Wednesday, 15 February 2017
Select Committee on the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill; Report
Although I have been in this place for only a relatively short space of time, I suspect it is a rare occasion when a Senate or select committee report is tabled with this degree of consensus among the committee's members. I suspect it is even rarer when a report relates to an issue which has been so divisive in both the parliament and the general public. So at the outset I want to acknowledge the incredible work of my parliamentary colleagues in reaching consensus on the terms of this report and the issues it has identified as needing careful consideration as they relate to legislating for marriage equality.
In considering the exposure draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill, the committee focused on key provisions, including the nature and effect of proposed exemptions for ministers of religion and the nature and effect of the proposed amendments on the Sex Discrimination Act. It also considered potential amendments to improve the effect of the bill and the likelihood of it achieving the support of the Senate.
The Nick Xenophon Team's position on marriage equality has been clear for some time. Our support for legislation that enables same-sex couples to marry was never going to waver or be in doubt, regardless of the findings of this committee. However, this inquiry was an important opportunity to give due consideration to the form the legislation we believe should be introduced, should take. And because the Nick Xenophon Team supports same-sex marriage, subject to exemptions for churches and religious bodies, it was an opportunity to hear from these and other stakeholders.
Based on the submissions and evidence presented to the committee, I note that there is broad support for ministers of religion to have the right to refuse to solemnise a marriage that is not in accordance with their religion. However, the report acknowledged protections afforded within section 47 of the Marriage Act and the inconsistencies between proposed exemptions in the exposure draft and exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act. It concluded that the intersection of these laws is a complex matter that requires further expert consideration beyond the ambit of the exposure draft.
With respect to exemptions for a religious body or organisation the committee acknowledged the range of views on whether such bodies and organisations should have the right to refuse to provide facilities, goods or services for, or reasonably incidental to, same-sex marriages. The committee suggests that some of these broad terms should be defined and that 'reasonably incidental to' needs to connect to the provision of goods or services to a marriage ceremony.
Whether same-sex couples are allowed to marry in Australia is not a decision which directly affects me or my Nick Xenophon Team colleagues. I was able to marry my husband, Simon, and we recently celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary. But to LGBTIQ members of our community it is one of the greatest steps towards equality this country can take and does directly affect their lives and their relationships.
I hope that, just like the committee was able to come together on this report, we can come together as parliamentarians and get on with the job of making laws for this country so that all couples can be afforded the same rights in marriage.