EDITORIAL: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Federal vote on marriage: wider implications
, October 13, 2012
Last month’s votes in the House of Representatives and the Senate, upholding the status of marriage between one man and one woman, are the culmination of a lengthy battle, going back about 10 years, to defend marriage against those who would fundamentally change its meaning and, in the process, change the family relationship between married couples and their children to something like a household.
Although homosexual organisations have been campaigning for same-sex marriage since the 1980s, the first breakthrough came in the Netherlands in 2000, when the Dutch parliament voted to allow same-sex marriage. Over subsequent years, 11 countries, most of them in Western Europe, have legalised same-sex marriage.
As Australia recognises marriages conducted overseas, the changes in the definition of marriage have affected Australia. Homosexual and lesbian couples discussed travelling to Europe to undergo a marriage ceremony, so that Australia would be forced to recognise their status.
About 10 years ago, the National Civic Council and its associated organisation, the Australian Family Association, together with many other family organisations around Australia, lobbied MPs to amend the Marriage Act to explicitly include the common law definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and to exclude same-sex unions legalised overseas.
In the government at the time, Prime Minister John Howard, Minister for the Ageing Kevin Andrews and Attorney-General Philip Ruddock took up the issue and, as a result, legislation was introduced in 2004 which entrenched the definition of natural marriage.
When the matter came before parliament that year, there was a nationwide campaign in support of the legislation, including a National Marriage Forum held in Parliament House, attended by over 1,200 people.
At this forum, Labor’s shadow attorney-general, Nicola Roxon, announced that Labor would support the Coalition’s legislation, but that, if elected to office, it would legislate to remove discrimination against same-sex couples. The legislation was carried with the support of the Labor Opposition.
After Kevin Rudd led Labor to government in 2007, legislation was introduced to amend federal legislation to give same-sex couples the same benefits under federal legislation as married and de facto couples, including superannuation, social security, veterans’ benefits and access to the Family Court.
However, the homosexual lobby wanted nothing less than marriage. After the 2010 election, the Greens introduced legislation to extend the Marriage Act to same-sex couples, and a major campaign was undertaken within the ALP to change the party’s long-standing policy.
In 2011, resolutions supporting same-sex marriage were carried at Labor state conferences. At last December’s national conference, the ALP adopted same-sex marriage as policy, and promised to give effect to it during the current term of the federal government. As a concession to its opponents, it gave MPs the right to a conscience vote on the issue, putting pressure on the Opposition to do the same and distancing the Government from the same-sex marriage bills introduced in both houses of parliament.
Almost every media outlet around the country enthusiastically supported the change in policy, which was described as “inevitable”, despite the fact that not one country in Asia, and only one in Africa and South America, have legalised same-sex marriage.
Although same-sex marriage has been legalised in several states in the US, and supported by President Obama, every time a referendum is conducted in the United States, it has been decisively rejected.
To its credit, the federal Opposition, led by Tony Abbott, has held firm, stating that the Liberal Party had gone to the last election with a policy supporting marriage, and that nothing had changed since the law was amended in 2004.
Over the past nine months, hundreds of thousands of Australians have participated in an unprecedented exercise in grass-roots democracy, lobbying their members of parliament in defence of marriage, making submissions to inquiries in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, and more broadly participating in the public debate, often against a hostile media and fierce opposition from those who believe same-sex marriage is inevitable.
Many organisations have been involved, countering the well-funded efforts of the left-wing lobby group GetUp! and the homosexual organisation, Australian Marriage Equality, which led the public campaign to change the law.
When the matter came before the House of Representatives and the Senate, it was decisively rejected in both houses, and a significant number of Labor MPs and senators crossed the floor to vote against the change.
This was truly a remarkable result which will reverberate around Australia and be noticed in other parts of the world. The campaign for same-sex marriage in Australia has been set back for years.
Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.