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Thursday, 20 September 2012
Page: 7501

Senator FEENEY (VictoriaParliamentary Secretary for Defence) (13:30): I stand to speak in favour of the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012. This bill seeks to amend the Marriage Act 1961 to establish marriage equality for same-sex couples by amending the current definition of man and woman to two people, thus removing gender specific terms. Importantly, this bill outlines that a minister of religion, a person authorised under state or territory law or a marriage celebrant is under no obligation to solemnise a marriage where the parties are of the same sex.

I understand that a lot of people have a great deal of passion for this subject, but I must confess that I am not among them. I understand that a great number of people have worked very diligently and in a very focused way to make sure that this matter has come before the parliament, but I must confess that I am not one of them either. But the matter is before this parliament and it is before us as members of the Australian Labor Party to make a decision based on our own conscience and, on that basis, I am here to declare my support for the bill and to explain my reasoning for that.

I am a Catholic having been brought up and schooled in its traditions. I married my wife in the Catholic Church and I continue to profess the faith of my forebears. In the Hon. Michael Kirby's submission to the inquiry of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee into the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010 he stated that only one-third of marriages in Australia today are solemnised in a religious ceremony. The argument that marriage belongs to the church can no longer be justified. It is my firm belief that in Australia, a secular society, religious doctrines should not be enshrined in our laws. It is clear in section 116 of the Australian Constitution that Australia has an essentially secular legal character, notwithstanding our cultural indebtedness to our Judeo-Christian values and morals. I must say, having heard the contribution of Senator Thistlethwaite, that I thought he summed up my own views on this subject very eloquently.

The Second Vatican Council declared that 'man is bound to follow his conscience faithfully in all his activity'. I am aware that many see the use of conscience as a cherry-picking tool of Catholic teachings but, to me, Matthew 7:12 provides the crux of all of Christ's teachings: 'So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.' Dr Daniel Maguire, a United States theologian and professor at Marquette University, a Jesuit institution in Milwaukee, has written on Catholic Church teachings and sexuality. In fact his pamphlet entitled A Catholic Defense of Same Sex Marriage I would commend to all of my coreligionists. He has said that church leaders are misrepresenting catholic teaching and are trying to present their idiosyncratic minority view as the Catholic position and it is not. He went on to say:

… Most in the church have moved on [to] a more humane view on the rights of those whom God has made gay.

He continued:

Most Catholic theologians approve of same-sex marriage and Catholics generally do not differ much from the overall population on this issue.

That is certainly true for me. I also note that the Democrats in the United States have in recent times taken on this debate with eloquence and with dignity. Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader in Washington, has said that her Catholic faith compels her to be against discrimination of any kind and thus same-sex marriage. Ms Pelosi said:

My religion … compels me to be against discrimination of any kind in our country, and I consider this—

'this' obviously being the marriage arrangements prevailing in the United States—

a form of discrimination. I think it's unconstitutional on top of that.

President Obama has said on the issue:

… [Michelle and I] are both practising Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but … when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it's also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.

He continued:

Over the course of several years, as I talk to friends and family and neighbours, when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together. When I think about those soldiers or airmen or Marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf, and yet feel constrained even now that Don't Ask Don't Tell is gone because they're not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I've just concluded that for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.

In coming to this view President Obama said that he was sensitive to the fact that, for a lot of people, the word 'marriage' has very powerful traditions and religious beliefs.

I also want to note that, throughout the conduct of this debate, the Australian Greens party has taken care at every point to make sure that they have attacked the Prime Minister and the Australian Labor Party. This is no surprise. It is an old adage and a lesson of history that Bolsheviks always attack Mensheviks before they attack tsarists. But on this occasion the sneering contempt of the Greens party for religion and for people of religious conviction has been on full display. The intolerance of the secular puritans in the Greens party must be opposed. In Senator Milne's speech on Monday she criticised the National Secretary of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Union, Mr Joe de Bruyn, for his deeply held views and for his articulation of those views at the ALP national conference and at other open forums. And Senator Milne criticised the Prime Minister—the same Prime Minister who courageously persuaded the ALP national conference to adopt a conscience vote.

What a cheek! What a cheek, because ultimately these criticisms flow from the conceit, indeed the narcissism, of the Greens that this issue is theirs and that it is all about them. Of course it is not; it is about justice and about us reaching a reasoned decision about what is best for our community.

It has always been my conceit, it has always been my belief that the Australian Labor Party's national conference is the crucible for national debate in this country. And I discovered on Monday that Senator Milne obviously agrees with me. She obviously agrees with me because she spoke at length about the ALP national conference, and I might say that she spoke in terms where she tried to set herself up as the shop steward for the opinions of the ALP rank and file. One thing I am very confident of is that whether one attended the ALP national conference and supported the views of Mr de Bruyn or whether one attended that conference as a delegate and supported the views of Rainbow Labor, one thing that unites all of them is a great confidence that they do not need Senator Milne and the Greens to serve as their shop stewards.

Senator Milne's conspiracy theories about the Prime Minister, Mr de Bruyn and the issue of marriage equality do not deserve any forensic response. We all know the Australian Greens are partial to a good conspiracy theory—or, as Senator Sinodinos revealed recently, they are even partial to a bad conspiracy theory. But Senator Milne criticises Mr de Bruyn for his views, which he articulated in a public, open and broadcast ALP national conference. This is an affront that deserves a response. What a contrast it is to the Greens, to have the open processes of the democratic ALP attacked by those who come from a secret society. A confederation of protest groups and political fringe groups that call themselves the Australian Greens meet in secret.

And what a shame it is that they meet in secret. Senator Milne talks about the ALP delegates who voted this way and ALP delegates who voted that way, and Senator Milne talks about ALP delegates who abstained and backroom factions. It is a tragedy for all of us that the Australian Greens hold their conferences and their votes in secret. Imagine the entertainment if they were to hold them in public! The media and the broader community would love to watch the various kooks and crazies of the Greens debate their superstitions, conspiracy theories, plans for alien engagement and proposals for one world government, but, alas, they meet in secret and that scrutiny cannot be made of them. Mr de Bruyn's most dramatic speech would be as nothing if the media could look at the wheeling and dealing that would attend a Greens conference.

Let me finish this point by saying this: the exhortations of the Greens about the ALP, its processes and its debates are as nothing and cannot possibly deserve or merit a response while the Greens continue to meet in secret and forbid public scrutiny of their internal deliberations and their internal decision-making.

What a contrast all of that is with Rainbow Labor. Rainbow Labor adopted a strategy of persuasion and engagement, rather than denigration. This has done them an enormous credit, and they are obviously can, with great pride and a sense of satisfaction, look at their political accomplishment—that is, by bringing this issue, successfully, ultimately to the ALP national conference they won this debate in the crucible of national debate.

My support for this bill comes from what is clearly outlined in section 47: that nothing in this bill or in any other law requires an authorised celebrant, being a minister of religion, to solemnise any marriage. I have always advocated that this provision is a necessary part of any move to legalise same-sex marriage. This amendment makes clear provision that no marriage celebrant, whether a minister of religion or a civil celebrant, can be forced to conduct a marriage ceremony that is in violation of their conscience. Marriage celebrants would be protected against the possibility of prosecution under antidiscrimination law if they decline to conduct a same-sex marriage under this amendment.

A conscience vote on this issue is essential to this bill's success. That great reforming South Australian Premier Don Dunstan, who 40 years ago passed the first laws decriminalising homosexuality in Australia, did it in stages. It came about by way of a series of conscience votes on private members' bills, such as this, rather than by way of government legislation, that senators and those in the other place were bound to support. I think this is a sound precedent.

If those opposite were truly conservative they would argue that all couples in committed relationships should marry for the societal and civic advantages that lifelong commitment brings. I note that those opposite will not be voting according to their conscience on this bill and I think that is a real shame. It is also interesting that the Liberal Party go out year after year and attacks the Australian Labor Party for our pledge, for our custom of binding on votes while extolling virtuously that they are free to vote with their own conscience. Yet now that the rubber has hit the road, we find those opposite are in fact those who are bound by the chains of obedience to their leader. Free will in the Liberal Party is, at least for the moment, dead. I would finish that point simply by saying: no more grandstanding on that particular debating point from the coalition.

Senator Humphries interjecting

Senator FEENEY: I will take that interjection. You are perfectly right. The pledge normally does prevail, but on this critical issue it has not, and I think that was the right decision by the Prime Minister. I think that has been well articulated.

In researching this topic I came across a document entitled '10 Reasons why Christians should support same-sex marriage'. I have to confess it came from a Canadian website, but I will attempt to put an Australian spin on it. It says:

Why Christians should support same-sex marriage.

1.   Christians support equal rights for all [Australians].

2.   Christians have long benefited from the freedom of religion in [Australia], indeed that is why many came here.

3.   Modern Christians realise that marriage is not based only on procreation.

4.   Christians should support marriage.

5.   Christians realise that the Church has been discriminatory in the past and would want to seek amends for that.

6.   Christians realise that marriage has never been a static institution, and therefore there is no reason that it should be now.

7.   Christians support the separation of Church and State.

8.   Christians have long known that the Church should not determine the laws of our society.

9.   Christians are committed to justice.

10.   Christians believe in the supremacy of God, not the supremacy of government.

Passing the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012 to remove discrimination and to allow two individuals, regardless of sex, sexuality and gender identity, the opportunity to marry will create what the constitution intends, that of a separation of church and state. This bill is fair and it strikes a balance ensuring legal acceptance for everyone's beliefs and values. I commend the bill to the Senate.