Ms O’DWYER (Higgins) (11:10): Mr Acting Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to speak for 10 minutes in this debate on the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012.
Ms O’DWYER: Social attitudes are constantly and rapidly evolving—perhaps nowhere faster than in the area of marriage and relationships. But I am not sure that they are moving at such a pace as to justify the reintroduction of this bill, coming as it does only six months after this place last considered the issue. That said, debate on the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill was guillotined with unseemly haste. So it is opportune for me to make some small remarks on the issue now.
In a volatile and rapidly changing world, committed, long-term, monogamous relationships play a critical role in providing stability to couples and, in turn, their families and communities. Once this was provided almost exclusively through the institution of marriage but, over time, de facto or common-law relationships have become commonplace. The law views these in the same way as marriage, with the same rights, responsibilities and protections. However, only the institution of marriage provides for public declaration and promises sanctioned by the state. This, and society’s longstanding appreciation of it and its solemnness, gives marriage its special place and power in our society.
As with many areas of social change, this special place means we should tread warily. Change should be incremental rather than disruptive. Change should be well-flagged, and sanctioned by the people, and it should be the subject of broad community consensus. Fifty per cent plus one is not enough. Amongst other things, that means that, in this area, even more than in all other areas, we should abide by our commitments to the electorate.
In that regard, the Coalition made a commitment before the last election that it would not support a change to the Marriage Act, and we continue to honour that commitment. In due course, I expect our policy on this area to evolve in step with society’s views, and those views are complex.
I have been moved by many of the discussions I have had with people from both sides of this debate. I reject absolutely the notion that those who favour the status quo are homophobic or ignorant. With limited exceptions, those who I have met have presented cogent and considered arguments—sometimes, but not always, predicated on strong religious views. Equally, I reject absolutely the notion that those who favour change are radicals. I have met many people and the families of people in same-sex relationships who thoughtfully and powerfully presented their views and experience.
For completeness, I should record that I have met some and received letters from some on both sides of the debate whose intolerance of views different from their own I found wholly unpersuasive and, frankly, ugly. To those people I would say: you do significant damage to the cause you seek to support.
Personally, I am comfortable with the idea of same-sex marriage. I am comfortable with it, for so many of the excellent reasons outlined by my colleague the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP in his Kirby oration last year. I do not propose to go through each one in turn, given the limited time available, but I do wish to make this point: families are the bedrock of our society. I stated this in my first speech three years ago, just as I also stated that families come in all shapes and sizes.
I believe that changing the Marriage Act by extending the definition to include same-sex couples will not lessen the status of families. On the contrary, I think that it will strengthen it by building stronger bonds of commitment between two people regardless of gender and sexual orientation.
There will be some people in my own family who will be disappointed with my personal position on the subject, because they have a sincere view that marriage is an institution between a man and woman. There will be others in my family, though, whose own ability to marry is predicated on such a change.
In the end public life demands that we be true to ourselves and that we express our views in an honest and open manner no matter what the cost.
The Coalition party room has not yet debated what our commitment will be on this issue in the upcoming election. There is one thing though on which there would be universal agreement: it is that with any change religious institutions such as churches, synagogues or mosques should not be forced by law to conduct same-sex marriages just as they are not forced to marry anyone today. Certainly this is my view. Naturally, this also highlights the distinction between the civil and religious institution of marriage and leads to the question of civil unions.
Civil unions represent gradual and incremental change in a highly charged area. They facilitate statutory recognition of enduring relationships which do not currently exist at a federal level. There is clear broad based support for them. They would allow the community to take stock, build further community consensus and then consider whether to move to same-sex marriage just as it has taken in place recently in the United Kingdom and almost all other countries that have legislated for same-sex marriage.
Unfortunately, this issue has been highjacked by one political party that prefers to use the issue as a political weapon to divide the community rather than achieve any real progress or outcomes. Hence we stand here today debating a bill that the parliament has already addressed rather than taking some steps forward. I think that is a shame.