Private Member's Bill for an Act to amend the Marriage Act 1961 to establish marriage equality for same sex couples (13/02/2012)

stephen-gay-bill-13feb12.jpgIntroduction

Mr Speaker, today I introduce a Bill for an Act to amend the Marriage Act 1961 to establish marriage equality for same sex couples, and for related purposes.

If enacted this bill will permit:

  • A minister of religion, a person authorised under a state or territory law, or a marriage celebrant authorised under the Marriage Act 1961:
    • To perform a marriage between same sex couples;
    • To have that marriage recognised in Australian law;
    • But will not require a Minister of Religion to solemnise a marriage where that is inconsistent with their religious beliefs.

I believe that God made us all equal but different – not differently equal.

The object of the Bill is to remove discrimination and advance equality. 

It will ensure that when same sex couples make a voluntary commitment, to be together for life, to the exclusion of all others, and they chose to have that relationship solemnised, it will be recognised at law in the same way that my marriage is.

Background:

While marriage is an old institution, it is not immutable. 

For example, it is now a voluntary union – it was not always so.

Young women were betrothed against their will or with no say.

Our concepts of marriage have changed in accordance with societal norms and they will continue to do so. 

This is reflected in the fact that the Commonwealth laws with regard to marriage have been amended by every Government since their inception, and there are many past aspects of marriage that we now look at with amusement, if not horror including: betrothal, dowry, a wife’s vow of obedience, the prohibition on certain inter-race or religious marriages and the idea of conjugal rights.

Labors’ Platform

In recognition of these changing societal norms, the Australian Labor Party changed its National Platform on 3 December 2011 so that it now reads:

“Labor will amend the Marriage Act to ensure equal access to marriage under statute for all adult couples irrespective of sex who have a mutual commitment to a shared life.”

The Platform was also amended to include the following:

“These amendments should ensure that nothing in the Marriage Act imposes an obligation on a minister of religion to solemnise any marriage.”

These amendments to our National Platform were the result of many years of campaigning by activists from all sides of politics. 

Within the Labor Party, I recognise the campaign efforts of the many hundreds of members of Rainbow Labor. 

We are not acting alone.

This Bill follows an international trend to end discrimination when it comes to marriage. 

Around the world there are now around 10 countries and even more places that allow same-sex marriages, including:

Netherlands 2001,  Belgium 2003, Canada 2003–05 (provincially in 2003, nationally in 2005),  Spain 2005, South Africa 2006, Norway 2009, Sweden 2009, Portugal 2010, Iceland 2010, Argentina 2010, Mexico City (Mex) 2010,

In the United States, 9 states now have these laws enacted, including:

Massachusetts (US) 2004, California (US) 2007–08 (now pending), Connecticut (US) 2009, Iowa (US) 2009, Vermont (US) 2009, Washington DC (US) 2009, New Hampshire (US) 2010 Washington State and New York state (US) 2011.

Here, as in the rest of the world, the introduction of this legislation follows decades of community debate and changes in public opinion.

On Popular Opinion

Opinion polls in Australia show that a majority of Australians are in favour of the changes that will be bought about by this Bill.  Popular opinion is of course critical to this change. 

But there is a stronger force which guides us in matters like this.  It is the right to equality – the human right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of sexuality.  Human Rights are inalienable rights – recognised and protected by governments – not created by them.  They should never by qualified by fear or prejudice.

ALP Record

The Australian Labor Party and the Australian Parliament has a proud history of enacting legislation to eliminate discrimination.

In 1975 we established the Racial Discrimination Act, in 1984 the Sex Discrimination Act, in 1992 the Disability Discrimination Act.

And in the first term of office, the ALP amended 85 pieces of legislation to remove remnants of discrimination against same-sex couples. 

These changes were supported by the Coalition parties.

The Bill before the House today continues that project. 

What it will mean

It will end discrimination against same sex couples who wish to have their relationship recognised by the State.

In practical terms it will give same sex couples the same rights and obligations in their marriage as I have in mine. 

But it also sends a powerful message that our belief in equality and a fair go for all is not limited by a person’s sexuality. 

Provisions of the Bill

Item 1 of Schedule 1 of this Bill will amend the definition of marriage that is currently in section 5 of the Marriage Act 1961 to read:

“marriage means the union of two people, regardless of their sex, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.

The Bill also amends section 46(1) of the Marriage Act to reflect this new definition of marriage.

Freedom of Religion

Religion plays an important part in Australian. 

We respect and celebrate our freedom of religion and the rights of Churches to participate in public debate. 

In some countries churches don’t have that right.

In Australia, the separation of church and state extends to the law of marriage.

Our laws of marriage are governed by civil law but recognise and respect the role of Religious bodies to practice their faith.

For this reason the Bill inserts a new sub-section into section 47 of the Act, to reinforce the existing provisions that ensure that a Minister of Religion is under no obligation to solemnise a marriage where the parties to the marriage are of the same sex.

This provision will ensure that the principle of religious freedom is maintained when it comes to the laws of marriage in Australia.

Conclusion

Mr Speaker, God made us all equal but different – not differently equal. 

That is why I believe it is our duty as Legislators to make this change, to do it with the support of members from all sides of this House, and in the best traditions of this Parliament.

ENDS

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