Nick Greiner: Marriage for all: a conservative ideal

Marriage is an institution that celebrates stability and commitment, and in doing so aligns with the values of the Liberal Party.

As the home of liberals and conservatives, there is a very strong case for Liberals to back same-sex marriage. It is a conservative and liberal issue at its heart, which is why I am happy to be patron of Liberals and Nationals for Yes. This is far from a radical position, as the Yes case is supported by the Prime Minister and a clear majority of state and territory Liberal leaders.

Widening marriage will deliver stronger families and communities. More commitment and responsibility in our society will be the dividend of a Yes vote.

As Paul Ritchie wrote in his recent book on the conservative case for same-sex marriage: “Allowing same-sex couples to marry is not just a matter of law, it’s also a matter of heart and soul. The institution of marriage affirms us as people, gives standing to our most significant relationship and changes our families for the better. This is a conservative ideal.”

But Liberals should also recognise that all great institutions such as marriage evolve all the time. As the conservative doyen Edmund Burke said: “A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.” Marriage is not the same as it was a century ago. The Marriage Act has been changed 20 times since it was introduced by the Menzies government in 1961.

Quite simply, static institutions die.

Today, more than a billion people live in countries that have embraced the freedom to marry for all their citizens. Britain, the US, New Zealand and Canada are often compared to Australia. Each of these nations in the “Anglosphere” now permits same-sex marriage.

In these countries, as well as Catholic Spain, Ireland and Argentina, the religious celebration of marriage has also been protected.

The experience in these countries has been that no one has become more gay, or less married, and the achievement of the reform has been a unifying moment for people across the political spectrum.

The necessary religious protections for ministers of religion, religious marriage celebrants, and use of church grounds and services, will be assured. Such freedoms are at the forefront of legislation drafted by senator Dean Smith and MPs Tim Wilson, Warren Entsch, Trent Zimmerman and Trevor Evans.

I do not believe religious freedom would ever be taken seriously under a Labor/Greens govern­ment, which is why this change should happen under the Coalition.

Through a combination of the freedom of religion enshrined in the Constitution and legislation that specifically protects religious institutions, any genuine concerns will be addressed.

Religious freedoms will be assured if this change is made, just as they are today. The deliberate conflating of issues only happens when people know they cannot win an argument on its merits. Conflation should be called out for what it is, a debating device.

When I, and decades later Archbishop Anthony Fisher, were in the St Ignatius College debating team, we were taught if we didn’t think we could win on the merits we should attempt to move the debate to more favourable grounds. This is what is happening here.

Any case for enhancing protection for religious freedom exists today and is not dependent on a change to marriage laws.

As Father Frank Brennan, the chief executive of Catholic Social Services, wrote recently: “I’ll be pleased when marriage equality is recognised by Australian law. But we need to consider practical religious freedom questions and give institutions time to adapt.”

Entirely sensible and exactly what will happen if the survey is carried and parliament votes Yes.

We should not be distracted by red herrings in this debate. We are discussing who can and who can’t get married under Australian law.

Australia is ready to move forward and achieve the freedom to marry for all. Popular support has risen from 38 per cent in 2004 to 72 per cent today and more than 1500 leading organisations, including businesses, local councils and sporting codes, are behind it.

But we can’t be complacent. We have to engage respectfully in the debate and make the case for this change.

If you believe in the institution of marriage, if you believe in individual responsibility and all Australians being able to realise their full potential without government interference, then please join the growing number of Liberals and Nationals campaigning for a Yes vote.

Not only will a Yes vote be a vote for our friends, family members and colleagues in loving and committed same-sex relationships, it will also be a Yes vote for our nation’s values of a fair go.

Together let’s celebrate the many achievements of this government and focus on the real challenges and opportunities our nation faces.

Rather than tying ourselves in knots over whether same-sex couples can get married, let them tie the knot and we can move forward together.

Nick Greiner is federal president of the Liberal Party and national patron of Liberals and Nationals for Yes.