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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2183

Mr MURPHY (Reid) (18:06): I do not accept that the move to change the Marriage Act to accommodate same-sex couples is a matter of equality or human rights. This is clearly about same-sex couples being equal to opposite-sex couples with respect to marriage. It is not about equality for all, at least for the moment, since there has never been marriage equality. Legally and religiously, there has never been marriage equality in relation to polygamy, minors, members of the same immediate family and so on. These exclusions result from the nature of marriage as a societal institution that represents, symbolises and protects the inherently reproductive human relationship—whether or not a couple choose to have children. I note also that failure to consummate a marriage is still grounds for voiding or annulling a marriage.

Once marriage is redefined to include same-sex couples then, using the equality argument, there is no moral reason for excluding, for example, polygamy or group marriage. Therefore I believe that dressing up the current campaign as a move for equality is a sleight of hand. In reality, it is a move to change the definition of marriage, which is currently the union of a man and a woman. I believe that redefining marriage will change the meaning of marriage for all Australians. It will weaken the institution and undermine the millennia-long social purpose of marriage. Definitions matter. That is how we interpret and identify reality. I believe it is not permissible to redefine or change the name of something simply to accommodate a particular group's opinion, especially when this would change beyond recognition or define out of existence an established age-old institution.

Nevertheless, I oppose discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Civil partnerships open to both opposite-sex and same-sex couples should be legally recognised, and partners, whether opposite-sex or same-sex, should be entitled to the same benefits and protection of law. Therefore, despite strenuous opposition from conservative constituents in my electorate in 2009, I supported and voted for 85 amendments to federal laws to eliminate discrimination against same-sex couples in areas such as taxation, social security, health, aged care, superannuation, immigration and family law.

Marriage is about love, but not merely love. Marriage is about the particular love between a man and a woman, which is unique. Importantly, opposite-sex union is the only union that is capable of and oriented towards producing children naturally. Marriage as a legal institution directly points this connection to children, to protect the interests of children and keep biological families together. The law recognises what marriage is—namely, the unique sharing by a man and a woman of all aspects of life. However, the purpose of marriage as a legal institution relates specifically to the distinctive biological possibilities of this union. Many people think of marriage as only about love because two partners usually enter into such a special sharing of life with profound commitment and affection. However, if there were no biological consequences of sexual union—if it involved only love and commitment—then society would not need specific laws to recognise this union. Parliaments make laws about matters of public interest, but not about personal feelings such as love or commitment. Governments would not be able to promote marriage as a life-long union if it were just related to such personal issues. People were getting married and forming families long before the rise of nation states. Parliaments have made laws to recognise the existing age-old institution of marriage, not only because it formalises the relationship that produces future citizens but because, as the bedrock of biologically related families, legally binding marriages allow governments to enforce the natural existing responsibilities of parents to care for their children.

People who want to redefine marriage claim that this will affect only a small number of Australians. I believe that the opposite is true. The definition of an institution determines the way society relates to that institution. For example, if there were a successful campaign by non-Indigenous Australians to be recognised as Indigenous by redefining the word 'Indigenous' to include all who express love for and commitment to Australia, the definition of Indigenous Australian would necessarily change for all Australians. It would become a question of people's desires and feelings—that is, love and commitment—instead of the biological definition of Indigenous. The word Indigenous would be redefined to become meaningless. The legal definition of marriage as an exclusive permanent union of a man and a woman shows a clear link to its role in raising children. In fact, in the Marriage Act there is no mention of love or commitment at all. Any attempt by the parliament to recognise love and commitment as being central would go beyond our mandate.

Marriage and children are linked by the reproductive capacity of the union of a male and a female. Undoing this link by redefining marriage to denote the relationship of any two people regardless of whether the relationship is principally reproductive or not would alter the central purpose of marriage to being merely an affirmation of feelings rather than establishing a family. The private purpose of marriage would become its central aspect and the public purpose will become obsolete as it would no longer make sense to say that marriage connects children to their mothers and fathers and those parents to one another.

Marriage was not created by governments, but governments do recognise the institution of marriage as one that serves a public purpose—formalising the existing obligation of biological parents to care for one another and their children. Inserting the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman into the Marriage Act in 2005 merely affirmed what the law has been for Australia's entire history. The existence of a legal definition, however, does not give the parliament the right to redefine marriage, rather it more clearly establishes its role in administering, strengthening and protecting marriage in our nation. Where parliaments have redefined marriage, such as the north east of the United States and in Canada in 2006, there have been ongoing campaigns from other groups of people to have their relationships also recognised as marriages, including groups in support of polygamy and of group marriage. Supporters of group marriage in Australia are now also calling for marriage equality. While I believe the equality argument is spurious, many people would be entitled to ask the so-called marriage equality lobby: why should same-sex couples be more equal than people who want a polygamous or group marriage? Why, then, should we not keep redefining the term to include any meaningful relationship between any number of people who might be in love and committed to one another? By removing the essential aspect of marriage, parliaments would be unjustly discriminating against other people wanting their types of relationships to be redefined as marriage.

Some people argue that without same-sex marriage same-sex couples will not have the same legal rights and benefits that come with being married. However, same-sex couples enjoy every legal right that those in opposite-sex de facto relationships or marriages do under Australian federal laws following the reforms enacted in 2009, which I referred to earlier. Furthermore, every state and territory has some form of formal recognition of people in same-sex partnerships. I have had plenty of feedback from my constituents. I have been visited by people from both sides of the debate. I have met with same-sex couples who support same-sex marriage and other people who oppose same-sex marriage. Some same-sex lobbyists have rung my office to oppose same-sex marriage because they cannot understand how any homosexual would want to embrace a heterosexual institution. Others have rung to support same-sex marriage. I have given them all a fair hearing.

I have received many emails, letters, phone calls and have listened to constituents who have come to my office to express strongly held views. Moreover, I receive hundreds of emails and telephone calls daily covering the many other issues that my constituents say are far more important to them than same-sex marriage. Nevertheless, in relation to same-sex marriage, I carefully monitored the pro-same-sex marriage campaign from GetUp! which took place before the 2011 ALP national conference. Of the 1,250 identical emails I received, only 25 were from constituents living in Reid. That is only two per cent. These 25 were outweighed by telephone calls, emails, letters and personal visits from constituents supporting the institution of marriage. They took the time to compose individual and considered messages rather than simply click on an email link and then quickly move on to something more important to them in their daily lives.

Support for same-sex marriage is, by and large, soft. Most supporters regard it as a matter of minor importance. However, people who oppose the inclusion of same-sex marriage into the Marriage Act see this as a vote changer, and my electorate contains a large proportion of people with that view. There are such electorates immediately to the west of mine in Sydney and in other states who, in my opinion, will reject any candidate who supports a redefinition of marriage. If I am re-endorsed by my branch members as the ALP candidate for Reid, you can be certain that I will campaign all the way to the next federal election defending the age-old institution of marriage, and let the people speak, particularly the silent majority. (Time expired)

Debate adjourned.