Senate debates

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Bills

Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017; In Committee

1:04 pm

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party, Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | Hansard source

( I support these amendments and commend Senator Fawcett and Senator Paterson for the work that they've done. I want to make some comments in relation to the definitional issue. I think it's foundational and an issue that is vitally important in this debate. The Smith bill redefines 'marriage' as the union of two people, and I believe that this unnecessarily extinguishes a definition held not just by the people who voted no; let's not forget that the 'no' vote was actually the no and the people who didn't vote was 52 per cent of the actual voting people here in Australia.

The particular amendment we are discussing extends the definition of 'marriage' to include the union of two people. As Senator Seselja has just said, this is a unifying amendment. It recognises the two different views that are held in our Australian population, and I really don't understand why those opposite now choose to say that we should substitute one definition with another. The proposed definition that we say should be considered is that 'marriage' should include only the union of two people to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life, or the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. This definition adequately reflects the social, the cultural and the religious diversity that is Australia today. It clarifies most importantly that both of these points of view are legitimate and both are held to be equal definitions of marriage.

The question that was put to the survey was 'Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?' This definition absolutely does that. Expanding the existing definition to allow same-sex marriage is much more consistent with the will of the people of Australia than the proposition that Senator Rice is advancing. I can say this, Senator Rice: I bet my bottom dollar that, if this amendment is not passed, it won't be too long before somebody is hauled up before some antidiscrimination board just because they dared to go out there and say, 'Oh no, marriage is between a man and a woman.' Let me give you an example. Recently I was at a nonsystemic Christian school and this was the very issue that was raised with me by parents. I bet my bottom dollar that it won't be too long before such a suit will be brought by activists. So let's avoid this and have this definition inserted into the legislation which, as I said, legitimately and equitably includes both definitions. Senator Fawcett has talked about article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; also I would remind the chamber about article 23, which talks about the rights of men and women of marriageable age and clearly reflects that marriage is between a man and a woman.

On the question of celebrants, my understanding, and Senator Fawcett can correct me if I'm wrong on this, is that the Senate select committee report into the exposure draft supported the view that celebrants who are not religious ministers should be able to refuse to solemnise a marriage consistent with their religious convictions. I understood this had been approved by Labor, the Nick Xenophon Team, the Greens and coalition senators. This is consistent with international law; conscientious objectors should also be included in the exemptions. I understand this is an amendment along the lines proposed by the Attorney-General.

These amendments are very important and it is really disappointing to see those opposite, including the ALP, now voting en masse to refuse all of them. I spent a considerable time in my speech analysing the vote, particularly in Western Sydney, and I have to say to those opposite: you have well and truly forgotten your heartland. You have well and truly forgotten all those people, particularly in Western Sydney, that are members of your branches, that are members of the ALP. You have forgotten them. What is so wrong with now affording them the opportunity of having an equal say?

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