Australian senators go head-to head on gay marriage

Australian senators Penny Wong and Cory Bernardi at a 29 July, 2015 debate about gay marriage, Canberra, Australia Image copyright AAP/Stefan Postles
Image caption Senators Wong and Bernardi are outspoken combatants on either side of the marriage debate

Several bills will come before the Australian parliament when it resumes next month proposing same-sex marriage be legalised.

Ahead of any votes, two prominent government MPs have engaged in a live debate on the issue.

  • Opposition Labor Senator Penny Wong, a practising Christian from the state of South Australia, argued for marriage equality. Leader of the opposition in the Senate, Senator Wong and her female partner have two children, conceived via IVF.
  • Conservative government MP Senator Cory Bernardi, also from South Australia, argued against legalising same-sex marriage. The Catholic senator had told parliament in 2012 that the next move in redefining marriage would be include polygamy. He worried it would also open the door to recognising relationships between humans and animals.

Here are some of the key quotes from their debate at the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.

On human rights

Ms Wong: "We are your brothers and your sisters, your sons and your daughters, your friends and your fellow Australians, and this is a debate about us. A debate about rights, a debate about intimate and personal relationships, a debate about the people we love."

Mr Bernardi: "Ironically, in this new culture of rights, we're often taken into the realm of a contest in deciding whose rights should prevail and the homosexual marriage debate is a clear example of this contest."

Image copyright Getty Images

On defining marriage

Ms Wong: "In Australia today, two citizens who love each other and who wish to make a public declaration of their mutual and exclusive commitment through the ceremony of marriage are prohibited from doing so, solely on the basis of their gender ... If the disqualifying attribute were race, age or religion, such a proposition would be rightly seen as bizarre.

"It is precisely because heterosexuals have changed marriage from an economic arrangement to a relationship of love and support that gay and lesbian people are seeking to join it."

Bernardi: "Marriage is not a right. It was not invented. Marriage simply is. Marriage has been reserved as a sacred bond between a man and a woman across times, across cultures and across very different religious beliefs."

On gay parents

Ms Wong: "Leave aside for a moment the truth that the quality of parenting is altogether more complex than simple assertions about gender. The reality is this: same-sex couples already have children. Marriage equality will not alter that."

Mr Bernardi: "I will not deny that some same-sex couples make much, much better parents than some married heterosexual couples. However, it doesn't change the general principle that the ideal is still a child being raised by their married mother and father."

On the consequences

Ms Wong: "If we achieve marriage equality, most things won't change. The sun will rise, heterosexual marriages won't crumble, three-year-olds will still want more ice-cream than is good for them, but together we will have made a profound change: a statement to lesbian and gay Australians that we belong, that we are accepted, that our relationships matter."

Mr Bernardi: "I believe there is no need to redefine marriage on the basis of equality. To do so is to live in a dictatorship of relativism where nothing is real and truths are denied if they're considered inconvenient by the politically correct system. [Redefining marriage would] lead to calls for further redefinitions using exactly the same arguments of equality made by the same-sex marriage advocates today."

Getting married in Australia

  • Australia's Marriage Act specifies marriage as a union between a man and a woman
  • There are several bills before the Parliament proposing to legalise gay marriage
  • Opinion polling shows 72% of Australians support gay marriage
  • Officially, the ruling Liberal-National coalition does not support gay marriage
  • The Opposition Labor party endorses gay marriage, but allows its MPs a conscience vote on legislation

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