Marriage is people’s institution, so they should decide its future
This parliament is not like the last. Federal politics now has an audible anger to it: transactional, toxic and highly partisan.
Witness the rise of the Nick Xenophon Team, One Nation and other micro-parties. The two-party system that has made past economic and social reform possible has never been under more strain.
This coming apart, this slow but visible dissolution of consensus, is most clearly seen in the controversy and parliamentary impasse over the question of same-sex marriage.
Bill Shorten, has shown implacable resistance to the Coalition’s proposed popular vote on same-sex marriage, citing homophobia, hate speech and potential youth suicides for his stance. The Greens, always jealously seeking to retain their position on the far-left flank of Australian politics, also have cravenly put the same arguments.
It is worth noting that in a previous unenlightened period of Australian history, the Opposition Leader and Greens leader Richard Di Natale were comfortable with or advocating a popular vote on same-sex marriage.
Now they seek to drag the rest of us from the dark ages, not with reason or argument but with heavy-handed admonition. Homophobes. Haters. Bigots.
Closer to home, there have been more reasonable arguments for opposing the plebiscite. My friend and parliamentary colleague, senator Dean Smith, has publicly declared his opposition to the Coalition policy of a plebiscite on the principle of parliamentary sovereignty.
He argues that a popular vote would undermine the covenant and democratic compact established in 1901 if parliamentarians “contract out their responsibilities as a legislator”.
As a constitutional conservative, Smith believes he cannot support a people’s vote as he states that it will set a precedent for popular votes whenever tough questions become politically inconvenient for the parliament.
I take Smith’s public comments at face value and I thank him for making them. It gives us all a chance to pause and think about what conservatism is.
I, too, consider myself a conservative, in the sense that I am passionate about building on the good things that make Australia a great nation.
I believe in the power and resilience of culture, geography and pre-political institutions.
They are decisive in the formation of Australian democracy and our institutions.
We all share in the inheritance of a culture that has long valued individual liberty, religious freedom, the rule of law and parliamentary democracy. In our indigenous Australian cultures that have persevered, we also see the pervasive notion of marriage as a lifelong commitment between men and women. We can trace these ideas from a fusion of Judeo-Christian and Enlightenment thought too.
But Australia isn’t the history of ideas; it is the history of people shaped by culture, geography and in living association with one another.
We live on a vast continent, where distance between communities is overcome by our system of federalism.
At the heart of that federalism, is respect for local concerns and self-governing communities. Central to our thriving communities are the pre-political institutions that govern our daily lives: schools, businesses, footy clubs (those that kick it and run with it), charities, surf lifesaving clubs and many others. They play a far greater role in our daily lives than the federal government. People freely join them and enter into relationships with each other.
Edmund Burke said that, if the nation was an army, the great advances were really made by these pre-political institutions, what he called the “little platoons”.
Of all the institutions, the most basic and foundational is marriage. It existed before the commonwealth government and will do so likely long after we all pass away.
Throughout history, marriage has had objective characteristics that have not depended on the preferences of individuals or cultures. Simply put: its historical character is that of a male and female union defined by a commitment of permanence and exclusivity, and invariably, although not always, producing children through sexual union.
It represents one of the most basic forms of self-government and is distinct from all others because of its procreative potential. That is why in ancient Greece and Rome — where homosexual cultures flourished — there was still a category of heterosexual relationships defined as marriage and inherently ordered towards reproduction. This, of course, was tied to the religious practice of ancestor worship.
The government is interested in marriage because it invariably produces children. Stable marriages are therefore a public good: when they flourish, it negates the need for the state to intervene on the behalf of children. Sadly, wherever marriage has broken down, we see an increase in the welfare state and bureaucracy.
The question of same-sex marriage is extraordinarily profound. We are proposing to redefine an institution with a long and rich history. Changes do not come without consequences. Redefining marriage will potentially limit the nature and scope of religious liberty in this country.
You only have to look at the US, Britain, Canada, Ireland and elsewhere to see examples where individual conscience has been traduced by increasing state and judicial power. It also seems to correspond with a continuation of the downward trend in the overall rate in marriage participation. We should therefore tread lightly into the future.
Marriage is the people’s institution. The people themselves should have their say on exactly what it means. This is why the Coalition is proposing to give the Australian people a vote. We recognise the significance of the change being proposed, and we don’t presume to know the hearts of every voter.
This is where Smith and I part ways again on our definition of conservatism. In the order of hierarchy, the smaller and more fundamental institution of marriage must take precedence.
We are not seeking to redefine parliament. We are seeking to redefine marriage. Where Smith invests authority in parliamentary sovereignty, I choose to invest it in the people.
The Coalition has given the Australian people a clear philosophical and policy distinctive on same-sex marriage: small government committed to listening to the Australian people directly. We respect you and your wishes.
Whatever side prevails in this great debate, they will have a clear cultural and legal mandate on the question of marriage. Parliamentarians will be able to move forward and do so with a mandate from the people.
Andrew Hastie is the federal member for Canning.
Every child comes from and needs BOTH a mother and a father. Same-sex "marriage" intentionally keeps either a mother or a father from the child. Government should protect the child through upholding traditional marriage.
Please Speak Up Australia. Defend Children and Freedom.
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