Marriage equality advocates have welcomed a multi-party Senate committee’s decision not to endorse proposals to allow legal discrimination specifically against same-sex couples in wedding services, saying it is a sign that progress is possible on marriage equality but adding that a timetable for legislation is needed.
Last year Attorney-General, George Brandis, issued draft marriage equality legislation that would have allowed civil celebrants, military chaplains and organisations with any religious link to turn away same-sex couples on the basis of religious belief or personal conscience.
Research has since shown 65% opposition to such provisions in the Australian community, rising to 90% in the LGBTI community with the same percentage of LGBTI people saying they would prefer to wait for marriage equality rather than accept provisions that allow them to be refused services.
Now a multi-party Senate committee has balked at endorsing the discriminatory provisions of the Brandis bill, opting instead for a clearer delineation between civil and religious celebrants, deferring to existing religious exemptions in federal law, and ensuring that where refusal of service is allowed it does not apply only to same-sex couples.
“We welcome this report, not only because it fails to endorse proposed discrimination against same-sex couples but because it shows progress on marriage equality is possible when our elected members work across party lines,” said Long-time marriage equality advocate and just.equal spokesperson, Rodney Croome.
“I commend those LGBTI community advocates who made such a compelling case against perpetuating legal discrimination against same-sex couples, and thank the Committee for its common sense approach. This is just the latest of many parliamentary inquiries into marriage equality, which together have canvassed all the implications imaginable, so there are no longer any excuses for inaction,” Croome added.
Parents and Friends national spokesperson, Shelley Argent, said, “I hope this is the start of rapid progress to the introduction and passage of marriage equality legislation. Our sons and daughters deserve to see a timetable for the introduction of legislation and a vote. Our next step will be a major campaign to convince the Coalition to allow a free vote so legislation based on the Committee’s recommendations can pass.”
Rainbow Families Victoria convenor, Felicity Marlowe, said, “We are gratified to see that the Committee listened to us and many others who expressed very serious human rights concerns and that they have not endorsed anti-discrimination exemptions for civil celebrants, service providers or businesses. The time for equality is now, but not at the cost of allowing even a little bit of discrimination to exist in any proposed Marriage Bill. Rainbow Families Victoria is firm in our commitment to full equality for couples who wish to marry the person they love. We will not accept a watered-down solution. Only a Marriage Equality Bill that celebrates acceptance, inclusion and love.”
The report also acknowledges proposals for a federal Religious Discrimination Act to better ensure the protection of religious rights and freedoms. Mr Croome welcomed the idea but said it should not delay marriage equality. “Religious discrimination is completely unacceptable in our society and should be unlawful under federal law, but it is already unlawful under state discrimination laws so there is no need to prioritise a federal religious discrimination law over marriage equality.”