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"Tremendous Wins for Faith and Family" by Bill Muehlenberg

This article was posted on the Australian Christian Lobby's website shortly after last week's National Marriage Forum.

Several recent pro-family triumphs need to be celebrated and savoured. But at the same time we cannot just yet declare a final victory and send all the troops home.

Two events in particular have seen a great change in the fortunes of marriage and family. The first is the overwhelming number of submissions received by the Senate Committee looking into the issue of same-sex marriage (SSM) and adoption rights.

While the numbers are still unclear, with counting continuing, it seems that there may have been close to 13,000 submissions, with the overwhelming majority opposing SSM and adoption rights. (Some estimates have it that they were in fact over 99% of the total!) Evidently the record is 14,000 submissions for the euthanasia debate of a few years back. But is certainly possible that this inquiry may take the prize for submissions received. That is great news, and is something that pro-family and pro-faith forces can take real pride in.

Hot on the heels of this historic event was another event dealing with marriage and family, the National Marriage Forum. This pro-marriage forum, held in the Great Hall of Parliament House, was attended by well over 1000 people. Everyone, including the media, politicians and the organisers themselves, were staggered by the massive turnout. It was literally standing room only, with every available seat filled, and many spilling over into the surrounding galleries. Indeed, many people unfortunately had to be turned away from the event.

The forum was held to reaffirm the fundamental importance of heterosexual marriage, to support John Howard's attempt to amend the Marriage Act, and to oppose any attempt to radically redefine the nature of marriage. Over twenty different speakers spoke with one voice on the need to protect and promote this bedrock social institution.

The forum was organised by the National Marriage Coalition (NMC). The NMC is a recently formed organisation designed to unite various groups and organisations who seek to promote and preserve the institutions of marriage and family. The three founding groups of the NMC are the Australian Christian Lobby, the Australian Family Association and the Fatherhood Foundation. Representing these three groups, respectively, are Jim Wallace, myself (Bill Muehlenberg), and Warwick Marsh. These three were responsible for the establishment of
the NMC, the forum, and a new booklet on marriage launched at the forum, Twenty-One Reasons Why Marriage Matters.

The response to both the forum and the booklet was extremely positive and supportive.
Fifteen thousand copies of the booklet were produced and many were distributed on the day,with many more now being distributed. Every Parliamentarian in the country will receive a free copy of this important research document, and it has been posted on the NMC website: .

Hard work pays off

The story behind some of these initiatives is worth recounting. The NMC had originally hoped to secure a small Senate committee room for the forum, but learned that onlythe Great Hall was available. Thus the three organising groups had to rally the troops, and get the word out.

It was originally hoped that at least several hundred people would turn up.In the end the numbers went well beyond our wildest expectations. The development of the booklet was also a somewhat hasty, but in the end,successful,endeavour. Based on an American document written two years earlier, extensive Australian research data was added, and the whole booklet was redesigned as an Australian creation. The result is a very attractive and readable document, filled with thelatest social science data on the importance of marriage. I urge all of you to get copies of this and pass it around. The forum featured some of the leading family experts in Australia. Politicians, academics,media and sporting figures were all included. Senator Guy Barnett (Lib.,Tas.), who along with others was instrumental in promoting the marriage amendment legislation, introduced the Prime Minister. His 20 minute speech was often interrupted by applause, and received a standing ovation at the end. Mr Howard reaffirmed the Government's intention to keep marriage between a man and a woman, and announced that he would reintroduce his marriage amendment legislation "within a fortnight".

To many this was a bombshell announcement, catching them off guard, but resulting in huge rounds of applause. This is something that pro-family groups had been actively lobbying for. It is possible it even took shadow Attorney-General Nicola Roxon by surprise, who spoke on Labor's behalf.

When it was her turn to speak, she pledged that Labor would go along with such a bill. This was great news indeed, and we thank Labor for making this stance. Indeed, she claimed that Labor had always supported the bill. Given that it was Labor along with the minor parties that effectively blocked this bill from going through in the first place, the audience received this promise with relief but with caution.

Other speakers included Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, Law Professor Patrick Parkinson, columnist Angela Shanahan, doctor and lecturer David van Gend,family activist Babette Francis, Fred Nile and 'Digger' James. All offered articulate and informed defences of marriage and family, and all were warmly received by an enthusiastic and decidedly partial audience.

One important speaker was Pastor Ron Brookman. Ron's story was especially pertinent, as he had been a practicing homosexual for 31 years. He has since left the homosexual lifestyle, and is now happily married with children. His story clearly challenged the common myth that homosexuals are born that way and cannot change.

Stories of individual marriages (from newlyweds, remarrieds, and senior couples) were also heard. A panel of speakers took questions at the end, and the three convenors of the forum offered concluding remarks to wrap things up.

We had invited Labor leader Mark Latham to speak as well. He declined however, so Nicola Roxon spoke instead, for which we were grateful. She explained to the audience that there was good reason why Labor and the minor parties sent the Marriage Amendment Bill to
a Senate Committee. It appeared that not everyone was convinced by her arguments however, and a number of delegates were disappointed that Mr Latham could not attend.

There was one surprise element of her speech that is worth noting. Ms Roxon announced a new Labor initiative during her talk. She said that given that we were people of faith who obviously champion compassion and tolerance, we would appreciate the fact that only Labor intends to introduce new national racial and religious vilification legislation.

Instead of the standing ovation she might have expected, she was met with boos and hisses.
She was perhaps unaware that Victoria already has such laws, and unaware of the current vilification case now being heard there. Such legislation really acts as anti-freedom of speech laws in general, and anti-Christian laws in particular.

Jim Wallace took a delegation of senior churchmen to discuss this and the marriage issue with her afterwards. They sought to impress upon her the importance of marriage and the dangers of vilification laws. She carefully listened to our concerns, and we hope that they will filter through to the rest of the Labor Party as well.

The only disruption to the forum was a very brief demonstration by the Democrats who unfurled banners from the galleries with mindless slogans such as "Hate is not a family value". Given that this was a pro-marriage rally, and not an anti-anything rally, and given that a number of speakers affirmed the need to reach out to homosexuals in love, this and other
banners by the Democrats were inaccurate at best and offensive at worst. Fairly extensive media coverage of the event followed for some days after the event. All agreed that it was an historic event, and will have major ramifications for Australia's future. One person from the Parliamentary Press Gallery described the event and the Senate submissions as marking a "seismic shift" in Australian political history.

Indeed, Tasmanian homosexual activist Rodney Croome lamented the next day that this was a significant turning point: "[John Howard's] announcement spoke of the fact that Australia's far right - once lost on the fringe of national politics - is now determining public policy across the political spectrum and across a range of issues. It also says that the influence of the social left as well as the nation's homosexual community has shrunk to next-to-nothing."

One must take the other side's words with a grain of salt, but he may be right, The tide may
be turning. These recent events have indeed been tremendously significant.

Much work yet to be done While we can all rightly celebrate the great news of these pro-faith
and pro-family victories, we must be extremely cautious. As I told the crowd on he day, the
battle is not over yet. We must not rest on our laurels. Much remains to be done.

The worst outcome would be to think that the battle is won and that we can all go back home to our quietude and inactivity. At the time of this writing the re-released bill has not even come out yet. And even when it does, we must not automatically assume it will go through without a hitch.

And if it does, there is still the matter of same-sex adoption rights. Homosexual activists will
surely not be laying down their arms. They will continue to press for radical demands. And
they will continue to try to sneak marriage in by the back door, in the form of civil unions and the like.

Thus we can rightly celebrate and savour the very good news indeed. But we dare not become complacent and indifferent. In this context, a comment made by Nicola Roxon is of importance. Jim Wallace met with her two days before the forum, and after discussing the submissions to the committee and other matters, she made this observation:

"I now see that the Christian lobby is much more numerous and significant than the homosexual lobby".

It took a while for Ms Roxon to realise this truth!

But given how quiet and asleep at the wheel so much of the religious community has been on these sorts of issues, perhaps she can be forgiven for thinking that the homosexuals are ubiquitous, and the church almost non-existent.

Not any more. It appears that the sleeping giant has roused from its slumber and is beginning to roar. The real concern is that it be tempted to think that this is all that is needed, and that it can go back into hibernation. But this is just the beginning. Much more

work needs to be done.

But it was great to see those with faith and family values finally stirred and mobilised to act. A
telling indication of how powerful and influential this was is reflected in remarks made by the
Prime Minister on the day. As Jim Wallace and I were about to take him into the Great Hall, filled with enthusiastic supporters, he asked, "Where did you get all these people from?" We told him to turn around and look outside, where many more hundreds of people were queued up, waiting to get past security to join the rally. Mr Howard was clearly overwhelmed by the
response.

Indeed, he received a standing ovation at the conclusion of his talk, and when he left the Hall,
he received another ovation from the many hundreds of supporters still waiting to get in. This was people power at its best.

We need to harness and direct this new found energy and involvement. There are of course many more issues that need to be addressed. So by all means pop the champagne and bring out the caviar, as one colleague some what jokingly suggested. We have seen a mighty victory and we should rejoice in it and feel good about our new-found success. But the job continues, and we all need to keep on keeping on.

ACTION
Thank both parties for their willingness to see this new bill passed. It is important that we let both parties know that this is indeed a mainstram issue, and a political party will suffer at the polls and in other ways if it does not give bi-partisan support to such important measures. Do this by contacting your local members, thanking them for affirming marriage and encouraging them to make this a reality when it soon comes to a vote.


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