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Thursday, 17 June 2004
Page: 30733

Mr NEVILLE (10:37 AM) —Today we debate the definition of the core social institution of human society: marriage. Perhaps there will always be some difficulty in putting forward a cast-iron definition of marriage, for this debate cuts to the very core of human relationships. Marriage can be strictly defined as `the formal union of a man and woman, by which they become husband and wife'. It is within that union that procreation takes place, yet no clear definition of marriage exists in Australian law. The Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2004 will remedy this situation, and that is the part of the bill I would like to concentrate on.

From time immemorial, marriage has been a framework from which other aspects of orderly society have been regulated. Public health, inheritance, transfer of wealth and, in past times, even the alignment of nations and international treaties have hung on marriage. But the one overriding factor in Western society is that marriage always took place between a man and a woman. There are many aspects to the institution of marriage, the formal union between a man and a woman. It is a framework recognised by society, by law and by the church, and it is the formal expression of love and commitment between two people. But our modern society is apparently moving away from that.

Let me make myself clear on this matter: I am not homophobic and I am against all forms of discrimination. People should be able to live their lives in Australian society without prejudice, discrimination or bias. I am not judgmental of single-sex relationships, and I recognise that such people should be able to transfer property, superannuation rights and the like. But minorities cannot redefine marriage. No minority group has the right to attach traditional symbols to their own circumstances and turn the institution into something it is not. Some would argue that to alter the essential nature of the marriage union and its ceremony is to degrade it to the point of meaninglessness.

Almost every society and religion sanctifies and consecrates the union between a man and a woman. In most societies, marriage has been a monogamous union between a man and a woman, though not exclusively so. It is seen to be a societal framework, a contract and the best environment in which to raise children. It is seen by some religions—notably, Christianity—to be a sacrament. Even atheistic societies, while not recognising the sacramental purpose of the union, have recognised its higher purpose. In the early days of the Soviet Union, the so-called bourgeois institution of marriage was dispensed with. But, even in that atheistic society, the state came to realise the importance of monogamy for the raising of children and the stability of society.

As society's formal expression of commitment, marriage is only a recent phenomenon. Our modern society is rapidly moving away from traditional structures. Our moral, legal and social expectations have morphed us into an `almost anything goes' society. Of course `normal' society has its taboos but, more and more often, minority groups are pushing the boundaries. Fringe groups seek the benefits attached to mainstream society but do not want to adhere to its strictures. Do not get me wrong—I repeat: I am against all forms of discrimination. But minorities cannot redefine marriage. It is the bedrock of society and should not be moulded to suit the changing mores and expectations of minority groups. On this issue I am completely determined.

My electorate office has taken several messages of support for the bill, one of which said:

I write to commend your government for making the proposal to place the definition of marriage into legislation. I am a marriage, family and youth counsellor and have been such for 27 years. I know the heartache of trying to work with families where either the mother or father is absent and the children are acting out of control. ... The traditional definition of marriage needs bolstering.

Modern relationships take many different forms. We have de facto relationships, single-parent families, same-sex couples, divorcees, arranged marriages and marriages of convenience. I accept that we cannot shut the gate once the horse has bolted. My point is that people are free to choose their relationships and arrangements, as they always have been, but legal marriage should not exist outside the vows made between a man and a woman. People are free to have long-term relationships and commitment ceremonies if they wish. Indeed, they can take part in wedding ceremonies overseas. But those unions will not be recognised as marriages in Australia.

A 2002 research report compiled by 13 American scholars, titled Why marriage matters: twenty-one conclusions from the social sciences, concluded:

Marriage is an important social good, associated with an impressively broad array of positive outcomes for children and adults alike.

I agree wholeheartedly with that statement, which is why I support the bill banning same-sex couples from adopting children from overseas countries. The majority of Australians think that children, including adopted children, should have the opportunity, all things being equal, to be raised by a mother and a father. That is a compelling argument and one I agree with.

I know that families which fall outside the definition of the traditional nuclear format often raise happy, well- adjusted children. But I stay strong on the point that every child deserves the love and affection of a mum and a dad. Again it may boil down to the heart versus the head, but I have never once heard anyone argue against this point. The 2002 study I referred to previously reached some fundamental conclusions: (1) that marriage increases the likelihood that children will have a good relationship with their father; (2) growing up outside an intact marriage increases the likelihood that children will themselves divorce or become unwed parents; and (3) children who live with their own two married parents enjoy better physical health, on average, than do children in other family forms.

I have always been a proponent of the traditional form of marriage and advocate spouses sticking together through thick and thin. Life and love are not easy. There are good times and bad, as referred to in the traditional wedding service. I do not support same-sex couples adopting children. I believe children are a blessing and it is every parent's duty to care for, love and guide their offspring as they grow. I sometimes hear the argument that other forms of relationships can express these things just as well. I do not think the evidence is there.

We can look in years to come from this `anything goes' society and wonder what the effects will be even on things as fundamental as genetics in two or three generations time. I think this is the time for Australian society to draw a line in the sand. It is time to recognise that marriage is essentially the union between a husband and wife. When we bring children into the world, some parents decide to have a christening, some people decide to have a baptism, some people decide to have a naming ceremony. But a christening is not a naming ceremony and a naming ceremony is not a christening or a baptism. I think most people recognise that. When we come to marriage, people are free to enter into living arrangements and are free to have ceremonies of commitment if they wish. They are free to have contracts. I make no judgment about those things. But those relationships are not marriage. I commend the government for having the courage to put this legislation forward and I support it wholeheartedly.