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Tuesday, 28 November 2017
Page: 8975

Senator CANAVAN (QueenslandMinister for Resources and Northern Australia) (13:13): I want to put on record my support for these amendments. I do so repeating the same thing I said in my second reading contribution, which is that I do have great respect for those that want to see a change to the Marriage Act. I accept the force of their arguments and I accept the fact that the marriage law will change and that the majority of Australians want to see that. I also genuinely accept the point of view that has been put by Senator Rice while I've been in the chamber, that we don't want to replace, in her view, one form of discrimination with another or introduce a right whilst taking away others. But I respectfully make the point that, in fact, without these amendments that's exactly what we would be doing: we would be seeking to remove one form of discrimination while introducing another.

The fact is that nearly five million Australians did vote no and I think we ought to pay them respect and their dues that they had a genuine conscientious belief that the definition of marriage should not change. I don't believe, and I hope those on the other side don't believe, that the majority or even a significant proportion of those five million Australians—a lot of people—acted out of any sort of malice or dispute with those who wanted to make a change. I don't believe this was malicious in any way. It is genuinely a conscientious, different view about how our law should relate to marriage.

Whatever we do today, whatever we do to change the definition of marriage in our country, will not change the fact that there will remain a definition of traditional marriage in our international human rights law and in particular in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The provision in article 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as my colleague Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells mentioned, is that a man and woman of marriageable age should be allowed to marry. That definition will not change as a result of anything we do in this place or the other place or anything that the government so decides in Australia. That definition will remain there in international human rights law. I don't see that changing any time soon, because 85 per cent of countries around the world continue to maintain a definition of traditional marriage in their relevant marriage laws and most of those countries don't seem likely to change their laws any time soon. So all these amendments do is reflect the fact that there is a definition of traditional marriage in human rights law by establishing that as one arm of the definition but then also recognising that now in Australia we will add on a broader definition which includes people of the same sex as well. These amendments therefore are consistent and in line with international human rights law, and they are in line with giving due respect to those Australians who continue to genuinely and conscientiously hold a traditional view of marriage.

I think an unfortunate thing throughout this debate has been a lack of recognition of or a lack of seriousness in engaging with those who have a conscientious view that marriage should be defined as being between a man and a woman. With all respect, I think that has been evident and on display here today where Senator Rice, either wilfully or not, has been misrepresenting the arguments that have been put strongly in favour of maintaining traditional marriage as the definition. Continually we hear from Senator Rice and others in this debate that this is somehow a religious concept or only relating to peoples' religious views or faith. Either those who make that point have not been listening to the arguments that have been put on the other side or, as I say, they are wilfully misrepresenting those arguments. Those arguments are not based on religious viewpoints primarily. Although many of us have particular faith based religious views, the view that marriage should be defined in a traditional way as between a man and a woman is something that predates all the religions that are practised here in this country.

Every human culture that has independently grown up in the world's history over tens of thousands of years has had a concept of marriage or union between a man and a woman. I dispute anybody to say that that primarily has come from a belief in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit or Mohammed or any other religious figure. That's come about almost clearly in an evolutionary way because there is something biological and fundamental about a man-and-woman relationship. A single man and a single woman is the only way we can create another human life and perpetuate human civilisation. It's a pretty special relationship and it will continue to be. Regardless of whether we call it marriage or however we define the law, there is still going to be only one way that we can create new life in the world. I think that's a miracle and that's why I think there is some recognition of that relationship.

That being said, I also accept now, given the vote of the Australian people, that we need to recognise in our law those same-sex couples that love each other and genuinely want to recognise their relationship in the law. These amendments allow us to achieve both of those things. They allow us to give recognition to those of the same sex who genuinely want to have their unions recognised under our law while still maintaining respect for the thousands of years of human civilisation and history which recognise there is something special about a 'one man, one woman' relationship which can create life and create family, and that's why I support these amendments.

I also just briefly want to touch on the fact that I think it would be incredibly discriminatory to say to those Australians who genuinely and conscientiously hold this position that they cannot pursue a career as a civil celebrant. If we do not pass these amendments, that will be the effect of the change we are making here in this place. We would be saying to those roughly five million Australians, 'You need not consider or pursue a career as a civil celebrant, because your own conscientious and traditional views will be inconsistent with that career path.' I think it unfortunate, therefore, that, in trying to remove one form of discrimination, we would be, clearly, establishing another form over a significant number of the Australian people. I see no real bar with defining and saying here that, if you genuinely hold another view, you should not be forced to do something against those conscientious beliefs. That will in no way have any practical impact on same-sex couples being able to solemnise their marriage with a celebrant who does not hold those views, while giving respect to the significant proportion of Australians who have a different view.

These amendments are about respect. These amendments are about making sure that we give respect to all the views, and the diverse views, that exist in our country. I often hear from the other side that they celebrate diversity and they want to welcome a range of different views in our community. Unfortunately, though, that's not often translated in the actual practice of the laws, because they are a party of uniformity, and if you do have a different view you are beyond the pale and not accepted. These amendments would allow an acceptance for all Australians. They give respect to all different views. That's why I support them and commend these amendments to the Senate.