Tuesday, 28 November 2017
Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017; In Committee
I rise to speak against the hefty set of amendments which seek to insert the Paterson bill into our current cross-party bill, even though the bill that was announced by Senator Paterson was, indeed, roundly rejected by senior Liberals, including the Prime Minister himself. I do note that these amendments do not include the right for businesses to deny goods or services to same-sex couples getting married, but, despite this, we need to remember that what is in these amendments will have a very significant impact on the intention of the bill before us, which is to legislate for marriage equality. Indeed, what is before us undermines the principle of marriage equality significantly and does not implement marriage equality, and I will explain why.
It extends the right to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians in significant ways. For example, the extension of exemptions around relevant marriage belief is extremely wide in terms of marital status, family structure, sexual relations and gender difference. However, it restrains the relevant marriage belief on those topics to be a feature only of a marriage between a man and a woman. It does not extend the same right to hold a belief about marriage to others, such as me, who believe in marriage equality and who, like more than 60 per cent of the Australian population, have voted for marriage equality. So you are entrenching the meaning of a relevant marriage belief such that the belief about marriage to be held, and which you have a right to prosecute within the community, is constrained to this doctrinal version of marriage. It is a one-sided protection of beliefs, privileging one set of beliefs above others.
For example, it allows a person who believes in abstinence before marriage to remove their child from a class that teaches sex education but does not allow a person who believes that marriage is not only the union of a man and a woman to take their child out of a class that teaches this. Now, that is not what the Australian public voted for. What is worse in this respect is that we have what is colloquially known as a 'no-detriment' clause included in these amendments—essentially, a right to do anything if it relates to a relevant marriage belief. It provides a sword for establishing a new offence of victimisation for people who hold such beliefs, but there is no counterprotection for anybody else. Indeed, essentially, these are exactly the same reasons why we have now before us—and rightly so—a religious freedoms inquiry to be undertaken. That is where we can look at the appropriate balancing of beliefs, not just on the question of marriage but on all other matters. Why should marriage be privileged in this regard as a topic of religious freedom, where someone may withdraw their child from a class on the basis of a teaching about marriage but not on the basis of being served pork within a classroom? What is before us today simply makes no logical sense. We cannot look at the issues before us unless we look at a suite of rights and protections.
We note that the amendment also extends exemptions to organisations and prevents detriment in relation to charitable status and allocation of Commonwealth funding, and widely creates a right to dramatically extend the right to discriminate in a broad set of exemptions from discrimination. I and others on this side believe that what we have before us in these amendments is fundamentally at odds with the will of the Australian people, who have voted to reduce discrimination and not to extend it.