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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26557

Senator GREIG (4:41 PM) —The Democrats will also support the amendment. Our core argument has been that rather than quarantining marriage to a distinct group it ought to be non-discriminatory but nonetheless defined. The definition spoken to by Senator Nettle would do the reverse of what is before us today: rather than prevent lesbian and gay people from accessing civil marriage, it would allow that. Sadly, that is not the path that we are headed on today, unlike other Western countries—Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and some states of the US—which have at the very least debated these issues sensibly and moved progressively towards the inclusion of same-sex relationships within their jurisdictions.

I note too that there are similar debates in New Zealand and Britain, although based more around the notion of civil unions. Sadly, we cannot do that and it seems there is no prospect of civil unions under a potential Latham Labor government, and there has been nothing but silence from Labor when questioned on that point. It strikes me as quite strange that in other jurisdictions the debate around same-sex marriage so alarmed and concerned conservative MPs and religious organisations that they suddenly announced that what the governments in those countries ought to do would be to bring in relationship registers, civil unions or have some other form of recognition but not marriage.

Curiously, the debate in Australia—or the lack of debate really—and the way it has played out is that both civil marriage and other forms of relationship recognition have been denounced by conservative politicians and religious organisations. The debate in that sense is much harsher in terms of a complete denial of the humanity and dignity of a same-sex relationship and a failure to acknowledge that many in such relationships are raising children. Implicit in that is the notion that such children should be further discriminated against by not allowing their partners to marry. It strikes me as odd that groups which claim to be concerned about the family are the same groups which so readily and happily condemn same-sex relationships with children in them, even though—surely—the best interests of those children should be their principal concern.

These groups would argue that same-sex couples ought not be having children, but the fact is that they are. You cannot stop lesbian and gay people from having children. There are increasing numbers of lesbians having children. Most often children in same-sex relationships are from previous heterosexual relationships, but increasingly we are finding, through fertility programs, adoption and access to IVF, many same-sex couples—mostly women—are having and raising children. If we truly believe that the best environment in which children can be raised is marriage, why would we possibly deny that to same-sex couples raising children? The amendment Senator Nettle has moved would incorporate that and would allow for a broader range of definitions. It is more inclusive and much more reflective of the direction the Democrats would like to see Australia take.