January 29, 2016 at 5:29 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Former Australian prime minister reiterates same-sex marriage opposition

Tony Abbott, Australia, gay news, Washington Blade

Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot on Jan. 28, 2016, spoke at an Alliance Defending Freedom event in New York. (Photo public domain)

Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday reiterated his opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“We shouldn’t try to change something without understanding it, without grasping why it is that one man and one woman open to children until just a very few years ago has always and everywhere been considered the essence of marriage and the heart of family,” he said in a speech he gave at an Alliance Defending Freedom event in New York.

Abbott in his speech noted the Australian Parliament in 2004 approved a federal law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

He said New Zealand is among the countries in which same-sex couples can legally exchange vows. Abbott also noted that 176 nations have yet to extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians and “few of them are likely to change anytime soon.”

A text of Abbott’s speech the Australian Broadcasting Corporation obtained indicates the Alliance Defending Freedom event took place at the Lotte New York Palace Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. The former prime minister opened his remarks by noting that “leaders and representatives working with the United Nations to support the family.”

A U.N. source told the Washington Blade earlier this week the United Nations did not sponsor the event.

Former prime minister backs public marriage vote

Abbott acknowledged his sister, Sydney City Councilwoman Christine Forster, and her same-sex partner. The former prime minister in his speech also referenced his other sisters who are either divorced or partnered.

“To me, my sisters’ partners are first class members of our extended family,” said Abbott. “The way they live shows their commitment to each other, even though there’s been no ceremony.”

“I doubt that my sister’s female partner would be more part of the family if same-sex marriage were permitted — because membership of a family rests on commitment — and commitment is what counts, as much as what it’s called,” he added.

Abbott also reiterated his support of a public vote on the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples in Australia.

“As prime minister, I made the decision that it would be easier for Australians who feel strongly about same-sex marriage to accept a decision — either way — if it were made by the whole people and not just by the Parliament,” he said.

Abbott added a public vote “is the best way to decide something that’s so important, but so personal: It’s to let the people decide so that the decision, whichever way it goes, will have their authority.”

Australian Marriage Equality in a statement to the Blade earlier this week criticized Abbott for speaking to the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based legal group that opposes efforts to extend rights to LGBT people in the U.S. and around the world.

Forster took to Twitter after her brother delivered his speech.

Abbott — who represents Sydney’s Warringah area in the Australian Parliament — was the country’s prime minister from 2013 until last September.

The former prime minister last August blocked a conscience vote on same-sex marriage.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull supports a public vote on the issue. He told Australian media on Friday that “same-sex marriage will be legalized” in his country “if the majority of people voting in the plebiscite vote in favor of it.”

Christine Forster, Tony Abbott, Australia, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, gay news, Washington Blade, marriage equality

Sydney City Councilmember Christine Forster (Photo courtesy of Christine Forster’s office)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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