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Wednesday, 22 March 1961

Mr REYNOLDS (Barton) .- There can be no doubt that there are some strange bedfellows in this marriage debate. I should like to support the suggestion submitted by the honorable member for Griffith (Mr. Chresby). Frankly, I cannot find any real warrant for the assumption that a girl becomes mature enough to marry at an earlier age than does a boy. If we came down to the lower levels of physical development, our physiologists would say, " Yes ", but nobody is suggesting here that a girl of twelve should be permitted to marry. At the age of fifteen, which is the age suggested by the proposed amendment, a boy would certainly be as physically fitted for marriage as would a girl. The real guide as to whether a marriage is justified or whether it would be stable is the mental development, the psychological development, which includes emotional control and emotional stability. I have not as yet found any scientific evidence to justify the belief or social tradition that a girl is as mature at sixteen as is a boy at eighteen. Indeed, this whole argument draws my attention to the tradition that a girl should find a boy one or two years older than herself, and one of the consequences of this is that we have an abnormally high proportion of widows to widowers in the community At the other end of the scale, the average expectation of life for a man is, I think, five years less than that of a woman. This social tradition which requires a woman to marry a man older than herself only adds to the incidence of widowhood in our community. I men tion that as one consequence that occurs to me.

I am strongly opposed to allowing a youngster, either girl or boy, to marry at fifteen or sixteen years of age. I might be inclined to agree to seventeen years of age, but I mention that merely as an arbitrary opinion based upon casual observations. There does seem to be a number of young people in the community who are sufficiently physically developed, who are sufficiently emotionally controlled and who possess the various attributes necessary for a stable marriage at the age of seventeen, but, on the evidence that I have seen, I am not prepared to believe that, at the age of sixteen, a girl is sufficiently mature to marry. Certainly, I am not prepared to believe that she is so much more mature than the boy who is being required to wait until he is eighteen. Psychologists tell us that at twelve years of age girls are ahead of boys mentally, but that at about fifteen the margin has disappeared and their mental development is about even. As a general rule, however, mental maturity is attained at about the age of 17 years for both girls and boys. Therefore I would be a strong supporter of yet another amendment seeking to make the age either seventeen years or eighteen years for both girls and boys.

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