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Wednesday, 19 September 2012
Page: 7329


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (12:17): I rise today to speak on the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012. Marriage is defined as 'the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life'. This was the definition 22 years ago when I married my husband, John, and has been the definition of marriage throughout the history of humanity over the ages. I reject the assertion that those who argue for the retention of the definition of marriage are somehow homophobic, bigoted or are opposing equal rights. It is about maintaining a tradition—a tradition that has been the bedrock of our communities, our society and the world as we know it.

On 14 August, we celebrated National Marriage Day. I am indebted to the organisers for the red and gold rosettes for us to wear on the day, but I also received a bookmark with the following Chinese proverb: 'When there is love in a marriage, there is harmony in the home; when there is harmony in the home, there is contentment in the community; when there is contentment in the community, there is prosperity in the nation; when there is prosperity in the nation, there is peace in the world.'

Retention of the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman is also about protecting the rights of the silent majority and that of the institutions that have made this great nation the wonderful land in which to live. It is widely accepted in the Australian community that there are certain customs and practices in any society that are unique to certain relationships. To acknowledge this does not amount to discrimination. The silent majority in this country does not support this change. Indeed, there are many people who are in a gay relationships who themselves do not support gay marriage. Their views have also been drowned out by the vocal gay marriage minority.

Marriage is not only a civil union but has also always been traditionally a religious ceremony; whether in the Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Hindu or any other faith. It is a religious act that glorifies the significant union between a man and a woman. An important part of the marriage journey is the public vows that a man and a woman make to each other before their God which commits them to each other for the rest of their natural lives.

In other parts of the world, we clearly see how amending the definition of marriage has opened the backdoor to attacks on religious freedoms by challenging the churches and other religious institutions such that they would be unable to act with neither their conscience nor their religious teachings and trouncing thousand-year-old beliefs. For example, just recently in Denmark, where same-sex marriage was legalised only earlier this year, the Church of Denmark was forced to make its churches and priests available to perform same-sex weddings. Marriage celebrants, pastors and even service providers such as photographers have suffered legal actions and fines for not approving same-sex marriage. This is not about equality; it is about the tearing down of our social fabric.

I doubt that most people who are pushing these amendments are overly religious or even intend on staying in a monogamous relationship, which begs the question: why do they want to get 'married'? The chattering classes do not want to concede that, by amending the Marriage Act, they are in fact denying the rights of the silent majority who want to uphold the sanctity and true meaning of marriage and who want to keep some tradition going in a world that seems to be forever throwing out the old and bringing in the new.

In terms of equal rights there is no law under the Commonwealth that discriminates against homosexuals. It was the Howard government that substantially removed the discriminatory treatment in federal laws as it applied to all interdependent relationships. The previous government took the attitude of looking at interdependent relationships and discrimination across different areas. The previous government was committed to the elimination of discrimination against same-sex couples, and it became part of a program of the elimination of discrimination in areas such as superannuation, migration and Defence Force entitlements. This was followed up by further legislation in 2008, which the coalition supported.

These wide-ranging changes now put those in a heterosexual relationship and those in a homosexual relationship on an equal platform. This is real equality before the law. There is no discrimination when it comes to voting rights or salary. It is worth noting that both the UN Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights have rejected that same-sex marriage is a human right.

This is also a question of trust with the Australian people. Like the carbon tax, this government has no mandate to change the Marriage Act to include same-sex couples. Before the last federal election, both the ALP and the coalition promised that they would not make changes to the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act. In fact, the coalition has long been opposed to changes to Commonwealth law that could diminish the institution of marriage. This position was represented to the Australian electorate at the 2010, 2007 and 2004 federal elections. Therefore, it was a firm government election promise to keep marriage in its traditional form. In fact, Prime Minister Julia Gillard, on at least eight occasions before the last federal election, declared ALP support for the current definition of marriage. Julia Gillard also said that the ALP would not change its position during the life of the current parliament. I have received thousands of letters and emails from constituents who do not want me to support these changes or any other changes to the Marriage Act. These far outweigh those who have written to me supporting the changes.

Same-sex marriage is a 10th order issue. It galls many in the Illawarra, where I was born and where my electorate office is located, to see their local member for Throsby, Stephen Jones, championing this cause above more pressing issues for his constituents. Throsby is one of my patron seats and, just one year since the announcement of the carbon tax, more than 1,000 workers from BlueScope Steel will lose their jobs in one of our major employment sectors—manufacturing. BlueScope is located in Throsby, as are many of the workers who are losing their jobs. More than 1,400 people in the region have lost their jobs since September 2011 and home repossessions had gone up by 60 per cent.

With all this happening, all the member for Throsby can think about is same-sex marriage. This is not an issue of concern to the people of Throsby or the Illawarra in general. This is an area which is doing it tough and it galls many in the area to see their local member focussing on this 10th order issue. I ask you, Stephen Jones: how will introducing same-sex marriage give people jobs, save them from losing their homes or lower the cost of living? How will same-sex marriage put the budget back into surplus? It will do none of these things. At the present time, Australia is not in a position to be discussing an emotive, and I believe destructive, subject such as this one, when there are much more pressing issues that need to be addressed urgently.

One must ask: where will this all end? You do not have to look very far to find the answer. There are already legal challenges in Canada and Utah that have been brought forward by polygamists who claim they have a right to polygamous marriage, and polyamorous activists are relentlessly campaigning for legal recognition of their relationships. These relationships have already been given legal status in the Netherlands. Former High Court Justice Michael Kirby has said, 'We do not know what the future decades may hold in terms of relationships', and he has commented that polyamorous relationships are 'matters for the future'. This is the thin edge of the wedge. Even the Greens ACT convenor, Simon Copland, has criticised Sarah Hanson-Young's stance that marriage should be limited to only two people.

Most Australians would find these concepts repugnant, abhorrent and destructive to our social fabric. But this is where we are heading. I therefore support the sanctity and uniqueness of marriage in its current form, and I acknowledge the very important role that it plays in Australia. Marriage is a very important institution not only for the traditional Anglo-Saxon culture in this country but also for so many others in our culturally diverse community. I know that the chattering classes do not share that view and constantly denigrate those who do. As I have said, the silent majority in this country agree about the sanctity of marriage and the sanctity of what is the traditional family.

I will conclude with a time-old African proverb that simply and profoundly states: 'Don't tear down a fence until you know why it was put up.' Marriage is a unique institution in our society and it is one that we as senators and members of the Australian parliament should do everything in our power to protect and to ensure that it is supported, encouraged and backed up in every way, shape and form. I will be voting against this bill.