Senator Helen Polley on gay marriage

Senator Helen Polley on gay marriage

Senator Helen Polley (Labor, Tasmania) who says that she is reflecting the views of her constituents, is opposed to gay marriage:

I rise tonight to make a contribution to the debate on the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) Bill 2012. Australia’s first civil union scheme was introduced in Tasmania and commenced operation in January 2004. The Relationships Act 2003 provided for the registration of deed of relationship with the Tasmanian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Registration of a deed of relationship allows immediate access to relationship entitlements as well as a means of proving the existence of a relationship if challenged. I remember members of the gay community saying that this satisfied their needs for their relationships to be acknowledged and recognised. Eight years later, what has changed? What was good enough is no longer good enough, so I ask: what has changed?

Homosexuality has always existed in human society but I do not believe it has ever previously been linked to marriage. I have personally supported all our government’s moves to take away discrimination—some 85 pieces of legislation were passed in the Senate. However, this campaign being run in the community has been run without mutual respect. It is so disappointing that those advocating for this bill demonstrate no respect for those with a differing view. The bitterness within their community, the personal assassinations and the disgraceful attacks on those individuals who believe in the Marriage Act as it stands is a reflection of those who are calling for understanding and tolerance, and they should first lead by example. This bill does not just extend what currently exists to same-sex couples but completely changes the institution of marriage.
I noticed recently that the title Campaign Director of Australian Marriage Equality used to apply to the equal status of a man and a woman in a marriage. How things have changed! During the debate there have been a number of people who have referred to the number of individuals and couples in our community who will benefit from this change in legislation, but I refer to the Australian census of 2011, in which out of all the couples in the country only 0.7 per cent identified themselves as being in a homosexual relationship.
In a submission to the Senate inquiry into the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012 family law expert Professor Patrick Parkinson said:
In Australia, functional equality has already been achieved. I am not aware of any legal rights and obligations that arise from marriage that do not also apply to registered same-sex unions, other than the right to call the relationship a marriage. Certainly that is so in federal law. For example, there is complete equality in terms of rights in relation to the division of property and the payment of maintenance on relationship breakdown.
Terri Kelleher from the Australian Family Association cites recent research and argues:
Although the family takes many forms in contemporary Australian society, it is uncontroversial to insist that the ideal family environment is that in which children are raised by their own mother and father. According to a 2004 study, 73.6% of children under 18 in Australia live with their biological parents in intact families. It is a statistic we expect most Australians would applaud: the more children growing up in such circumstances, the better. The institution of marriage is instrumental in realising this ideal, by binding a man, a woman, and their biological children in a stable family unit.
The Ambrose Centre for Religious Liberty, in its recent public submissions on the bill, cited Frank Furedi in the Australian on 25 and 26 June 2011:
From a sociological perspective, the ascendancy of the campaign for gay marriage provides a fascinating story about the dynamics of the cultural conflicts that prevail in Western society. During the past decade the issue of gay marriage has been transformed into a cultural weapon that explicitly challenges prevailing norms through condemning those who oppose it … As a result, it does not simply represent a claim for a right but a demand for the institutionalisation of new moral and cultural values.
Men and women are free to enter into whatever relationships they desire as long as in doing so they do not endanger others under the law or in any other way demean other relationships. However, I would argue that marriage as it is currently defined under the law reflects the wider societal views of that relationship as being between a man and a woman. The suggestion that same-sex marriage is a fundamental human right is not a genuine claim. The European Court of Human Rights has in the past three years twice stated that there is no human right for same-sex marriage. I concur with the view by Australian human rights lawyer Father Frank Brennan AO, former chairman of the National Human Rights Consultation Committee and an expert on discrimination, who has written:
Instead of stating ‘All persons have the right to marry’, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides: ‘The right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to found a family shall be recognised.’ The Covenant asserts: ‘The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.’
Some people have quoted the case of Gladys Namagu and Mick Daly and how that demonstrates the arbitrary nature of marriage arrangements at that time in relation to Indigenous Australians. Gladys, an Indigenous woman, and Mick, a white man, were denied the opportunity to marry as Indigenous Australians did not necessarily have the right to marry a person of their own choosing. This kind of discriminatory treatment in marriage was to change after a long struggle, including the 1967 referendum campaign and the changes to the system of fault based divorce in this country. After 1975, we saw a more humane approach to the already difficult decision to end a marriage. I believe that these cases demonstrate true discrimination and improvements in human standards, but I am far from convinced that the changes proposed in this bill relate to discrimination. They relate to the definition of marriage, not discrimination.
Before I move on to talk about the views of constituents, I would like to cite what has happened in Massachusetts. On 18 November 2003, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court declared that it was unconstitutional not to allow same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage commenced within six months and within three years it was taught in all levels of school—elementary, middle and high school—that same-sex marriage was a normal part of society. By 2006, as same-sex marriage was legal, a federal judge had ruled that schools had a duty to portray homosexual relationships as normal, despite what parents thought or believed. Businesses had to recognise same-sex married couples in all the benefits, activities et cetera regarding employees and customers. The wedding industry is required to serve the homosexual community if requested. Wedding photographers, halls, caterers et cetera must do same-sex marriages or be arrested for discrimination. Is this what is going to happen here in Australia? Interestingly, Denmark, the first country in the world to recognise civil partnerships for same-sex couples, this month legislated to force the church to provide same-sex weddings. Scotland is currently considering introducing same-sex marriage laws and is not even considering exemptions.
The Senate committee inquiry made a recommendation to include an avoidance of doubt clause as a concession to the religiously minded community and the churches. The removal of doubt with respect to the operation of section 47 of the Marriage Act is to reinforce a view that ministers of religion will not be compelled to solemnise same-sex marriages. However, as we all know, churches and ministers remain at the mercy of the government of the day. Church-run schools could be subjected to anti-discrimination laws in regard to what they can teach on the subject of marriage. The reassurance which the recommendation is seeking to offer is hollow and merely technical in nature rather than a matter of substance. What is the next step or are we to be promised that this will not happen again?
I now want to talk about the issues that have been raised in the thousands of letters, emails and constituents’ calls to my office. The following is a representation of the views of many Tasmanians as well as people from the mainland of Australia. Two-thirds of the correspondence received were opposed to same-sex marriage. Many of the communications were long and detailed. Clearly this is a major issue for people and of deep personal concern to them. They put a lot of effort into their communications. When I move around my constituency in my home state of Tasmania, apart from the activists who are pushing this same-sex marriage agenda, I find people in the community are more interested in education, health, their homes, paying their mortgages and having a job. They are the priorities. Those in Tasmania who purport that the majority of Tasmanians support this change will see what happens with the Tasmanian bill, which has been passed by the House of Assembly, when it is put to the Legislative Council next week. We will see whether the bill passes that state and whether it will lead to a High Court challenge.
If I could just quote some of the correspondence that I have received. Firstly, from BB: ‘Please do not change the definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Remember Australia has signed the UN charter on the protection of children and womanhood in the marriage state.’ From JS: ‘Marriage is a very ancient and most important institution in our society. It certainly predates the modern state. It was accepted by the people as the one way of providing for successive generations. There have always been anomalies in the institution, as in all institutions that cater to mankind. However, the acknowledgement that it was a necessary part of society was universal. What is the big discovery that has been recently made that calls for the change in marriage? There is no such discovery. There is only a misguided plea by the homosexual groups, who want to have a society that accepts their lifestyle. History shows that the homosexual groups always have another issue that must be addressed. After same-sex marriage, what will be next?’
From AR: ‘I would like to express my non-support for gay marriage legislation. My reasoning isn’t that I want to restrict benefits and rights for gay people. It is simply that a gay relationship isn’t marriage. You would have to change the meaning of the word, and I do not support changing the meaning of marriage, because there is no need to do so. I do not believe there is any inequality involved in leaving marriage as it is. Homosexual relationships already get recognition and benefits.’
From SP: ‘I wish to state categorically that the stability of our nation’s future depends on families as our foundation and ask that this only be changed by referendum so as not to fall prey to the militant lobby groups with an agenda to destroy marriage.’
From D and AO: ‘Most of the world has chosen not to change the definition of marriage. Those who seek to change the definition ignore the impacts on children and the potential to create another stolen generation by putting an adult desire above the needs of children. Regrettably, discrimination still occurs in society. People, children, are often discriminated against because of their weight, clothing, tattoos, body piercing, religion and the schools they go to or went to et cetera. The solution to this is for people and the media to be taught that all people are to be respected. As you will be well aware, any discrimination against same-sex couples was removed when the government changed laws in 2008.’
It is very easy to run an emotional argument. I do not believe there is anyone that will contribute to this debate that would be opposed to recognising the love and commitment that same-sex couples have for and to each other. We all have family and friends who are gay and lesbian. That does not change my position, and it certainly has not changed the position of that overwhelming majority of Tasmanians who have contacted me and asked me not to support this bill. I will read, finally, this brief quote from one voter, which is very clear, ‘This voter does not want the Marriage Act changed.’ While these are just a few extracts, and whether you agree or disagree, these are the sentiments of the majority of constituents who have contacted my office—and my job is to voice their opinions.
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