NATIONAL AFFAIRS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Australian people win on marriage
, October 13, 2012
A campaign conducted over a number of years by members of the Greens Party and the homosexual lobby to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, has been convincingly defeated.
Both houses of federal parliament — and, more recently, the Tasmanian parliament — have rejected moves to redefine marriage.
Since Australia was established as a nation over a century ago, marriage in Australian law has been understood as the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. In 1901, at the time of Federation, this was the common understanding throughout the Western world.
From 2001, when same-sex marriage was legalised in the Netherlands, a number of other countries in Western Europe, as well as Canada and some states in the US, have legalised same-sex marriage.
In response to the push for same-sex marriage overseas, and the fact that Australia recognised marriages performed in other countries, it became necessary for the Australian parliament to consider the issue.
In 2004, Australia’s Marriage Act 1961 was amended to explicitly define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. The bill also declared that same-sex unions contracted overseas would not be recognised as marriages in Australia.
It was supported unanimously by both the then Coalition Government, led by John Howard, and the Labor opposition. Since then, however, the Australian Democrats and the Greens — the latter now having nine members of the Senate — have campaigned to amend the Marriage Act to include same-sex couples.
Before the 2010 election, the Greens indicated that they would introduce legislation on the first day of the next parliament, to permit same-sex marriage. Subsequently, bills to legalise same-sex unions were introduced in the Senate by Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, and in the House of Representatives by the newly-elected Greens MP, Adam Bandt.
To build momentum for change, Mr Bandt moved a motion in federal parliament that MPs should consult their constituents on the matter and report back to parliament. The motion was carried with support from the Labor government, independents and some Coalition MPs.
Bandt declared that same-sex marriage was “inevitable”. However, when MPs reported back to parliament, a majority reported that most of their constituents opposed any change to the law on marriage.
A campaign was then organised by homosexual organisations and the GetUp! lobby group to change ALP policy on the issue. In most states, resolutions were carried at state conferences of the party, supporting same-sex marriage.
The ALP’s 2011 national conference voted overwhelmingly to support changes to the Marriage Act to permit same-sex marriage, with enthusiastic support from most of the media, including the ABC. As a face-saver to parliamentarians who opposed the legislation, Labor MPs were allowed a conscience vote.
The Coalition parties, led by Tony Abbott, resolved to oppose the bills, as the Coalition parties had gone to the last election supporting the existing law, and because the last Coalition government had taken a party position on marriage in 2004.
Last February, two bills to amend the Marriage Act were introduced in the House of Representatives, one moved by Labor MP Steven Jones, and the other by Adam Bandt and Tasmanian Independent, Andrew Wilkie.
While the bills were similar, the Jones bill was more limited in its wording. It proposed simply to remove the reference to man and woman. The Bandt-Wilkie bill proposed that marriage should be defined as “the union of two people, regardless of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity”.
Parliamentary inquiries were held into the bills, and it was recommended that a single bill be put to each house of parliament.
The Australian Family Association’s Mrs Mieke deVries (right) handing to the President of the Tasmanian Legislative Council, the Hon. Mrs Sue Smith MLC (left), the AFA “Save Marriage in Tasmania” petition, signed by over 4,200 individuals. In the centre is the Hon. Mr Paul Harris MLC, Deputy President of the Legislative Council.
Debate on the bills commenced in parliament last June, but only came to a vote in September, after members of the House of Representatives and the Senate had the opportunity to debate the legislation. Hundreds of thousands of Australians participated in the process, contacting their MPs and senators to express their views.
The final vote was an astonishing defeat for the legislation in both houses of parliament. In the House of Representatives, the vote was 98 to 42. All Coalition MPs present voted against the bill, and 40 per cent of Labor MPs, including both the Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her predecessor Kevin Rudd, crossed the floor to vote against it.
In the Senate, the bill was defeated by 41 to 26, with all nine Greens senators voting in favour of the bill.
Attention has now shifted to the states, where bills have been introduced for state-based same-sex marriage legislation.
In Tasmania, the Labor-Greens same-sex marriage legislation was carried in the lower house, but was defeated 8:6 in the state’s upper house, after thousands of Tasmanians joined the campaign against it.
The decisive parliamentary votes, taken despite a media-blitz, has blunted the push to redefine marriage — for the time being.