Senate debates

Tuesday, 28 November 2017


Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017; In Committee

12:55 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

Thank you for that response, Senator Fawcett. I think the debate over whether there's a need for more religious protections goes to the finding of our Senate inquiry report that, yes, there are issues here that need to be addressed but they should not and cannot be properly addressed through this marriage legislation—and they do not need to be addressed through this marriage legislation. Senator Smith's bill that we are debating today contains quite sufficient protections, religious provisions, religious protections and religious exemptions to cover the issues associated with marriage.

On other issues relating to religious protections, yes, there is a debate that needs to be considered, but it needs to be considered in the context of our antidiscrimination law. I note your statement: 'Oh, well, it's very complex and it's a very difficult thing to do.' I would hope that the fact that this issue of religious freedom has come up and we have been discussing it will lead to some greater support for the recognition of the need to have more comprehensive antidiscrimination laws and, in fact, to have a charter of rights or a bill of rights, so that we can join every other Western democracy in the world and have a comprehensive suite of protections rather than the patchwork of antidiscrimination laws that we currently have.

On the issue of conscientious objection, again, the Senate committee was very clear. In fact, the committee said:

The committee notes that providing ministers of religion and civil celebrants with a right to refuse to solemnise a marriage based on 'conscientious belief' was controversial, including due to a lack of precedent under Australian law.

The committee is guided by the limited legal usage of 'conscientious belief' but observes that it would be unprecedented to allow 'conscientious belief' to be used to discriminate against a class of persons.

And that's what these amendments are seeking to do. The report continues:

The committee is not inclined to disturb established anti-discrimination law and practice. Overall, the weight of evidence suggests that there are philosophical questions that go to the very definition of religion, marriage, and a democratic society that require full consideration.

And there was a quote from Anna Brown, from the Human Rights Law Centre, who said:

The idea that a personal moral view could be used to treat someone unfairly because of a particular attribute strikes at the very heart of the rationale for our discrimination laws to begin with, which is all about ensuring equal treatment regardless of particular personal attributes. Introducing a justification for discrimination on the basis of a personal moral view is giving a blank cheque to discriminate.

We are here debating equality. We are debating removing discrimination. That's what the Australian public asked us to do: to remove discrimination in our marriage laws, not to be introducing a blank cheque to discriminate.


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