EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
The future of marriage: latest developments
, July 21, 2012
Before federal parliament adjourned for the winter recess, the long-anticipated reports of both the Senate and House of Representative committees into proposed amendments to the Marriage Act were tabled.
There are two bills in the House of Representatives — one moved by Labor MP Steven Jones and the other by the Greens’ Adam Bandt — and one bill before the Senate, moved by the Greens’ Senator Sarah Hanson-Young. All three propose to legalise same-sex unions.
The reports are important, in that they give an indication of how parliamentarians are thinking in the run-up to the votes on the bills, which will take place in August or possibly later.
The House of Representatives standing committee on social policy and legal affairs inquiry into the marriage bills had eight members, four from the ALP, the Greens’ Adam Bandt, and three from the opposition.
In light of the fact that the chairman of the committee, ALP MP Graham Perrett, and several other committee members, had publicly supported same-sex marriage before the inquiry began, it was not surprising that they repeated these views in the committee’s report.
What was more interesting was that two Labor MPs, Shayne Newman and Mike Symon, very strongly rejected the proposed amendments to the Marriage Act.
They wrote, “We do not believe there is anything like sufficient community consensus which would justify changes to such a fundamental societal institution as marriage.
“Marriage, as the union between one man and one woman, has been steeped in history, law, culture and religion for millennia. This is a fact which cannot be denied.
“We believe that marriage should remain ‘the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life’, which incorporates the traditional and historic English and Australian case law definition” (p.67).
After discussing what they described as exaggerated comment by people on both sides of the debate, they pointed out that the existing Marriage Act contained provisions which restrict access to marriage on the basis of blood relationships and minimum age of marriage, which make sense only in relation to children.
They added, “Both bills propose to remove the terms of ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ from the Marriage Act, but there is nothing in the draft report that examines the effect of that provision on the status of the many millions of people in Australia who are married already as husband and wife.
“We consider that there should be no change made to the Marriage Act in the terms of these two bills without the clearest and most widespread community support” (p.68).
Two Coalition members said they would not support the legislation, indicating that at least four of the eight committee members will oppose the legislation in the House of Representatives.
In light of the fact that the coalition parties have decided to vote against the legislation, it is probable that neither bill will pass the House of Representatives.
In the Senate, an inquiry was conducted into the Greens’ Senator Sarah Hanson-Young’s Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010.
Significantly, seven Labor senators oppose the Hanson-Young bill and the rest of the Senate committee’s recommendations.
Their dissenting statement said, in part: “The main claim in favour of changing the law is that the current law unfairly singles out people with same-sex attraction by not allowing them to have the same status as people who are married. It is important to note that Australian law has already been changed to give same-sex partners the same legal rights as those who are married and in an increasing number of states to register their unions. The remaining issue therefore is the definition of marriage.
“It is our view that the issue is one of definition, not discrimination. The federal parliament removed all inequalities in law and provided appropriate protections regarding property issues for all relationships in 2008 when more than eighty pieces of legislation were amended, with bipartisan support.
“In our view, changing the law so that marriage includes same-sex unions would be a change to what marriage means. Currently marriage involves a comprehensive union between a man and a woman. Marriage has a place in the law because a relationship between a man and a woman is the kind of relationship that may produce children. Marriage is linked to children, for the sake of children, protecting their identity.
“It is worthy to note that in California, after their legislature experimented with same-sex marriage, the people of California voted against the revisionist concept of marriage.”
There is clearly a strong body of opinion against amending the law on marriage in the Labor Party, as well as in the Liberal and National parties.
In light of this, it is extremely important in the weeks ahead that voters continue to make known to MPs and senators their views on this important issue, to protect the institution of marriage. This is a battle that can be won.
Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.