Thursday, 20 September 2012

Senator Nick Xenophon on gay marriage

Senator Nick Xenophon (Ind, SA) explained why following the gay bashing death of a lecturer of his, that on reflection he considered that gay marriage was preferable to civil unions:

The Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012, which intends to legalise same-sex marriage, is not an easy issue for me to speak on. Unlike a number of my colleagues, who have held longstanding, definite if not definitive views on whether or not same-sex marriage should be legal in Australia, I have not been deeply involved in this debate. I have been working on a whole range of other issues. This does not mean, however, as one member of the House of Representatives suggested, that this is an eleventh-hour issue.
I know that many in the community have passionate, strongly held views as to whether same-sex marriage should be legalised. Insofar as those views are considered and respectful, I believe it is important in a great democracy such as Australia's to carefully take those views into account before making a decision on this bill. It is my job—indeed, my duty—to do my best to understand both those who support and those who oppose this change to the Marriage Act, and to do so in a way that is not judgemental but both fair-minded and mindful of those who will support and of those who will reject the position I take.
Unlike other members of parliament whose party had a policy at the last election to not support such changes to the Marriage Act, as an Independent I am not constrained by any party room decision. So, like every other vote I exercise in this place, this is a conscience vote for me, one that is especially significant because of the competing arguments and principles at stake. This bill raises fundamental issues of whether same-sex couples should be afforded the same rights as heterosexual couples. It of necessity raises questions about the way homosexuals are treated in our society, and we have seen the changes to our laws at state and federal levels since the early 1970s.
In 1976, I was a first year law student at the University of Adelaide. To this day, I remember well how a number of my lecturers were still grieving and campaigning for justice over the death of their fellow lecturer, Dr George Duncan, who died on 10 May 1972. Dr Duncan was a brilliant academic, respected by his peers and students alike. He was walking along the banks of the River Torrens near the university when he was set upon and viciously assaulted by at least three men, and thrown into the river. This occurred late at night. He drowned. Dr Duncan was homosexual at a time when being a homosexual could carry a jail term.
After a subsequent inquiry, it was found that the area where Dr Duncan was set upon was a so-called 'gay beat', where other homosexual men would illicitly meet, and the assault was part of the victimisation by those who derided, if not hated, those men by virtue of their sexuality. In the days, weeks and months following Dr Duncan's death, and after a grossly compromised and botched police investigation, nothing happened to the perpetrators. It was not until many years later that three men were charged with manslaughter, but they were acquitted in 1988. No-one has ever been held accountable for his death. Dr Duncan's death was a tragic, criminal consequence of discrimination.
As a result of the public outrage and media attention, the Hon. Murray Hill, a Liberal member of the Legislative Council of South Australia, introduced a bill into the South Australian parliament on 26 July 1972. The bill sought to amend the criminal law in South Australia that made homosexuality illegal. That bill, in an amended form, was assented to on 9 November 1972. It was the beginning of legislative moves across the nation to remove discrimination against homosexuals. The most recent significant reforms at a Commonwealth level occurred only a few years ago as a result of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's recommendations that equality of treatment should be extended to same-sex couples.
Those pieces of legislation, which form the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—General Law Reform) Act 2008, effectively recognise same-sex couples in respect of many rights and obligations, including superannuation. In essence, the rights and obligations that heterosexual couples have now also apply to same-sex couples. That significant, landmark legislation was passed with bipartisan support. However, the proponents of same-sex marriage consider the 2008 bills as unfinished business, and for the opponents that was the end of the road for reform.
At its heart, this issue, this debate, revolves around whether the definition of marriage should be confined to heterosexual couples. Those who oppose changing the law say that to legalise same-sex marriage would undermine the traditional definition of marriage, and that it would also affect children. Let us deal fairly with those two arguments.
I find myself substantially in agreement with the considered speech that the member for Wentworth, the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, recently gave at the Southern Cross University on the Gold Coast in honour of former High Court Justice Michael Kirby. Like Mr Turnbull, I cannot see how allowing a same-sex couple to marry would somehow affect the sanctity and strength of a marriage between a heterosexual couple. As for children, as Mr Turnbull pointed out, unfortunately, some biological parents are neither loving nor wise. What is important is that a child is brought up in a safe and loving environment. The reality is that this bill does not change the right of same-sex couples to raise children. That was in part dealt with at a federal level several years ago, with bipartisan support. Nor does this bill change state laws about adoption or IVF. But, this bill would give recognition to the inherent commitment that marriage brings with it.
It was my preference, until I considered the issues in this debate, to legislate immediately for civil unions for same-sex couples as, in a sense, a transitional measure before legislating for same-sex marriage. But I can see the argument that, while that measure would be a further reform to reduce discrimination, it would not remove it. In the event this bill does not pass, I would urge the senators and members who oppose same-sex marriage to consider supporting a new bill that would at least allow civil unions.
To date, 11 other countries have legalised same-sex marriage: Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain and Sweden. This is proof that our traditions are continuing to evolve. A thousand, a hundred, even 30 years ago, marriage did not mean what it does today. This evolution is important. Our traditions are valued because they are still relevant, because they still mean something to us today. But this bill will not in fact change the tradition of marriage within our churches. Ministers of religion will be free to continue to abide by their beliefs on their definition of marriage.
This debate has seen an intense degree of lobbying by various churches—as they are entitled to do in our democracy. I regard the right of a person to hold their religious beliefs as fundamental in a free society. But beyond religion and religious beliefs, I also believe in the law. And I believe our laws should apply equally to all. Aristotle said: 'The law is reason, free from passion.' This is a debate that raises passions more than almost every other issue. But if we remove the passion from this debate, we are looking at a simple fact: this bill rectifies discrimination in our law. As elected representatives and law makers, we have a duty to make the best laws we possibly can. And as to a law that excludes people from such a significant cultural institution just because of who they are—well, it is time that changed.
Much of this debate has focused on apparent so-called conservative values, such as marriage and the family unit, although I think it is unfair to suggest those values only belong to conservatives in some political or partisan sense. I am a strong supporter of these principles, but I believe they are reasons for, not against, marriage equality. British Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron said, on this very issue:
Yes, it's about equality, but it's also about something else: commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other.
So I don't support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I'm a Conservative.
There are so many problems facing our society today. Anything that encourages people to commit to each other ultimately can only be a good thing. That is why I support this bill.


  1. Dear Senator
    Have you considered the health cost to our nation if same sex marriage is approved by law? Any promotion of the homosexual lifestyle is extremely dangerous. Studies have shown that engaging in homosexual behaviour can greatly reduce your lifespan. In the western world AIDS is primarily a male homosexual condition. Government sponsored research proves this, please see "HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmissible infections in Australia Annual Surveillance Report 2014." Transmission of HIV in Australia continues to occur primarily through sexual contact between men. Governments spend millions on trying to prevent people from smoking yet encourage the promotion of the homosexual lifestyle, this makes no sense.
    Experience overseas has demonstrated that those who disagree with same-sex marriage are often punished by the law. Christians and also those of other faiths will not change their beliefs just because the law changes. If the same sex marriage bill is passed it will cause much unnecessary persecution of those who will continue to oppose it.

    1. Dear Anonymous,

      Health cost? AIDS is a disease, just like cancer. Australia is as well as it can with the numerous diseases that affect its population, via education and prevention, not fear nor hatred and bigotry.

      Persecution of anyone is unacceptable, however, the tide does turn, and perhaps you can now experience what homosexuals have experienced, and is still experiencing...

      Equal rights for all minority groups is a basic human right, it is even for the Christians who are homophobic...

    2. Dear Anonymous, this is a rather late reply, but i find it important to respond to you (if you will bother read this).

      Have you read any of the studies that 'proved' a homosexual lifestyle is dangerous? I am interested in knowing h ow they defined a homosexual lifestyle? can you clarify? I am a homosexual, i live with my partner for five years now, i dod not remember being recruited into any kind of 'lifestyle'. the only lifestyles i saw was from a baptist sect in my neighbourhood.

      of cause you are one of those who see us as a disease, as abnormal as less humans. guess what, you are wrong. AND THE GOVERNMENT KNOWS HAT TOO. we are people, we are normal,and we have now learnt how to love ourselves. because of that, we are many, more of us have come out,and we are getting stronger and stronger. just like any marginalised group, we know how to help each other. HIV and other conditions that are more prominent in the gay society, are actually a result of the discrimination that we continue to face. Yes you are right., HIV is more prominent in the gay society in the developed world. but we know why: it is because of people like you, we used to live in fear, have sex in the hiding, wee did not have relationships... you are the reason why many of us died of AIDS, and i hope God will hold you responsible. One moment you are complaining that gays are promiscuous, the other you are refusing them the right to commit? are you for real? i wonder what other hidden agendas you have.

      Bad news to you tho, we are fighting HIV , we are stronger. we have new medications, we have freedom to teach pur young people how to stay safe, we have more people in relationships which decreases infections, our community is getting healthier and stronger. IT WILL BE EVEN BETTER AFTER WE HAVE MARRIAGE EQUALITY. more people will get married and have healthy relationships that are recognised and protected. watch out for us, we are coming to dominate you.

      as for being punished for being homophobes, it is a good thing. just because you dod not agree with who we are, with our families, you have no right to abuse us and attack us however you want. guess what, we do not need gay marriage laws to punish you if you do that, we already have the laws.

  2. As a child growing up I would prefer to have had a mother and a father. The argument that some heterosexual couples are bad parents, doesn't include the majority who are.I would hate to see parenting become a possessive thing, a trendy Gay thing to do, rather like getting a tattoo. Now Im not saying that all Homosexuals would want children, but the rights of the children to have a mother and father, is in my view not negotiable as it denies the natural rights of that child.

    1. The question here challenges the right of a loving couple to have children (I assume that you support loving and committed straight/gay relationships). Does every couple who wishes to have children have a right to have them with the support of their society?

      My opinion is Yes. Having and raising children is such a rich and life changing experience that all responsible persons should have a right to choose to have children.

      What about the rights of the child? Children are taught to discriminate. If there is no such thing as homophobia, then the child would just love both parents equally and this would be viewed as natural.

  3. I grew up in a household raised by a single parent. My mother's commitment to raise my brothers and me in a loving, well structured family is something I aspire to replicate when the time comes for me to raise my own family. When you say that every child deserves the natural right to a mother and a father, what are you saying about me and my family, that my childhood is inferior because I never had a father? I cannot agree with that philosophy because I find myself living proof of its falsehood. I am a healthy well adjusted individual and my upbringing was certainly nothing to be ashamed of. I do not wish that my father had played a greater role in my childhood, because my mother's commitment and love more than made up for his absence. Subsequently my own experiences have led me to believe unequivocally that the quality of one's parents is of far greater importance than the quantity, let alone what gender they are.

  4. Stand in my shoes please, and those of other diverse sexuality people and please understand that throughout the animal kingdom of which humans are part, and throughout the history of all existence there has been diversity of sexuality. There truly is no norm. Just preconceived notions. Everyone is essentially an individual, hopefully born free with the right to feel, be safe and express themselves in the most peaceful ways possible. The idea that one person is allowed to marry another and another is not able to marry another is fundamentally and ethically flawed. Yes a sperm and an egg combined can make a child if all goes well, but that doesn't mean that the child is going to be loved for who they are. This has been proved time and again. How about the children that are already on this planet be loved for who they are by the hetrosexuals that produced them without the sometimes shame and predjudice they show their own children. Life i thought was to be nurtured and it's time diversity was respected so finally we have nothing to fight about - but hey that may be to simple a thing to ask for, if you're too busy arguing the point to see that no matter what everyone born deserves the right to dignity and the right to choose based on their own feelings and therefore the right to marry the person they wish to share their life with - no the one others around them think they should. A person is still a person whether they marry the same sex or opposite sex. Please stop fighting and start listening. We have suffered enough and we of diversity do not deserve to suffer anymore. Marriage equality is as essential as the right to vote, the right to love. Please listen next time someone says they are unhappy and you may learn they are really no different to you where it counts. You may never understand homosexuality, like i cannot comprehend how you are attached to the opposite sex, buy hey, my role is not to judge anyone, but only to support that justice prevails and liberty is affirmed and make sure marriage equality pervails for everyone. It's interesting to note, that most countries throughout the world where people are exploited and mistreated and where wars are, are primarily in countries where the rulers wish to suppress their peoples rights to essential freedoms, such as the fundamental right to be born free to understand who they are for the better and therefore be truthful and come out about who authentically they are, therefore yes finally we choose who we are, because we know who we are - and each persons should instinctively have that right - not one forced upon them by any organised doctrines. Human rights should always come before any doctrine. May marriage equality prevail and sweep throughout the world like a plague for the betterment and freedom of all. At present families are divided, their is stigma, there is fear, there is misunderstanding or none at all. Please help change this. No other child should suffer being born diverse and suffer the fate and disappointment of those passed away who felt their own personal freedom but not that was never given wholeheartedly. Please let every child born, understand what love is for all their life, not parts of it.

  5. Government should get out of marriage, and into civil unions. Then everyone would be equal, and there would be nothing to argue about.