Peter Abetz MLA talks Safe Schools, religion and marriage equality

ABETZ photoSouthern River MLA Peter Abetz has declared he’s ready to stand at the forefront of the campaign to uphold traditional marriage. The former pastor entered politics in 2008 and has often spoken about his concerns about changing the definition of marriage.

In recent months the MP has regularly promoted posts on his social media channels arguing against marriage equality and transgender rights. He’s also been a vocal critic of the Safe Schools Coalition anti-bullying program.

Abetz has posted about queer issues so often that a gay constituent in his electorate recently asked if he was obsessed with gay and lesbian issues?

“It’s an issue I’m very concerned about.” Abetz told OUTinPerth when we met up to discuss his concerns on marriage. “If same sex marriage is legalized in Australia, I actually believe it will massively change the very nature of our society.”

“I do consider it to be the number one social issue facing our nation in terms of which way we go. A lot of the mainstream media don’t always report some of those problems which emerge from legalising same sex marriage – so I do think of my Facebook page is one place where I can alert people to some of these issues.”       

Abetz said there were several reason’s he’s opposed to allowing same sex couples to marry.

“The number one thing is children. Marriage is the institution that emerged or was ordained, every culture has had some form of marriage and the key issue has been to have men stay with the women long term for the nurture of the children they produce.”

“My concern is that children do best with a mum and a dad, because the gender differences do bring different aspects to the nurture of a child.” Abetz said. “By legalizing same sex marriage we’re essentially institutionalising that a child can be denied the benefit of having its biological mother or father.

The MP said he appreciated that there are families where a parent dies and that sole parenting does happen but he said we should never deliberately set out to create a situation where children don’t have parents of both gender.

Abetz described WA’s landmark law change in 2002 that allowed gay people the right to adopt as a “sad step” we took as a society.

“Given the very few children that are available for adoption, there’s plenty of heterosexuals who’d love to adopt a child and give that child the benefit of both a mother and a father, there is really no need for same sex adoption in our state.” Abetz said.

Abetz said he didn’t know if marriage equality would lead to a rush of same sex couples starting families.

“Who knows?” Abetz said. “One of the interesting things about same sex marriage is that in The Netherlands, where same sex marriage has been in place since I think around 2000, apparently less than 10% of same sex couples who’ve been in long term relationships have actually bothered to get married. The interesting thing is that when you ask these people why they haven’t – they say ‘it’s not marriage.’”

Challenged with accounts of larger numbers of take ups in Great Britain, Ireland and New Zealand, Abetz moved on to some of his other concerns about marriage equality.

“One of the other real concerns I have about same sex marriage is that in jurisdictions where it has been introduced its lead to a massive erosion of freedom of speech and freedom of choice, in terms of people having to violate their conscience.”

Listing examples of bakers and photographers associated with the wedding industry who’ve ended up facing law suits overseas, the MP said he was concerned that Australian businesses would face similar consequences.

Alongside his opposition to marriage equality Abetz has also spoken out against the way gender identity and sexuality is handled within the education system.

“Children growing up go through different phases, they’re going to have different insecurities, uncertainty. When we talk about the transgender aspect, Dr Goosens who heads up the transgender clinic at Princess Margaret, she’s on the record as saying that 80% of the kids come through the clinic… that if it’s not encouraged, in terms of they act it out, by the time they reach mid-adolescence they’ve outgrown that desire.” Abetz said.

The Liberal member said he appreciated that this still meant that 20% of children seeking treatment were transgender, but he didn’t support it being addressed in the education system.

“Given the challenges and the difficulties that go with being transgender I think any system of education, or programs that are run in the community, I don’t think we should be encouraging kids to self-identify at such a young age.”

Abetz said he was concerned that if young people self-identified as being transgender, and later changed their mind, it might be difficult for them.

The MP said he believed laws in Russia that jailed people who exposed homosexual or transgender issues to people under the age of 18 went too far, but he did see the rationale behind the laws.

“I see the rationale behind it in the sense that we don’t want to influence kids to go down a certain path that later on they could regret, or just makes life more difficult for them.”

When it comes to sexual education Abetz said he believed it primarily was the responsibility of parents but he didn’t have concerns about it being taught in schools, only the context it was taught in.

“I believe the family, mum and dad, should really have the primary responsibility.” Abetz said. “I think that sex education should be of a nature that does not push a particular ideology.

“As a parent want to influence my children as much as I can, they obviously make up their own minds eventually, but in terms of the input my children get, as a parent want to be in control of that to a significant degree.”

Abetz said he didn’t think people under the age of 16 had a great deal of “need to know” about sex.

“When it comes to things like sexually transmitted diseases for example that’s something that people at a particular age when they might think about engaging in sexual activity, they should know about the risks associated with not using a condom etc, etc – I don’t have an issue with that, it’s how it’s taught.

Abetz said he believed some of the material in the Safe Schools Coalition program gave an unrealistic representation of how often teenagers were having sex. He was particularly concerned about exercises that asked children to role play and consider what it’s like to be attracted to a person of the same gender.

“I don’t want that seed even put into my child’s mind, because that is not the norm. I want my children to grow up as heterosexual, that’s by far the easier pathway of life to tread rather than gay, lesbian or transgender,” Abetz said.

“There’s no question that a certain percentage of the population is same sex attracted, that goes all the way back in history, that’s not a new phenomenon, but to what extent should we try to normalize that which only affects a small part of the population.”

Abetz said he hoped the Turnbull government’s proposed plebiscite on marriage would be pushed back further so it didn’t clash with the state election.

“I think whenever you have two things happening at the same time the issues do become blurred.” Abetz said suggesting July 2017 as an alternative date for the national vote.

The conservative MP said he believed that the result a plebiscite would be fairly close, but he was confident that opposition to same sex marriage extended beyond religious groups.

“The opposition to same sex marriage is not just from people of a religious persuasion but it’s also quite strong from the average Aussie conservative population that doesn’t feel comfortable with same sex marriage.”

Graeme Watson

Graeme Watson is a constituent in the electorate of Southern River which Mr Abetz represents.

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