unjust interference by the Commonwealth' in an area regulated by the states in relation to intercountry adoption. I thought that was weird. That is complete nonsense. Since when should the states be overriding the national parliament when it comes to matters relating to international law? It goes on. There is a claim about Labor's:

... recognition and acknowledgement of same sex couples and their right to be full and active members of our community, free from discrimination and vilification.

This bill does nothing to accept, condone or in any way allow discrimination or vilification. Again, the sorts of points that are being made in this amendment really are just nonsense and demonstrate the paucity of argument that has been put forward by the opposition. So I have much pleasure in supporting this bill and I commend it to the House.