A renewed push to legislate for marriage equality is on. A group of Liberal MPs have unveiled their new Bill to amend the Marriage Act when Parliament next sits this month.
Anna Brown, Director of Legal Advocacy with the Human Rights Law Centre, welcomed the Bill and said it was in keeping with the roadmap set by the bipartisan Senate report agreed on earlier this year.
“This brings hope to the many lesbian and gay Australians and their families, friends and colleagues, who just want to be treated equally under Australian law and marry the person they love,” said Ms Brown.
If passed by Parliament, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill will change the definition of marriage from a union between “a man and a woman” to a union between “two people” - a change Ms Brown said is inclusive of all lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people and relationships. The Bill would also recognise marriages of same-sex couples married overseas, including couples married before the Bill comes into effect.
“All Australians should have the same opportunities for love, commitment and happiness. We’ve been waiting for marriage equality for a long time and now our politicians have the opportunity to make it a reality with a Bill that reflects the hard work and extensive consultation undertaken by a Senate committee earlier this year,” said Ms Brown.
In keeping with the Senate Inquiry Report, the Bill contains a number of exemptions to allow faith communities to celebrate marriages in accordance with religious beliefs, while ensuring that marriages performed by civil celebrants are conducted without discrimination.
Ministers of religion
The Bill clarifies exemptions for ministers of religion, who will continue to be allowed to refuse to perform marriages that don’t conform to their religious doctrine or beliefs. For example, not marrying a same-sex couple, a person from a different faith or a divorcee.
“Priests and other religious figures will still have the right to refuse to conduct ceremonies that don’t align with their religious beliefs, but of course LGBTI Australians will be free to simply find a civil celebrant to marry them, so this is a Bill that should keep everyone happy,” said Ms Brown.
A new category of ‘religious marriage celebrant’ and no discrimination by civil celebrants
The Bill also creates a new category of ‘religious marriage celebrants’ for ministers of religion from small, independent and emerging churches which are not officially recognised religions. Similar to ministers of religion, these celebrants will also be permitted to discriminate in accordance with religious beliefs. The small number of existing civil marriage celebrants who want to perform marriages in accordance with particular religious beliefs will have 90 days to choose to be transferred into this new category. New civil marriage celebrants will not be able to nominate this category or discriminate against same-sex couples.
"Civil celebrants were introduced to provide a secular alternative to religious marriage ceremonies, so there really is no place for discrimination in these ceremonies. Allowing a short window of time for current civil celebrants to reclassify as ‘religious’ and conduct marriages in accordance with their beliefs follows the Senate committee recommendations as a proposed compromise for both sides of the debate," said Ms Brown.
Defence force personnel
The bill also introduces a new category of military officer to allow members of the Australian Defence Force – who currently can only be married by a military chaplain – a secular option. A military officer would ensure that LGBTI Defence Force members deployed overseas would be able to marry.
Marriage related goods, services & facilities
The Bill replicates the religious exemption already available for bodies established for religious purposes under the Sex Discrimination Act to refuse to provide facilities, goods and services to LGBTI people. Under the Bill and existing anti-discrimination laws, commercial secular businesses could not refuse. For example, a florist could not refuse to provide flowers because they personally don’t support marriage equality.
The Bill will be debated and voted on in the House of Representatives, where it needs Coalition MPs to cross the floor for it to pass. Ms Brown called on all MPs to do the right thing and support equality by voting in favour of the Bill.
“The time has come for marriage equality. Australians don’t want more excuses or delaying tactics from our politicians – we want marriage equality and this Bill heading to Parliament will deliver it. Let’s get on with it,” said Ms Brown.
For interviews or further information please call:
Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519