Tuesday, 28 November 2017
Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017; In Committee
I want to place on the record the fact I won't be voting for this amendment and to explain why. I suspect the origins of this amendment might be traced to my own Freedom to Marry Bill, which I introduced in 2014. My view is that a civil celebrant who is not a public servant, not an employee of the government, should be free to choose who they want to marry, and that includes the gender of the people who are seeking to be married. One of my amendments is intended to achieve that, and I think it's the best of the three or four options—I'm not sure how many there are now—available.
However, what we're talking about here are public servants. This amendment seeks to create a category of celebrants, non-chaplain Defence Force celebrants, and to allow them to refuse to solemnise a marriage if they have a conscientious belief. Now this is, I think, contrary to the liberal principle of equality before the law. Equality before the law says the government does not discriminate. That's a very important principle. For a civil celebrant to discriminate in private life is a completely different matter, and I'm actually very uncomfortable with the extent to which the government already intrudes into that area of private belief. It is a civil society matter, and the government should really think twice about sticking its nose in there.
But when the celebrant is acting on behalf of the government, they should not distinguish between the people who come before them. It doesn't matter if the military celebrant, the public servant celebrant, has a conscientious belief; they are still bound by their job. They are acting on behalf of the government. In my 2014 bill I provided for that by saying they have to find somebody else. If they can't find somebody else, they still have to perform the wedding. But if they can find somebody else and get themselves out of that situation, then I have no objections to that. I think that same position would still apply. But this particular amendment takes exactly the opposite approach, and for that reason, because I think the government should never discriminate, then I'm afraid I can't support it.