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Monday, 18 June 2012
Page: 6839


Mr MURPHY (Reid) (12:11): I rise to speak against the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012. One of the lasting results of second-wave feminism in the 1970s is marriage equality. That term was used to mean equality of the sexes within marriage—something I believe we in this House all support. Some people still think that is what marriage equality means. But this seemingly innocuous term has been hijacked by those who want to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples—for the simple reason that this will maximise support. Most people support marriage and almost everyone supports equality. It sounds so reasonable.

Speaking at the recent Sydney Writers' Festival, early gay-rights activist and author, and now Director of the Institute for Human Security at La Trobe University, Professor Dennis Altman, made some very candid and very revealing points in a panel on same-sex marriage. First, he correctly pointed out that marriage was established to deal with issues related to the procreation of children. Second, he wants the entire Marriage Act to be abolished, saying that marriage sends 'dangerous signals' to people who are not in long-term relationships. Same-sex marriage therefore diminishes the cultural achievement of most gay people, in particular gay men, who are actively non-monogamous and, as Altman said, 'do not need the sanctity of state or church to legitimise their relationship'. He added that same-sex marriage is 'a conservative form of winning respectability'.

Supporting Altman's call to remove the words 'a man and a woman' as a first step to abolishing the Marriage Act, prominent gay writer Masha Gessen attacked those who claim that redefining marriage to include same-sex couples will not diminish the importance of traditional marriage, saying: 'It is a lie to say the institution of marriage won't change … We want to abolish marriage.' Her words confirm my previous speech in this House, when I said redefining marriage would change the meaning of marriage for all Australians. Effectively, it would make marriage meaningless.

Given my public stand that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, I have received much feedback. Some same-sex couples have spoken to me directly of their desire to get married. But other gay individuals, echoing Dennis Altman's view, said they cannot understand how any gay person would want to embrace an unambiguously age-old heterosexual institution. I have found that most of the support for same-sex marriage has come from people who are heterosexual, particularly young people, including teenagers, who have abstract and less developed notions of equality based on inexperience. Some supporters of same-sex marriage were downright abusive and intolerant of my view, and made it clear that they will never vote for me unless I support their view. That is their right, of course, and I do accept this. However, I do not accept that the move to change the Marriage Act to accommodate same-sex couples is a matter of equality or human rights. It is not about equality for all since there has never been marriage equality, as I outlined in detail in my previous speech on this matter. Marriage, in my view, is therefore only possible between two people of the opposite sex.

Marriage as a legal institution corresponds to the reality of what marriage is: the unique sharing by a man and a woman in all aspects of life. However, the purpose of marriage as a legal institution relates specifically to the distinctive biological possibilities of this union. Some people say, wrongly, that this means couples who do not produce children are not really married. Whether or not children are produced does not change this, as I can attest from my own circumstances on this very day—the 29th anniversary of my marriage to Adriana. Happy anniversary, Honey.

People who want to redefine marriage claim that this will affect only a small number of Australians. In fact, the opposite is true. The definition of an institution determines the way society relates to that institution. Without children, there is no need for marriage. Marriage serves the public interest by connecting mothers and fathers and their children, and holding biological parents accountable for raising their children. That is the crux of this matter.