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Thursday, 27 May 2004
Page: 29356

Mr RUDDOCK (Attorney-General) (12:30 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

In introducing this bill it is important to explain the background to it. This bill is necessary because there is significant community concern about the possible erosion of the institution of marriage.

The parliament has an opportunity to act quickly to allay these concerns.

The government has consistently reiterated the fundamental importance of the place of marriage in our society.

It is a central and fundamental institution.

It is vital to the stability of our society and provides the best environment for the raising of children.

The government has decided to take steps to reinforce the basis of this fundamental institution.

Currently, the Marriage Act 1961 contains no definition of marriage.

It does contain a statement of the legal understanding of marriage in the words that Commonwealth authorised marriage celebrants must say before they solemnise a marriage. Section 46 of the Marriage Act deals with that. Those words are:

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.

The government believes that this is the understanding of marriage held by the vast majority of Australians.

It is time that those words form the formal definition of marriage in the Marriage Act.

This bill will achieve that result.

Including this definition will remove any lingering concerns people may have that the legal definition of marriage may become eroded by time.

A related concern held by many people is that there are now some countries that permit same sex couples to marry.

It has been reported that there are a few Australian same sex couples who may travel overseas to marry in one of these countries on the basis that their marriage will then be recognised under Australian law on their return.

Australian law does, as a matter of general principle, recognise marriages entered into under the laws of another country, with some specific exceptions.

It is the government's view that this does not apply to same sex marriages.

The amendments to the Marriage Act contained in this bill will make it absolutely clear that Australia will not recognise same sex marriages entered into under the laws of another country, whatever country that may be.

As a result of the amendments contained in this bill same sex couples will understand that, if they go overseas to marry, their marriage, even if valid in the country in which it was entered into, will not be recognised as valid in Australia.

The government has reiterated its fundamental opposition to same sex couples adopting children.

In the view of the majority of Australians, children, including adopted children, should have the opportunity, all other things being equal, to be raised by a mother and a father.

This bill will prevent same sex couples from adopting children from overseas under international arrangements involving bilateral or multilateral treaties.

The bill does not interfere with adoptions that occur entirely under the law of a foreign country that do not depend on bilateral or multilateral arrangements.

These are matters primarily for the country concerned.

In summary, this bill makes clear the government's commitment to the institution of marriage.

It will provide certainty to all Australians about the meaning of marriage into the future.

I commend the bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum. By way of explanation, I might just say that the Prime Minister recently spoke on this matter and foreshadowed that there would be legislation dealing with certain taxation matters. That will be introduced in another place at an appropriate time.

Debate (on motion by Ms Roxon) adjourned.