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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26521

Senator HARRADINE (3:01 PM) —I will be brief as my position on the Marriage Amendment Bill 2004 is relatively well known and I do not want to take up the limited time available going over arguments that have been well canvassed. This legislation is quite important. The system of marriage between a man and a woman is one that has been relied on for thousands of years across the world and across all cultures. It has been tried and tested over time and found to be the best arrangement available. Moving away from this shared community standard would mean that marriage would become just one option in a list of relationship options. It would in fact lose its meaning.

The legislation we are currently considering is a simple piece of legislation. It is about reflecting the community understanding of marriage, which is that marriage is between a man and a woman. It is in some respects a simple matter of clarifying a definition in legislation so that it reflects a common understanding. But there has been a lot of complex debate surrounding that simple aim.

I acknowledge there are Australian citizens who do not want to marry a person of the opposite sex. Rather than saying marriage is not for them, they have argued for the definition of marriage to be broadened to allow them to marry someone of the same sex. More than that, there are claims that not changing the definition to allow same-sex marriage discriminates against gay people. But, with respect, this is a very simplistic argument. There are of course a range of conditions put on the definition of marriage and these help to maintain the fundamental nature of marriage. These include the conditions that the people marrying must not be already married, that they are old enough to marry, that they not be of the same sex and that there are only two people in a marriage.

Marriage is in effect open to all people, without discrimination, but under a range of conditions. Those who do not accept those conditions because it does not suit them for one reason or another need not enter into marriage. The difficulty with agreeing to change the basic conditions surrounding marriage is that a range of groups might want to alter the surrounding rules to suit them. This would lead to a point where marriage would no longer be recognisable. I am not sure how we could, without accusations of discrimination, distinguish between the demands of one group and another. It therefore seems more reasonable to me to keep marriage as it is and confirm that situation in legislation.

If we were to start changing the common understanding of marriage, you could expect to have representations made from people supporting the legal recognition of various relationships such as polygamy, polyandry, which is one woman and many men, and polyamory, which is a group marriage of varying numbers. The possibility of group marriages is not so farfetched. Two years ago the Law Commission of Canada produced a report on adult relationships which stated, `In principle, the Law Commission sees no reason to limit registration [of relationships] to two people.' A quick search of the Internet revealed at least two active polyamory groups in Australia.

There is value in the current system of marriage. At a very practical level, it provides a very stable environment in which to raise children. It seems to me most important that children have a mother and a father. To allow homosexual marriages is to deliberately deny children a father or a mother. I know that there are exceptions to the stability of marriage—that marriages sometimes fail, we all know that; that children are sometimes not treated well; and that children can be brought up well by one parent. But I consider that having children grow up with a mother and a father is a social ideal, and that is accepted generally in the community. I know myself how difficult it can be to bring children up as a single parent. It was not a situation I wanted to be in—certainly not; my wife died—and it certainly was not ideal. I, like many parents, did the best I could. I was not all that crash hot. I am sure that, after two years of my single parenting, the kids were very happy when I married a widow and were delighted when, once again, they were in a family with a mother and a father.

I am not saying that children cannot be brought up well by relatives or guardians rather than by a mother and a father. Sometimes that has to be the situation, for one reason or another. But I do see that as a substitute arrangement, and, acknowledging the best efforts and intentions of people in this situation, it is not the ideal. These are some of the reasons I support the acknowledgment and strengthening in legislation of the general community understanding of marriage—that it is between a man and a woman. Obviously there are many ways to strengthen marriage, and I will continue to lobby for that assistance. We have not got there yet. I believe governments do not adequately recognise the work that is done by families. I support this bill as one part of that overall structure of support for marriage and the family. I will leave my comments there to let other honourable senators contribute to this important debate.