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Religious Tolerance logo

2017-NOV. Australia:
Marriage Equality Bill is debated.
Senate passes bill with no amendments.

Part 31:

Forms of marriage 1

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2017-NOV-16: Debate starts in the Senate:

The bill's sponsor, Senator Dean Smith, who is openly gay, delivered the first speech. He said:

"I never believed the day would come when my relationship would be judged by my country to be as meaningful and valued as any other. The Australian people have proven me wrong. ... It wasn't just a vote of acceptance, it was that deep loving embrace of a big family." 2

An alternative bill that would have given business owners the religious freedom to discriminate against providing goods and services for same-sex marrying couples has been abandoned.

Senators Matt Canavan, Peter Dutton, and others within the governing Coalition would like to see amendments to the current bill. They are split on whether the amendments should be debated now, or deferred until 2018, presumably after the current bill becomes law. The amendments might:

  • Give civil marriage celebrants the right to discriminate against solemnizing same-sex marriages, as clergy will automatically have.

  • Guarantee the public freedom of expression to oppose same-sex marriages.

  • Allow parents to withdraw their children from school lessons that mention the existence of same-sex marriage.

Representative Andrew Leigh said:

"I do find it odd that some of the same people who were saying that we need to weaken protections against racial hate speech are now saying that we need to change laws in the opposite direction on religious discrimination. ... We can consider that issue, it's a pretty complicated one, but it can be kept separate from same sex marriage." 3

Attorney General George Brandis said:

"The Australian people do not want us to now have a long, navel-gazing debate about religious freedom. They want us to legislate to allow same sex couples to marry and they want us to get on with it." 2

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2017-NOV-22: The Australian Cabinet has authorized a study of religious freedom:

Philip Ruddock, who recently held the post of special envoy for human rights, has been appointed by the Cabinet to examine if Australian law adequately protects religious freedom. He has been asked to report back to parliament before 2018-MAR-31. This might provide background information for a separate religious freedom bill which could be introduced in 2018. 4

Prime Minister Turnbull noted that many proposed religious freedom amendments had been suggested for the bill on marriage equality that is currently before the Senate. However, many amendments extend beyond the marriage equality question. He believes that parliament needs to proceed with care on such matters. On NOV-22, he said:

"There is a high risk of unintended consequences when parliament attempts to legislate protections for basic rights and freedoms, such as freedom of religion. The government is particularly concerned to prevent uncertainties caused by generally worded bill of rights-style declarations."

Referring to Ruddock's assignment, Turnbull said:

This will be a timely expert stocktake to inform consideration of any necessary legislative reforms." 4

In the past, "religious freedom" in many countries has mainly involved the freedom of religious belief, speech, writing, assembly, proselyzing, etc. However, with the debate over marriage equality, religious freedom in the U.S., UK, and elsewhere has resulted in disagreements whether public accommodations should have the religious freedom to discriminate against potential customers. (Public accommodations are typically retail stores that sell good and services to the general public.) There has been considerable friction in the U.S. involving store owners who want to take action on their religious beliefs about human sexuality and marriage by discriminating against LGBT customers. This discrimination typically involves the owner denying customers services or products for the latter's upcoming same-sex marriage. These instances have resulted in many cases before state human rights tribunals, and federal courts. One appeal of a lawsuit involving a store owner's refusal to make a custom wedding cake for a gay couple has made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court! They are expected to rule on this case in mid-2018 which may have a widespread impact on U.S. culture.

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2017-NOV-23: The Labor Party rejects Coalition conservatives' changes to same-sex marriage bill in the Senate:

Parliamentary Conservatives appear to be split on the need for legislation to guarantee religious freedom in the country. Some want to add "religious freedom to discriminate amendments" to the existing marriage equality bill that is currently before the Senate. Others would be satisfied to pass that bill now and perhaps address religious freedom matters in a separate bill during 2018.

The Labor Party has rejected requests for amendments to the existing marriage bill.

One proposed amendment would allow parents who disagree with same-sex marriage to be able to pull their children out of classes where the topic is to be discussed. Labor party member, Louise Pratt, said:

"I call on all MPs to respect the outcome of the postal survey. We cannot entrench discrimination in the Marriage Act. it would be completely contrary to the outcome that the Australian community has asked for. ... We need to think very carefully before we give parents the right to interfere in secular education. For example should we give parents the right to withdraw children from a science class because they believe in creationism?"

Mark Dreyfus said that the bill is already:

"... a compromise [reached after an] all-party consensus committee report back in February. ... This is a bill for 100% of Australians. We are all better as a result of equality being given to all Australians. ... It would be immensely disappointing not just to me but for many other Australians if the removal of discrimination, which is what marriage equality is about, was seized on as an opportunity to actually increase discrimination." 5

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2017-NOV-29: Australian Senate passes same-sex marriage bill:

The Senate voted 43 to 12 to pass a bill that would make same-sex marriages available across the country. Not included were some "religious freedom to discriminate" amendments that had been requested by conservative Senators.

  • One amendment would have allowed owners of public accommodations (businesses that provide goods and services to the general public) to refuse to serve their potential customers. This would have included bakers, florists, wedding photographers, marriage venue suppliers, musicians, etc. if their religious beliefs caused them to oppose marriages by same-sex couples.

  • Another amendment would have allowed persons who solemnize civil marriages to opt out of marrying same-sex couples. (Clergy have always had the option to refuse to solemnize the marriage of any couple for any reason. That form of freedom to discriminate will continue unchanged.)

  • A third amendment would have allowed parents to withdraw their children from school classes that discuss sexual orientation.

A conservative Senator, Matt Canavan of the National Party said:

"I do not think we have made these changes in a way which advances [religious] rights [to discriminate] fully."

Senator Dean Smith, the sponsor of the bill, said that the bill is:

"... good for the soul [of all Australians.]"

Attorney-General George Brandis said that passing the same-sex marriage bill will:

"... demolish the last significant bastion of legal discrimination against people on the grounds of their sexuality. These late spring and early summer days of 2017 will always be remembered as a time when the Parliament heeded the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Australians that ours should be a society defined by greater decency, truer equality, more perfect freedom."

He may have overlooked the right of clergy to refuse to marry same-sex couples, This form of legal discrimination will continue.

He also said that the bill would send a message to young gays that:

"There is nothing wrong with you. You are not unusual. You are not abnormal. You are just you. You are a normal person and, like every other normal person, you have a need to love. How you love is how God made you. Whom you love is for you to decide and others to respect."

Although these comments are compatible with recent research into the epigentic cause of homosexual orientation, they are liable to be incendiary remarks to many conservatives -- particularly the remark about God.

Senator Penn Wong of the Labor Party said:

"The Australian people voted to lessen discrimination, not to extend it. ... We, the Senate, have respected that vote by rejecting amendments which sought to extend discrimination, or derail marriage equality."

Anthony Fisher, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney attacked the legitimacy of the postal vote. He noted that about 20% of eligible voters abstained from voting, that the actual support for same-sex marriage is only 49% -- a minority.

Clint McGilvray from the Equality Campaign said that, by the same logic, only 30.5% percent of voters voted 'NO'." He said:

"It is disappointing that Bishop Fisher is the only 'NO' case leader ungraciously refusing to accept the result."

This was the 21st attempt to pass a marriage equality bill in either the Senate or House of Representatives. The previous 20 attempts all failed.

The bill will now go to the House where it is also expected to pass in early December. Conservatives are expected to attempt to amend the House Bill. 6,7,8,9,10

Coalition leaders were still aiming at passage of the bill by DEC-07.

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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. Image showing types of marriages, by "ZIPNON." CC0 Creative Commons, Downloaded from https://pixabay.com/
  2. Senate begins debate on same sex marriage," Skynews, 2017-NOV-16, at: http://www.skynews.com.au/
  3. Dan Conifer, "Ministers at odds over whether to include religious protections in same-sex marriage bill," ABC News (Australia), 2017-NOV-19, at: http://www.abc.net.au/
  4. , "Philip Ruddock to examine if Australian law protects religious freedom," The Guardian, 2017-NOV-22, at: https://www.theguardian.com/
  5. Paul Karp, "Labor rejects Coalition conservatives' changes to same-sex marriage bill," The Guardian, 2017-NOV-23, at https://www.theguardian.com/
  6. Fr. Mark Hodges, "Australian Senate votes to legalize same-sex ‘marriage’," Life Site News, 2017-NOV-2017, at: https://www.lifesitenews.com/
  7. "Same-sex marriage bill clears Australia's Senate," Reuters, 2017-NOV-28, at: https://www.reuters.com/
  8. "Same-sex marriage bill passes Senate with no amendments," ABC News (Australia), 2017-NOV-28, at: http://www.abc.net.au/
  9. "Same-sex marriage bill will send message to gay people 'there is nothing wrong with you', George Brandis says," ABC News (Australia), 2017-NON-28, at: http://www.abc.net.au/
  10. Carlos Santoscoy, "Catholic Archbishop Claims Same-Sex Marriage 'Yes' Vote Has No Real Majority," ON TOP Magazine, 2017-NOV-27, at: http://www.ontopmag.com/

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Copyright © 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2017-DEC-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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