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Wednesday, 18 November 1959


Mr REYNOLDS (Barton) .- The Attorney-General has advised the committee to look at this measure as objectively as we can. I hope that we are attempting to do that rather than reacting to persons because of their attitude to other matters. I hope that we are giving proper consideration to what they have to say on this bill. I suggest that part of the dilemma in which honorable members find themselves is, on the one hand, to give assistance to individuals who are suffering because of the breakdown of their marriage and, on the other hand, the broader question of the relaxation of the marriage laws and the community's attitude to the permanence of marriage as an institution. 1 think that if we continue to extend the grounds for divorce, this must have an effect on the community. Whether we recognize that ourselves or not, it is psychologically operative, and it must affect the attitude of the whole community to marriage as a permanent institution. I suggest that because of that subtle effect, which may not register consciously in our minds, many women may be deserted. The attitude of the community generally may become that, if the yoke of marriage - if I may so describe it - can be lifted on more and more grounds, marriage is less to be regarded as a life-long, permanent institution. When the community subtly and, maybe, subconsciously, gets into that frame of mind, it is quite possible that the subtle effect could be to make us a little less conscious about the moral regard to have marriage as a lifelong, permanent institution. I think it must be a subtle effect and any continuation of this process of getting relief from marriage must be weighed against the other effect of giving beneficial help to those unfortunate persons who are unhappy in their married state.

That is the kind of dilemma we are facing. The criterion which the AttorneyGeneral has put to us is: What is the greatest good for the community as a whole? That is the question. What is the greatest social benefit. There are certainly benefits to be given to individuals in the community by relaxing the marriage laws and making it possible or easy to escape from the burden of unhappy marriage. They are the social benefits applicable to individuals within the community and I know that to people involved they are very real and very important, and I highly respect them.

The alternative question is: What effect will this sort of catering for individuals in this kind of situation have? What kind of subtle psychological effect will this have on the community attitude to marriage as a permanent institution? That is the sort of thing we have to think about. At this stage I do not find it very easy to make up my mind on the dilemma, but at the moment, on the basis of what T have heard, I think

I will have to support the retention of the provision that has caused marriage to be regarded in the community as being as near as possible indissoluble.

On those grounds where it is very harsh and oppressive for a party to marriage, then we may have to give some consideration. But I ask the committee to think very seriously about any move to create relaxations of marriage, and to be very much aware of what subtle effects they are likely to have on the community's attitude. One of these relaxations might indeed be the very cause of the kind of desertions referred to and put people who constitute these individual cases in the position where they have to seek the help of Parliament and of the Church to enable them to secure a relaxation of their marriage vows.







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