Peter Westmore, the national president of the National Civic Council, delivered the following speech at the World Congress of Families, held in Sydney, May 15-18, 2013.
What do we mean by natural marriage? And why must it be protected?
Until the year 2000, the meaning of the phrase “natural marriage” was understood everywhere on earth to mean one thing: the union of a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. This was the way in which marriage was (and is) defined in Australian law, and, in almost identical words, the way in which marriage was understood around the world.
If you look at the Act of Parliament in Australia which sets out the law on marriage, you may be surprised to know that it has 120 paragraphs. These include restrictions on the age of marriage, a requirement that the parties must be aged 18 years or more, except where a judge or magistrate approves a marriage where one of the parties has attained the age of 16 years.
The Marriage Act also prohibits marriages if either party is already married; it prohibits marriage with a close blood-relative (e.g., father and daughter, brother and sister); and it declares void marriages in which either party was acting under duress, or where a person was mentally incapable of understanding the nature of marriage.
These provisions of the Marriage Act help us to understand that marriage is far more than a commitment ceremony between two people. It envisages that this union may, of itself, produce children who require a permanent commitment by a man and a woman to act as their parents.
As Professor Rex Ahdar, of the University of Otago, New Zealand, wrote recently in the New Zealand Herald (April 16, 2013): “Men and women commit indefinitely and exclusively to each other and to the children their sexual union commonly (but not invariably) produces. It is a stable institution that provides for the rearing of the next generation.”
Professor Ahdar made a further compelling point. He said: “A parent of each sex is needed to raise and teach a child, because the child needs a model of his or her own sex, a model of the other, and a model of the relationship between them….
“[I]deally, children are best raised by their biological father and mother. (This is not, of course, to demean the valiant efforts of single parents, or step, adoptive and foster-parents that successfully raise children, but merely to affirm that both biological parents are, as empirical research attests, the optimal configuration).”
This is the common consent of mankind, since time immemorial. Virtually every nation, culture, tribe, religion and race since antiquity has affirmed that male and female parents who have freely promised to commit themselves to each other permanently are an essential element of marriage. As a result, all societies have accorded such unions special status.
To change marriage into nothing more than a public commitment ceremony radically transforms marriage, not merely for those who are about to enter it, but equally, for those who are already married and their children.
How often do we hear it said that the push for same-sex “marriage” is inevitable? There are, at present, 13 countries around the world which have legalised same-sex “marriage”.
Yes, if we listen only to the chattering classes, we could believe this to be true. But in fact, it is not true. There are over 200 countries around the world, but same-sex “marriage” is performed in only 13 of them, most of which are in Western Europe, and in a small minority of states of the USA. In other words, same-sex marriages are not performed in over 190 countries, including Australia, which cover over 90 per cent of the world’s population.
Nor is this a religious issue. There is not one country in Asia which has adopted same-sex marriage; yet in general they are not Christian, and their cultures go back thousands of years. Today, many of them are also more technologically advanced than we are.
If we truly want to be recognised by our Asian neighbours as one of them, in the Asian century, we will continue to stand with them in our understanding of the true nature of natural marriage, and not act like a white European enclave on the margins of Asia.
There is not one country in the Islamic world, there is only one country in the whole of the African continent and one country in South America where same-sex marriages are performed and recognised.
Countries which have redefined marriage are uniformly deeply influenced by contemporary secular values.
It is sometimes said that opinion polls support same-sex marriage. I note that Australian Marriage Equality commissioned a Galaxy Poll recently, which found that 64 per cent of people said that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. Various polls in the United States over the past couple of years have found the same thing. Yet when the American people have been asked to vote on whether they support same-sex marriage, they have voted against it in almost all cases.
The United Nations recognises the importance of the natural family. In Article 16(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it states: “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society, and is entitled to protection by society and the state.”
It is important to note that the institution of marriage precedes government and parliaments, and even written laws. This is because marriage has been the natural starting point for family formation, although we must recognise that there have always been families in which the parents are not married, or in which one of the parents is not present, and, in some extreme cases, where both parents have gone.
There is a weight of human experience, as well as sociological evidence, which demonstrates that children brought up in stable families are better off — physically, intellectually, psychologically and spiritually — than those who are not. Conversely, it is a sad fact that among the causes of juvenile crime, drug-taking, and mental and emotional problems, the absence of a loving and stable family life ranks highly.
This is why governments and parliaments in countries around the world have enacted laws to protect natural marriage and to strengthen it.