Tuesday, 28 November 2017
Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017; In Committee
I rise briefly to speak in favour of the amendment that Senator Fawcett and I moved. I don't want to recap everything Senator Fawcett said, because he outlined the clear intent of this amendment and the issues at stake, but I just want to briefly put on the record my reasons for moving and supporting this amendment and my reasons for encouraging other senators to do so.
Firstly, on the issue of celebrants—senators will be aware that this is one of a number of amendments to broaden protections for civil celebrants in solemnising a same-sex wedding. I think this reflects widespread concern about the adequacy of protections in the bill we have before us about the role of celebrants in weddings. Senator Brandis and Senator Leyonhjelm are going to move other amendments to put in place more robust protections for civil celebrants. Each of them do so in a slightly different way, but all of them have the same objective, which is to extend the freedom granted to ministers of religion and celebrants who are religious to other celebrants who have a traditional and sincerely held belief in marriage and who may do so for religious or personal reasons, or for any other reason.
I think it's very important that we do that because, although religious freedom and religious belief is very worthy of protection—and no-one will doubt my views on that—I also believe that the conscientious views of others are equally worthy of protection. I bring to this issue my personal perspective, as someone who does not have religious faith. I am agnostic. I don't think that the values I form or hold are any less worthy of protection than the values that anyone forms or holds on the basis of their religious beliefs. Civil celebrants who have a sincere and genuinely held belief in the traditional definition of 'marriage' but who do so for secular or cultural reasons deserve no less protection than any other celebrant, and it would be equally wrong to force them, as everyone recognises it would be wrong to force a religious celebrant, to participate in a same-sex wedding. That's what this amendment seeks to do with respect to celebrants.
On the question of definitions of 'marriage'—I'm also strongly in support of this amendment. The first and most important question to ask is: what harm would occur from having two definitions of 'marriage', with equal standing, alongside each other in the Marriage Act?
My view is there is no harm caused by doing that. There is benefit, though, in doing so. As Senator Fawcett said, the question in the same-sex marriage survey was: should we change the law to allow same-sex couples to marry? This change will ensure that that takes place. The question in the survey was not: should we abolish the current definition of 'marriage' and replace it with a new one? Had that been the question, there may well have been a different answer. What I believe most Australians were voting for when they voted yes, like I did, was to change the law to remove the restriction on same-sex couples that currently prevents them from being married. This will do that.
It's important for symbolic reasons, as Senator Fawcett outlines. For the 4.9 million Australians who did vote no, it's not necessary for their belief in marriage to be abolished entirely. That's the symbolic reason, but I also believe down the track it may well be important for practical reasons, for legal reasons. When in the future a person is perhaps taken to a tribunal for sharing their belief in traditional marriage, they will take some comfort in and may derive some legal benefit from being able to point out that their view of marriage is also reflected in the law. Their belief in traditional marriage should not be able to be used to deny a gay couple from being married, but nor should it be extinguished entirely. It may also be of use, for example, for a teacher who wants to teach—consistent with their values and their school's values—their belief in the traditional version of marriage. They too will be able to point to the act and say: 'Yes, the act does, as it should, permit same-sex couples to marry. It has not abolished the traditional definition of "marriage" in doing so.' For those reasons, I urge senators to support these amendments.