Thursday, 25 February 2010
Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2009
The coalition does not support this bill, because the coalition believes that the definition of marriage as contained in the existing provisions of the Marriage Act reflects the standards and the mores of contemporary Australia, and we are not persuaded that that definition ought to be changed.
I must say that, although I listened with great care and attention to Senator Hanson-Young’s speech, I fail to see this issue as being an issue about discrimination. What Senator Hanson-Young failed to acknowledge in her contribution is that there are certain customs and practices in any society that are unique to certain types of relationships, and to acknowledge that is not to discriminate against people. In our society the limitation of marriage to people of opposite sex is not to discriminate against people who wish to belong to same-sex relationships; it is merely to acknowledge the undoubted social reality and custom in Australia that marriage is a unique institution which has only ever been regarded as being between a man and a woman. I am astonished that there could be outrage at discrimination against gay couples by not extending to them the definition of a custom—that is, marriage—which has never, ever in any society, in the whole of human history, been regarded as other than a relationship or a status that exists between a man and a woman.
So, quite simply, the coalition does not see this as an issue about discrimination at all. The argument about discrimination was an argument that we had in this chamber in 2008. As Senator Sherry has said, in 2008 the Senate passed laws which removed discrimination against same-sex couples in 84 Commonwealth statutes. The removal of those discriminatory provisions against same-sex couples had the strong support of the coalition. In fact, as a result of the deliberations of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which looked at the two bills concerned at length, we actually improved the bills and extended them further than was the government’s original intention. They were passed in the end without controversy between the government and the opposition.
So the position of the coalition, the Liberal and National parties, on the question of discrimination against same-sex couples is clear and unambiguous: we do not think there should be discrimination in any way, shape or form. We think the relationship between people in same-sex relationships is entitled to as much respect as the relationship between people in heterosexual relationships. But we also acknowledge that marriage has a unique status, that marriage has only ever been understood to mean one thing—a point that my colleague Senator Guy Barnett makes very eloquently in his additional remarks to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee’s report on this bill, a report which, I should say, recommended that the bill not be passed.
This is a very sensitive area, and it has to be approached bearing in mind not one but two very important values. One of those values is that all people are entitled to equal respect and their relationships are entitled to equal respect regardless of their sexuality. But the other principle is that marriage has only ever been understood to mean one thing, and in the coalition’s view that understanding ought to continue.