For “Better” – In Defence of Marriage

Address to the Young Liberal Movement Federal Convention, Sydney

Welcome to 2012: a year which promises to be even more difficult than the last.

A year in which the cost of living will increase even further due to the Carbon Tax.

A year in which the debt burden placed on the next generation will balloon to phenomenal proportions. Quite frankly, it is hard to see how Australia can endure another 12 months of Labor's seven deadly sins.

  1. Dishonesty, wholesale breaking of election promises;
  2. Reckless spending and waste;
  3. Racking up debt and deficit whilst...;
  4. Increasing and introducing new taxes;
  5. Caving into the Greens;
  6. Mismanaging the economy; and
  7. Being incompetent administrators.

As I said, welcome to 2012: a year in which all Liberals must work together to make the government fully accountable and outlining our policies which will deliver a better way for our country and deliver hope, reward and opportunity. A task to which I am sure the Young Liberal Movement will devote itself to with vim and vigour. As it has in the past under Michael's excellent leadership and will continue to do so under Trent's direction. Congratulations to the outgoing executive on a job well done and all the best to the new executive on its election.

Can I also acknowledge Santo Santoro, a Federal Vice President of the organisation for the wonderful work that he does.

On a brighter note, there has already been one good news story for 2012. Bob Brown has promised to stop talking to Julia Gillard. If that promise is fulfilled, and that would be a Green first, Labor will be devoid of an agenda and this will spare our nation of further destructive policies which are not only destructive and bad but are also a fundamental breach of the faith and trust that Labor got from the electorate.

On the economic front, we have the carbon tax. We had the promise 'there will be no carbon tax'. We will now have a carbon tax which will be destructive to cost of living, to jobs, to wealth and perversely to the environment. Just allow me to give you one brief example. Coogee Chemicals was going to set up in the state of Victoria a methanol plant with 150 permanent jobs, $1 billion worth of investment, $14 billion worth of potential export earnings. Now, given the carbon tax, they've stated publicly, they will not establish in Australia and as it happens it would have been in the Prime Minister's own electorate. Guess where they're going? To China…

…and in China, that same factory will have four times the carbon footprint as it would have had in a pre-carbon tax Australia. That is why we can confidently say the carbon tax is destructive of jobs, destructive of investment, destructive of the economy and also destructive of the environment.

On the social front, Labor have broken their trust with the Australian people as well. Labor promised that marriage would remain as it always has been: a heterosexual construct. But, like with the carbon tax, the Greens foisted same sex marriage onto the Labor agenda. Labor have adopted it wholesale leaving Labor nowhere to go. Hence, Labor's resolution to give their MP's a conscience vote. Make no mistake, Labor is only giving MP's a conscience vote to salve their collective conscience about breaking yet another election promise not to change the definition of marriage. So this call for a conscience vote on changing the definition of marriage is a blatant diversionary tactic one to which we have not fallen for as a Coalition and one that we should not fall for.

You see, like Labor we promised no change to the definition of marriage. Labor has broken their solemn promise to the people. If they can get us to break our solemn promise as well, by allowing a conscience vote on gay marriage, our moral authority on this issue and on the carbon tax and indeed other issues will not only be diminished but destroyed.

Also, the hard heads in Labor know the damage it is doing to their blue collar core constituency. It is no coincidence that there was a surge to the Coalition in the last opinion poll of 2011 taken immediately after Labor's adoption of the Green policy on same sex marriage.

So the party's position of retaining the definition of marriage is in line with our stated policy before the last election, retains faith with the electorate and is another indication of consistency on our part and highlights Labor's untrustworthiness and their capture by the Australian Greens.

But above all that, it is good sound public policy and that is the topic I want to address today, not workplace relations but marriage relations.

For “better or for worse” is part of the deal when entering the marriage contract. There is no doubt that marriage has its “better” and “worse” moments for the two individuals in the marriage. There is also no doubt that marriage from society's point of view is overwhelmingly, if not totally, for “the better”.

The institution of marriage and family as correctly understood is the bedrock institution of our society. Sure, it provides – all things being equal – stability, security, comfort, a haven from the rest of the world. It provides an avenue for the expression of love. I'm sure we can think of a whole lot of other wholesome characteristics.

Whilst all these characteristics are unequivocally good and necessary in pursuing a happy and fulfilling life, these are not the full essence of marriage. These characteristics are ultimately not what makes marriage unique. People can find those benefits in other relationships as well, indeed all the benefits I've just outlined are “individual” or “self” focused. Marriage is different, it's more than just “love” – with apologies to the Beatles – it's not as easy as "love is all you need".

Marriage's  key characteristics are not all those things to which I've just referred -  important though they be. Indeed, it was the recognition that marriage meant more that led to the most vicious and strident attacks on the institution of marriage while I was at university. The Left was forever condemning marriage as “paternalistic”, “chauvinistic”, “sexist”. Marriage was the 'anthesis of freedom' - especially for women. Marriage was "the subjugation of women." It was 'legalised, forced prostitution'. According to the Left, the institution was one of unmitigated oppression.

That campaign was a spectacular failure. Marriage withstood the barrage.

So, in one of the great about faces of our time these same forces now tell us that the institution of marriage has somehow transformed itself, no longer is it this oppressive, sexist construct. It's now such a wonderful institution it should be available to all. What a metamorphis.

Indeed, the Greens website trumpets "marriage for all". Whatever that may mean.

Marriage is – apart from the characteristics to which I've just referred – the pre-eminent institution for the raising of the next generation. Society's interest in the relationship is because of children. Marriage is a bedrock institution because it is the best environment in which to raise children. Marriage has been part of society for millennia. It has been the coming together of a man and a woman to the exclusion of others for thousands of years.

Marriage was important enough a subject to be referred to in our Federal Constitution. As an aside, for the Federal Parliament to have legislated in 2004 what marriage meant was not, on reflection, a necessarily smart legislative tactic. It's like a leader being given a vote of confidence – it's only called for when the confidence is actually in question. Similarly, the defining of marriage gave regrettable credibility to the suggestion marriage could mean whatever you would want it to mean.

As another aside, I believe the Commonwealth's power relating to marriage is limited to that which was actually meant, namely the joining of a man and a woman. When the Family Court was given powers to deal with defacto relationships, it was by way of referral of state powers therefore the marriage power in the Constitution was deemed not to cover heterosexual defacto relationships.

Well, if the marriage power cannot deal with defacto heterosexual relationships, how on earth can it deal with same-sex relationships?

Learned opinion[1] on this suggests the High Court should have difficulty with this proposition but hopefully it won't come to that. But the fact the current debate has progressed to the extent it has, without this constitutional consideration is indicative of the overall lack of rigour in the public debate.

But not only does our Constitution uphold the importance of marriage as an institution in which society has an interest. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Article 16 deems it necessary to  refer to marriage. Why? Because to quote Article 16, subclause 3 "the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state". A close examination of the Declaration reveals that every single article starts with the words 'everyone', 'noone' or 'all' apart from Article 16. Article 16 specifically begins with "Men and women... have the right to marry and found a family".

The meaning and intent could not be clearer. It is a heterosexual construct and relates to the founding of families. Marrying and founding a family in the same breath, in the same sentence puts up in lights the universal importance of marriage and the family. That marriage is between a man and a woman is specifically mentioned in the Declaration should not surprise. Marriage has been a fundamental stabilising institution in civilised societies for over 6,000 years of recorded history. This long lasting tradition has stood the test of time and for good reason,- it's got some very cogent, rational arguments in its favour. A long lasting relationship in which children are nurtured, exposing them to the benefits of the unique differences of a father and a mother provides the best environment for rasing children. Be it, their academic achievements, social skills, individual social stability, emotional stability, sporting prowess, you name it the kids from a married, heterosexual couple win out. Study after study has confirmed this to be the case. Yet again, hardly surprising. So to deliberately and unnecessarily deprive a child of the diversity of a mother and a father experience is not in the child's best interests.

I recall way back in the heady days when I was the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence responsible for the Defence Cadets. Right around the country, single mums in particular would confirm to me that Defence Cadets was providing a stable, male role model in their son’s life. A role they simply could not fulfil try as they might.

Put simply, two men or two women with the best will in the world can't provide the diversity and vital experience that a mother/father home provides. Obtaining a good understanding of how to interact with the opposite sex is vital for the perpetuation of society. As the progressive research institution, Child Trends, has found "research clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children and the family structure that helps the children most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage. Children in single parent relationships, children born to unmarried mothers and children in step-families or co-habiting relationships face higher risks of poor outcomes. There is thus value for children in promoting strong, stable marriages between biological parents. It is not simply the presence of two parents but the presence of two biological parents that seems to support children's development".[2]

This 2002 research has been replicated many, many times in other studies and it is because of these reasons that governments have positively discriminated in favour of the married family unit for the benefit of society and its next generation. In recent times, we have regrettably diluted this positive discrimination in favour of marriage in the name of equality.

In doing so, we have reduced the importance of marriage and the consequences are there for all to see with the greater rates of delinquency and other negative social scores. We deprive the next generation and thus society if we diminish the role of marriage.

Let me briefly turn to the issue of discrimination. Marriage by its definition and purpose is highly specific. It always has been heterosexual specific. That does not make it unequal or discriminatory. To try and make it into something else will change its very definition. The sex of the spouses is determinative of marriage just as the sex of the person is determinative of discussing motherhood.

Us blokes can assert discrimination all we like but guess what? Blokes aren't mothers. Never have been, never will be.

We can change the definition of motherhood but then motherhood won't mean and be motherhood anymore. And for the record the same of course applies to fatherhood. It would then of course be diminished to something nondescript such as parenthood and the important role of motherhood and fatherhood and their distinct yet complementary roles will simply be diminished in a sea of meaningless political correctness to the great detriment to the next generation.

There are many restrictions on marriage:

  • You can't marry under a certain age;
  • You can't marry a close relative;
  • You can't marry a married person;
  • You can't marry more than one person at a time; and
  • Yes, you cannot marry a person of the same sex.

If the same sex disqualification is to be addressed as 'discrimination', it begs the question: Can it be asserted that the other qualifications are also inherently discriminatory and indicative of ageism, family-phobia or polyamorous-phobia? Interestingly, the polyamorous cohort in our community are celebrating the ALP conference's vote on homosexual marriage as they see the breaking of marriage as an exclusive heterosexual monogamous institution as their opening to recognition.

Allow me to paraphrase and quote Terri Kelleher. Who has written extensively. She says:

Resisting the push for same sex marriage does not rely on religious grounds, it does not rely on fundamentalism, it does not rely on bigotry, it does not rely on hatred. The argument rests on the proposition that, regardless of what we may wish it to mean, marriage is a reality with certain indispensable elements; that the legal institution of marriage only makes sense in relation to that unique human relationship which is characterised by the comprehensive joining of two bodies as one in a common biological purpose; that this common purpose requires both a male and a female element in order to be complete, and therefore must be heterosexual in nature, and that as distinct from any other kind of interpersonal human relationship, the comprehensive heterosexual union alone is oriented to childbearing and rearing children and is consequently oriented to permanence and exclusivity.

Redefining marriage would remove it from the only context in which its essential features make sense. However popular such a move might be, this would be contrary to the common good and the antithesis of good public policy. For although public policy should not disregard the desires or needs of individuals, it must primarily serve the common good. Marriage law currently does so by fortifying the unique relationship which is naturally oriented towards bringing forth children.

Redefining marriage would undermine the very significance of the indelible biological bond between man, woman and child. At a time when family dislocation weighs with increasing severity on families we need public policy which reinforces, rather than undermines, the importance of mums and dads sticking together in a spirit of service to one another, to their children, and to the communities in which they live. Marriage, as it stands makes a lot of sense. Let's keep it that way.


NG Rochow SC, FC Brohier, M Mudri & PJ Geyer

Kristen Anderson Moore et al., Marriage from a Child’s Perspective: How Does Family Structure Affect Children, And What Can We Do About It?, CHILD TRENDS RESEARCH BRIEF, June 2002 pg, 1-2, 6.

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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