Wednesday, 29 November 2017
Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017; In Committee
This is intended, as I understand it, to ensure that the protection in section 47 of the Marriage Act currently covering religious celebrants is extended to all celebrants. That was the substance and effect of the second amendment that I moved last night. For the reasons I explained last night, which were also explained by Senator Leyonhjelm in his contribution a few moments ago, I agree with the principle. If it is right in law to allow a conscientious exemption for celebrants on religious grounds, then I do not believe that it is right to deny a conscientious exemption for other celebrants, whose conscientious objection may be on grounds other than religious faith. In a country where more than a quarter of people say that they do not have a religious faith, it seems to me, frankly, absurd to say we should respect the conscience of the three-quarters of the population who are religious but not respect the conscience of the quarter or so of the population who do not profess a religious faith.
As I say—and I expanded at greater length on the point last night and I won't delay the Senate by doing so again—I agree with what Senator Leyonhjelm is trying to achieve here, but for one thing. Senator Leyonhjelm, by proposed paragraph (b)(ii) of your amendment, nothing would prevent an authorised celebrant from making it a condition of his or her solemnising a marriage that requirements additional to those provided by this act are observed. Unfortunately, that requirement is expressed in unlimited terms. If your proposed amendment were to operate according to its terms, nothing could prevent, for example, a civil celebrant from making it a condition for solemnising a marriage that the couple who wish to be married acquired a good or service from a company associated with the celebrant, for example. Now, I don't think that's your intention, Senator Leyonhjelm, from what I've heard you say, but that's the effect of your amendment. In other words, it goes beyond conscientious grounds of objection. If proposed paragraph (b)(ii) were not part of your amendment, I could agree with it and I would agree with it, but because of the open-ended and unlimited nature of proposed paragraph (b)(ii) of your proposed new section, I cannot do so.