Tuesday, 28 November 2017
Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017; In Committee
I rise to indicate that I will be supporting these amendments. Senator Fawcett set out very well some of the background. I commend Senator Fawcett and Senator Paterson and others who have put in a lot of work into considering some very carefully-crafted amendments that very much go to ensuring that, in honouring the vote of the Australian people in the postal survey, we do recognise and we do ensure that there are adequate and proper protections for religious freedom, for freedom of conscience and belief, and other areas. I think Senator Leyonhjelm said it well—and I agree with him—that freedom of conscience is not something that is just exclusive to people of faith. I think that is a self-evident point: some of us here are people of faith, other people are agnostic or atheist. That doesn't matter. That doesn't mean that people don't have a right to conscientious objection.
I did want to go to the point around the definition, because Senator Rice claimed in her contribution that, in fact, including a definition where both the union of a man and a woman and the union of two people would be equally recognised at law, equally called marriage and equally given all of the rights and protections that go with marriage is somehow discriminatory. I reject that. And I reject it completely because it appears to be suggesting that simply to mention that a marriage may be a union between a man and a woman is somehow discriminatory. It's not. It doesn't build a hierarchy. It doesn't do anything other than recognise that, in fact, there will be unions of a man and a woman, and there will be unions of people of the same sex, both recognised equally under law once this marriage bill passes.
I think that contrary to Senator Rice's point, I would say that this is actually a very unifying amendment because it recognises what will be the new reality that the Australian people have voted for. They will have voted that marriage can be a union between a man and woman—as it is currently reflected in law—and it can be the union of two people of the same sex. That's what the people have voted for. Those who voted yes haven't voted to obliterate the idea of there being a union between a man and a woman. If we look at what people who voted yes were looking for, that was to include in the definition of 'marriage' a union between two people of the same sex. They didn't vote to obliterate that. But, of course, it also goes to the point of saying—and this goes to a broader point, and a point I made in my speech on the second reading—as we progress through these amendments, we have the opportunity to effectively have a bill and a law that is unifying and reflects the fact that not just 40 per cent, or a tick under 40 per cent, of Australians voted no. But we know from all of the published opinion polls that a substantial number, in fact a majority of those people who voted yes, very much believe in freedom of religion and conscience. They actually want to see these things protected.
Wholesale rejection of the amendments to this bill, as I'm sure many in this chamber are proposing to do—and I think the Labor Party now en masse have said that they will do—is not the unifying way as we go forward and as we have the wash-up of this debate, which I think has been, in large part, a very respectful debate. This amendment, and why it should be supported, goes to ensuring that we have a balanced bill, that we don't completely disenfranchise 40 per cent of Australians and, indeed, that we reflect the will of many Australians who also voted yes and who believe that these concepts are very important and that protecting these concepts at law is very important. Many of those who have argued for the 'yes' case have said that they are just as committed, or more committed, to the idea of same-sex marriage, and they are just as committed, or more committed, to the idea of religious freedom and conscientious objections. Let's, as we progress, have sensible amendments—I think these are very sensible amendments—that actually look to ensure that, at the end of it, we've got a bill that is very much a unifying moment for Australia rather than one that will continue to pit one part of our community against another.