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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26553

Senator FERRIS (4:24 PM) —I seek leave to incorporate Senator Santoro's speech.

Leave granted.

Senator Santoro's incorporated speech read as follows—

This bill is not controversial, except for those who want to fundamentally change not only the law of Australia but also a fundamental tenet of our society.

It has the support of the Labor Party, because all it seeks to do is to make it clear that marriage in Australia is a choice made by a woman and a man.

That has always been the understanding of marriage. That has always been the practice in European societies—and indeed in human society everywhere.

Marriage fundamentally helps create social conditions in which monogamy is the practice, the children of marriages have stable and loving homes in which to be nurtured to adulthood, and society benefits from the stability thus created.

It is the ideal. Australians overwhelmingly understand the principle of monogamous marriage for life and most seek to attain this state.

The fact that there are failures, the fact that a proportion of marriage relationships do not work out is no reason to argue for weakening the institution of marriage by legislation.

Neither is there any reason to change the meaning of marriage by extending the law's recognition of it to people who logically cannot fall within its ambit.

The Marriage Amendment Bill 2004 gives effect to the government's commitment to protect the institution of marriage by ensuring that marriage means what it has always meant and that same sex relationships cannot be equated with marriage.

The principal provisions of the bill define marriage in the terms traditionally understood—as `a union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life' and `confirm that unions solemnised overseas between same sex couples will not be recognised as marriages in Australia'.

The problem is that up to now there has been no definition of marriage in the Marriage Act. It was never necessary, since it was universally understood.

However, section 46(1) already requires authorised celebrants, who are not ministers of religion of a recognised denomination, to explain the nature of the marriage relationship before solemnising a marriage.

The celebrant is required say certain words, including: `Marriage, according to law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life,' or words to that effect.

This bill amends the Marriage Act so that marriage defined in these terms, in subsection 5(1). It amends subsection 88B(4)—in Part VA of the Act relating to recognition of foreign marriages—by making it clear that the meaning given to marriage in subsection 5(1) applies to Part VA.

I have received a great many representations from Queenslanders and other Australians about this bill and what it proposes to do.

I'm sure every other honourable senator has too.

The majority of the hundreds of representations made to me have been from people who support the amendment of the Marriage Act proposed in this bill.

It is clearly an issue on which huge numbers of Australians feel very strongly.

I have also received strong representations—a lot of strong representations—from people who want the understanding of marriage in Australia to be changed, so that it can encompass unions that are not between women and men.

My view is clear. It is that marriage must be defined as we have always understood it to exist. There can be no such thing as `same sex marriage'.

I respect the views of everyone who makes representations to me, on any issue. It is always a duty gladly performed to give voice in this place to constituents' representations.

It is clear that a minority of Australians—I suspect a small minority—believe it is time to accord `marriage' rights to couples who cannot naturally have children together.

They see the move towards recognising same-sex marriages overseas as an opportunity to change the fundamental mould of our society.

They are entitled to make such judgements and to propose consequent changes to our basic laws.

The majority of Australians are entitled to reject these judgements and refuse to countenance any act that would have the effect of diminishing the meaning of marriage.

And I believe the majority of Australians do reject the concept of recognising same-sex marriages.

That is certainly not a matter of making moral or any other judgements on the life choices of free Australians. I certainly make none in the context of this bill.

Of course, the amendment to the Marriage Act that we are discussing today expresses a Judeo-Christian view.

That in itself is unremarkable, I would have thought, since it is the fundamental moral basis of our law as well as of our custom.

But objectors to this bill should consider that monogamous unions between a woman and a man have underpinned every successful civilisation in human history.

In this instance, the Judeo-Christian view accords exactly with the views of other religions—and societies whose basic laws originate in the commandments of their own religions—that have no connection whatsoever with our historic faith.

These are points the Prime Minister made with some force in his address to the National Marriage Forum last Wednesday.

The Prime Minister also said that if there is to be a change in the understanding of marriage, this is not something that should happen bit by bit, judgement by judgement, through a judicial process.

If there is to be a change—and I just observe that there is no evidence I have seen that suggests the mass of the people seek such change—then as the Prime Minister says, it should come from the parliament.

Parliament makes the laws by legislation on behalf of the people.

The courts apply the laws and from time to time interpret them.

It is especially important to stick to that convention in matters of serious social policy.