Australia needs a referendum on redefining marriage

Michael Cook
10 September 2013
Reproduced with Permission

Same-sex marriage was a big loser in Australia's election over the weekend. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd sank beneath the waves with his rainbow colours nailed to the mast.

Rudd began his campaign to unseat the incumbent PM, Julia Gillard, back in May with a born-again conversion. He promised that he would introduce a bill within 100 days of being re-elected and made gay marriage a centrepiece of his pre-election campaigning. Astonishingly, on the very threshold of electoral annihilation, he gave an interview to The Australian in which he insisted that same-sex marriage was his Christian responsibility. "It was not simply a question about policy but about my fundamental qualifications to be called a Christian," he said.

Perhaps in Mr Rudd's inner-city seat of Griffith in Brisbane fervour for same-sex marriage was running high. Perhaps outspoken support was an attempt to sandbag his own electorate rather than to appeal to all Australians. Perhaps it was an attempt to burnish his international reputation as a progressive.

Whatever the reason, the video of an indignant PM bullying a Christian pastor on television went viral, but it still didn't float the boat. Rudd and his rainbow flag sank like a stone. Same-sex marriage may have provoked lots of fluttering on Twitter, but the electorate cared more about jobs, the deficit, controlling illegal immigration and simple administrative competence.

However, it would be a mistake for Australian supporters of marriage as the union of a man and a woman with each other and with any children born from their union - the traditional view of marriage - to be complacent. Tony Abbott's victory has given them a reprieve, perhaps two or three years of breathing space, but no more.

For all these reasons, there must be a referendum to define marriage in the Australian constitution as the union of a man and a woman. It cannot be left up to Parliament.

Supporters of same-sex marriage are absolutely dead-set against a referendum. Why? Rodney Croome says that it would be expensive and that a national discussion would fuel hatred and fear-mongering. But what he really means is that aspects of redefinition would be robustly debated. And Saturday's election shows that an informed public would almost certainly support traditional marriage.

Redefining marriage is the central issue, not discrimination against gays. Allowing two men or two women to stand before a marriage celebrant changes essential features of marriage. Marriage between a man and a woman existed before parliaments and indeed before governments of any size or shape. It is a pre-political reality, the bedrock of all subsequent social institutions, the only institution which binds a man and a woman together with their children.

If it has to come to a vote, it's far more appropriate that the people vote on it, not MPs who are often detached from the real concerns of the people they nominally represent.

Australia is in a unique position to show that the movement for redefining marriage is not a Juggernaut, that it can be stopped, that most people believe that marriage is fundamentally about giving children the love of a mother and a father. This is an issue too important to be left to politicians. Australia needs a referendum.