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Thursday, 20 September 2012
Page: 7451


Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (10:28): I would like to make clear from the start that marriage between a man and a woman is a unique social institution. It is in essence different from a same-sex union. Redefining marriage to include same-sex unions is to completely empty the concept of marriage of any real meaning. Marriage has been understood throughout history and until now in Australian law as protecting the commitment of a man and a woman to live exclusively and permanently as husband and wife and, more importantly, to protect the children of that relationship.

This reflects the view of marriage not only in Western society but across societies and cultures of the whole of recorded human history. Whilst some ancient civilisations acknowledged homosexual activity, they did not pretend it was marriage. Marriage remained the union of a man and a woman. It has been suggested that the law as it stands is unjust in discriminating against same-sex couples by not allowing them to marry. If instead of marriage we use an example of a more recent institution, democracy, would it be suggested that the law as it stands is unjust in discriminating against non-Australians by not allowing them to participate in federal elections? Are non-Australians the same as Australians: human beings with equal worth? Of course they are, but they cannot stand for parliament. Are non-Australians less capable of choosing an elected representative? No, certainly not, but they cannot vote in elections. Do non-Australians have less desire for the principles of freedom or justice? No; they often desire that more than we do, but they cannot serve in our defence forces or on juries.

We have laws and rules determining under what conditions someone can participate in our democratic procedures, and upholding those principles is not discriminatory to non-Australians. To do otherwise, to change the most fundamental rule that non-Australians cannot fully participate in our democracy, would be to destabilise our democratic system, and the term 'democracy' would eventually become worthless—in fact, meaningless. That is what is happening to marriage. The very basis of the institution is threatened with becoming meaningless by changing its most fundamental rule that marriage is between a man and a woman.

It may appear to be unjust to discriminate against people on the basis of age, religion, race or sex, but there are many circumstances in which we do discriminate, and quite logically. Age is relevant when it comes to drinking or driving or buying cigarettes. Age and, as mentioned already, citizenship are relevant when voting or when claiming a pension. Sex is obviously relevant in targeting particular healthcare programs such as breast or prostate cancer. Race is relevant when administering programs to promote the interests of Indigenous people, and gender is relevant when determining marriage.

Whilst I believe that all human beings should be treated justly and with dignity, it is not discrimination to maintain that marriage is between a man and a woman. It is simple recognition of the unique character of that relationship. It is an insult to suggest, as some have done in the context of this debate, that those Australians who support the traditional understanding of marriage are guilty of a prejudice similar to racism. I am offended by the slurs that have been aimed at some fellow parliamentarians simply because they, like me, do not accept the arguments of those who support this bill. I am as offended as those same accusers would be by accusations that their support for this bill is less about love and quality and more about the deliberate undermining of our social structure. The suggestions that by upholding the timeless institution of marriage we are somehow bigoted and narrow-minded is the epitome of the expression, 'The pot calling the kettle black.'

I am appalled at the vilification of individuals simply because they have expressed the opinion that they are entitled to express under our democratic beliefs. Senators Joyce and Boswell, as well as Joe de Bruyn of the SDA and others are attacked because they stand fast in the defence of their principles. Under the guise of compassion for the desires of same-sex couples, we have endured a non-stop campaign of denigration against those who have refused to buckle under the weight of an attack designed to pour scorn and guilt on those who have the temerity to refuse to deny their principles. An expression or, more rightly, a principle we have all heard in the defence of freedom of speech, often from the Left, is that 'while I may disapprove of what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it'. In this debate I have heard Senator Joyce defending that principle and I have heard Senator Boswell defending those rights. I heard Senator Abetz defending those values with a dignity that should be a lesson to many here. While they and others will fervently dispute the position of those supporting this bill, they would just as surely fight to the death for your right to say it.

What do they receive in return for their steadfast position? Reasoned debate? Respect for their rights? No. They receive vilification, venom and the vilest accusations against their characters. Their statements are twisted or distorted. Is this what we should expect in this chamber even in a debate as passionate as this? If the argument for same-sex marriage is based on love and respect, dignity and equality, then may I suggest that some of those proposing that we accept this bill need to practice a bit more of what they are claiming to preach.

Retaining the definition of marriage as it now stands in the Marriage Act is not unjust, nor is it unfair discrimination. It is a requirement of justice and the common good that we treat different cases differently. Marriage between a man and a woman is different from other relationships. It is a unique relationship which involves a commitment of the spouses to pledge permanence and exclusivity to each other and which has a special link to children. It is different from friendship. Marriage is different from same-sex unions because no matter how we define marriage, children can only come into existence with the genetic material from a man and a woman. Children can only naturally come into the world from the union of a man and a woman; in any other circumstances, the procreation of children has to be artificially engineered. No other kind of relationship, including relationships between same-sex couples, siblings, close friends, parents and children and so on can be described as marriage because, unlike marriage, they are not unitive and procreative in their very nature.

The second point I would like to make is that love is not and should not be a basis for any legislation. Slogans such as 'equal love' and 'love does not discriminate' are based on a sentimentality that has little to do with love. Marriage, in the legal sense, is not about recognising love. Nowhere in the Marriage Act is the word love even mentioned. The reason the state is involved in marriage is because it is a partnership with social consequences. Marriage is less about the rights of adults than about the rights and responsibilities those adults have towards children of the relationship. While love is not mentioned in the Marriage Act a substantial section is devoted to the legitimation of children.

A more traditional understanding of love is about responsibility. Augustine of Hippo spoke of love being an 'act of the will'. Love is what kicks in when infatuation fades. It is about getting on with the real business of love which involves duty to others. Love is what does the hard yards when the rosiness of infatuation fails. Unfortunately, marriage, as highlighted in popular media, focuses unrealistically on the romantic aspects and has allowed the shedding of its many obligations. The result is that marriage has been reduced to little more than banal sentimentality.

If love is the only criteria, then the sexual orientation of the two people in the relationship is irrelevant. It is not the role of the state to legislate for love. It cannot be measured; it cannot be enforced. If marriage is just about love or if it is about love together with sexual expression then it cannot be limited to a man and a woman. Two men or two women might love each other, or any number. A combination of men and women may love each other, as in polygamous and polyamorous unions. These permutations and combinations are not marriage. Using love and sex to define marriage reduces marriage to an ambiguous relationship which can mean whatever the parties choose it to mean. This sort of ambiguity leads to confusion and instability. Is this the path we wish for our society?

The current Marriage Act is not concerned with love; it is concerned with responsibilities. No responsibility is more serious than the responsibility for children. When considering marriage, the wellbeing of children should be front and centre. Marriage between a man and a woman protects the rights of children. It respects the right of children to know and live in a relationship with both their biological mother and father. Marriage between a man and a woman provides children with access to their genetic, social and cultural heritage.

While the situation of individual marriages may not always be ideal, children have the best opportunities when they are raised by married biological parents. Yes, there are numerous examples of childless marriages or marriages that end in separation as well as the numerous single parent families in our society today. However, none of these started with the premise that a child would be conceived, be born and grow in the absence of one or both biological parents. The same cannot be said for same-sex relationships. Same-sex relationships undermine the rights of the child to know its biological identity and to form relationships with its biological parents. They deny a child the right to know its mother and its father. Raising children in a same-sex relationship is a recent phenomenon, and we do not know the future consequences for the individual or for society. I believe this is a matter of serious social concern and we ought to err on the side of caution rather than launch the greatest social experiment of our time.

Same-sex unions are far from being the sole contributors to the phenomenon of surrogacy, but the legalisation of same-sex marriage will almost inevitably increase the recourse to surrogacy. Surrogacy is another means of denying the child its rights to its biological, cultural and social heritage. Equally disturbing is the recruiting of poor women in countries such as India to act as surrogate mothers for First World couples. The horrors that some of these women face were outlined in a recent article in the Age newspaper. Such practices exploit poor and vulnerable women and create a class of culturally and biologically displaced children.

The proposed changes to the Marriage Act are an inversion of the purpose of the state sanctioning marriage as a means of protecting children. The introduction of same-sex marriage will make adults rather than children the focus of the legislation. The focus will be on the desires of adults and children will be reduced to chattels. What I suggest is that the proposed changes to the Marriage Act are less to do with sanctioning love, but rather a massive social experiment.

In the recent past, marriage was often used as a vehicle for ideological and social manipulation. Communist nations denounced marriage as a bourgeois institution for the oppression of women and children. Those attempts may have gained short-lived success—under duress—but ultimately failed. However, what those regimes hoped was that by manipulating and distorting the concept of marriage they could shape society in a manner reflecting their respective ideologies. To destroy or distort marriage was to destroy the moral and social obligations incumbent upon raising a family and thereby to destroy the very nature of society.

We now see marriage again recruited at the service of propaganda. Moves for same-sex marriage are not about recognising equal love—that is not the purpose of the Marriage Act. They are about suggesting that same-sex relationships are the same as heterosexual relationships. We can delude ourselves into believing many things, but our delusions should not be allowed to shape reality. The reality is that marriage, as traditionally understood for centuries across all cultures, can only be between a man and a woman.

I will conclude as I began—that is, to restate that marriage is between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, with a focus on responsibility for the raising of children. To define marriage in any other way is to undermine those who have lived these ideals and to betray the fundamental right of children to know and live with their biological parents. As such I will not be supporting the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) Bill 2012.