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Thursday, 20 September 2012
Page: 7466

Senator FAWCETT (South Australia) (11:39): I rise to speak to the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012. The time for the discussion has been somewhat limited but I wish to place on record my brief remarks, given the importance of this matter. I will be voting against the bill. I think it is important to recognise that this discussion is not about the comparative value of people in the gay, lesbian and bisexual community. It is about how we define marriage and why. It is also not an issue of human rights. Twice, in fact as recently as March this year, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that same sex marriage is not a human rights issue.

Why should the government care about marriage? Hugh Mackay writes in his book titled Reinventing Australia:

Families are still seen as having the potential to provide the emotional security of permanent relationships, as well as a strong sense of identity arising from those relationships.... Family life is thought to teach us important lessons about loyalty, responsibility and compromise, and many Australians believe the quality of family life is an important index of the quality of life in the wider society.… Families are not necessarily expected to be happy, but they are still seen as one of society’s most precious resources.

The Assistant Secretary for Children and Families in the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Wade Horn, makes a similar case in the United States. He quotes the research by 12 different social scientists who conclude:

… marriage is more than a private emotional relationship. It is also a social good. Not every person can or should marry. And not every child raised outside of marriage is damaged as a result. But communities where good-enough marriages are common have better outcomes for children, women and men than do communities suffering from high rates of divorce, unmarried child bearing, and high-conflict or violent marriages.

So marriage and the family is an important part of the fabric of our community. I am on record a number of times—in the maiden speech in the other place and here, as well as through work I have done previously in the community and on committees in this parliament—saying that I support marriage and support families because of the value that they bring to our community.

For those who are concerned about the separation of church and state and that perhaps some of these views of marriage come predominantly from people of faith, they can go right back to Aristotle, who died in 322 BC. In his view, the social basis of political and ethical life is the free and relatively egalitarian relationship of husband and wife as partners in a common life founded on the cultivation and enjoyment of virtue. Aristotle contends that the dream of a man and woman to form a relationship of friendship and family is deep-seated, saying:

There seems to be a friendship between man and woman by nature.

And so this goes back a long way. It transcends a number of borders in terms of philosophy and religion, and it is an important aspect for our community.

There are precedents where government has made choices, and consanguinity is one that is well established in Australian law. There are also principles to consider here. A number of people have talked about the fact that the coalition is not having a conscience vote on this issue. That is because we went to the election with a promise and a commitment that we would support the current definition of marriage, and we believe it is important not to go back on that as a party. So we will be continuing.

The other principle that I wish to just briefly mention is the important principle of freedom of speech. There has been a lot of discussion about whether comments are appropriate, whether different views are appropriate and whether people should be leaving their world view—and that is particularly aimed at those from the Christian and other faiths—at the door of the parliament. I believe it is important that people recognise that everybody comes to this place with a world view. It does not matter which perspective you come from, you come with a world view. And part of the reason people come here is that they have been elected on the basis of their character, their integrity and what they can add value to, and part of that is their world view. They actually betray people they are supposed to represent if they do not bring those values into here. The important thing is that they should be free and that people in the community should be free to speak their mind, particularly when they are talking about an issue like this, when they are not inciting hatred or inciting harm towards other people, without being shouted down or without reverse discrimination being applied to them.

I think Australia is a poorer place for some of the outcomes we have seen, particularly with a situation like that of Victoria's Deputy Chief Psychiatrist, Mr George, who, along with 150 other doctors, took part in a Senate inquiry advising that children do better with a mum and dad. There is research that supports that, and some would argue that there is research that does not. But the reality is that that was his view. The fact that he was forced out of his position on the Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission and threatened with dismissal from his academic and medical posts is, I think, a sad reflection on the direction that free speech is being taken in Australia.

I think it is important that people do respect others and their rights to express a point of view. I would certainly encourage that with any future debate that occurs on any topic--whether it be one such as this or topics around policy or religion or other issues—people are free to speak their point of view without being shouted down or howled down in an unreasonable manner. I will not be supporting the bill.