Wong and Bernardi face off on the meaning of marriage

Wong Bernardi

Labor’s senator Penny Wong and the Liberal’s senator Cory Bernardi have argued their opposing views on marriage at the National Press Club.

In a respectful, but lively, debate both senators put forward their reasoning for supporting their view of what marriage should be, before taking questions from journalists from newspapers and magazines from around the nation.

Senator Wong said it was time to get past the bogeymen arguments of slippery slopes and warnings about our relationships with Asia as these arguments do not stand up as reasons to deny equality.

When asked if he still believes that marriage equality will lead to pedophilia and bestiality Senator Bernardi said he had never made such a statement.

“I merely said that if we redefine marriage it will lead to further calls for redefinition and for other relationship types to be in there. I don’t know where that will lead.” Senator Bernardi said.

Senator Bernardi said the experience of other countries had shown this worry has born true, highlighting that the British Greens party had considered lobbying for multi-member marriages. Senator Bernardi said there were cases in Brazil and The Netherlands that showed this was happening around the world.

Senator Wong said if anyone thinks Senator Bernardi didn’t make any statements about bestiality and pedophilia they should consult the Hansard. Senator Wong drew laughs from the crowd when she offered Senator Bernardi her personal commitment that she would join him in the defense against bestiality being recognised in law.

Senator Bernardi was critical of the marriage equality movement’s treatment of people who support marriage equality. In his speech the senator said it was a well-known propaganda technique to call people bigots and homophobes.

“It’s simply another well-known propaganda technique designed to silence our alternative voice. I think its crude, I think it smacks of hypocrisy and intolerance, but it is very effective in silencing many from sharing their view.” Senator Bernardi said.

Senator Wong responded saying “We don’t shout you down, we don’t denigrate your relationships, we don’t suggest your children are somehow comprised, so who are the people hurling insults in this debate?”

Differing Views   

Senator Wong’s Speech

Senator Wong began her speech by quoting US Supreme Court judge Anthony Kennedy, saying; “The nature of marriage is through its enduring bond, two persons together can find other freedoms such as expressions, intimacy and spirituality, this is true for all persons whatever their sexual orientation”

Senator Wong said the quote reminded her of the US Supreme Court’s decision in 1961 that struck down laws in some US states that forbade inter-racial marriages. Senator Wong argued that these decisions and the recent poll in Ireland showed that people did not accept discrimination and the power of the simple maxim “equal treatment before the law”.

Senator Wong argued that Australia currently discriminates in the area of marriage solely on the basis of gender, and said that if an Australian law discriminated on the basis of race, age or religion such a proposition would be seen as bizarre.

Quoting The Reverend Dr Margaret Mayman, Senator Wong said marriage had evolved over time moving from having its origins in property, procreation and patriarchy to relationships of love and support – and this is what gay people now wanted to join.

Senator Wong said it was time that the parliament listen to the Australian people who overwhelmingly support marriage equality and politicians stubbornly clinging to discriminatory laws should listen to the people.

Senator Wong said the wellbeing of same sex parents children were being “marshaled to the cause of discrimination” by people who want the traditional definition of marriage to remain.

Senator Wong said that raising children was far more complex that simple assertions about gender and the argument that marriage equality would disadvantage children neglects the rights that homosexual people already have.

“The reality is this, same sex couples already have children.” Senator Wong said. “Marriage equality will not alter that… What continued inequality does is deny these children to be part of a family that benefits from the stability and security of marriage.”

Senator Wong said if marriage equality was achieved in Australia most things wouldn’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.”

Senator Wong said allowing marriage equality would make a profound change; “[it would be] a statement to gay and lesbian Australians, that we belong, that were accepted, that our relationships matter too, and it will also be a statement about the Australia we have become, an accepting and inclusive nation.”

Senator Bernardi’s Speech

In his speech, arguing that marriage should remain solely between a man and a woman, Senator Bernardi shared his view that in recent times society has become confused about what rights are.

Reflecting back on his maiden speech in parliament Senator Bernardi said you could argue that entire concept of rights has become so debased in recent times that we now find it difficult to know what is a right and what is what is simply a desire.

“Desires are formed and governed by personal belief and self-interest,” Senator Bernardi said, “a yet, they are often presented in the public sphere as a right to correct a perceived wrong.”

The conservative senator said the debate over marriage equality has been presented as a competition of whose rights were more important.

“Marriage is not a right,” Senator Bernardi said, “it was not invented, marriage simply is. Marriage has been reserved as a sacred bond across times, across cultures, and across very different religious beliefs. It’s the very foundation of the family and the family is the base of society.”

Senator Bernardi said the homosexual lobby has run a text book propaganda campaign to get people to support their cause.

“The term marriage equality is a master piece of sloganeering, even though it’s got no basis in reality, because in 2008 the federal parliament removed legal discrimination between same sex couples.”

Senator Bernardi said that in 2008 the same sex marriage lobby had rejected suggestion that interdependent relationships should be included included in legislative reforms. Mr Bernardi said that the marriage equality movement had also said that religious and cultural groups that have more than one spouse did not deserve recognition.

“I believe, and I think it’s crystal clear that it’s not about equality, but about personal desires and self-interests of a vocal minority.”

Senator Bernardi said the last census had shown that there were very few same sex couples in Australia with only 33,714 couples declaring their relationships.

Arguing that the rights of children trump the responsibilities of adults, Senator Bernardi said advocates of same sex marriage were trying to turn things upside down.

“If you grant the right to marry for same sex couples, one cannot logically deny their right to a family, which immediately impacts the life of a child.” Senator Bernardi said.

Senator Bernardi said it was true that some same sex couples make much better parents than some married heterosexual couples, but it didn’t change the general principle that the ideal is still a child being raised their biological mother and father. Senator Bernardi quoted polls showing that 70% of Australian support this position.

In a series of slightly illogical statements Senator Bernardi said he didn’t believe that Australia’s self-determination should be dictated by what other countries do.

The senator said the recent decision in Ireland came about because advocates had run a splendid campaign which had millions of dollars of funding. Senator Bernardi said the opposing campaign had been left voiceless. The senator said he also believed the ‘Yes’ vote was also influenced by negative attitudes towards the Catholic Church.

After arguing that we shouldn’t look overseas for the basis of our decisions – Senator Bernardi said that we only had to look overseas to see what will happen after marriage equality is introduced.

“If same sex marriage becomes a reality in Australia do religious institutions or people of faith have the right to not participate, or not to provide services to a same sex wedding?” Senator Bernardi asked. “Will teachers in schools be compelled to endorse same sex marriages in their classroom? Will even speaking in defense of traditional marriage be deemed offensive and the speakers subject to sanction?”

Senator Bernardi said that all around the world same sex marriage advocates have said this would not be the case, but once marriage equality is allowed those rights begin to be eroded.

“Charities, businesses and individuals who do not support homosexual marriage have been sacked, forced to close, or change their practices because of their beliefs. Florists, photographers and bakers have been taken to court, or forced to pay thousands of dollars in fines for exercising their right not to act contrary to their conscience.” Senator Bernardi said.

In finishing his speech Senator Bernardi said redefining marriage might lead to a range of outcomes; “If overseas experience is any guide it will do – it will lead to calls for further redefinitions using exactly the same arguments of equality made by the same sex marriage advocates today. It will be a constant battleground of competing rights between individuals and businesses.”

Is the way forward a plebiscite or is it parliament’s responsibility?

During the Q&A session Senator Bernardi said he had not been asked by anyone in the coalition about the possibility of a plebiscite on the issue. Senator Bernardi told Seven News that the first he’d heard of the Prime Minister sounding out the idea of a plebiscite was when the TV station reported the rumours on Monday.

Senator Bernardi said that while he was not advocating for a plebiscite on the issue, it might be a way to move forward and deal with the issue rather than constantly having bills introduced into the parliament.

Senator Wong said the proposal for a plebiscite was a delaying tactic; “I think the plebiscite idea is a delaying tactic from a Prime Minister who is worried, and whose supporters are worried that they might be losing the numbers for a cross party bill. I think we need to be clear about the motivation.”

Senator Wong said the High Court’s decision in relation to state and territory based marriage had made it clear that this is the responsibility of federal parliament.



Graeme Watson

This report is currently being updated.







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