MARRIAGE ACT: by Bill MuehlenbergNews Weekly
Major triumph for marriage in Australia
, August 28, 2004
The Marriage Amendment Bill 2004 finally passed the Senate on August 13, by 38 votes to 6, with the Labor Party voting with the Government in favour of the traditional definition of marriage.
The Bill upholds "the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life." It also specifically bars recognition in Australia of any same-sex unions solemnised overseas.
Two events in particular have seen this great change in the fortunes of marriage and family. The first was the extraordinary number of submissions received by the Senate Committee looking into the issue of same-sex marriage (SSM) and adoption rights.
A record 16,074 submissions were received, with the overwhelming majority opposing SSM and adoption rights. This beat the earlier record of 14,000 submissions for the euthanasia debate of a few years back.National Marriage Forum
Hot on the heels of this historic first was another event dealing with marriage and family, the National Marriage Forum. This pro-marriage forum, held in the Great Hall of Parliament House, Canberra, was attended by well over 1,000 people. Everyone, including the media, politicians and the organisers themselves, were staggered by the massive turnout. It was literally standing-room only, with every available seat filled, and many spilling over into the surrounding galleries. Indeed, many people unfortunately had to be turned away.
The forum was held to reaffirm the fundamental importance of heterosexual marriage, to support John Howard's attempt to strengthen the Marriage Act, and to oppose any attempt to redefine radically the nature of marriage. Over 20 different speakers spoke with one voice on the need to protect and promote this bedrock social institution.
The forum was organised by the National Marriage Coalition (NMC). The NMC is a recently formed organisation designed to unite various groups and organisations who seek to promote and preserve the institutions of marriage and family. The three founding groups of the NMC are the Australian Christian Lobby, the Australian Family Association and the Fatherhood Foundation. Representing these three groups, respectively, are Jim Wallace, myself (Bill Muehlenberg), and Warwick Marsh. These three were responsible for the establishment of the NMC, the forum, and a new booklet on marriage launched at the forum, Twenty-One Reasons Why Marriage Matters
The booklet is a very attractive and readable document, filled with the latest social science data on the importance of marriage. 15,000 copies of the booklet were produced and many were distributed on the day. Every Parliamentarian in the country will receive a free copy of this important research document, and it has been posted on the NMC website at: www.marriage.org.au
The story behind some of these initiatives is worth recounting. The NMC had originally hoped to secure a small Senate committee room for the forum, but learned that only the Great Hall was available. Thus the three organising groups had to rally the troops, and get the word out. It was originally hoped that at least a few hundred people would turn up. In the end the numbers went well beyond our wildest expectations.Standing ovation
The forum featured some of the leading family experts in Australia. Politicians, academics, media and sporting figures were all included. Senator Guy Barnett (Lib., Tas.), who along with others was instrumental in promoting the marriage amendment legislation, introduced the Prime Minister. Mr Howard's 20-minute speech was often interrupted by applause, and received a standing ovation at the end. He reaffirmed the Government's intention to keep marriage between a man and a woman, and announced that he would reintroduce his marriage amendment legislation "within a fortnight".
To many this was a bombshell announcement, catching them off guard, but resulting in huge rounds of applause. This is something for which pro-family groups had been actively lobbying. It is possible it even took shadow Attorney-General Nicola Roxon by surprise, who spoke on Labor's behalf.
Other speakers included Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, law professor Patrick Parkinson, columnist Angela Shanahan, doctor and lecturer David van Gend, family activist Babette Francis, Fred Nile and "Digger" James.
Labor leader Mark Latham had been invited to speak as well. He declined however, so Nicola Roxon spoke instead.
There was one surprise element of her speech that is worth noting. After she pledged that Labor would go along with the bill, Ms Roxon announced that Labor intends to introduce new national racial and religious vilification legislation.
Instead of the standing ovation she might have expected, she was met with boos and hisses. She was perhaps unaware that Victoria already has such laws, and unaware of the current vilification case now being heard there. Such legislation really acts as an anti-freedom of speech and anti-Christian law.
The only disruption to the forum was a very brief demonstration by the Democrats who unfurled banners from the galleries with mindless slogans such as "Hate is not a family value".
There is clearly a realisation in Canberra that those concerned about faith and family matters may in fact be more numerous and influential than the homosexual lobby.
A telling indication of how powerful and influential this was is reflected in remarks made by the Prime Minister on the day. As Jim Wallace and I were about to take him into the Great Hall, filled with enthusiastic supporters, he asked, "Where did you get all these people from?" We told him to turn around and look outside, where many hundreds more were queued up. Mr Howard was clearly overwhelmed by the response.
- Bill Muehlenberg is national vice-president of the Australian Family Association.