Canberra Times, Zed Seselja
In the 2016 election the Coalition took to the Australian people a clear commitment to give them their say on the question of whether or not to change the Marriage Act to allow same sex marriage. We are honouring that promise.
While I acknowledge this is an unusual step, it reflects the fact that the question of marriage is about the nature of one of the most foundational institutions not only in our society, but in societies and cultures throughout the world.
But don’t take my word for it; consider Senator Penny Wong’s words in 2010: “On the issue of marriage I think the reality is there is a cultural, religious, historical view around that which we have to respect.”
Or former prime minister Julia Gillard who said in 2011, “for our culture, for our heritage, the Marriage Act and marriage being between a man and a woman has a special status”.
The social and cultural element of the issue of marriage is why it is appropriate for the Australian people to have their say, and polls that show wide support for the plebiscite demonstrate that most Australians understand that.
Indeed, Bill Shorten understood it too in 2013 when he told the Australian Christian Lobby that he was “comfortable” with taking this issue to the people in a plebiscite.
While of course people are entitled to change their minds, it doesn’t stack up that Australian society has changed so much that giving Australians their say on marriage was a good idea in 2013 but isn’t a good idea now.
And it’s worth noting that the Australian Parliament has already considered the question of redefining marriage with four separate bills voted down on the floor of the Parliament between 2010 and 2013. Given the impasse, a public vote is a fair way to resolve the issue.
My views on marriage have been well known for a long time: that while all legal protections and rights should be afforded to same sex couples (as the Parliament has done), there is a place for preserving the unique nature of marriage as between a man and a woman as the ideal place to raise children.
That doesn’t mean other families aren’t able to provide stable and loving homes for their kids or that married men and women aren’t sometimes neglectful or abusive.
But research has shown, such as the 2011 report, For Kid’s Sake, by Professor Patrick Parkinson of the University of Sydney and studies by Douglas Allen (2015) in Canada and Paul Sullins (2015) in the US, that children do best on both emotional and educational measures when they are raised by their biological mother and father. It is not a reflection on anyone’s relationship to say that a man can’t be a mother and a woman can’t be a father.
This is why redefining marriage is more than just a question about adult relationships.
This issue also has important implications for religious freedom and freedom of speech and Australians are right to be concerned about what will happen to these fundamental values should the law be changed.
Already the Archbishop of Hobart, Julian Porteous, was brought before a tribunal for discrimination because he distributed materials in Catholic schools that argued marriage was between a man and a woman.
Which, of course, is what the law of Australia currently says.
How much greater will the risk be to freedom of speech and religion be should the law be changed.
There’s also the case of Vishnitz Girls’ School in the UK, a Jewish school that is facing closure after failing inspections by education authorities because they refuse to “explicitly” teach primary school students about sexual orientation and gender reassignment.
People of different views should be able to express them and it’s deeply concerning to see the bullying tactics of same sex marriage activists who shout down opposing voices and many Australians are sick of being told what to think about this issue.
Those opposed to re-defining marriage have had their events shut down due to death threats.
The fact is Penny Wong and Julia Gillard weren’t bigots in 2010 and those who support traditional marriage aren’t bigots now.
Australians are right to want to have their say on this issue because how we define marriage has implications for religious freedom, freedom of speech, and our understanding of gender.
I will be voting no in the plebiscite and advocating that others do the same. However, I will honour the result if the Australian people vote the other way. Now that Labor has decided to campaign on the issue, it must also commit to honouring the result, whether it’s a yes or no.
I encourage all Canberrans to engage in respectful and thoughtful debate and to have their say in the coming months.
Zed Seselja is a Liberal Senator for the ACT