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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26555

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (4:24 PM) —On behalf of the government, I want to sum up on the Marriage Amendment Bill 2004 and thank honourable senators for their contributions to the debate on this bill. Given the time constraints I referred to a few moments ago, I will be brief and will not be canvassing all the issues that have been raised in the course of the second reading debate. I also thank opposition senators for their support for the measures contained in this bill. I place on record that I recognise, as does the government, that there are dissenting views in respect of the objectives intended by this legislation. These views have obviously found expression in the course of this debate.

The timing and urgency of these measures, however, is brought about by the fact that, if we do not act in parliament to address this matter, the matters that are the subject of this legislation will be left to the judiciary to decide. Much has been made of the fact that no decisions of our courts are challenging the accepted common law definition of marriage, and I remind the Senate that there are already proceedings on foot to seek a declaration of validity in Australia for same-sex marriages performed overseas. That is the reason the government has taken the lead on this issue.

I wish to make it very clear on behalf of the government that these provisions are not about discriminating against anyone. They are about this parliament—and not the courts—making clear the meaning of the fundamental institution of marriage, deciding what the laws will be and not leaving it up to the courts. In summary, the purpose of this bill is to give effect to the government's commitment to protect the institution of marriage by ensuring that there is a clear definition of marriage in the Marriage Act. The other major provision confirms that unions solemnised overseas between same-sex couples will not be recognised as a valid marriage in Australia.

The issue gives rise, as I said, to strong opinions and I remind honourable senators that this bill reinforces what has always been the traditional, and indeed the legal, understanding of marriage in Australia. I am not sure of the status of the amendments, but I understand that several amendments have been proposed by the Australian Democrats and the Australian Greens. It is the government's view that the Marriage Act is not the appropriate legislation for these amendments. The bill is dealing with marriage and does not set out in any way to deal with de facto or other relationships. The bill merely seeks to formally confirm the current legal understanding of marriage in this country. The amendments proposed would fundamentally change the nature of the Marriage Act.

In this bill the government seeks to reinforce marriage and its status as a fundamental and special institution in our society. I do not think anyone seriously disagrees with that. This has always been the government's view and it is what underlines the straightforward provisions in the bill. In those circumstances, and having regard to the time, I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question put:

That this bill be now read a second time