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Thursday, 17 June 2004
Page: 30745

Mr SCHULTZ (11:31 AM) —I rise to speak on the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2004, and I do so in an environment where I have taken note of a significant number of comments from members of both sides of the House. I just want to make a brief statement on the contribution by the member for Cunningham. The member for Cunningham does not agree with anything the government has done as the elected governing body of the Australian people. In the three-year period that he has been in this House, to my knowledge, he has never voted with the government on any issue. That is the ideological bent of the member for Cunningham. It is in direct contrast to the views of the member for Casey, who eloquently and dispassionately explained the practical and historical reasons why the marriage legislation bill has been introduced into this House.

Before I make any further contribution, I want to illustrate what I have just said by reading from page 18 of the Weekend Australian from Saturday, 29 May 2004. Those of us on this side of the House know that the Australian is not a print media outlet that has any great love for the government. The editorial is headed `Gay marriage not needed'. It is rather lengthy, but I will read it in part:

Homosexual Australians had a big practical win and a small symbolic defeat this week. The Government announced legislation to allow superannuation to pass to a same sex partner without penalty tax. It means that gay and lesbian partners will have the same rights as married couples and heterosexuals in de facto relationships. This is a long overdue and sensible decision that will put an end to a ridiculous restriction on the rights of homosexual couples.

It goes on to say:

The Government was accused of playing politics, seeking to shore up conservative support. But if this was the Prime Minister's motive it was one Labor was quick to share, saying it would support the legislation restricting marriage to heterosexuals. While gay activists might not like it, the major parties are convinced the community will not wear the idea of same sex marriage.

Finally, the article said:

Without this legislation, social engineers on the bench and at the bar would likely soon find some contrivance under international law that would bind Australia to acknowledge overseas same sex marriages and adoption rights. Mr Howard is quite right to say that if the definition ofmarriage is to change it should be done by the people's elected representatives, not the courts.

Gays who argue this is demeaning and unjust should get over it. There is nothing that prevents priests and celebrants conducting ceremonies for gay couples affirming their decision to live as couples. They may not be married under the law but surely how they, and the people in their lives, perceive their relationship is what matters most.

I think that is a very eloquent editorial, and it is written in the context of the values of people like me, as I represent the majority of my constituents, knowing and adhering to the reality that marriage is the accepted bond between a man and a woman. Marriage is a bedrock institution worthy of protection. There should be no doubt about what the word `marriage' means. However, there is growing evidence to suggest that the commonly accepted definition of `the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others' is under threat.

Amazingly, there is no definition of marriage in the Marriage Act 1961, despite the fact that section 46(1) of the act requires that a marriage celebrant who is not a minister of religion of a recognised denomination must say to the parties to a proposed marriage, in the presence of the witnesses, words including:

“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.”;

or words to that effect.

The government's proposed amendment to the act will ensure that the legal position in respect of marriage is further strengthened. I think that is a classic illustration of why the government has taken the action that it has. I have listened to the contributions of members on the other side of the House with their attacks on the Prime Minister and what they say is the reason for him introducing this amendment bill into this House through the appropriate minister. The reality is this: 30 backbenchers, of whom I was one, who represent in excess of a quarter of a million constituents, went to the Prime Minister and highlighted the need to amend the current act.

The meaning of marriage has also been raised in Australia recently—and the member for Cunningham did allude to that in a number of ways—including in the Family Court, in the case of Kevin and Jennifer. In this case, the court was asked to declare that the couple's marriage was valid, even though Kevin was born a woman. The trial judge found that Kevin was a man at the time of his marriage—a decision upheld by the full bench of the Federal Court when challenged by the Attorney-General. In addition, same-sex couples married in overseas jurisdictions such as Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium or Denmark may seek judicial recognition of their marriage in Australia. A notice of intent to do that was made in February this year by a male couple from Melbourne who had earlier flown to Canada to be married.

It is my belief that moving away from the traditional definition of marriage would be to the detriment of our society. Marriage provides stability and is a solidly-built roof under which children can grow and be nurtured. The Australian Family Association has strongly supported this view, as has the Australian Christian Lobby. I think that we as Australians still hold dear the traditional family values that marriage implies and would like to see those values maintained and protected well into the future. As someone who has been married to a very loving, caring and sensitive woman for 42 years, I concur with my wife's sentiments about the need to protect the sanctity of marriage.

Mr Hardgrave —She's glorious.

Mr SCHULTZ —That is correct. Each of us should have the opportunity to participate in our community and to experience the benefits and accept the responsibilities that flow from such participation without fear of discrimination. It is clearly in the best interests of children for them to have, all other things being equal—as the Prime Minister has said on numerous occasions—the care and affection of both a mother and a father. That is one of the reasons why I think the other part of the bill which relates to the adoption of children by same-sex couples has to be referred to here.

Many of my parliamentary colleagues may not be aware that 16 per cent of married couples are unable to have a child. As there are very few babies or children available for adoption in Australia, these married couples are forced to go through a time consuming and costly process to adopt a child from another country. The issue of adoption is centred around both the Commonwealth and the states, and the Commonwealth government does not control adoption practices. This is a matter that lies within the control of the states and territories. The government believes, however, that it is inappropriate for the Commonwealth to intervene to overturn the laws of elected governments other than in the most exceptional circumstances, and in this respect the government believes it is appropriate that the territories are treated as equivalent to the states. The government has decided that it will, to the extent of its direct responsibility under the external affairs powers, legislate to prevent adoptions by same-sex couples under the international arrangements being recognised in Australia.

When these sorts of issues arise, many members of parliament are subjected to accusations by elements within their communities—and I sympathise with the member for Cunningham, who has been attacked for his views. We do, after all, live in a democratic society. But I also concur with one of my National Party colleagues, who referred to the issue of homophobia, which he and people like me are accused of when we make a comment or a statement which is in contrast to a minority view on a particular issue, such as, for example, homosexuality or gay couples.

It may surprise the House that I have a very close relationship with a number of homosexual people in my electorate—and with a number of homosexual couples. Some of them I class as very dear friends. They are good, loving people and very fine Australians, but they are also very fair people, and they understand that I have different views to theirs on some issues—and I have been attacked for some of those views, particularly those that are centred around mainstream Christian values. In fact, they support me when I make some statements. So the things we are hearing today from some members about what the homosexual community may or may not think are not necessarily the thoughts of all homosexual people or gay couples. I needed to make that comment, because that is the reality and it is the message that I have got from some of the gay people I know who live in a relationship as a couple.

I also have to say that the point that I made about 30 members bringing this matter to the attention of the Prime Minister, and those 30 members representing in excess of a quarter of a million constituents, is a very poignant point that the member for Cunningham has failed to pick up on. He certainly has not picked up on it in the three years that he has been a member of this place. Unfortunately for the member for Cunningham, I think his seat will go back to the Australian Labor Party at the next election because he has got a narrowly focused view of his constituency. That is one of the reasons why I take very strong exception to people coming into this place and making loud noises about minority groups. In this case we are talking about a group of people—gay couples—who make up about 0.5 per cent of all couples, married or living in a de facto relationship, in Australia. I take strong exception to people coming into this place and attacking me and to people in my electorate who represent a very small group of people attacking me for the views that I am articulating and the stand that I take on behalf of the majority of the people that I represent.

As I have said before and say again today, I will face my constituents at the polling booth. They will exercise their democratic right to make a decision about whether they want me to continue to represent them in the manner that I have in the 16 years that I have been a member of state and federal parliament, and I will accept that decision gracefully one way or the other. I wanted to make that point in this place. I will not be intimidated by individuals in this place or by individuals or groups out in the electorate into moving away from the things that I grew up with, the things my father and my mother taught me about honesty, integrity and principle, and my Christian beliefs, which I hold very dear.

In closing, I want to say that the institution of marriage is a very precious thing to most Australians. I am talking about the majority of Australians. I am concerned that the Australian Democrats and the Greens have already moved and voted for an amendment to the Marriage Act which will allow marriage between two men or two women. So far the ALP, the alternative government, has not supported this amendment, but this could change, especially given the ALP's recent support of a motion in the Senate calling for full recognition of same-sex couples in federal law. Traditional mainstream marriage is an enduring social institution which benefits family members and provides for stability in society. More specifically, it benefits children by ensuring their welfare not only is maximised but also is paramount. I have a great deal of pleasure in saying that I support this bill. It is long overdue in ratifying a very grey area in the Marriage Act, and I commend the Prime Minister, my party and the Attorney-General for introducing it into this House.