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Same-sex marriage (SSM) in Australia

Part 17: 2015-SEP:
Senate report on SSM (Cont'd).
Reactions. Government plans a
referendum after 2016-JUL election.

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This topic is continued from a previous essay.

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Throughout this web site, "SSM" refers to marriages by same-sex couples.
"LGBT" refers to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons and transsexuals.

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map of Australia 2015-SEP-15: Senate committee's report (Cont'd):

The Committee also noted in their report that Senators Lambie, Lazarus, Leyonhelm, Muir, Rice, and Xenophon had recently introduced The Marriage Equality Plebiscite Bill 2015 during August. It would authorize a plebiscite to be held at the time of the next general election. The question to be placed before the public would be:

"Do you support Australia allowing marriage between 2 people regardless of their gender?

This question raises an interesting factor: How is a person's gender defined?

Gender has been defined using three very different criteria:

  • A physical examination of newborns,

  • The sex chromosomes contained in each cell of the person's body, and

  • How the individual identifies their gender.

The vast majority of adults are cisgender. That is, these three criteria all point to the same gender. But in the case of transgender individuals, the three criteria do not agree. They constitute about 0.6% of the adult population, and often describe themselves as being a man trapped in a woman's body, or vice-versa.

Still, the vast majority of both cisgender and transgender persons identify themselves as either male or female. Thus, if people of the same sex or opposite sexes are allowed to marry, then virtually every couple would be eligible to obtain a marriage license and be married. They might have some difficulty arranging to have their marriage solemnized if they preferred a religious setting. In Australia, as in most democracies, clergy are permitted to reject marriage requests from any couple for any reason. It may be decades before the Roman Catholic Church and conservative Protestant denominations will permit their clergy to marry same-sex couples.

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Naomi Woodley, writing Australian Broadcasting Corp., reported:

"[The chair of the committee, independent senator Glenn Lazarus, said:] 'This issue of marriage equality involves people, and people will be attacked through very nasty and very aggressive advertising campaigns.' ..."

"He said evidence [before the committee] from LGBTI [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersexual] groups and psychologists was particularly convincing.

'[They were] very worried about the effect it would have on children, particularly children who have same-sex parents,' Senator Lazarus said.

Senator Lazarus said he expected the inquiry by the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee would show support for a public vote, but that this was wrong.

'Quite clearly people that are for and against marriage equality would rather have the Parliament decide the outcome rather than going to a plebiscite,' he said." 1

The Senate Committee concluded:

  • They could not support either a plebiscite or referendum.

  • On 2013-DEC-12, the High Court's decision in the case "... The Commonwealth v The Australian Capital Territory rendered a referendum redundant." The court decided that the federal government has the authority to legalize gay marriage by simply amending the Marriage Act.

  • "... the matter of marriage is not one which should be decided by a popular vote."

On 2015-SEP-15, the Committee's report, made a single recommendation:

"4.1 The committee recommends that a bill to amend the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act 1961 to allow for the marriage between two people regardless of their sex is introduced into the Parliament as a matter of urgency, with all parliamentarians being allowed a conscience vote." 2

A "conscience vote" is sometimes called a "free vote." Members of Parliament (MPs) are normally required to vote as a block according to the instructions of their party leaders. In a free vote, MPs are allowed to vote independently according to their own beliefs and/or their perceived beliefs of their constituents.

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Reactions to the Committee report:

  • 2015-SEP-16: Prime Minister-elect Turnbull had earlier promoted a parliamentary vote to attain marriage equality. However, after becoming Prime Minister, he changed his mind. Comparing the legislative and referendum approaches, he said:

    "Each approach has its advantages. One, I suppose, is faster and costs less. The other one gives every Australian a say and it has a cost. Democracy has a price. Giving everybody a say on an important issue is surely a very legitimate and reasonable approach." 3

A referendum has been estimated to cost AUS$ 114 million if it were held at the time of the next federal election, or $158 million if it were held separately. 3

(At the time, one Australian dollar was worth slightly over U.S. $0.70.)

Daniel Hurst, writing for The Guardian, said:

    "The shadow attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, seized on the Senate committee report, saying Turnbull had 'sold out on marriage equality' and 'abandoned his principles in a dirty deal to win the support of the hard-right of the Liberal party.'

    The Greens senator Janet Rice said the new prime minister 'had a chance to show he wasn’t beholden to the more extreme elements of his party, and sadly he has failed.'

    A dissenting report by Coalition senators acknowledged a compulsory national plebiscite would be costly but argued it:

    '... would be invaluable in affirming the often referenced majority support for same-sex marriage [and guiding the government on] an incredibly divisive social issue'." 3

  • 2015-SEP-16: The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, wrote:

    "We do not have a view on whether the issue should be resolved by Parliament or by popular vote, but note there is a strong case for a public vote so the community can be consulted on a change that would alter the essential character of our community
     
    However a popular vote, by plebiscite or referendum, should include a number of requirements. Those are listed in the submission, including:

      • The need for a compulsory vote to bring all Australians into the debate;

      • A vote separate to a general election so public debate on marriage is not crowded out by other issues, and

      • Adequate time, information and space in the media for the public to adequately consider all the issues.

    Australia's Catholic bishops want marriage as traditionally understood to continue to be supported in our laws and social policies. A process should be found to resolve this divisive issue that involves the whole community in an open and respectful debate. Recognising this is an important matter for all Australians, we encourage all of the parties to work together towards an acceptable solution." 4

Webmaster's note: [bias alert]

Unfortunately, a compromise solution seems impossible to attain. The basic question is whether all couples who meet the age and "genetic remoteness" requirements of Australia's marriage act should be able to obtain a marriage license, or whether all same-sex couples will be continued to be ineligible to marry. No middle ground to seek a compromise seems possible.

Unfortunately, many MPs appear to lack concern about the damage that a referendum would do to vulnerable members of the community. If experience in other countries is any indicator, the debate in the media about marriage equality would probably be very nasty. Children in families led by same sex parents, and youths who are trying to understand their sexual orientation would be emotionally distressed by the debate. Many will experience depression and even suicidal ideation. Legislators may end up with blood on their hands. 1

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Naomi Woodley, "Senate report warns same-sex marriage plebiscite could potentially harm people in LGBTI community, Australian Broadcasting Corp., at: http://www.abc.net.au/
  2. "Matter of a popular vote, in the form of a plebiscite or referendum, on the matter of marriage in Australia," Australian Senate's Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee, 2015-SEP-15, at: http://www.aph.gov.au/
  3. Daniel Hurst, "Senate committee warns against holding plebiscite on same-sex marriage," The Guardian, 2015-SEP-16, at: http://www.theguardian.com/
  4. "Bishops Call on Politicians to Support Marriage and Consider a Popular Vote," Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese, 2015-SEP-16, at: http://www.sydneycatholic.org/

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Copyright © 2015 & 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2015-SEP-18
Latest update: 2016-AUG-05
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