Last night I, along with about 350 people, attended the Excellent Marriage event in Hobart, Tasmania. Local Presbyterian minister Rev. Campbell Markham spoke passionately about the authority the Church possess to speak into the marriage debate because Jesus, the head of the Church, created and designed marriage.
Ultimately, he said, it is what God thinks about marriage that is the important thing and we, the Church, must uphold His truth, in love, at all costs. All of us need God’s grace through the gospel especially in our own marriages.
Former Liberal Senator Guy Barnett spoke with deep conviction about the consequences of giving in to marriage redefinition with special emphasis on the cost to children and families.
“Same-sex marriage says that children have no inherent right to the nurture of their natural mums and dads; that children don’t need a father or that children don’t need a mother; and finally, that children have no inherent right to have a relationship with their brothers, sisters, cousins and the broader family,” he said.
A standing ovation confirmed that the truth of Guy’s words had penetrated deeply into the hearts of the hearers.
WA pastor and tennis great Margaret Court spoke with authority that can only come with personal cost and experience. The Bible, Margaret exhorted, is a marriage book, a parenting book, a book about running a business and about governing nations. The Church must uphold its truths and take them into every sphere of society for the common good.
Well done to all those who spoke and to Jim Collins from Family Voice Australia who did an excellent job as the MC for the night which, judging by the comments of those who attended, was for many a watershed moment. Congratulations also to the many people involved in making this event a reality.
Please see below for a copy of Guy Barnett's speech at the event.
MARRIAGE AND CHILDREN - What is best?
Excellent Marriage forum, Hobart
17 May 2012
by Guy Barnett*
It is argued that marriage should be redefined to recognise two adults of the same sex who are in love in a committed relationship. Such an arrangement is designed to provide fulfilment and gratification for the two consenting adults. However marriage has been a ‘pro-child’ social institution for millennia. I believe it should remain an institution centred on the welfare of children, before the interests of same sex adults. The marriage institution serves the interests of the community by providing stable and secure homes to children. By broadening and redefining marriage it reduces and diminishes its meaning. It becomes a matter of choice by adults, for adults, and is designed to serve the interests of adults. The interests of children are neglected.
In short, natural marriage says that mums and dads must take responsibility for the children they conceive. Children have a right to the nurture of their natural mums and dads. Marriage protects children by placing on their biological parents responsibilities for their upbringing, their welfare and education. The marriage institution is designed to provide the optimal wellbeing for children and society. Children have a right to a relationship with their natural brothers, sisters, cousins and broader family members. Same-sex marriage denies these rights and turns on its head these fundamental attributes of marriage.
Same-sex marriage says that children have no inherent right to the nurture of their natural mums and dads; that children don’t need a father OR that children don’t need a mother; and finally, that children have no inherent right to have a relationship with their brothers, sisters, cousins and the broader family.
Marriage is deeply and uniquely oriented to bearing and rearing children. Homosexual marriage says there is no necessity for a child to experience both fathering and mothering in the family. The best available research indicates that as a general rule, children fare best on almost every indicator of well-being when reared by the wedded biological parents, for example, education achievement, emotional health, rates of anxiety depression substance abuse and suicide, familial and sexual development, and child and adult behaviour. (Source: Witherspoon Institute “Marriage and the public good: Ten Principles”)
Senate Inquiry evidence
The pain in their eyes was visible. The grief, sadness and sense of loss expressed by the donor conceived individuals who were witnesses to the Senate inquiry into donor conception practices in Australia, was intense. They told of their search for their biological parents– to know their identity. These young adults were brought into the world without knowing the identity of both a mum and a dad.
The sperm from an anonymous male ensured the link to their biological father was cut forever.
One report says there are up to 60,000 donor conceived individuals in Australia today with many of these not knowing their biological brothers and sisters. This Committee, which I chaired, in February last year unanimously called for a prohibition on donor anonymity, and the protection of the welfare and interests of donor conceived children. The tragedy experienced by donor children offspring who were denied their genetic heritage must never happen again. These donor conceived practices were based on the perceived rights of certain adults to have children. These adults were ‘entitled’ to the children and male adult sperm donors had the right to be anonymous. We know now this was terribly wrong and had tragic consequences. But it was based on the so-called rights of the consenting adult.
Homosexual marriage would sadly perpetuate this tragedy by denying children the right to know and be nurtured by both a mother and father. Children deserve the right to grow up with at least a chance of a mum and a dad. Homosexual marriage would deny them that right.
Marriage and why we have it
Marriage is a bedrock institution worthy of protection. Marriage is an enduring institution, having been with us for thousands of years and across cultures and religions. Despite minor changes to the definition of marriage over time it has always been between a man and a woman. It is a social institution which specifically benefits children and is designed to ensure their welfare is maximised. It provides for stability in society. Marriage is not a fashion to be updated and there should be no doubt about its definition.
As a Christian I believe marriage was ordained and designed by God for the benefit of the married couple, their children and families, and the community in general. God wants the best for us. He wants us to live our lives to the full and to enjoy.
But whatever your view is of the merit of marriage the debate to date has been adult-centred. There needs to be far greater focus in my view, on what is in the best interests of our children. The rights of kids have been neglected in this debate so far. Children should not be left vulnerable within a new and novel social experiment.
If it were not for the rights of children, they being one of the vulnerable and voiceless groups in our society, the state (via the parliament or the government) would have little interest in regulating its existence. The state rarely is involved in regulating personal and private relationships.
Homosexual couple relationships have been recognized in law in most states in an official relationship register. This is appropriate in my view but these relationships do not constitute marriage. The marriage union is publicly recognised and treated as special and unique distinguished from other types of relationships because of its unique capacity to generate children and meet children’s needs. Of course not all married couples have children and many married couples adopt but marriage is the foundation stone for procreation. In my view, every child entering this world should have a reasonable expectation, all things being equal, of a mother and father. Of course, this is not always the case. Accidents, tragedy and family breakdown is not uncommon. As a community we should admire and provide support wherever possible for single parent families. Many kids crave the role model of an absent or lost parent; a father or mother. But marriage as the union of a man and a woman is an objective natural reality that reflects the biological and complementary nature of motherhood and fatherhood.
Homosexual relationships are different to heterosexual relationships in relation to child bearing. If a homosexual couple wants a child, a third party has to be brought in. The natural father or mother will be excluded from raising a child. This is unfair on the child. I cite a 2011 NSW supreme court example where a father’s identity was legally removed from his biological daughter’s birth certificate. The young girl of 9 years, now officially has two mothers, a biological mother and her estranged lesbian partner, but no father. The father visited the girl every two weeks for 9 years and paid maintenance. Now he (Mr John Williams) doesn’t even exist legally as the biological father. Whose rights are being considered here? Is this fair or appropriate? Whose rights are more important?
Australian ethicist and UN advisor, Dr Tonti Fillipini has said “…marriage in the Marriage Act is the most secure relationship for generating and nurturing the rising generation…” I agree.
International experience and trends
Gay lobby activists have often claimed that Australia should be more progressive and catch up with the rest of the world when it comes to same-sex marriage. Based on my latest research only 10 countries out of nearly 200 have legalised same-sex marriages. Who should be catching up to whom? In the US only 5 of the 50 States have done the same. In the 30 of the 50 US States where a referendum has been held, in every one, the people have said “No” to same-sex marriage. This included the more ‘progressive’ California where the legislature initially passed the laws granting same-sex marriage but this was then overturned. It is interesting that President Obama has now declared support for same sex marriage. Time will tell the merit of this position. In late 2011 the French Parliament rejected legislation for same-sex marriage.
The Australian Human Rights Commission and gay lobby activists often claim that denying homosexuals the right to same-sex marriage is a breach of human rights. On the contrary I would contend that there is a very strong argument that same-sex marriage, if it were introduced in Australia, would breach the most popularly signed UN Convention – the Convention on the Rights of the Child (and specifically Articles 7, 8, 9 & 18).
Article 9(1) reads in part: “parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will,…”
Article 18(1) “both parents have common responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child…the best interests of the child will be their basic concern…”.
Marriage in Australia means “…the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life”. This definition was only formally inserted into the Marriage Act (1961) in 2004 but it is neither recent nor arbitrary. It is derived from the common law which ultimately reflects the fundamentals of human biology and the deep and unique interest of the state in protecting and supporting children. On 31 March 2004, I drafted a letter to the then Prime Minister John Howard signed by some 30 Coalition colleagues seeking this amendment because doubts were increasing as a result of court decisions. The letter had the intended effect and ultimately bipartisan support was obtained. Today the future of the marriage definition is on a cliff’s edge.
Language and the media
Sadly, the gay lobby campaign is derogatory of those with an opposing view. We are accused of prejudice, bigotry, hate speech, anti-human rights and being ‘religious’. Of course if you are purportedly religious or have a Christian perspective they say your views should be automatically discounted or disregarded altogether. The Christian community and those who support natural marriage have been insulted, offended and downright persecuted.
Just this week a member of the Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission has been hounded from office for signing a submission to a Senate committee in support of marriage as currently defined. The Human Rights Law Centre Executive Director Philip Lynch said of the Commissioner, if his “beliefs are incompatible with his duties and functions under the Equal Opportunity Act, including his statutory duty to eliminate discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or lawful sexual activity, then there is a clear conflict of interest and it is appropriate the he resign his public office.”
UK businessman, Sir Brian Souter, said in late 2011 it was increasingly difficult for those who supported traditional marriage to speak out. They are being consistently marginalised, he said.
The gay lobby campaign calls for “marriage equality” and the removal of discrimination. But in 2008 no less than 84 federal laws were amended to remove all forms of discrimination against same-sex couples. These laws relating to superannuation, property rights, pensions etc. received bipartisan support and many gay lobby activists at the time advised that they were not and would not be seeking same-sex marriage reforms. What a turn-around in less than three years.
Research by the eminent Professor Patrick Parkinson of the University of Sydney entitled ‘For Kid’s Sake (Repairing the Social Environment for Australia and Young People’ said …”if there is one major demographic change in western societies that can be linked to a large range of adverse consequences for many children and young people, it is the growth of the numbers of children who experience life in the family other than living with their two biological parents, at some point before the age of 15…”
Professor Parkinson said “..the number of children who do not reach the age of 15 in an intact family with both of their biological parents has almost doubled within a generation”.
Conclusion and reforms
Broadening the definition of marriage to include those of the same sex is not a tweak or a minor amendment. It is a massive and fundamental change which will turn on its head the definition we have known for millennia. The r visionist marriage would change the way children are conceived and nurtured. What more significant change to society is possible?
Is the gay lobby seeking a minor change to our same-sex marriage laws without the obvious and looming consequences? I think not. If passed I predict a concerted campaign for symbolism and “normalisation” and the consequences that will flow from such a change, such that it will be unacceptable and intolerable to have a different ethical viewpoint. For example, it’s already happening.
A UK married couple of 40 years, who because of their Christian beliefs on homosexuality, were disqualified as foster parents. In their application they had made a point of saying that they would respect and support children who thought they might be gay, but they were not going to encourage it or affirm it as right. This was not an acceptable position and their application was denied.
Marriage celebrants may be compelled to authorise homosexual marriage. It was recently reported that financial penalties are now being imposed in Canada on marriage celebrants who defy the law and refuse to marry same-sex couples.
The law has an educative role. There will be changes in our schools and the school curriculum. Christian schools will have particular concerns in terms of employment, policy and practice. Teachers would be required to tell their students that marriage is about love and commitment to meet adult needs rather than what is in the best interests of children. This is despite the fact that antenatal classes teach the intrinsic value of the unique relationships of a biological father and mother, not to mention the same training messages given to parents when preparing for foster care. This contradicts the views of same-sex marriage that says that it does not matter at all. As is being suggested as an option for our Australian passports, Parent 1 and Parent 2 rather than mother and father. Does it not matter at all?
If we don’t speak now it is possible we could lose the right to speak at all. To have a different ethical viewpoint is fast becoming politically incorrect, unacceptable and not tolerated.
Every human marriage is imperfect and dysfunctional to some degree. In fact it is often painful and problematic with daily challenges. Marriage break-down and its consequences appear to be increasing in severity and impact on not only our children but society as a whole. But this does not mean we should throw out natural marriage as an institution altogether. In fact, as a community we should be doing all we can to support it.
Four Recommendations for Reform
In this regard I have four recommendations for reform. Firstly, I have long supported government funding for both pre-marriage education and post-marriage counselling. Vouchers could be granted to would-be spouses offering pre-marriage education, perhaps over a six or twelve week period in advance of the wedding. Likewise post-marriage counselling or ‘marriage enrichment’ courses, again using the voucher system, could be offered to married couples every seven years of marriage. My wife Kate and I participated in a marriage enrichment course some months ago and found it most productive. There is always room for improvement in the marriage relationship.
The third recommendation would be the offer of a ‘positive parenting’ education and training course for parents (including single parents) on the various options available to develop their child’s (or children’s) social, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being.
Finally, I recommend more opportunities be provided to married couples considering divorce, to help them consider the ramifications and likely consequences for them and/or their children. In some cases unnecessary divorces could be avoided and in other cases the parties can be best prepared for what is ahead. This service is already being offered in part through the Family Relationship centres around Australia.
In conclusion I quote Margaret Somerville, Canadian professor of law and medicine, “Marriage provides the right to marry and found a family. Homosexual marriage unlinks marriage from biology and denies children the right to both a mother and a father”.
I think Australians have little idea about where this debate could be taking us. We need to consider the consequences. This is not a fine tuning of our marriage laws. It will turn on its head a fundamental bedrock institution that has served our community well and protected and supported our children and future generations.
*Guy Barnett, Managing Director Guy Barnett Consulting, Government & Corporate Consultants (www.guybarnett.com) has more than three decades of experience in politics, government and the law including nine and a half years as a Senator, where he held senior parliamentary roles in government and opposition. As a Senator he supported family values and was instrumental in the successful 2004 Howard Government amendment to the Marriage Act. He was awarded both the William Wilberforce and Australian Christian Values Institute award during his time in the Senate. Guy Barnett is married with three children and is a sports enthusiast.