NOTE: Menzies House has no editorial position on this matter, and we have published numerous pieces in favour of same sex marriage, opposing same sex marriage, and even calling for the privitisation of marriage. We are reposting this speech simply in the interests of furthering debate and so that people can read Senator Bernardi's comments firsthand - Tim Andrews, Managing Editor.
I have spoken many times in this place about the importance of traditional marriage. In fact, I spoke about marriage in my maiden speech in this place over six years ago. In that speech I said:
Marriage has been reserved as a sacred bond between a man and a woman across times, across cultures and across very different religious beliefs. Marriage is the very foundation of the family, and the family is the basic unit of society. Thus marriage is a personal relationship with public significance and we are right to recognise this in our laws.
I have been and always will be a strong supporter of traditional marriage and its current definition, being a union between a man and a woman. Marriage is accorded a special place in our society because it is a union that is orientated towards having children, thereby ensuring the continuation of our population and civilisation. Society benefits from marriage, so marriage is accorded benefits by society. At the base level marriage is concerned about what is best for society, rather than being concerned about the so-called rights of the individual. Changing the definition of marriage would indeed change the focus of the institution itself. It would put the focus on the desire of adults, as opposed to having the focus on the production and nurturing of an environment for the raising of children for the benefit of society.
I know that not every marriage has children but marriage is a foundation for the family unit upon which our society is built. It has proven itself as the most sustainable and effective social support and training environment for our future generations. I recall columnist Miranda Devine quoted a UK Family Court judge in 2010 in which he noted that family breakdown is the cause of most social ills and that, despite its faults, marriage should be restored as the gold standard and social stigma should be reapplied to those who destroy family life.
The Australian Institute of Family Studies has found that children of married couples benefit from marriage because they have higher levels of social, emotional and educational development in comparison with children who do not live in that traditional environment. Married mothers are more likely to be employed or hold a university degree and married-couple families are less likely to come up against financial problems. While the authors of the research were keen to stress that this is because of a family's financial situation and the educational qualifications of the mother, it does give me cause to wonder: doesn't marriage itself help to provide financial stability and better outcomes? That seems to be a case for opening marriage up to any environment and to any union of two people, as Senator Cameron said, who happen to love each other, but in a family environment it is children who should be the primary concern and children benefit from having both a male and a female role model living in a house—two people that love each other in a permanent union.
We have all seen the sad effects of marriage breakdown and the adverse impacts it can have on children. We have to also acknowledge that today families do not always come as the gold standard where mum and dad do live together under the one roof of a house and love each other and provide that nurturing environment. I have always said that a child is better in any environment where it is loved and that is irrespective of the circumstances, but it will not stop me from advocating that traditional marriage is the absolutely best environment for the rearing of the next generation. So whatever the forms that families take in this modern day and age—and they do come in so many different forms with some people being individual parents and indeed same-sex couples also raising children and they all do an amazing job in the circumstances—as I said, I will not stop focusing on the importance of promoting and encouraging the traditional family. But simply because marriage is important that does not mean that we should redefine it. We should not open it up to all comers, because I think it would actually devalue the institution.
The move for same-sex marriage is just another step in what I consider an attack on our enduring and important institutions, particularly the social ones. It is another tear in the fabric of our social mores. The proponents of same-sex marriage, and I do not mean to generalise but this is about many of the proponents of same-sex marriage, ask for one step and they think that is all they want or they say that is all they want and they will be satisfied when this has been achieved—'Just this one thing; give us that and that will be okay and all inequality will be diminished and everyone will be equal and it will be fair'. But the harsh reality is that there will never be equality in society and there are always going to be people who feel that they have got a raw deal or have been discriminated against or do not have the same access to opportunities or advantages as others do, and to pretend any differently is really to deny reality. But history demonstrates that once those who advocate for radical social change, which I consider this to be, achieve it in any way, shape or form, there is then another demand and another demand and another demand and they slowly chip away at the very foundation of what provides our social support, stability and cultural mores and we are left with a replacement that is somehow vastly inferior to the wisdom of successive generations.
I recall that in this place only a few years ago people pushed for the same entitlements and benefits for all relationships that were then held by married couples. This was achieved. I opposed it at the time because my point was that just because people are in a sexual relationship that does not mean that they should be afforded the same rights and privileges as society affords those in traditional marriage, and I have outlined some of the reasons for that. Indeed, I advocated at the time that if it is about genuine equality and interdependency then we should advance this to interdependent relationships in which there is no sexual engagement. There are any number of those relationships, including people who live together and share bank accounts and expenses and who, for all intents and purposes, share their lives without having a sexual or physical relationship. But that was rejected, I suspect because it was not really about equality. It was not about interdependency and it was not about sharing your life with someone; it was about chipping away at the institution of marriage.
The legislation got through and I lost that debate—you win some and lose some in this business. At that stage I was one of many saying this was another step that would undermine marriage. Today we see the next step. This is another push—it is not the first time and it will not be the last time—for same-sex marriage. Time and time again the techniques of the radicals who seek to overturn the social institutions and social fabric of our society are out of step with the priorities of mainstream Australia. No-one out there that I have come across says this is the most important issue facing Australia. There are enormous social and economic problems in this country, and this debate will not solve any of them. Time and time again the same characters seek to tear down our institutions that have been built and have sustained our civilisation for thousands of years. The time has come to ask: when will it end?
If we are prepared to redefine marriage so that it suits the latest criterion that two people who love each other should be able to get married irrespective of their gender and/or if they are in a sexual relationship, then what is the next step? The next step, quite frankly, is having three people or four people that love each other being able to enter into a permanent union endorsed by society—or any other type of relationship. For those who say that I am being alarmist in this, there is the polyamory community who were very disappointed when the Greens had to distance themselves from their support for numerous people getting together and saying they want to enter into a permanent union. They were disappointed because they were misled that this was about marriage equality and opening up marriage to all people who love each other.
There are even some creepy people out there—and I say 'creepy' deliberately—who are unfortunately afforded a great deal more respect than I believe they deserve. These creepy people say it is okay to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals. Will that be a future step? In the future will we say, 'These two creatures love each other and maybe they should be able to be joined in a union.' It is extraordinary that these sorts of suggestions are put forward in the public sphere and are not howled down right at the very start. We can talk about people like Professor Peter Singer who was, I think, a founder of the Greens or who wrote a book about the Greens. Professor Singer has appeared on Q&A on the ABC, the national broadcaster. He has endorsed such ideas as these. I reject them. I think that these things are the next step. As we accede to one request we will then have the next one which will be for unions of more than two people. We will have suggestions for unions of three or four people. I notice the Greens are heckling, but the point is that they misled their constituent base and there was an outcry about this. Where do we go then? Do we go down the Peter Singer path? Those that say this is the end of the social revolution have no history of being honourable about that. They continue to push and challenge our social and cultural mores. We simply cannot allow such an important social institution to be redefined, especially when Australians do not see this as a priority issue.
Senator Cameron was critical of his party denying some of the people in support of same-sex marriage a conscience vote, the ability to speak up in favour of what they thought was important. He neglected to mention that the Left of the Labor Party had never really supported a conscience vote. In fact, they sought to change the party's position to support same-sex marriage. That meant that those that had a conscientious objection to it would have been bound by the Labor Party's platform to support same-sex marriage. On the one hand Senator Cameron decried the fact that some people could not vote according to how they felt and yet he was one of the architects of this, along with people like Mark Butler. In a story in the Sydney Morning Herald Mark Butler is said to be one of those who believes that those who support traditional marriage should not be allowed to put their position forward.
I understand that this is a very sensitive debate. I also understand that senators on both sides of this chamber have very strong views. I understand some of these views are borne by personal experiences or those of loved ones and some are borne by their idea that this is a fairer and more equitable way to proceed. We have seen demands and requests for surveys of what is going on in the electorates. That was put forward by Mr Bandt in the other place. He asked for members of parliament to report back on what their constituencies thought about this argument. I have to say that a significant majority—some have suggested as many as two-thirds—reported that their constituents broadly supported marriage being retained as between a man and a woman, as was endorsed by this parliament some eight or 10 years ago.
In standing up for traditional marriage, advocates are not saying that one group is better than another or that one group is superior to another. This is, in my view, about defending what is right and what is important for society. Last year I read an article by a 19-year-old university student Blaise Joseph, who wrote:
Marriage laws are fundamentally a question of what's best for society rather than a question of individual rights.
That view, in one way, shape or form, was shared by over 32,000 people who wrote in favour of traditional marriage to the recent Senate inquiry.
Add these views to MPs' electorate surveys and the calls and emails I get from my own constituents and it is very clear to me that many Australians want to protect the notion of traditional marriage, for many valid reasons. These people have, in some instances, put aside their fears of being branded as intolerant, uncaring, heartless or in support of inequality by those people who profess to be tolerant of other points of view and who, in my view, look to degrade the notion of marriage. These people who have stood up against same-sex marriage in the face of a very vocal campaign are to be commended in this current culture of political correctness, where those who apparently disagree with the wisdom of the elites are somehow howled down and demonised publicly.
I am sure there are millions more Australians who share these sentiments irrespective of whether they have spoken publicly about it. I will continue to stand with these Australians and to fight for traditional marriage because I believe it is what the people of Australia want. More importantly, I think it is the right thing to do both for our children and for our society.
Senator Cory Bernardi is a Senator for South Australia.