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Senate committee considers a bill
to legalize same-sex marriage.
Ben & Jerry's takes unusual action.

Part 25: Same-sex marriage (SSM) in Australia.

2017-JAN to 2017-MAY

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This topic is continued from the previous essay.

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Symbol of a gay marriage 1

2017-JAN-23: Amnesty International Australia made a submission to a Australian Senate inquiry into same-sex marriage:

Amnesty International made a submission favoring marriage equality to a cross-party Senate committee chaired by Senator Fawcett. The Committee was called the "Senate Select Committee on the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill." The purpose of the committee was to consider whether to recommend that Parliament resurrect and vote on a bill to legalize same-sex marriage across the entire country.

Later, in a supplementary submission to that Committee, Amnesty International (AI) discussed a decision that the UN Human Rights Committee had made in 2002 in the case Joslin v New Zealand. The UN body had ruled that New Zealand's refusal to allow same-sex marriages at the time was not a form of discrimination within the meaning of either Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) or Article 23 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). AI commented to the Senate committee that:

"Sometimes human rights bodies are reluctant to make decisions too far ahead of the prevailing attitudes and practices of member states." 2

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Considering that many countries still criminalized homosexual behavior in 2002, and that in some predominately Muslim countries same-sex couples still may receive the death penalty if found guilty of sexual behavior, it is reasonable to assume that a UN committee with members from many countries would not approve of same-sex marriage at that time.

In their supplementary submission to the Senate Committee, Amnesty International said that Article 23 of the ICCPR should be reinterpreted today:

"... in light of how the international community’s view of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity has changed in recent decades. In Amnesty’s view such a changed interpretation is warranted, and in Australia’s case, overdue.

The right to be free from arbitrary discrimination in the enjoyment of the full range of human rights is a basic principle clearly underlined in all major human rights instruments, including Article 2 of the ICCPR. Article 26 of the ICCPR provides for equal protection before the law. Amnesty International considers that, even if Article 23(2) can only be interpreted to recognise as marriage only the union between a man and a woman, Articles 2 and 26 should today be interpreted to prohibit any arbitrary discrimination in the enjoyment of the right to marry, including on ground of sexual orientation or identity." 2

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2017-FEB-15: "Really significant step" taken by a Senate committee:

After a considerable interval of zero progress, what has been described as an "unprecedented show of collaboration," and a "really significant step" towards marriage equality occurred in the Australian Senate. The Senate committee chaired by Senator Fawcett agreed to introduce a marriage equality bill in Parliament perhaps as soon as March. It would be sponsored by members three parties: Labor, Greens, and Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) -- a centerist party -- as well as by Senator Dean Smith (Liberal) and perhaps Derryn Hinch of Derryn Hinch's Justice Party.

The committee report noted that the existing Marriage Act has long provided:

"... the broadest and strongest protection of religious freedom for ministers of religion." 3

to refuse to marry same-sex couples in the event that such marriages became legalized in Australia.

They propose to create a provision for "Religious Marriage Celebrants" who would be civil celebrants who are not ministers of religion. They would be given the same protections as clergy.

Tiernan Brady, director of Australians 4 Equality, said:

"This is a really significant step forward. The Senate committee has risen above party politics. They have shown that political parties can work together to deliver the will of the Australian people." 3

Writing for the Huffington Post, Brady said:

"The committee forensically sets out in detail the areas that would need to be considered rather than just settling into a simplistic and divisive winner-takes-all approach. There are genuine questions that some people have about the impact of marriage equality. For those of us who support marriage equality, we have to see how best we can reassure those people, confident in the knowledge that the case for marriage equality is a good one that will take from no one. ..."

"The Australian people support marriage equality. Poll after poll shows that they have done so by a clear majority for years now. There is a majority in favour of marriage equality in parliament as well. The members of then Senate committee have shown there is a pathway to passing this in a way that brings people together. It is time parliament followed the leadership shown by the senators, did their job and passed marriage equality in line with the wishes of the Australian people.

Last week was a good week for making that happen." 4

Senator Janet Rice of the Greens Party described the report as an:

"... unprecedented show of collaboration, negotiation and consensus [that] has given us a way forward to achieve marriage equality in this Parliament." 3

However, the position of the Coalition of the Liberal and National parties is still that a plebiscite be held first, and that a bill presented to Parliament only if a majority of voters pass the plebiscite.

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2017-FEB-20: Twenty Australian CEOs sent letter to Prime Minister Turnbull:

A group of chief executive officers from many of Australia's largest companies have urged the Prime Minister to expedite a vote in Parliament to legalize same-sex marriage. Included are CEOs from AGL Energy, Apple, Australia and New Zealand Banking Group, Business Council of Australia, Commonwealth Banks of Australia, IBM, KPMG, Lendlease, Picewaterhouse Coopers, SBS, Telstra, and Wesfarmers, as well as various legal teams, accountancy firms, and sporting bodies. It allegedly reads, in part:

"Enabling love, [sic] committed couples to be married, regardless of their sexual orientation, will contribute to a stronger economy and a more inclusive Australia. ... [Consumers] are becoming more discerning and are selecting products and services from companies that better represent their values."

It also expressed the belief that marriage equality would help:

"... attract international talent and foreign investment." 5

This places the National Party in an awkward position, because they are both pro-industry and pro-conservative Christianity, and these two groups are taking opposite views on marriage equality.

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2017-MAY-25: Ben & Jerry's announces a new sales policy for its 26 stores in Australia:

Ben & Jerry's has announced new restrictions on their sale of ice cream. They will no longer sell dishes or cones containing two scoops of the same flavor of ice-cream until the Australian Parliament legalizes gay marriages.

The company issued a statement saying:

"Imagine heading down to your local scoop shop to order your favorite two scoops. But you find out you are not allowed — Ben & Jerry’s has banned two scoops of the same flavor. You’d be furious! But this doesn’t even begin to compare to how furious you would be if you were told you were not allowed to marry the person you love. ... Make marriage equality legal! Love comes in all flavors!" 6

They are encouraging customers to contact their members of Parliament and asking that they support marriage equality. They are installing boxes on their counters so that customers can drop off postcards which the company will send to Parliament before the next session begins on JUN-13.

The latest national poll, conducted during 2016-AUG, indicated that support for same-sex marriage among adults was about the same as it was in the U.S.: 62%.

Alex Greenwich, chairperson of the advocacy group Australian Marriage Equality, said:

"Politicians have a responsibility to reflect this strong support and legislate for marriage equality as soon as possible. This is an issue about people, not politics, and we must remember that this straightforward reform is about families, neighbors, friends and workmates and our shared Australian values of fairness for all." 6

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More developments are inevitable.

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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. Symbol of a gay marriage. Free image https://www.stockfreeimages.com/
  2. Amnesty International Australia, Submission is downloadable from https://www.amnesty.org.au in PDF format.
  3. " 'Really Significant Step': Consensus report emboldens push for free vote on same-sex marriage," Sydney Morning Herald,. 2017-FEB-15, at: http://www.smh.com.au/
  4. "Australia Just Took A Significant Step Towards Marriage Equality," The Huffington Post, 2017-FEB-20, at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/
  5. Matthew Wade, "Australian CEOs to send Turnbull a letter urging marriage equality," Star Observer, 2017-MAR-16, at: http://www.starobserver.com.au/
  6. Tré Goins-Phillips, "Ben & Jerry’s announces bizarre new policy as part of a pro-gay marriage protest in Australia," The Blaze, 2017-MAY-25, at: http://www.theblaze.com/

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Copyright © 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2017-MAR-26
Author: B.A. Robinson

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