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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26539

Senator FORSHAW (3:42 PM) —I rise to support the Marriage Amendment Bill 2004. I do not intend to speak at length. Although a number of senators have sought to incorporate their speeches in view of the time constraints, many of us would probably have preferred an opportunity to make our remarks directly. I have listened intently to the speeches that have been made this afternoon on this legislation. In particular, I listened to the very passionate and obviously genuine speech made by Senator Bartlett a moment ago. He obviously holds those views strongly. But, equally, overwhelmingly many people in this community do not agree with the assertions that have been made by Senator Bartlett and by many others who have opposed this legislation. I have to say that I think it is completely wrong—I would like to use stronger words but I will not—to argue that this bill somehow degrades marriage. That is just a nonsensical proposition in logic. A bill that seeks to make abundantly clear in law the definition, the meaning, of marriage that has existed for eons cannot of itself degrade marriage. That is a preposterous proposition.

I will come back in a moment to the issue of discrimination, but enshrining in the Marriage Act a definition of `marriage' which represents what it has always been understood to mean—whether it be in the common law, in canon law or in recognition of the entire social history of humankind—cannot be said, in my view, either to degrade the very institution that the definition will clarify or to be discriminatory.

As I said, I support the passage of this bill. I do have some concerns about some of the motivations that have accompanied it from the government, particularly given that this is a government that in respect of other legislation has argued that it is not really necessary to clarify the law. We heard that argument in respect of the free trade agreement. I do not think it hurts to clarify the Marriage Act by putting a definition of `marriage' into that act. It may be unnecessary, but I do not think it detracts in any way from good public policy and good legislation to ensure that a piece of legislation reflects what it should. We are particularly conscious of the fact that there is a debate going on world wide in respect of the institution of marriage. I understand that only in the last 24 hours a court in the United States has overruled attempts in the state of California to give legal effect to gay marriages. It is clearly an issue of currency around the world.

I support the passage of the bill because I believe and I have always believed that marriage, whether it be in the legal sense, religious sense or social sense, is the union of one man and one woman entered into voluntarily for life to the exclusion of all others. That is what the definition in the legislation that is before us says. We know it does not always work. It is not always for life and, although we hope it is always voluntary, it is not necessarily always to the exclusion of all others. But we are here defining the meaning of `marriage'. That is what it has always been understood to mean and I do not think it needs to be any different.

It is clearly the view of an overwhelming proportion of the population, and it is not an unreasonable view. It is not some degraded view and it is not some disrespectful view to people who are married or people who are not married; it is the view of ordinary Australian people out there of what marriage is: the union of one man and one woman entered into voluntarily for life to the exclusion of all others. This is not the tyranny of the majority imposing its views on the minority. Attempts to argue that it is are, in my view, not just unfounded but I think in some cases are deliberately distorted for a purpose which is not genuine.

There are two issues involved in the debate with respect to the legislation in this chamber. There are a lot of issues involved in the debate in the community, but we are here dealing with this debate in respect of this legislation. The first issue is: what is the meaning of `marriage' and what should be the legal definition of `marriage'? The second issue is: does the definition to be enshrined in this legislation discriminate against other forms of relationships—same-sex couples in particular but other forms of relationships as well? I have already said what I believe to be the definition and meaning of `marriage' and it is that contained in the legislation. As I said, it is derived from almost the beginning of humankind. In my view it essentially derives from a social concept, it is encompassed within many religions and it is enshrined in the common law but founded in the very nature of the human race itself—that is, the division of the sexes. Whilst society changes and advances—and unfortunately regresses too often, I suppose—whilst science makes new discoveries and solves mysteries, whilst technology enables the human race to do things never previously contemplated and whilst society and the law allow people to engage in relationships and other activities that may have once been regarded as unlawful, it does not follow as a matter of logic, nor does it follow as a matter of necessity, that fundamental definitions or meanings must change. To argue that the definition of `marriage' should be expanded to include other forms of relationships, particularly same-sex relationships, is to destroy the definition of `marriage'. It does not broaden it; it destroys it.

The other argument against this bill is that it discriminates and vilifies—that it denies fundamental human rights. I have heard that said by speakers earlier in the debate this afternoon. I have to disagree. To me there is no logic in a proposition which says that you should apply a definition of `marriage' that is unique, that applies to heterosexual relationships, to a relationship which is not the same. The gay community proudly celebrates its diversity. That is what it claims to celebrate and it is entitled to do that at law. It claims the right to celebrate—using a term that has been used here today—its `gender identity'. It sees it as a gender identity that is different from that of the heterosexual community.

If you want to celebrate diversity, if you want to enshrine the right to that diversity, if you want to enshrine recognition of the right to have a relationship which is not heterosexual, you cannot then logically argue that you will do that by importing into your own relationship the definition of something which it is not—by importing, in effect, the opposite. As I said, it is a simple matter of logic. I have never understood why the gay community says, `We need to celebrate the diversity of the gay community,' by taking unto their relationships the definition of that which they are not. If a gay couple can argue that they are discriminated against because they are not allowed at law to marry then people in a whole range of other human relationships could also argue the same case. Again, it is a matter of simple logic. There are many relationships in the community that are not heterosexual but are not gay—family relationships, for example. Are we to see the definition of `marriage' further changed because some people believe that they have been discriminated against by their particular relationship not being defined as a marriage?

In my view, exclusivity does not automatically translate into discrimination. Certainly under this legislation marriage will be, by definition, as it always has been an exclusive relationship. It is exclusive to heterosexual couples: one man and one woman entering into that union voluntarily for life. It does not follow as a matter of logic or as a matter of human rights that something which is exclusive in the community must therefore discriminate against others. Gays can claim that there are areas in which they have been discriminated against, and we know that. Historically there has been much discrimination against homosexuals. We all know about, and many can remember, the days of the Second World War when homosexuals were murdered by the Nazi regime and by other regimes—and that still happens—simply because of their sexual preference. Civilised society does not support that and we have attempted to remove those extreme forms as well as all other forms of discrimination. There are some still to be addressed. Issues that relate to divestiture of property and rights to superannuation entitlements are areas that clearly still need to be addressed, and they are being addressed.

I might also point out that there are some areas married people tell me about where they believe they are discriminated against. For instance, married couples on the pension may well argue that as a married couple they receive a lower pension entitlement than is received by two single people living together in the same accommodation. It is a fact. So the real issue is not about the definition of `marriage'; rather, it is about removing discrimination. It is about the need for tolerance and acceptance. I do not believe you achieve tolerance and acceptance by changing the fundamental definition of `marriage'. You do not achieve recognition of the diversity of humankind by seeking to import into the description of one relationship that which applies to another. Indeed, I think you would ultimately lose that status the gay community seeks to celebrate. I support the bill and I urge a lot more tolerance in the debate. In some respects there certainly has been intolerance in this debate. People who argue, from whichever side, that the views in support of this bill are degraded in my view do not have much substance to their point of view.