Recognition of Foreign Marriages Bill 2014

It is an appreciated opportunity to make a contribution to this debate on the Recognition of Foreign Marriages Bill 2014, a private senator's bill brought forward by the Greens party. I was listening to Senator Siewert's speech, and often when this issue comes up members of the Greens party in this place show little respect for other people's views. 

They show little respect for the fact there might different perspectives on what it means to be married and why we have had a definition of marriage as one between a man and woman for thousands of years. But, of course, that is immaterial to the Greens because they have come here in the last 10 or 15 years and are all knowing, omnipotent and omniscient and believe that it should be changed, and anyone who disagrees with that—including presumably our fathers, grandfathers and grandmother, who had a different view—is a bigot; we are right and they are wrong. That is their view. They have no respect at all for other individuals' viewpoints.

I think if you are going to change an institution that has stood the test of time, if you are going to propose a change in definition to something that has been in place for centuries—not just here but in other cultures as well—you would take some time to familiarise yourself with the history of the institution and why it actually exists. I see none of that. I see no evidence that the Greens have done that. At times they seem to imply that this particular institution is a religious one or a Christian one when in fact that is completely not true and it is also not true in our own Western culture. As I said, this is an institution that in different forms is effectively replicated across almost the entire world, or has been until the turn of this century, as an act where two people—a man and a women—come together in union to become married.

In our own culture, in our Western European roots, this particular institution does not go back to Jesus's time, Christian times, Judaic times or any monotheistic religious times; they actually go back to Roman times, because the very word 'marriage' is derived from a Latin term, 'matrimonium'. I think it is important to understand that definition, because it helps you understand the history of this institution and why it has come about. 'Matrimonium' in Latin is the combination of two definitions: 'matri', meaning mother, and 'monium', meaning state of being or condition. So for Roman people the institution of marriage was the state of being a mother. That was why people got married or entered in matrimonium.

Of course, in Roman times there were plenty of other adult human relationships. Homosexuality was a commonly accepted relationship, but in Roman times they stuck with the definition. They had an institution that was separately recognised: the coming together of a man and a woman, in particular with the mother becoming the parent of a child. That for me must be something at the core and centre of this debate if we are going to change this institution.

Obviously, there was felt a need to establish an institution like this to raise and to protect children. Obviously it has been an incredibly successful institution given its permanence and consistency over many different cultures and over many different forms of government and societies, even in our own Western culture. We have of course evolved a lot from Roman times. Through the emergence of a nation state, through the Dark Ages and through feudal times, this institution has stood through all those tests of time and has basically stayed constant from its initial inception. It is of course something that is important to many religions as well. But, again, that is an indication of its universality, and we should be very careful before we change it.

So it disappoints me that the Greens cannot actually see that there are very considered and reasonable arguments for why we should not change this definition. I certainly respect other people who have a different view. Some of my colleagues have a different view. Some of my Senate colleagues on the other side have a different view. I can understand that view. I disagree with that view, but I do respect it. The Labor Party—I give them credit—are showing some respect in saying that they support a free vote. They say they support a free vote but whenever these debates come up in this place we never see Labor Party senators able to express such freedom.

I know there are senators over on that side who share a different view on this issue than the views we have heard so far from the Labor Party, but where are they? They never seem to be allowed to get up here and speak. I would say to the Labor Party: please, please, let the diversity of views reign; let hundreds of flowers bloom; and let Senator Bullock have his say. Unleash, Joe. Let Joe have his freedom. Let Senator Bullock have his say here, because I would be very happy to listen to his view on this debate. I think he would have a lot to contribute. But the Labor Party want to keep people like Senator Bullock down and not give him the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I do not think they really believe in a free vote. It is a political position at the moment. Even they admit that post not the next election but the election after they will adopt a binding vote and it will no longer be free. So it is quite a strange position for them at the moment.

This bill seeks to recognise same-sex marriages that have been solemnised in foreign countries and recognise them for the purposes of Australian law. To that effect, it is effectively a back door to change the definition of marriage in our act today. Today it is fairly easy and fairly low cost to travel overseas, and many Australians do that. So, by recognising a same-sex marriage in another country, that effectively means that we would have changed our own definition in our own act and allow anybody who wants to be married, inconsistent with the current definition in our Marriage Act, to quite easily do so. It would simply be the cost of a plane ticket to somewhere else.

I do not think that is how we should change the definition of our Marriage Act. We do not need to do it in such a loophole kind of way. We can very easily change the definition in the Marriage Act if that is what we want to do. Indeed, as my colleagues would all know, there have been a multitude of bills put forward to this place and the other place to do that very thing. That should be the way that we try to approach it. Of course, every bill that has been put up to change the definition of marriage over the past 10 years or so has not succeeded and has not won the support of either chamber.

This debate has become more prominent in our public sphere and views about it have become more impassioned, I think, in all political parties. The government has decided that the best way to solve this would be to ask the Australian people what their views are and make sure we make a decision consistent with their considered views. If we are going to change an institution that has stood for thousands of years, there is no harm in taking a couple of more years to make sure that whatever decision we make is a well-informed one and one that we know and trust is consistent with the Australian people's views.

I make the point that this debate heated up last year because the Irish people had that very opportunity to have their say. They had a referendum and the vote came back in favour of changing their definition of marriage, and it was subsequently changed. The supporters of change to our Marriage Act welcomed that at that time. They called it a landmark event and thought it was a wonderful outcome for their particular cause. So I ask them: what do they have to fear from exactly the same process being replicated here in Australia? They so welcomed that particular event and they were so proud of what the Irish people had done. What is the problem with giving the Australian people exactly the same right? I say that the reason they are so scared at the moment of taking it to the Australian people and the reason they are fighting so hard to stop any plebiscite going to the Australian people is that they are concerned that they may not get the same decision as Ireland.

For my part, I have nothing to fear. I am happy to ask the Australian people what their views are. I recognise that right now in polls that are done the majority is there. But I do think that we should make this decision after a considered debate, not after a phone poll—not after someone has called up after they have had their dinner and have asked for a considered view on an institution that has lasted for thousands of years. We should have the respect to have a proper debate, a lengthy debate, before we go changing something as important as this.

I would also take this opportunity to say to the chamber, as I have said publicly, that, if a vote comes back in favour of changing the Marriage Act, in particular if a vote comes back from Queensland—which I am a senator for—in favour of changing the Marriage Act, I will respect the views of my Queensland electors, because they are who I am here to represent. However, I would add that I will not support any changes to the Marriage Act which compromise or minimise people's human rights. That is not something that we should outsource to the ballot box. We should not have a situation where we allow some kind of tyranny of the majority to undermine people's fundamental human rights, and one of those fundamental human rights that is extremely important to our country and our way of life is freedom of religion.

People should have the freedom to carry out their own religious beliefs, the freedom to carry out their own beliefs. It is a right that is enshrined in our whole system of government, it is implied in our Constitution and it is something we have committed to sign up to in various international human rights agreements. For that reason we should not do anything that undermines those rights, and I am concerned that some of the particular proposals at the moment to change the Marriage Act—the detailed, specific ones—may in fact do that, particularly where they force private celebrants to solemnise same-sex marriage relationships, even in an event where they may have religious views or beliefs that do not support such a solemnisation of marriage. I do not think anybody should be forced to do that, but the current bills before this place and the other place would do that.

I would also like to make the point that while I am happy to be guided, and will act in accordance with the views of the electorate, it is also important that we hear from those who want to change the Marriage Act on what they would do in the event of a vote that supports traditional marriage. Many of them have been out during the past couple of weeks, such as the leader of the Greens, Senator Di Natale, saying that it is reprehensible that some individuals may not vote in accordance with the people's wishes. What would they do if the people's wishes come back in support of traditional marriage? That question must be asked. They must be asked: what would you do if it comes back saying the Australian people want to support traditional marriage? Will the Greens political party accept that particular decision? Will they end their attempts, their continual and interminable attempts, to change this act? Will they do that? I doubt it very much, but I would be interested to hear their response to that question.

Finally, I want to return to where I started. While this is somewhat of a semantic debate, I think words are important, I think definitions are important. I believe that if we do change the definition of the word, it does change our culture. I believe in what Ludwig Wittgenstein said: 'If I do not have a word to describe something, I cannot conceive of it. The limit of my world is the limit of my language.' If we do change this particular definition, it will remove some of the colour and imagination from our lives because we will no longer have a word that just describes the union between a man and a woman often coming together to make children. I think that is an incredibly miraculous and important event in many of our lives and in our culture, and we should have a particular institution and a particular word to describe the creation of the next generation.

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