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Thursday, 20 September 2012
Page: 7456

Senator FURNER (Queensland) (10:51): I rise today to speak against the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012 and I do so in support of the Prime Minister's position in opposing any changes to the Marriage Act and to reiterate her position when she was quoted as saying:

My position flows from my strong conviction that the institution of marriage has come to have a particular meaning and standing in our culture and nation and should continue unchanged.

During the debate and leading up to the debate I have listened to the opinions and the delivery of responses to the opinions of people, whether they be pro equal marriage or opposed to it, and it disturbs me that some of those views and opinions have been expressed and stereotyped in a sickening manner towards people whether they are pro or anti equal marriage.

When it comes to stereotyping I also use as an example the issues associated with the rallies in Sydney recently where people turned to stereotype Muslims who were involved in those rallies. Not every Muslim in this country is a terrorist or an activist or is involved in that sort of activity. As a government we have certainly condemned the actions of those extremists involved in those particular rallies in Sydney recently, and I would think that we are mature enough as a government to recognise and respect the views of everyone who has a position and an opinion when it comes to marriage equality. Once again, regardless of whether those opinions are in support of marriage equality or against marriage equality, we should respect those opinions.

Consultation started on this issue last year when a motion was put in the lower house that people should go out into their communities and consult widely with people from a range of areas—churches, the public, organisations et cetera—about this particular issue of marriage equality. Although that was not a motion that was binding on the Senate, I took it upon myself to do that. As I travelled around my five duty seats and beyond, I found a wide range of views, and I would suggest that overwhelmingly those views were against marriage equality and supported the true condition of marriage between a man and a woman.

In fact, because I have a strong relationship with the Muslim community in Brisbane, I met with a number of Muslims and I attended a mosque and spoke to the leaders there. Just recently I received an email from Imam Yusuf Peer, the chairperson of the Council of Imams in Queensland. He says:

Emphatically, Islam forbids same sex marriage and regards it as a violation of the commands of God.

Marriage is universally known to be between a man and a woman, not between a man and a man or between a woman and a woman. Marriage in Islam, as in all divine religions, does not mean sexual enjoyment only but also the establishment of a family on hygienic and safe foundations.

Sexual and reproductive acts are exclusive to the two parties who come together in holy matrimony, and therefore Same-Sex marriage is not considered legal in Islam.

So when we hear proponents, whether for or against same-sex marriage, relating this to Christianity, unfortunately they are wrong—it relates beyond Christianity to other religions in our society.

Throughout the debate on this legislation there has been an assertion that there is discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity. In fact, some states have discrimination laws stating these attributes are protected. Opposing same-sex marriage is not an exercise in discrimination nor is it a hurtful belief. If people have genuine beliefs as to what marriage is and its role in the regeneration of society, the people holding these beliefs should not be subject to accusations of discrimination and homophobia. I actually went to the online dictionary and looked up the definition of homophobia, and it states 'intense hatred or fear of homosexuals or homosexuality'.

I personally—and I am sure this is the same for every senator and every member in this parliament—do not hate or fear gay people, lesbians or people who are involved in their choice. It disturbs me that people label those who hold the opinion that marriage is between a man and a woman as being homophobic—because we are not. I do not fear gay people and I do not hate them. I think they are people just like you and me. They have a choice as to what their desire is in relation to their sexual orientation. That is their choice and that should be respected.

As a prior union official I dealt with many discrimination cases in my nearly 20 years of looking after members' interests. Throughout my career I dealt with many matters of discrimination, including sexual discrimination, sexual harassment and discrimination on the grounds of matrimony and race. One case I recall that relates to this particular issue was when a gay man working for an airline company approached me with concerns and his fellow workmates were also concerned about his treatment in the workplace. I made the suggestion that they should firstly raise it with their management and try to reach a solution in that manner, as a disputes procedure in most awards and agreements apply. They tried that and it did not work. So it then became apparent that the only way to fix this was to have the dispute escalated and have some involvement with the union.

I personally got involved with that dispute. It was a difficult dispute because it was union member against member. The union member who was discriminating against the gay man was also a member of the same union. Nevertheless, on the right side of law—that is, protecting those who are discriminated against—we found ourselves in a situation where we were defending the gay man and not the supervisor who was discriminating against him. In the end the supervisor was relieved of his position as a supervisor in that company and the dispute was resolved.

I will not cover some of the commentary that has already been dealt with. Senator Madigan spoke about discrimination in other forms. There are many, and I am familiar with those in the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act as well.

The other point I wanted to turn to was human rights. I have heard—though have not been convinced—that proponents of same-sex marriage believe this is a human rights issue. In fact, Father Frank Brennan, AO, former chairman of the National Human Rights Consultative Committee and an expert on discrimination, made reference to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966, which came into effect in Australia on 13 November 1980. Article 23 of the ICCPR provides that:

1. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

2. The right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to found a family shall be recognized.

3. No marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

4. States Parties to the present Covenant shall take appropriate steps to ensure equality of rights and responsibilities of spouses as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. In the case of dissolution, provision shall be made for the necessary protection of any children.

The European Court of Human Rights has, in the past three years, twice stated that there is no human rights for same-sex marriage.

Father Frank Brennan has also written:

Instead of stating 'All persons have the right to marry', the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides: 'The right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to found a family shall be recognised.' The Covenant asserts: 'The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.'

He also says:

I believe our parliamentarians should maintain this distinction, for the good of future children, while ensuring equal treatment for same sex couples through the legal recognition of civil unions.

In considering whether to advocate a change to the definition of marriage, citizens need to consider not only the right of same sex couples to equality but even more so the rights of future children.

The State has an interest in privileging group units in society which are likely to enhance the prospects that future children will continue to be born with a known biological father and a known biological mother who in the best of circumstances will be able to nurture and educate them.

That is why there is a relevant distinction to draw between a commitment between a same sex couple to establish a group unit in society and a commitment of a man and a woman to marry and found a family.

I think we can ensure non-discrimination against same sex couples while at the same time maintaining a commitment to children of future generations being born of and being reared by a father and a mother. To date, international human rights law has appreciated this rational distinction.

So, I have not been convinced on the arguments that same-sex marriage should change as it currently stands, and I still hold a fundamental view that the institution of marriage should be between a man and a woman.