Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Hansard 2008-04-08 Relationships Bill

In April 2008 the Legislative Council considered a Bill to officially recognise a range of “domestic” relationships other than marriage.
Mr Kavanagh spoke against the Bill on the basis that marriage deserves a unique place in our legal system because it is conducive to committed fatherhood which is to the very great benefit of children and to our society generally. Mr Kavanagh was at pains to emphasise the freedom of people to form relationships outside of marriage but also the need to protect marriage as an institution.
Mr Kavanagh’s comments in Parliament on Hansard are below:

Activity: Second Reading
Date: 8 April 2008
Page: 29

Page 29

Mr KAVANAGH (Western Victoria) -- The bill before us has often been referred to in the press as a 'gay bill'. In fact it has application to heterosexual as well as homosexual relationships. All of us here aspire to a free society which surely includes the individual pursuit of happiness. In a free society there is no compulsion to marry and those who choose single life or relationships outside of marriage are entitled to fairness and respect. Those in relationships outside marriage are also free to seek to be seen as committed couples by friends, relatives and acquaintances, if that is their desire.

In late 2006 I was interviewed by a leading Melbourne newspaper. I responded to questions on this topic along the lines of the sentiments just expressed. The newspaper published an article with a heading which said that the DLP (Democratic Labor Party) supports civil unions. This conclusion did not logically follow, however, from the comments I had made.

The DLP's position is that families are a key to Australia's present and future and that the union of a man and a woman, voluntarily entered into for life to the exclusion of others, is the foundation of stable families. In my inaugural speech I noted that those who voted for me hold their own firmly held beliefs. One of those firmly held beliefs is in the value of marriage.

For millennia marriage has been shown to be the best way for societies to fulfil their most important task -- the creation and successful nurturing of the next generation. The DLP feels that marriage has already been placed under excessive stress in recent decades by, among other measures, the Family Law Act, which the DLP considers to be inappropriately named.

Recently I argued in this house that family break-ups have contributed to Australia's housing affordability crisis -- for example, by adding to the demand for accommodation but doing nothing to increase supply.

Accommodation is only one aspect of economic wellbeing that is enhanced by families. Surely the sharing of goods and services increases standards of living, and, even in narrow economic terms, families are the most effective means we have for sharing.

The economic benefits of stable marriage might be seen by simply considering the effect that divorce has on the standard of living of the individuals concerned. It was correctly pointed out to me, after my contribution on the relationship between marriage and the demand for accommodation, that an increasing reticence to marry has also had a detrimental impact on people. That growing reticence to marry is, no doubt, more a product of our culture than of our laws, but of course our culture is informed and partly shaped by our laws. The benefits of a culture of strong, stable marriage are much more profound and diverse than merely the economic implications.

There are many other social aspects that could be referred to in demonstrating the importance of marriage to the future wellbeing of our country. One of these is the contribution of stable marriage to fatherhood. Unfortunately, it is not always possible, even in a culture of strong marriage, for every child to have a father in his or her life. It is, however, almost always desirable. Fatherhood does not make any man perfect but children benefit enormously from having a father. Can it be doubted that the lifetime commitment of a man to his children and, wherever possible, to their mother, is beneficial to his children? As a teacher of boys in high schools I noticed that it was often obvious from their behaviour which boys had fathers in their lives and which did not. I know of some fine young people of good character who have grown up without a father in their lives. I mean no disrespect to them at all; they deserve our admiration. The point, however, is that they have overcome a disadvantage.

Just as fatherhood is enhanced by the lifetime commitment inherent in marriage so the decline of fatherhood is partly a consequence of legislation and a developing culture that has weakened marriage and therefore families.

In my view Australia is undergoing the beginnings of an epidemic of loneliness. This is also in part a consequence of the damage done to families.

In giving sexual relationships other than marriage official status on the basis of sexual relationship per se, this bill would likely have the effect of making marriage merely one of several options and may well further erode marriage. Indeed, this point was accepted by Ms Pennicuik in her defence of the bill. I accept the government's claim that it is not intending to create new forms of marriage through this bill.

However, it seems likely to me, given the marriage-like obligations imposed on de facto couples over recent years both by the incremental changes to legislation that Mr Hall referred to earlier and by judicial interpretation, that under this bill marriage-like obligations, stronger than those presently envisaged, will eventually be imposed on those registrants who are in sexual relationships. In my opinion, in the future those registrants, contrary to their intentions, are likely to have imposed on them many of the obligations of marriage.

I am concerned about the implications of this bill for human rights because it minimises the requirement of voluntariness as a condition to assuming lifelong obligations. I also feel that many of those who support

Page 30

the bill now may in the future regret their current enthusiasm.

It might have been preferable to recognise the people in relationships rather than the relationships themselves. Why not simply create a register in which all people may mutually register to receive benefits such as superannuation entitlements, inheritance privileges in the event of death, automatic medical and other powers of attorney in the case of disability, and privileged access if either party is hospitalised, without making registration dependent on a sexual relationship? Why not allow people to register, without even asking if they are in a sexual relationship? Why not allow old friends, siblings or other relatives or lovers, whether heterosexual or homosexual, to register without asking the nature of their relationship and without making a sexual relationship a prerequisite to registration?

In discussions about this bill there have been claims about the rights and privileges of marriage. In my opinion very few rights are bestowed by marriage. It seems to me that marriage is actually much more about accepting responsibilities, duties and obligations than about gaining rights. However, it also seems to me that even more than that, marriage is an institution for the benefit of children.

We all know and love people who are in relationships outside marriage. Their happiness is as important as that of any other adults. I think we all hope they find the happiness they seek, but we should not approach creating legal structures to accommodate people in these relationships in ways which risk doing harm to marriage, an institution which has long been and remains the primary and best method we have for creating, raising and nurturing new and future generations.


Peter Kavanagh MLC
Member for Western Victoria
Parliament of Victoria

"La Cabine"
2nd Floor
1 Yarra Street
Geelong VIC 3220

Ph: 03 5222 1503
Fax: 03 5222 8677

Email: peter.kavanagh@parliament.vic.gov.au
Blog: http://peterkavanagh.blogspot.com/
Site: http://www.dlpwestvic.org/

INDEX OF BLOG ENTRIES is located at the bottom of this page.