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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 810

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (11:50): I rise to oppose this motion about amendments to the Marriage Act. A series of irrational and highly emotional arguments have been put forward on what is loosely termed same-sex marriage. I think that is a misnomer. Marriage is defined, in Australian law, as being between a man and a woman. That was set out in 2004 to clarify a situation that had been in existence in Australian law since 1961. This was done with the full support of the Labor Party, and this understanding has always existed in human history.

Today we have had this clash of Dead Poets Society with Pulp Fiction from the member for Melbourne, the member for Canberra and other members. They have tried to pretend there is unanimity of view that same-sex marriage is universal, supported and inevitable. It used to be death and taxes but now it is inevitable that there will be death, taxes and gay marriage. I do not think it is inevitable in our society. It has never been the case; it is a new and radical proposition. Instead of recognising that it is a new and radical proposition and coming to this place with an approach that is reasonable and measured and that brings the population along with it, the Greens and various Labor members, who are now free to express their views, are proposing something that is highly divisive and ignorant of the majority view around the world today.

We have heard that a procession of countries have enacted legislation in relation to gay marriage. In my research, I can only find 10 out of 200 countries that have enacted such legislation. We have heard about states in the United States, but let us be clear about this: in 30 out of 50 United States states where a referendum on this question has been held, the people said no. They said no in every single one of those 30 referendums where the question was put to the people. And that is the case in the more progressive California, which has been cited today in this place. The legislature there initially passed the laws granting same-sex marriage but then overturned them. In recent months, the French parliament rejected legislation for same-sex marriage. Indeed, in 2010 the European Court of Human Rights ruled that its member states were not obliged to recognise same-sex marriage on human rights grounds. It is a misnomer to suggest that there is a human rights issue.

There is an issue here in this motion before the House. As a liberal, I believe in the freedom of individuals in society. Individuals are the building blocks of society. We are fundamentally built as a group of families—individuals structure themselves into families. I believe that people have the right to associate with whomever they want. I believe civil unions should be recognised at law. I am perfectly willing to consider legislation in relation to civil unions; perfectly willing to consider removing any remaining discrimination. However, I am advised that in federal law there are no such examples, or very limited examples, of any discrimination against same-sex relationships or same-sex couples.

What are we talking about here? We are talking about a radical proposal to undermine a fundamental social institution that has been the basis of our society for thousands of years, an institution between a man and a woman for the reproduction of children which has formed the basic unit of our society. Why can't we recognise civil unions in our society today? Why can't we recognise that they should develop their own traditions and their own customs because they are a new institution? Why don't we retain the successful institution of marriage, which has been the bedrock of our society for so long and done so well for us? We should retain it, encourage it and promote it, as we always have, and of course allow at law the same situation to exist for same-sex couples, which is inevitably what we do at the moment.

Many states now have relationship registers. These could be expanded and I would support that. It would be a step in the right direction. Of course we should clarify any situation where there is discrimination against people, but marriage has been a particular societal institution and convention that has produced so much good and will continue to produce so much good.

This is an attack on the rights of all those who support marriage, and I believe they are a majority. I believe that a majority of Australians voted in the 2004, 2007 and 2010 elections for the position of both major political parties that there be no amendment to the Marriage Act. If the Labor Party is now proposing to change its position, of course it must put it to the people—something we know that it does not like to do. On this side of the House, the coalition have always had the right to exercise our conscience. We should exercise our conscience, and conscience tells us that the majority of Australians today do not support amending the Marriage Act and do support removing any remaining discrimination against same-sex couples.

Debate adjourned.