Marriage equality or marriage discrimination – a simple test

Based on media coverage over the past few days, it now seems possible that Commonwealth Parliament will – finally – hold a free vote in coming weeks on the right of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians to marry.

 

Of course, it is just as likely (perhaps even more likely) that the Turnbull Government will instead decide to hold a non-binding, voluntary postal vote on the subject, but that unnecessary, wasteful, divisive and downright offensive proposal is a subject for another day.

 

What I wanted to write about today is the kind of legislation that might ultimately be voted upon.

 

Because, amidst the understandable excitement of activists and advocates, the LGBTI community, our family members and friends, indeed all Australians who believe in fairness and the right of all people to marry the person they love, that progress might be imminent, we must not overlook a fundamental question:

 

Is it marriage equality, or is it marriage discrimination?

 

That is, does the Bill treat LGBTI-inclusive couples exactly the same as cisgender heterosexual couples, or will it introduce new special rights for civil celebrants and/or other wedding-related businesses to discriminate against us?

 

If it is the former, it is genuine marriage equality. If it is the latter, then it is something else, something lesser: marriage discrimination.

 

Unfortunately, based on multiple news reports it appears that the private member’s bill being drafted by Western Australian Liberal Senator Dean Smith will include new ‘protections’ that provide celebrants with the right to refuse to officiate the ceremonies of LGBTI couples.

 

Given religious celebrants already have this ability, presumably Senator Smith’s Bill will extend this ‘right to discriminate’ to (at least some) civil celebrants.

 

The argument that will inevitably be put forward to justify the differential treatment of couples under the Marriage Act 1961 is that it is necessary to protect the ‘religious freedom’ of the celebrants involved.

 

From my perspective, whether we should accept this argument, and indeed whether we should accept legislation that includes these types of ‘religious exceptions’, comes down to this simple test:

 

Will it treat LGBTI couples in the future differently from, and worse than, divorced people seeking to get (re-)married today?

 

Now, I admit this might seem to be a somewhat strange comparator, so please allow me to explain.

 

There is a wide range of religious beliefs about the rite of marriage, from groups who believe in marriage between more than two people, to others who do not believe in marriage between people of different faiths.

 

One of the more common religious beliefs about marriage, and indeed still the official position of what is the second-largest religious group in Australia (the Catholic Church, after ‘No religion’), is that divorce is a sin, and consequently people who have divorced should not be allowed to re-marry.

 

The Marriage Act currently allows churches, and religious celebrants, the ability to refuse to officiate the ceremonies of couples where one or both parties have already been divorced.

 

However, despite the fact some civil celebrants are Catholic themselves (and therefore may have some qualms about second, third or even fourth marriages), there is no equivalent right for civil celebrants to decline to perform these weddings.

 

And that seems like a reasonable distinction to make – because civil ceremonies under the Marriage Act are secular, rather than religious, in nature, there is no need to provide civil celebrants with the right to reject divorced people on the basis of their personal religious beliefs.

 

But, if it is not deemed essential to protect ‘religious freedom’ by allowing civil celebrants to discriminate on the basis of marital or relationship status now, then it should not be necessary to permit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status in the future.

 

Indeed, by comparing the rights of divorced people seeking to re-marry today with the rights of LGBTI couples under any future legislation that seeks to permit all couples to marry, it becomes clear that:

 

Amendments that provide civil celebrants with the ‘right to discriminate’ against LGBTI couples are not based on protecting ‘religious freedom’, but instead are legislating a right to homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia.

 

As a result, any legislation that allows LGBTI Australians to get married, but does so on the condition that civil celebrants are able to turn them away because of their personal prejudices, is not marriage equality, it is marriage discrimination.

 

The Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill that was released by the Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis, during the debate on the (traditional) plebiscite way back in October 2016 clearly failed on this front.

 

Not only did it significantly expand the right of civil celebrants to discriminate against LGBTI couples, it also clarified that defence force chaplains (who are public servants) could reject people on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status. It even allowed for-profit businesses, run by religious organisations on a commercial basis, to turn LGBTI couples away.

 

For all of these reasons, the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill was Unacceptable.

 

It is possible that Senator Smith and others have ‘learned’ from that experience, and that his private member’s bill will look significantly different to the Brandis Bill on the surface. The new ‘protections’ may not even explicitly target LGBTI couples, and instead be couched in more neutral terms.

 

But the real question will be how it treats LGBTI people in its substance. Irrespective of the wording used, if the legislation allows civil celebrants and/or other wedding-related businesses to treat LGBTI couples differently from, and worse than, divorced people seeking to re-marry today, it is simply homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia in a pretty wedding dress (or tuxedo).

 

And so, by all means get excited by the possibility that the interminable debate about the right of LGBTI couples to marry in Australia might soon be over. But we should also be on guard against any proposals that provide civil celebrants and others with the ‘right to discriminate’ against us.

 

We’ve waited long enough for genuine marriage equality. We shouldn’t settle, or be forced to settle, for marriage discrimination.

 

Untitled design-2

We should hold off on cutting the celebratory wedding cakes until we know exactly what is in the substance of any Bill, including any religious exceptions it may contain.

Dear Malcolm Turnbull. Pass. Marriage. Equality. Now.

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

Prime Minister of Australia

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600

Saturday 27 May 2017

 

Dear Prime Minister

Pass. Marriage. Equality. Now.

I am writing to you again about a subject that may be just another political problem for you to deal with, but for me is something very close to my heart.

And that is to ask you, and the Government you lead, to allow a parliamentary vote on marriage equality so that tens of thousands of couples around Australia can finally get married.

Couples like my fiancé Steven and me.

We’ve been together for almost nine years. We’ve been engaged for more than seven. And yet it is now looking increasingly unlikely Steven and I will be able to wed before our 10th relationship anniversary in August 2018.

The way things are going, we may not even be able to get married by our 10th ‘engagement-versary’ in January 2020.

All because we are two men, in love, but whose Parliament continues to refuse to treat that love equally to that between a man and a woman.

It’s not right. We know it. As opinion poll after opinion poll demonstrates, the vast majority of the Australian community know it. Deep down, you know it too.

You must know that all Australians deserve the same right to marry their partner that you enjoyed with your wife Lucy more than 37 years ago – and that right must not be denied simply because of the sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status of the people involved.

It’s time for you to act on that knowledge. It’s time for you to summon the courage to stand up to the homophobes who believe that the Marriage Act should define some couples as being more worthy of legal recognition, and acceptance, than others.

It’s time for you to bring on a free vote inside the Parliament to resolve this issue once and for all.

Steven and me – and literally tens of thousands of couples just like us – have waited long enough for the right to say ‘I do’. All it takes to fix this horrible, and frustrating, situation is for you to finally show some leadership.

In doing so, however, you must also ensure that any amendments that are passed do not simply replace one form of discrimination with another.

I make that request because the draft legislation released by your Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis, in October of last year, would have done exactly that.

The Exposure Draft Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill would have allowed same-sex couples to legally marry, but it would also have allowed civil celebrants, religious-operated ‘for profit’ businesses and even military chaplains to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people who simply wanted the right to wed.

Even worse, it singled out LGBTI couples, and LGBTI couples only, for this adverse treatment. Such homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia is unacceptable.

Changes to the Marriage Act 1961 should be aimed at removing these prejudices from Commonwealth law, not inserting them into new areas.

Given my serious concerns about the possibility of new ‘special rights to discriminate’ being introduced as part of any reforms, I started a petition on Change.org demanding that ‘Equal love should not be treated unequally’.

With little promotion, almost 800 people have signed this petition to you, endorsing the message that:

“Marriage equality should be exactly that: equality. It should not be undermined with provisions that treat the marriages of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians differently from anyone else.

“Unfortunately, your proposed Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill would create new special rights to discriminate against any couple that is not ‘a man and a woman’.

“Please replace this legislation with a Bill that achieves genuine marriage equality, and most importantly one that would not see LGBTI couples treated worse than their non-LGBTI counterparts.”

I attach a copy of this petition with this letter. I encourage you to read the many passionate comments shared by its signatories, including:

“Equality cannot be conditional: that means we must have the same laws and the same language for everyone.”

“I want my gay daughter to be exactly equal under the law, not almost equal!”

“Marriage equality must be equal, without any added clause that would allow discrimination.”

“There should not be any people more equal than others. And there should definitely not be anyone allowed to discriminate against LGBTI couples. Equal means equal. Full stop.”

“Equality should be equal, simple as that. The Bill should make all couples equal, not with some being more equal than others.”

“Equality has no exemption clauses.”

“To allow this bill to pass in its current form is to give approval to more homophobia. The current religious exemptions are enough – there is NO NEED to allow celebrants, or any business, to discriminate against LGBTI people and in fact to do so is just plain wrong. Change it now.”

“Everyone should have the right to marry if they wish. Allowing individuals such as celebrants and organisations that provide goods and services to discriminate is not acceptable. Equality is the aim and should be able to be achieved quite simply and easily.”

The full list of comments is available here: Equal Love should not be Treated Unequally Petition – Comments

These are people expressing not only their desire for marriage, but just as importantly the need for genuine marriage equality – with a Marriage Act that treats all couples exactly the same. Nothing more. Nothing less. And, really, that’s not much to ask for.

Finally, I am sure that you are already aware of the recent death of long-time LGBTI rights campaigner Peter ‘Bon’ Bonsall-Boone.

Earlier this year, in a much-shared video he and his partner of more than 50 years, Peter de Waal, personally urged you to pass marriage equality. Knowing that he was terminally ill, Bon said that:

“Marriage for Peter and me would be a great fulfilment of many years of association and love, and then I will know that we are officially a part of each other. Which we have been of course, for 50 years, but that’s unofficially part of each other. To make it official would be just great.”

Unfortunately, Peter and Bon never got their wish. Not because it couldn’t have been passed in time – it could have. Simply because our country’s politicians lacked the will to do so.

Obviously, that includes you too. As Prime Minister, you bear more responsibility than any other person in Australia for the failure of marriage equality to be passed this year. And last year. Indeed, you shoulder a significant share of the blame for the twenty months since you assumed ‘the top job’ in September 2015.

Peter and Bon are not the first couple in that period where one (or both) has passed away, denied forever their chance to be treated equally under the law. They are simply the most high profile.

Nor will they be the last to suffer that fate.

But the question of how many more LGBTI couples are permanently denied the right to legal equality is something you have control over.

You cannot undo the past, but, if you choose to act now, you can prevent other couples from experiencing the same heart-breaking outcome as Peter and Bon, and countless other couples before them.

The disappointing thing is, I don’t actually believe you entered politics with the desire to be the Prime Minister that unnecessarily extended the mistreatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians, and our relationships.

But that is the role that you are currently playing, and will continue to play, until you allow a parliamentary vote and ensure marriage equality is finally passed.

In the meantime, Steven and I, our family members and friends, and tens of thousands of other LGBTI couples and their families and friends – indeed all Australians who support the equal treatment of equal love – are left waiting, in a state of fading hope and growing desperation.

Please, Prime Minister, allow a free vote and Pass. Marriage. Equality. Now.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

Malcolm Turnbull Hands

How many more people die without enjoying equality is in your hands, Prime Minister Turnbull.

Equal Means Equal – Submission to Inquiry into Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill

Update 15 February 2017:

The Senate Committee Inquiry into the Exposure Draft Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill has been completed, with its report tabled in Parliament this afternoon (Wednesday 15 February 2017). A copy of the Report can be found here.

 

The Report itself includes some positives, and some areas of possible concern.

 

On the positive side, the Committee has acknowledged that adding a stand-alone right for ministers of religion to discriminate against same-sex couples is both unnecessary, and explicitly discriminatory (page 15).

 

The Committee also did not support the introduction of broad new rights for civil celebrants to discriminate against LGBTI couples, noting that they “are authorised to perform a function on behalf of the state and should be required to uphold Commonwealth law” (page 24).

 

On the other hand, the Committee has attempted to define a new category of ‘religious marriage celebrants’ – who are not ministers of religion but conduct marriages for faith communities – and then providing them with similar rights to discriminate as ministers of religion (page 23).

 

While that compromise may seem reasonable, some of these same celebrants also officiate at secular ceremonies, and under no circumstances should they be allowed to discriminate when they are effectively operating as a civil celebrant.

 

In the same way, the proposal that existing civil celebrants should be allowed to register as ‘religious marriage celebrants’, and therefore benefit from the same right to discriminate (page 24), must not apply to any situation in which they continue to oversee civil ceremonies.

 

The Committee also questioned the need for new special rights for religious bodies and organisations to discriminate against same-sex couples – although that is because it believes they may already be allowed to do so because of the overly-generous religious exceptions provided under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (page 31).

 

It also discusses, although doesn’t explicitly support, clarifying their ‘right’ to refuse to provide facilities, goods and services in situations that are “intrinsic to, directly associated with and intimately involved in a wedding ceremony” (page 32). Once again, this would unacceptably undermine a reform that is, at its heart, supposed to be about the equal recognition of equal love.

 

Finally, the Committee observed that “[i]n relation to military chaplains, the committee notes that the proposed amendment would not change the current law”, and then suggests the reintroduction of ‘marriage officers’ to provide an alternative method for LGBTI military couples to marry (page 24).

 

While it may not change existing law, a) there must not be a new stand-alone note to section 81 that singles out same-sex couples for adverse treatment and b) as public servants, paid for with our taxes, and with an obligation to serve all personnel equally, the right of military chaplains to discriminate in this way should be abolished.

 

With the Report finalised, pressure now returns to our 150 House of Representatives MPs, and 74 Senators (with two current vacancies), to find a way forward on marriage equality, and ensure it is passed as quickly as possible.

 

But it must also be done as fairly as possible. I would argue there is absolutely nothing in the Committee Report that would justify the inclusion of new special rights to discriminate against LGBTI couples in any marriage equality bill.

 

In which case, in the coming weeks and months it will be up to us to continue to remind Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull – and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, as well as the Greens and crossbench MPs and Senators, in fact anyone who will listen to us – that equal means equal, and that means passing marriage equality without new religious exceptions.

 

Original Post:

The Senate is currently conducting an inquiry into the Exposure Draft Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill. This is the legislation that the Government would have introduced had the marriage equality plebiscite been held, and had that vote been successful.

Full details of the inquiry can be found here. It is due to report on Monday 13 February 2017, although what happens afterwards remains unclear.

My submission to the inquiry, which focuses on the provisions of the Bill that seek to treat LGBTI couples differently to, and worse than, other couples, has now been published, and is reproduced below:

 

Committee Secretary

Select Committee on the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill

Department of the Senate

PO Box 6100

Canberra ACT 2600

samesex.marriage.sen@aph.gov.au

 

Friday 13 January 2017

 

Dear Committee Secretary

 

Submission on the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill

 

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission in relation to this inquiry, which is examining the Government’s Exposure Draft Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill (‘the Bill’).

 

In this submission, I will explain my personal reasons for opposing several provisions contained within the Bill, before addressing terms of reference a), b) and c) in detail. This will include my main recommendations for amendment to, and improvement of, the proposed legislation, before concluding with a short summary of this submission and its recommendations.

 

**********

 

Introduction: Equal Means Equal

 

I met my fiancé Steven in August 2008, two weeks after my 30th birthday and just one week after the wedding of my brother to his wife.

 

It was clear from the very beginning that this relationship was different from any that had come before. And I know that applies for both of us.

 

Within 12 months we began planning the rest of our lives together. Steven and I have lived together from January 2010 onwards, and now own a home together.

 

More importantly, we have been engaged to be married since 23 January of that same year.

 

That means, in exactly ten days’ time, we will have been waiting for the legal right to get married for a full seven years. Our engagement has already lasted longer than the marriages, from beginning to end, of many Australian couples.

 

All we want is exactly the same right to wed, and to have that wedding recognised under secular law, as my brother when he married his wife, and as my sister when she married her husband in 2006.

 

Significantly, the Bill that is being considered as part of this inquiry would allow Steven and I to finally ‘tie the knot’. That aspect of the Bill, contained in clause 1 (amending subsection 5(1) (definition of marriage) to “omit “a man and a woman”, substitute “2 people””), is obviously welcome.

 

However, if passed as drafted, a number of other provisions in the Bill would ensure that, rather than being treated the same as my brother and his wife, or my sister and her husband, this legislation would ensure Steven and I were subject to adverse, and discriminatory, treatment simply because of who we are.

 

The civil celebrant who officiated at the ceremony between my sister and her husband would have the ‘right’ to reject us because we are not “a man and a woman”.

 

Any ‘religious organisation or body’, broadly defined, that provided wedding-related facilities, goods and services would be able to turn us away because of our sexual orientation. And that ‘right’ would apply even where they operated for profit, and even though the same groups could not discriminate against my siblings.

 

In short, the Bill would establish two different classes of couples – ‘man and woman’ couples, versus everyone else – with the latter category, including Steven and me, enjoying lesser rights than the former.

 

While this legislation will deliver marriage, it will not deliver marriage equality. That outcome is unacceptable both to me, and to my fiancé Steven.

 

There is no legitimate reason why we should be treated worse than my brother and my sister were when they decided to marry their respective partners. Because we are not ‘worse than’ anyone, them included.

 

Equal means equal. Or at least it should – and I sincerely believe that principle must be reflected in the Marriage Act.

 

**********

  

Term of reference a) the nature and effect of proposed exemptions for ministers of religion, marriage celebrants and religious bodies and organisations, the extent to which those exemptions prevent encroachment upon religious freedoms, and the Commonwealth Government’s justification for the proposed exemptions.

 

The Bill proposes four new and/or expanded special rights to discriminate against couples that include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians. All four are unnecessary and unjustified. All four should be removed from the legislation to help achieve genuine marriage equality.

 

  1. A specific right for ministers of religion to discriminate against couples that are not “a man and a woman”

 

I should begin by noting that I agree with the ability of authorised celebrants who are ministers of religion to refuse to perform any religious ceremonies, including weddings, that do not fit within the beliefs of their religion. That obviously includes the right to refuse to marry LGBTI couples, even if I personally believe that such discrimination is abhorrent.

 

However, it is important to remember that ministers of religion already have the right to refuse to perform any ceremony under existing section 47 of the Marriage Act 1961:

 

Ministers of religion not bound to solemnise marriage etc.

Nothing in this Part: (a) imposes an obligation on an authorised celebrant, being a minister of religion, to solemnise any marriage…”

 

If the right for LGBTI couples to marry was finally recognised under Commonwealth law, that section would plainly allow ministers of religion to deny them service. Therefore, no new amendments are required to the Act to allow ministers of religion to refuse to officiate LGBTI weddings.

 

In which case, the proposed repeal of section 47, and replacement with a more detailed right to discriminate, is entirely unnecessary. In particular, proposed new sub-section 47(3) states:

 

Refusing to solemnise a marriage that is not the union of a man and woman

(3) A minister of religion may refuse to solemnise a marriage despite any law (including this Part) if:

(a) the refusal is because the marriage is not the union of a man and a woman; and

(b) any of the following applies:

(i) the refusal conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of the religion of the minister’s religious body or religious organisation;

(ii) the refusal is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion;

(iii) the minister’s conscientious or religious beliefs do not allow the minister to solemnise the marriage.”

 

The inclusion of this unnecessary new sub-section, which highlights the ability of ministers of religion to discriminate against one class of couple (LGBTI people) and one class of couple only, is discriminatory and should be rejected.

 

Recommendation 1: Proposed new section 47, and especially sub-section 47(3), is both unnecessary and discriminatory and should be removed from the Bill. Existing section 47 of the Marriage Act would continue to allow ministers of religion to refuse to perform any marriage ceremony.

 

**********

 

  1. A new special right for civil celebrants to discriminate against couples that are not “a man and a woman”

 

Currently, only ministers of religion have an explicit ‘opt-out’ clause under the Marriage Act 1961, allowing them to decline to perform any marriages with which they disagree.

 

No equivalent provision or power exists for civil celebrants – which is entirely reasonable, given they are essentially ‘small businesses’, providing a service that the government has authorised them to, and explicitly not acting on behalf of any religion or religious organisation.

 

However, the Bill proposes an entirely new special right for ‘secular’ civil celebrants to reject LGBTI couples just because of who they are. Proposed new section 47A reads:

 

Marriage celebrants may refuse to solemnise marriages

(1) A marriage celebrant (not being a minister of religion) may refuse to solemnise a marriage despite any law (including this Part) if:

(a) the refusal is because the marriage is not the union of a man and a woman; and

(b) the marriage celebrant’s conscientious or religious beliefs do not allow the marriage celebrant to solemnise the marriage.”

 

This is, to put it simply, outrageous.

 

There is absolutely no reason why someone who is engaged in small business should be able to discriminate in such a way, against people who are LGBTI, solely because of their personal beliefs. It is the equivalent of encouraging celebrants to put up a sign saying ‘no gays (or lesbians, or bisexuals, or trans people, or intersex people) allowed’.

 

The fact that, unlike ministers of religion who are able to discriminate against any couples, civil celebrants will only be allowed to discriminate against LGBTI couples, merely highlights the homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia that lies at the heart of this proposed new section.

 

And, with civil ceremonies now accounting for three-in-four of all mixed-sex weddings[i], and likely forming an even higher proportion of LGBTI weddings (at least in part because some religions will continue to turn couples away that are not “a man and a woman”), this prejudiced provision will impact on a large number of LGBTI couples. For all of these reasons, it should be rejected.

 

Recommendation 2: Proposed new section 47A, which establishes an entirely new special right for civil celebrants to discriminate against LGBTI couples, and LGBTI couples only, is discriminatory and should be removed from the Bill.

 

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  1. A new special right for religious bodies and organisations to discriminate against couples that are not “a man and a woman”

 

Unfortunately, under the Bill it is not just civil celebrants who will be allowed to put up unwelcome (on multiple levels) signs saying ‘no gays, or lesbians, or bisexuals, or trans people, or intersex people, allowed.’

 

Religious bodies or organisations will also be able to do so under proposed new section 47B, which reads:

 

Religious bodies and organisations may refuse to make facilities available or provide goods or services

(1) A religious body or a religious organisation may, despite any law (including this Part), refuse to make a facility available, or to provide goods or services, for the purposes of the solemnisation of a marriage, or for purposes reasonably incidental to the solemnisation of a marriage, if:

(a) the refusal is because the marriage is not the union of a man and a woman; and

(b) the refusal:

(i) conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of the religion of the religious body or religious organisation; or

(ii) is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion.”

 

There are a number of significant problems with this provision.

 

First and foremost, by not defining what a ‘religious body’ or ‘religious organisation’ is, it is difficult to know exactly who will be able to exercise this new specific right to discriminate (with the possibility that the number of groups permitted to turn away LGBTI couples will be quite high).

 

Secondly, by not defining the phrases ‘for the purposes of the solemnisation of a marriage, or for purposes reasonably incidental to the solemnisation of a marriage’, (and especially the term ‘reasonably incidental’) it is also difficult to know the scope of this new special right to discriminate.

 

However, even if both the number of groups allowed to discriminate, and the exact circumstances in which they were allowed to do so, were known, this proposed new section would still be fundamentally flawed.

 

That is because it authorises discrimination against LGBTI couples far beyond any right to refuse to conduct weddings in places of worship, like churches, which would likely be justified on the basis of religious freedom.

 

Instead, it permits adverse treatment of couples who are not “a man and a woman” in a wide range of circumstances, including in hiring venues where it is not a place of worship, and in the provision of goods and services even where this is engaged in on a commercial basis, for profit.

 

One consequence of this is that it would establish a negative precedent for the future expansion of this right to discriminate to other individuals and businesses, such as florists, bakers, photographers or wedding reception venues, who are not religious bodies or organisations, to refuse service to LGBTI couples.

 

If other commercial enterprises are allowed to do so (because they are run by religious groups), and even civil celebrants are permitted to discriminate on the basis of their personal beliefs, it is entirely predictable that additional groups will demand their own ability to reject couples who are not “a man and a woman.”

 

Despite all of the above faults, however, the major flaw with the provision is that it is a direct attack on LGBTI couples and LGBTI couples only. It singles out any relationship that doesn’t fit within the definition of “a man and a woman” for special, and detrimental treatment – and literally nobody else.

 

That makes this proposed provision homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic, and it too should be rejected.

 

Recommendation 3: Proposed new section 47B, which establishes an entirely new right for religious bodies or organisations to discriminate in the provision of wedding-related facilities, goods and services against LGBTI couples, and LGBTI couples only, is discriminatory and should be removed from the Bill.

 

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  1. A specific right for Defence Force chaplains to discriminate against couples that are not “a man and a woman”

 

The Bill’s fourth and final new and/or expanded special right to discriminate against LGBTI couples is provided to Defence Force chaplains.

 

This is established through the addition of a note to existing section 81 of the Marriage Act 1961, which deals with the rights of Defence Force chaplains to refuse to solemnise weddings. That note would read:

 

“Example: a chaplain may refuse to solemnise a marriage that is not the union of a man and a woman where the refusal conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of the chaplain’s church or faith group.”

 

While these chaplains are ministers of religion, and therefore would potentially have the ability to discriminate against any couple, they are also a special class of celebrant, because:

 

  • They are public servants, paid for out of everyone’s taxes – LGBTI and non-LGBTI, and religious and non-religious, alike[ii], and
  • In their duties, Defence Force chaplains are expected to “administer spiritual support to all members, regardless of their religion”[iii] (emphasis added).

 

Therefore, permitting discrimination by Defence Force chaplains fails in principle on two counts:

 

  • As public servants, they should not be able to discriminate against members of the public simply because of their personal beliefs – otherwise we are allowing the Australian equivalent of Kim Davis, and
  • In providing spiritual support for Defence Force personal, they are expected to do so for all people, not just those who are cisgender and heterosexual.

 

Which means that, if Defence Force chaplains are to continue to be authorised to officiate any weddings, it must include the weddings of LGBTI people. To do otherwise is, once again, homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic, and it should be rejected.

 

Recommendation 4: The proposed new note to section 81, which establishes a specific right for Defence Force chaplains to discriminate against LGBTI couples, and LGBTI couples only, is discriminatory and should be removed from the Bill. As public servants who are obligated to support all Defence Force personnel, these chaplains should be required to marry all couples, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, otherwise their ability to officiate wedding ceremonies should be removed.

 

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As suggested by term of reference a), the above four new and/or expanded special rights to discriminate against LGBTI couples have ostensibly been included in the Bill by the Government on the basis of the need to protect ‘religious freedom’.

 

However, I would argue that, upon closer inspection, they do no such thing. Rather than protecting religious freedom, these provisions instead protect homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia and merely use religion as an excuse.

 

This can be seen when one remembers that there are a wide variety of different religious beliefs about marriage.

 

Some people believe only cisgender heterosexual couples should be able to marry.

 

Others do not believe in divorce, and therefore oppose the right of people to participate in second, or subsequent, weddings.

 

Some even continue to hold the (once widespread) belief that people of different faiths should not marry – and, in extreme cases, that people of different types of christianity should not marry.

 

I should note that I do not share any of the above beliefs. But others do, and I have no doubt that their views are sincerely held.

 

Given this, there is no possible justification for the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill to allow civil celebrants, religious bodies and organisations and Defence Force chaplains to discriminate against LGBTI couples but not discriminate against divorced people, or against interfaith couples (or on the basis of other religious beliefs about marriage).

 

The fact that it does so, establishing new special rights to discriminate against LGBTI couples, and only LGBTI couples, reveals the fundamental truth of this Bill: it has very little to do with protecting religious freedom, and is more concerned with ensuring people who hold anti-LGBTI views are free to discriminate against couples who are not “a man and a woman” in a wide variety of circumstances.

 

In effect, the Bill privileges homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic beliefs, rather than protecting religious beliefs.

 

That is unacceptable, and merely confirms the earlier recommendations in this submission that these new and/or expanded special rights to discriminate are discriminatory and should be removed from the Bill.

 

I should note here that the Government, having revealed its discriminatory intentions, cannot now turn around and extend these new special rights to discriminate to cover divorced people and interfaith couples because they will only be doing so to cover up the anti-LGBTI nature of its original legislation.

 

Instead, the Government, and Parliament, should focus on amending the Bill to ensure that all couples are (finally) treated in exactly the same way – that equal means equal.

 

**********

 

Term of reference b) the nature and effect of the proposed amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 and the Commonwealth Government’s justification for it.

 

Currently, sub-section 40(2A) of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, the legislation that establishes Commonwealth anti-discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, ensures that “anything done by a person in direct compliance with the Marriage Act 1961” cannot be the subject of an anti-discrimination claim under that legislation.

 

This is justified because it would be entirely unreasonable to hold civil celebrants and others accountable for discriminating against LGBTI couples (because they legally cannot marry them) that has been made compulsory since the Howard Government prohibited marriage equality in August 2004.

 

The amendment of the Marriage Act, to permit all couples to marry irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, and the removal of this requirement, should therefore be an opportunity to remove or at least significantly curtail this exception to the protections contained in the Sex Discrimination Act.

 

Indeed, the only provision of the Marriage Act that should require an exception would be the ongoing ability of ministers of religion to discriminate against any couples, as established by existing section 47.

 

Consequently, sub-section 40(2A) of the Sex Discrimination Act could, and I would argue should, be restricted to the following:

 

“Nothing in Division 1 or 2, as applying by reference to section 5A, 5B, 5C or 6, affects anything done by a person as authorised by section 47 of the Marriage Act 1961” (emphasis added).

 

Instead, the Bill as drafted actually proposes to expand the exception to the Sex Discrimination Act, because it would permit any discrimination that is ‘as authorised by’ the entirety of the Marriage Act, as redrafted.

 

This is obviously intended to capture all four of the new and/or expanded special rights to discriminate against LGBTI couples outlined earlier. Given the inclusive way this amendment is framed, it may even permit additional forms of anti-LGBTI discrimination.

 

In my view, this is a perverse outcome. Legislation that is intended to remove a long-standing inequality, and injustice, affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians, by finally allowing them to marry, actually expands relevant exceptions to the Sex Discrimination Act, thereby increasing the circumstances in which they can lawfully be discriminated against.

 

Once again, this confirms the inappropriateness of the four new and/or expanded special rights to discriminate against LGBTI couples. The proposed amendment to section 40(2A) of the Sex Discrimination Act is also inappropriate, and should be replaced with a narrower exception to that legislation.

 

Recommendation 5: The proposed expansion to the exception contained in sub-section 40(2A) of the Sex Discrimination 1984, allowing discrimination ‘as authorised by’ the Marriage Act 1961, expands the circumstances in which LGBTI people can be discriminated against. This is inappropriate, and this provision should be removed from the Bill. It should be replaced by an amendment that limits this exception to discrimination that is authorised by existing section 47 of the Marriage Act, which allows ministers of religion (and only ministers of religion) to discriminate.

 

**********

 

Term of reference c) potential amendments to improve the effect of the bill and the likelihood of achieving the support of the Senate.

 

In terms of amendments to improve the effect of the Bill, I have already made five recommendations to significantly improve its impact on the recognition of the human rights of LGBTI Australians. In this section, I will nominate two further areas of necessary reform.

 

  1. The Bill should refer to marriage equality rather than same-sex marriage

 

The Bill, as drafted, would allow all couples, including those that involve lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals, to marry under the law. This is an important reform, and it will substantively improve the lives of many LGBTI Australians.

 

However, the title of the Bill – the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill – only refers to ‘same-sex marriage’, rather than marriage equality.

 

This is problematic because the term same-sex marriage does not include all LGBTI couples. It specifically excludes some transgender people (especially those who identify as non-binary or gender-fluid) and some intersex people.

 

The term same-sex marriage should be replaced with marriage equality in the title of the Bill, to ensure that, alongside recognising the substantive human rights of LGBTI Australians, it symbolically recognises the diversity of these communities.

 

Of all major contemporary public policy issues, marriage is a subject in which both the substantive, and the symbolic, are equally important.

 

Recommendation 6: The Bill should be retitled the Marriage Amendment (Marriage Equality) Bill.

 

**********

 

  1. The Bill should allow couples to apply to have specified pre-existing unions recognised as marriages

 

The wait for marriage equality to be recognised under Australian law has been long, often painfully so.

 

It is entirely understandable that, in the interim, many LGBTI couples have chosen alternative ways to have their relationships recognised. This includes many who have travelled overseas (or to consulates within Australia), where marriage equality is lawful, to wed.

 

It also includes couples who have decided to have their relationships recognised under state and territory relationship recognition schemes, including civil partnerships and registered relationships, with or without an associated formally-recognised ceremony.

 

While the Bill will, thankfully, recognise the former (overseas marriages) as marriages, it will not provide any avenue for the latter (civil partnerships or registered relationships) to be recognised in a similar manner.

 

Allowing couples in this situation to apply to have their existing relationship recognised as married would be an acknowledgement of the fact that their mutual commitment to a shared life, and wish to be married, has existed since the date of their commitment being made.

 

It would also acknowledge the discrimination that these couples have endured as a result of the exclusionary nature of the Commonwealth Marriage Act 1961.

 

Recommendation 7: The Bill should allow couples to apply to have specified pre-existing unions, including civil partnerships and registered relationships under state and territory law, to be recognised as marriages where they so desire.

 

**********

 

  1. Marriage equality should be passed as a matter of priority

 

Term of reference c) asks for ‘potential amendments to improve the… likelihood of achieving the support of the Senate.’ With all due respect, I believe that to be an inappropriate request.

 

The real question is why the Senate – and the House of Representatives – have not yet passed legislation to recognise the equality of our relationships, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

 

It has been more than a dozen years since the Howard Government’s homophobic ban on marriage equality was first passed by the Commonwealth Parliament.

 

That means LGBTI couples have now experienced more than a dozen years of discrimination, treated as distinctly ‘2nd class’ in comparison to the relationships of cisgender heterosexual Australians.

 

Tragically, in those dozen years, there have also been countless LGBTI relationships where one or both members have passed away without being able to have their relationship recognised under Commonwealth law. The longer the ban continues, the more relationships will be denied justice.

 

That same dozen years has witnessed much ‘sound and fury’ within the Commonwealth Parliament on this issue, including countless inquiries in the House of Representatives and the Senate (with this one now added to the list), ultimately achieving nothing – because we still cannot marry.

 

So, rather than asking how the Bill can be amended to improve the chances of Senators voting for it, as if just one more ‘compromise’ will be enough to secure sufficient support to get it over the line, we should be asking why won’t Senators, and their colleagues in the lower house, do their jobs and pass marriage equality as a matter of priority.

 

Recommendation 8: The Australian Parliament should pass marriage equality as a matter of priority, because LGBTI Australians have waited long enough – too long, in fact – to have their relationships recognised as equal under secular law.

 

**********

 

Conclusion

 

In this submission, I hope I have successfully conveyed my passion, not just for the subject of marriage equality generally, but also about the issue of marriage equality and religious exceptions specifically – and why any amendments to the Marriage Act should ensure that all couples are treated exactly the same.

 

I am glad that these issues are being examined by the Senate, through this inquiry, and I look forward to the Committee making recommendations to improve both the substance, and the symbolism, of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill.

 

Thank you for your consideration of this submission. I would welcome the opportunity to speak to the matters raised above at a Committee hearing, should one (or more) be held.

 

I have also included a Summary of this submission on the following two pages.

 

Please do not hesitate to contact me, at the contact details provided with this submission, should you require clarification, or further information.

 

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

 

**********

 

Summary

 

Marriage equality is an important issue that affects tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, Australians, including couples like my fiancé Steven and me.

 

We have been together for more than eight and a half years, and engaged for almost seven years. All we want is the right to be married under secular law, in exactly the same way that my brother married his wife, and my sister married her husband.

 

Unfortunately, while the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill would allow us to marry, it would not do so equally, because it would expose us to potential discrimination that my siblings did not experience.

 

It is marriage, but not marriage equality. And that is not good enough, because equal means equal – and that principle should be reflected in the Marriage Act.

 

I make seven recommendations to improve the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill, as well as an eighth, that marriage equality should be passed as a matter of priority.

 

Recommendation 1: Proposed new section 47, and especially sub-section 47(3), is both unnecessary and discriminatory and should be removed from the Bill. Existing section 47 of the Marriage Act would continue to allow ministers of religion to refuse to perform any marriage ceremony.

 

Recommendation 2: Proposed new section 47A, which establishes an entirely new special right for civil celebrants to discriminate against LGBTI couples, and LGBTI couples only, is discriminatory and should be removed from the Bill.

 

Recommendation 3: Proposed new section 47B, which establishes an entirely new right for religious bodies or organisations to discriminate in the provision of wedding-related facilities, goods and services against LGBTI couples, and LGBTI couples only, is discriminatory and should be removed from the Bill.

 

Recommendation 4: The proposed new note to section 81, which establishes a specific right for Defence Force chaplains to discriminate against LGBTI couples, and LGBTI couples only, is discriminatory and should be removed from the Bill. As public servants who are supposed to support all Defence Force personnel, these chaplains should be required to marry all couples, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, otherwise their ability to officiate wedding ceremonies should be removed.

 

Recommendation 5: The proposed expansion to the exception contained in sub-section 40(2A) of the Sex Discrimination 1984, allowing discrimination ‘as authorised by’ the Marriage Act 1961, expands the circumstances in which LGBTI people can be discriminated against. This is inappropriate, and this provision should be removed from the Bill. It should be replaced by an amendment that limits this exception to discrimination that is authorised by existing section 47 of the Marriage Act, which allows ministers of religion (and only ministers of religion) to discriminate.

 

Recommendation 6: The Bill should be retitled the Marriage Amendment (Marriage Equality) Bill.

 

Recommendation 7: The Bill should allow couples to apply to have specified pre-existing unions, including civil partnerships and registered relationships under state and territory law, to be recognised as marriages where they so desire.

 

Recommendation 8: The Australian Parliament should pass marriage equality as a matter of priority, because LGBTI Australians have waited long enough – too long, in fact – to have their relationships recognised as equal under secular law.

 

Whenever marriage equality is finally passed by the Commonwealth Parliament, and I genuinely hope it does so soon, it must ensure that all couples are treated equally, because we cannot end up with a situation where ‘some couples are more equal than others’.

 

equalmeansequal-4

 

Footnotes:

 

[i] “[T]he proportion of marriage ceremonies overseen by a civil celebrant increased again to 74.9 per cent of all marriages in 2015”: Marriage and Divorces, Australia, 2015, Australian Bureau of Statistics, November 2016.

[ii] The Defence Jobs Australia website indicates that chaplains are paid over $94,200 following completion of basic training.

[iii] Also from the Defence Jobs Australia website.

Pride, Pressure and Perseverance

I am a naturally introverted person, and someone who is more likely to express an opinion about an issue of public policy, than to wear my heart on my sleeve.

 

Which means that, when it comes to something like the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, I am more likely to understand the philosophical importance of ‘pride’ – of a community coming together to express pride in who they are – than to actually feel it. Think more political expression than personal emotion.

 

But today is different. Today I definitely feel pride, deeply and sincerely, in my community, in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer Australia.

 

I feel pride not just because of what we as a community have accomplished, but also because of the reasons we took on the task in the first place.

 

By now you would know that, this morning, the Australian Labor Party caucus formally decided to block Malcolm Turnbull’s plebiscite on marriage equality.

 

Given the numbers in the Senate, and the already stated positions of the Greens, Nick Xenophon Team, Derryn Hinch and even Liberal Senator Dean Smith, that means the plebiscite’s enabling legislation will not pass the upper house, when it is ultimately voted on (whether that is in a few weeks’, or a few months’, time).

 

We have, through collective effort, killed the plebiscite. It merely remains to be buried.

 

I probably don’t need to explain to regular readers of this blog just how hard many, many people have had to work to make that happen – in the face of stiff opposition.

 

The plebiscite was the policy of not one but two Prime Ministers, and of a (narrowly) re-elected Liberal-National Government.

 

It had a vocal cheer squad across large sections of the mainstream media, and even many of those who knew it was poor public policy nevertheless urged us to accept it as a supposedly ‘pragmatic’ way forward.

 

It was, at least initially, popular in the electorate – although now, after we have spent months painstakingly highlighting the fact it is both non-binding, and extraordinarily expensive, it is less popular than Donald Trump.

 

The Government even had the easiest argument to make – ‘Let the people decide’ – despite the fact using a plebiscite to determine the rights of a minority group is a perversion of Australia’s system of representative democracy.

 

And it would have been comparatively ‘easy’ to adopt the path of least resistance, to roll over and accept the offer that was on the table, and the possibility it could have led to marriage equality by the middle of next year.

 

Given we have already been waiting so long for marriage equality, and that there are many couples who have now been engaged for many years, or even decades, waiting to simply be treated equally under Commonwealth law, that may have even been an understandable choice.

 

But it would not have been the right one. And I am proud we did not make it.

 

The LGBTIQ community decided, following much debate over the course of several months, not to roll over and ‘put up with’ a fundamentally flawed model put forward by people who clearly did not have our best interests at heart.

 

Instead, we stood up to say no to their unnecessary, wasteful and divisive plebiscite.

 

We stood up to say that, given marriage equality is, at its heart, about fairness, the manner in which it is recognised must be fair as well (contrary to Attorney-General George Brandis’ recent bleatings that ‘the ends justifies the means’).

 

Above all, we stood up to say that, while a plebiscite may have helped some members of our community to have their rights recognised more quickly, it would also have caused real and potentially long-lasting harm to young and vulnerable members of the LGBTIQ community, and to rainbow families.

 

And that trade-off was unacceptable to us.

 

Which means that, as well as having the right objective, we were also motivated by the right reasons – and that makes me immensely proud, too.

 

As an aside, I am also personally satisfied in the small but hopefully meaningful role I played in this much broader collective effort – whether that was by writing multiple submissions and letters to decision-makers, engaging in community education, refining arguments and messaging, conducting my own survey to ascertain community attitudes towards the plebiscite or even designing simple little memes that somehow managed to reach a wide audience.

 

As with any significant campaign, there are obviously many, many people (too many to event attempt to name here) who have all helped achieve this particular victory. I am just happy to be among them.

 

Of course, this is not the ultimate success that we crave – the equal recognition of our relationships under the Marriage Act 1961, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

 

Defeating the plebiscite is just another battle (albeit a significant one) on the long road towards that objective. And there are, unfortunately, plenty more battles left to fight to reach that goal.

 

Which means that, rather than being able to sit back and rest on our laurels at this point, we must keep the pressure up – just as we have done for the past 12 years.

 

We must keep the pressure up on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a man who claims to support the LGBTIQ community generally, and marriage equality specifically. Well, if that is the case, then it is his responsibility to actually demonstrate that support by providing a free vote in the Parliament, so that this issue can be resolved as quickly as possible (and potentially before the end of this year).

 

And if Turnbull is unwilling or unable to lead on this (and all indications are that he will not show the same leadership that Bill Shorten today has), then we must keep the pressure up on other MPs and Senators within the Coalition who back marriage equality, and encourage them to follow their conscience and cross the floor to support the legislation put forward by Labor and/or the Greens.

 

Hon Bill Shorten MP Official portrait 20 March 2013

In blocking the plebiscite, Bill Shorten has shown the leadership that Malcolm Turnbull sadly has not.

 

We must also keep the pressure up on the Government over their proposals, released last night, to dramatically expand religious exceptions as part of any amendments to the Marriage Act – including by providing civil celebrants with the power to effectively put up a sign saying ‘No gays allowed’, and religious-operated businesses and services to turn away LGBTIQ couples.

 

Anything beyond the existing right of ministers of religion to refuse to officiate a ceremony is unacceptable and must be rejected.

 

And we must keep the pressure up by continuing to defend our principled stance against the plebiscite.

 

It is inevitable that many within the Liberal and National Parties will now turn around and blame the LGBTIQ community, and the Australian Labor Party for listening to us, for their failure to achieve marriage equality in the short-to-medium term.

 

But that view is based on a falsehood – because, if those same MPs and Senators are genuinely interested in resolving this issue, then they should be reminded that they sit in the place where they can do exactly that, by passing legislation in the ordinary way (and in exactly the same way that our rights were denied by John Howard’s Government in August 2004).

 

For however long it takes us to achieve marriage equality, we will likely need to continue to explain our justification for saying a firm ‘No thanks’ to the plebiscite – and that is because it is unnecessary, inappropriate, divisive, wasteful, unprecedented, bizarre, inconsistent, radical, unfair and dangerous.

 

Right now, it remains to be seen just how long that wait will be. As indicated above, if Turnbull were to do the right thing and call for a free vote immediately, marriage equality could be passed within a matter of weeks, and LGBTIQ couples could be able to marry by the start of 2017.

 

Or it could take slightly longer, with sustained pressure forcing the Government to change its position over the course of the next 12-18 months (or compelling enough backbenchers to summon the courage to walk 12-18 feet across the parliamentary chamber to pass the Bill).

 

It may even be that we will not achieve marriage equality for another three or four years, following the possible election of a Shorten Labor Government – or the Coalition coming to its senses and abandoning the unnecessary, wasteful and divisive plebiscite.

 

No matter how long it takes, we know that marriage equality will eventually be recognised under Australian law.

 

Why? Not just because it is the right thing to do. But because of one quality that LGBTIQ Australians have shown, in abundance, since Howard’s unjust ban. A quality that we continue to demonstrate today: perseverance.

 

Over the past 12 years, we have been let down by multiple Prime Ministers, and Governments of different persuasions. But we have kept fighting.

 

We have been legislated against, and then largely ignored, and yet we have continued campaigning until we made marriage equality a central issue in Australian politics.

 

And we have been underestimated, time and time again – most recently about the plebiscite itself (you can bet that most senior figures within the Coalition, and indeed many people in the media, believed that the LGBTIQ community would simply acquiesce to their problematic proposal).

 

But we have persisted in arguing for what we believe is right and fair, including the fairest way to achieve it.

 

We do this because it’s personal. Because, while prima facie this is an issue simply of legal discrimination, it is about far more than that.

 

It is about who we are as people, and our fundamental right, not just to equal treatment under the law, but to dignity and respect.

 

It is about our relationships, about seeing them be recognised as being as worthy as those of everyone else – and about having the same choices as others, including whether to get married or not (rather than having that decision made for us by 226 people in Canberra).

 

It is about our families, both the rainbow families who are raising thousands, or tens of thousands, of happy and healthy – and above all, loved – children, and our parents and siblings and extended families, who share the entirely understandable desire that their family members be treated fairly.

 

And it is about generations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer Australians still to come, who have the right to grow up in a country that does not discriminate against them simply because of who they are.

 

For all of these reasons, we will continue the fight for marriage equality for as long as it takes.

 

We will persevere. Until it is finally done.

Letter to ALP MPs and Senators Calling on Them to Block the Plebiscite

Wednesday 14 September 2016

 

Dear ALP MP/Senator

 

Please Block the Marriage Equality Plebiscite

 

I am writing to call on you to cast your vote against Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s enabling legislation to hold a plebiscite on marriage equality.

 

Given the public declarations by Senators from the Greens, Nick Xenophon Team and Derryn Hinch that they will oppose this Bill, Labor Party MPs and Senators have the power, and I would argue the responsibility, to block Turnbull’s Bill, thereby preventing the plebiscite from proceeding.

 

Instead, it should be up to parliamentarians from across the political spectrum to debate, and vote on, a Bill that would hopefully make marriage equality a reality – using exactly the same procedure in which the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians were denied 12 years ago.

 

**********

 

Even as someone who has studied, been employed in and continues to be engaged with Australian politics, I must admit I knew little about ‘plebiscites’ before the Liberal-National Government first adopted one as their position on marriage equality on 11 August last year.

 

But there’s a pretty good explanation for that – despite the fact I am (far-too-rapidly) approaching the age of 40, there has not been an Australia-wide plebiscite, of any kind, since I was born.

 

Of course, given the Turnbull Coalition Government proposes to use this kind of national public vote to determine whether my relationship should be recognised equally under Commonwealth law, I have spent the past 13 months becoming better acquainted with this supposedly ‘democratic’ phenomenon.

 

In that period I have thought about, and written about, the idea of plebiscites generally, and the proposed marriage equality plebiscite specifically, enough to last a lifetime. And the more I have considered this issue in detail, the stronger my view has become that a plebiscite is an entirely unsuitable means to determine the human rights of LGBTI Australians.

 

From my perspective, and reflecting the multiple blog-posts, submissions and letters to politicians I have written about the plebiscite over that time, there are ten main reasons why I believe it should be blocked:

 

  1. A plebiscite is unnecessary[i]

 

The High Court has already determined that Commonwealth Parliament has the constitutional power to pass legislation introducing marriage equality. There is absolutely no need for a national public vote to be held beforehand, whether that be a referendum, plebiscite or otherwise. Instead, marriage equality should be passed in the same way it was originally banned – through a vote in Parliament.

 

  1. A plebiscite is inappropriate

 

The fact that the relationships of some people are not recognised equally under the law, solely because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, is a denial of their fundamental human rights. Remedying this injustice should not be dependent on ‘popularity’, thus rendering a plebiscite an inappropriate method to resolve this issue.

 

Even if the plebiscite was ‘unsuccessful’, the denial of human rights caused by marriage inequality would not disappear, perhaps explaining why LGBTI people will continue to push for the laws to be amended irrespective of the result.

 

  1. A plebiscite is divisive

 

Some people (aka Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull) have argued that the plebiscite will involve a ‘respectful’ debate between proponents and opponents of reform, who, when the votes are tallied, will all accept the outcome, with the overall process bringing the nation closer together.

 

I disagree. It will instead see LGBTI Australians forced to publicly ‘beg’ for our rights, in the face of anti-equality campaigners, such as Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director, Lyle Shelton, who have repeatedly demonstrated their willingness to denigrate LGBTI people and our relationships (with Mr Shelton linking same-sex parenting with the Stolen Generations on multiple occasions, comparing the introduction of marriage equality and the Safe Schools program with the rise of Nazism, and inciting ‘bathroom panic’ against trans women[ii]).

 

It is, at-best, naïve (and, at-worst, wilfully ignorant) to suggest that, after three-to-six months of divisive debate, with the worst kinds of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia thrown about by people like Mr Shelton, the passions and prejudices whipped up by the plebiscite will ‘magically’ subside.

 

  1. A plebiscite is wasteful

 

It is difficult to think of many examples where the Government, any Government, is willing to spend several months, and at least $170 million, doing something it could do for free, in a matter of weeks. That is exactly what the Turnbull Liberal-National Government is proposing, wasting time and money on a plebiscite when a Parliamentary vote could resolve the issue by the end of October. At no cost.

 

The money involved could be better spent on literally almost anything else, including:

 

  • Resettling an extra 2,297 refugees from Syria and Iraq
  • Supporting an additional 1,975 postgraduate students
  • Hiring 477 more registered nurses over four years
  • Employing an extra 578 teachers in public schools, or
  • Funding the Safe Schools program 20 times over.[iii]

 

If Turnbull and his Treasurer Scott Morrison were serious about ‘restoring the nation’s finances’, they could even use this money to reduce Government debt[iv], rather than throwing it away on an exercise that is basically a national opinion poll, one that isn’t even binding on the MPs and Senators putting it forward.

 

  1. A plebiscite is unprecedented[v]

 

I mentioned earlier that there has not been a nation-wide plebiscite in my lifetime. The last one – a multiple choice poll to select a new national anthem – was held in 1977 (although its result was not implemented for another seven years). The last plebiscite on a substantive matter of public policy was more than 98 years ago – the second of two plebiscites conducted during World War I regarding conscription. And that’s it, Australia’s entire history of plebiscites in one short paragraph.

 

There has never been a plebiscite to determine the rights of a minority group. And there is no person alive who has voted in an Australian plebiscite on an issue of substance – indeed, no-one born since Federation has ever voted in one. The decision to hold one, on the issue of marriage equality, is essentially unprecedented in contemporary history.

 

  1. A plebiscite is bizarre

 

The fact that there has not been a substantive plebiscite in almost a century means that Australia has managed to negotiate extraordinary amounts of change without the need to hold a national public opinion poll.

 

We’ve been through numerous wars (including introducing conscription, more than once), economic booms and busts, massive social reforms (such as the rise of feminism, the recognition of Aboriginal land rights and the decriminalisation of homosexuality), and revolutionary change to the institution of marriage itself (with the introduction of ‘no-fault divorce’ in 1975), all without a plebiscite.

 

In this context, it is downright bizarre that, of all the possible issues that theoretically could have been the subject of a plebiscite since 1917, Malcolm Turnbull and his Coalition Government believe the simple question of whether two men, or two women, can marry is the one worth making the subject of an expensive and time-consuming public vote.

 

  1. A plebiscite is inconsistent

 

The Government’s proposed marriage equality plebiscite is entirely inconsistent with recent political history. Or, if we’re being less charitable, it is hypocritical given the actions of the Liberal and National Parties over the past 12 years. This includes not just the banning of marriage equality via an ordinary parliamentary vote in August 2004 – then-Prime Minister John Howard did not hold a plebiscite before introducing his Marriage Amendment Act – but also repeatedly voting against overturning the ban in parliament in the decade since, again without the benefit of a $170 million national public vote.

 

The only thing that seemed to change before the Coalition’s August 2015 decision to adopt a plebiscite as their policy is the fact that the numbers in parliament shifted, such that, were a free vote to be held, marriage equality would have finally passed. The inconsistent decision to adopt a plebiscite can therefore be seen as a cynical manoeuvre to do more than just shift the goalposts, but to change the rules of the game entirely, solely to avoid defeat.

 

  1. A plebiscite is radical

 

An argument regularly made by people pushing a plebiscite is that it is ‘the most democratic way’ to resolve a controversial issue. A clear implication of such a statement is that dealing with these kinds of debates in the ordinary way, via our nation’s parliament, is consequently, ‘second-best’.

 

Following this logic to its natural conclusion, whenever a controversial matter of public policy arises in future there will be calls for it to be the subject of a plebiscite – and the Liberal and National Parties will have no rational reason to reject these demands. By holding a plebiscite on marriage equality, they are opening the door to plebiscites on issues like euthanasia or, more worryingly, the reintroduction of the death penalty or even ‘banning Muslim immigration’.

 

A plebiscite on marriage equality is therefore not a conservative position – in fact, it is an extremely radical view, one that could potentially change Australia’s entire system of Government, and not for the better.[vi]

 

  1. A plebiscite is unfair

 

Another argument against the plebiscite was perhaps best articulated recently by former High Court Justice Michael Kirby, and that is to note it is a process that is inherently unfair on Australia’s LGBTI community:

 

“[I]t’s a discriminatory step. It’s a step that is designed by those who propose it in the hope of defeating and delaying equality for citizens. It’s unfair to people who are of a different sexual orientation or gender identity and it’s a bad precedent for our law-making.”[vii]

 

The imposition of a plebiscite in order for LGBTI people to be treated fairly under secular law is a hurdle that has not been placed in front of any other minority group in order for them to attain equality. Erecting this barrier is effectively singling out people on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status for differential, and detrimental, treatment.

 

It is particularly offensive given the issue of marriage equality, at its core, is about fairness, fairness to LGBTI people and to our relationships. The method in which this issue is resolved should also be fair – a plebiscite is anything but.

 

  1. A plebiscite is dangerous

 

Holding a plebiscite on marriage equality is dangerous in (at least) two ways. First, and this is something that is thankfully starting to receive coverage (including by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten in the Second Reading Speech of his private member’s Bill), is that the divisive debate in the lead-up to the vote will be dangerous to young and/or vulnerable members of the LGBTI community, as well as to the children of rainbow families.

 

Should a plebiscite proceed, it is inevitable these groups will be subjected to hate-speech, and personal attacks. It is sadly also inevitable that, for some, it will have a negative impact on their mental health, including causing or exacerbating depression and, tragically, possibly leading some to take their own lives.

 

A plebiscite is also dangerous because it has the potential to lead to violent attacks on the LGBTI community. No, I am not talking about a tragedy similar to the recent heart-breaking events in Orlando. But I am talking about the more ‘everyday’ heart-breaks of homophobic and transphobic assaults, as well as the rise of hate-groups opposed to the mere existence of LGBTI people.

 

Two recent examples spring to mind here. The first was a shocking incident from February this year where a young man, who happens to live in the same apartment complex as my fiancé and I, was the victim of two homophobic assaults on the same night.[viii]

 

After being ‘gay-bashed’ by a group of people nearby he was assisted back to our block by a ‘good Samaritan’ who, upon discovering he had a boyfriend waiting upstairs (rather than a girlfriend), said “you’re one of those fags ya f**king queer c**t”, turned on the young man and hit him in the face. I challenge anyone, anywhere, not to be horrified that this sequence of events could occur in 2016.

 

The second example was the counter-demonstration to the 25 June marriage equality demonstration outside Sydney’s Town Hall, where a small, but obviously well-funded and well-organised, group shouted ‘paedo scum, protect our young’ loudly and insistently across George Street. I’ve been a regular attendee of marriage equality rallies since the first anniversary of Howard’s ban, but in those 11 years have never seen anything like it.

 

In this context, when people can be the victims of multiple acts of homophobic violence on the one night, and where homophobic and transphobic hate-groups are emerging (or re-emerging), I would argue it is grossly irresponsible to hold a vote that can only inflame the situation. Turnbull’s plebiscite is the spark that could ignite an explosion of hate-crimes, and he should call it off.

 

**********

 

Based on the thousands of words I have written in the 13 months since the plebiscite was first announced, and the couple of thousand more included above, my fiancé Steve and I both arrived at the same conclusion: that the plebiscite should be blocked, even if that carries with it a risk that marriage equality could be delayed as a result.

 

We have been together for more than eight years, having met in August 2008. And we have now been engaged for more than six and a half years, after Steve made me an extremely happy man by replying “Of course I will” to my proposal in January 2010.

 

At the time, we knew that it would take several years for the legal situation in Australia to change, and therefore accepted (or at least acknowledged) that we would be ‘waiting’ some time for the day when we would walk down the aisle. On an optimistic day, we thought we would probably be married by now: on a pessimistic day, perhaps not until later this decade, or even 2020.

 

But we didn’t envisage that in 2016 we would be comparatively so close to achieving equality, while simultaneously being so far way. And by that I mean that the numbers clearly exist in Parliament for marriage equality to be passed today – but the Turnbull Government will not allow that to happen unless it holds an unnecessary, inappropriate, divisive, wasteful, unprecedented, bizarre, inconsistent, radical, unfair and frankly dangerous plebiscite beforehand.

 

Anyone with any amount of empathy would understand that, given the length of time we have already waited, we are becoming increasingly desperate to finally have the chance to marry our partner, in front of our families and friends, in exactly the same way that my brother and sister have already married theirs. Ideally, we want to be able to say “I do” while both of our grandmothers are still alive, and at some point before or on our 10 year anniversary, in August 2018.

 

But, we are not so desperate that we are willing to accept a fundamentally flawed process, designed by people and organisations that clearly do not have our best interests at heart, and imposed upon LGBTI Australians in a way that no other group has been forced to endure.

 

And we are not so focused on our own happiness that we are prepared to ignore the potential harms to young and vulnerable LGBTI people, who are yet to come to terms with their sexual orientation or gender identity or intersex status in a country, and a world, in which they are still told, far too often, that who they are is not okay. And who would have to hear that message frequently, for months on end, if the plebiscite goes ahead.

 

Because Steve and I have both been that teenager, alone and in the closet, struggling to make sense of the homophobia coming from schools, and families, and politicians, and the media – and we owe it to those kids in the same situation now (as well as to our younger selves) not just to tell them that “It gets better”, but to make sure that it actually does get better.

 

That’s why we made the joint decision that we would rather wait even longer for our own right to get married if it means that these harms to others could be lessened, or even avoided altogether. And we remain proud of our choice.

 

**********

 

Of course, it is not just Steve and I who are affected by these discriminatory laws, or who would be impacted by any move to block the Government’s proposed plebiscite on marriage equality. As you are no doubt aware, there are literally tens of thousands of couples in similar situations right around Australia.

 

And the impact of any decision which has the potential to cause a delay in the recognition of marriage equality will be even greater on some of these, depending on their age, health and other factors. There are of course some couples for whom a delay will mean, tragically, they do not get the opportunity to marry their own partner before their death(s).

 

Cognisant of this fact, and recognising that calling on political parties to block the plebiscite even if this has the consequence that marriage equality may not be achieved during this term is a ‘big ask’, I decided I could not actively advocate this view to members of the new Parliament without first ascertaining the views of other members of the LGBTI community.

 

Following the federal election on Saturday 2 July, I designed a short online survey, which included a range of questions of which the central one was this:

 

“What do you think should be the LGBTIQ community’s approach to the proposed marriage equality plebiscite?

 

  1. Block it, if possible – because it is unnecessary, wasteful and will cause harm to the LGBTIQ community, even if there is a risk marriage equality will not be passed for another 3 years as a consequence.
  2. Accept it, and fight to win – because, following the re-election of the Turnbull Government, holding the plebiscite may be the clearest path to achieving marriage equality, despite the potential for harm to the LGBTIQ community.
  3. Wait to see the details – because the plebiscite may or may not be acceptable, depending on the question asked, the criteria for success and the extent of ‘religious exceptions’ that are included.”

 

The survey was distributed, from 17 to 31 July, via my website[ix], through social media, via paid advertisements and by direct contact with networks to ensure there were responses from across the LGBTIQ community. It ultimately received 1,140 completed responses, including 840 from LGBTIQ people.

 

The results of this survey were totally unambiguous:

 

  • Block it, if possible: 786 respondents or 69%
  • Wait to see the details: 231 or 20%, and
  • Accept it, and fight to win: 123 or 11%.[x]

 

This outcome – two thirds or more of people wishing to see the plebiscite blocked, even if it meant marriage equality may be delayed – was replicated across nearly all demographic groups, including lesbian (75.4% block), gay (66.4%), bisexual (69.5%), transgender (71.4%) and queer (75.8%) respondents, as well as the parents in rainbow families (73.3%).

 

In fact, the only cohort that was somewhat lower than this figure was from non-LGBTIQ people who completed the survey – of whom ‘only’ 62.7% wished to see the plebiscite blocked, compared to 71.2% of respondents from within the LGBTIQ community.

 

Despite this, it is instructive to observe that those who have the most to gain from the recognition of marriage equality, but are exposed to the greatest risk from the process, and who have therefore probably considered the issue in the most detail, are more likely to oppose it than others who support marriage equality but who have less personally at stake.

 

Based on these results, as well as the results of recent surveys from other organisations (including PFLAG Australia, just.equal and GetUp) which have reported similar results, I have absolutely no hesitation in calling on you, as ALP members of the House of Representatives and Senators, to exercise your vote to block the plebiscite.

 

Steve and I want it. The majority of the LGBTIQ community want it. It is the right thing to do. And, I believe, it is the only fair thing to do in the circumstances.

 

**********

 

But you do not need to take my word for it. As part of my survey on the plebiscite described above I included a question inviting respondents to explain their decision – specifically, to outline why they wanted to block, accept, or wait to see the details of, the plebiscite[xi].

 

I include with this letter a document containing all of the 725 answers provided by the 786 respondents who indicated they wanted the plebiscite to be blocked:

Survey Results Part 2 Block – Reasons

 

They are passionate, thoughtful and eloquent (far more eloquent than this letter) explanations for why the idea of waiting another three years for marriage equality, even though we have waited far too long already, is a far more appealing option than engaging in a bitter and nasty public debate. I encourage you to read as many of them as you have the time to before you meet to determine your caucus position.

 

However, and noting that it is a near impossible task to choose some people’s intimate responses over other, equally-personal explanations, I will highlight a few of the answers which I found most affecting:

 

“Block, even though I am 66 and another 3 yrs wait or longer is unacceptable. I will marry in May next year, here if possible, if not in the US. The date is set. Public votes are very divisive, and there will be so much harm done, even if we win, that I simply cannot support it. It also sets a very dangerous precedent, subjecting people’s rights to a vote.”

 

“I think we should block the plebiscite because it is unnecessary, wasteful and divisive. The homophobic and transphobic debate that precedes it will cause real harm to young and vulnerable LGBTI people. Parliament should do its job to protect them from, rather than expose them to, abuse.”

 

“If I were bombarded at 17yrs by the kind of rhetoric we are likely to see spouted in the lead up to the plebiscite, I likely would have killed myself. We are killing ourselves fast enough without extra help.”

 

“I think we should block the plebiscite because it will encourage hate speech, it may lead to violence against homosexual couples and their children, it may cause even more same-sex attracted teens to contemplate suicide, it will be a waste of money, and even if the vote is overwhelmingly in favour of marriage equality, politicians still have the option to vote against it so it’s not legally binding and doesn’t actually mean anything anyway.”

 

These three comments from trans respondents should be mandatory reading for anyone who, in September 2016, still supports a plebiscite:

 

“As a visible member of the transgender community I believe the plebiscite will be used by homo/bi/transphobic bigots to spread hate which will have a direct impact on my safety. I have experienced verbal and physical harassment in the recent past as a direct result of hate speech in the media and link it to an anti- safe schools television debate the night before. Visible trans, gender non conforming and queer people will be most at risk if the ACL is given a free-for-all platform. It’s easy to say yes to the plebiscite if you’re not at risk of experiencing violence.”

 

“I think we should block the plebiscite because it gives angry fringe members of a powerful majority a soapbox to use to hurt our most vulnerable members. Marriage equality is important, it’s our right and we know that having it improves the mental health of queer people, but we also know that young and questioning members of our community are more at risk than many people old enough and secure enough to be thinking about marriage. Young people trying to come to terms with their identities, struggling to accept themselves and cope with school and life do not need powerful wealthy leaders in society telling them that they are wrong and do not deserve human rights or basic decency. These are people who have been proven time and time again to be at high risk of mental illness and suicide, and we have to stand up for them and protect them. As sad as it is, it is worth forgoing our right to equal marriage, if it protects the young and vulnerable members of our society. It is worth holding off until we can all be validated equally. And so it is not worth giving these bigots an opportunity to attack us.”

 

“Firstly, I believe it is absolutely offensive that the entire country should have to vote on whether or not I should have the same rights as my heterosexual friends and neighbours. Secondly, as we are already seeing the damaging consequences of creating a platform, via the plebiscite, for homophobic hate speech. Violently homophobic flyers are already being dropped in letterboxes all over the country, and this is only the beginning. I fear for the safety of myself, my partner, and my friends. I fear for the safety of LGBT youth. And for what? A plebiscite will not even bind the government to action. Turnbull promised us equality, and he has utterly failed to deliver on that promise.”

 

Finally, these five answers from LGBTIQ parents demonstrate more ‘family values’ in a few short paragraphs than the Australian Christian Lobby has shown in a decade of campaigning against marriage equality:

 

“I do not want to give a platform to people who will turn this into a debate about whether society wants the children of gay and lesbian people. For some weird reason this is exactly what happens every time they start to have their say. My children are 11 and 8 and it is hard enough as it is being the ‘gay mums’ kids in their suburban school. It would be good if the legislation was passed, but I do not want the debate as it will injure my kids’ sense of being wanted in society.”

 

“Block it because it is unnecessary, expensive and not binding. But mostly because I have three kids and they will be the focus of the ‘no’ campaign. I am extremely fearful of the effect it could have on their mental health and general well-being.”

 

“It’s enough that my wife and I aren’t legally recognised by the Australian government, we constantly face discrimination daily, but to give the horrible people who are hell bent against my family a platform to spread their hate is ludicrous. Why should I have to explain to my 3yr old that his family is as valid as any other?”

 

“I think the plebiscite is an expensive, invasive process. I don’t like the idea of my human rights being put to a public vote, and I fear the negative impact a public opinion poll on same sex relationships could have on my 4 year old daughter and other children like her raised in rainbow families.”

 

“I would rather wait for real equality than expose my 3 young kids to a hate campaign about their families. The hate campaign by the ACL etc is already having a negative impact on my 9, 8 and 6yo kids. I do not want a full on, federally funded hate campaign that we all know is going to be aimed at children. It is wrong. It is not a price I am willing to pay to get marriage equality.”

 

As I said earlier, these are passionate, thoughtful and eloquent reasons for why so many members of the LGBTI community want to see the plebiscite blocked. I sincerely hope that, even if you do not listen to me, you do listen to them.

 

**********

 

Given the failure of the Turnbull Government to provide any information about its proposed plebiscite ahead of the federal election on 2 July this year, LGBTI people responding to my survey indicating they wanted to see the plebiscite blocked were doing so on the basis of principle – essentially saying that, irrespective of any details that might eventually be announced, they did not believe a plebiscite was the right way forward on this issue.

 

One-in-five respondents did indicate that they wanted to see more details before making up their minds. Unfortunately, on the basis of the Government’s announcements yesterday (Tuesday 13 September) – where they finally added some flesh to the bare bones of their plebiscite – it is highly unlikely many would now be convinced to support their proposal.

 

That is because there are significant problems with the mechanism outlined by the Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis, and Special Minister of State, Senator Scott Ryan, via their media release and press conference yesterday.

 

First of all, and the issue that seems to have attracted the most attention, is that the Turnbull Government is proposing to allocate $7.5 million to the ‘Yes’ case, and $7.5 million to the ‘No’ case (bringing the overall cost of this exercise to $170 million), despite the fact that the arguments surrounding marriage equality have been made for more than a decade.

 

The prospect of the Australian Christian Lobby, Marriage Alliance and Australian Marriage Forum being provided with taxpayer’s money to spread homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia is horrifying to many people, myself included. And the idea of publicly-funded television commercials linking rainbow families with the Stolen Generations, the introduction of marriage equality with the rise of Nazism, or inciting ‘bathroom panic’ against trans women – comments ACL Managing Director Lyle Shelton has made just this year[xii] – is particularly offensive.

 

But, from my perspective, an even bigger problem with the proposed plebiscite is the question: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” This question does not mean marriage equality, because, based on this wording, it would not include many transgender (and especially non-binary identifying people) and intersex people who are currently prohibited from marrying but whose relationships do not fall within the category of ‘same-sex’ couple.

 

It is possible that this issue will be addressed in the amendments to the Marriage Act itself. But we have not seen the Government’s proposed substantive changes, and do not know when these will be released. Without being satisfied that all LGBTI people will be allowed to marry, I believe it is impossible for people of good conscience to pass the enabling legislation.

 

Other problems that have already emerged with the details announced yesterday include:

 

  • The proposed plebiscite will not be ‘self-executing’, nor will it be binding on any Government MP (with some indicating that they will vote against, irrespective of the result) – which means that, even after spending $170 million and wasting three-to-six months on this exercise, amendments to the Marriage Act will still be subject to a conscience vote (leaving the fundamental question, of what the point of the plebiscite is, unanswered).
  • While the Government has indicated that the ‘criteria for success’ will be 50% +1 vote nationally, it has also confirmed that results will be reported based on individual electorates and by state or territory, making it easier for MPs and Senators to vote against equality on the basis of their individual constituency, even if the nominated hurdle has been cleared.
  • The limit on tax-deductible contributions, of $1500 per individual, may prima facie appear fair but in practice disadvantages the ‘Yes’ case, because a number of religious organisations – who do not pay tax to begin with – will still be able to accept donations and spend this money on public advertising promoting the ‘No’ side, and
  • It has already been revealed[xiii] that, outside of any publicly-funded commercials, there will be absolutely no requirement for ‘third party’ advertisements to be truthful, increasing the likelihood of anti-LGBTI vilification on the nation’s airwaves.

 

These are just the problems that are already in the public domain. We are still not aware, because the Government has not made the details of its amendments to the Marriage Act itself known, whether it will introduce new ‘religious exceptions’ allowing people to discriminate against LGBTI couples, and if so how broad these new ‘rights to bigotry’ might be (noting that anything beyond the existing right for ministers of religion to refuse to perform a religious ceremony is completely unacceptable[xiv]).

 

In the same way that the more I considered the idea of a plebiscite, the stronger my personal opposition became, the more that is revealed about Turnbull’s proposed mechanism to conduct this vote, the less it is able to be supported.

 

**********

 

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate my call on you, as Labor Party MPs and Senators, to cast your vote against Malcolm Turnbull’s enabling legislation to hold a plebiscite on marriage equality.

 

Please block the plebiscite because it is unnecessary, inappropriate, divisive, wasteful, unprecedented, bizarre, inconsistent, radical, unfair and frankly dangerous.

 

Please block the plebiscite because it will inevitably harm young and vulnerable members of the LGBTI community.

 

Please block the plebiscite in the name of thousands of couples like Steve and I, who desperately want to get married but who are prepared to wait rather than risk seeing that harm inflicted others.

 

Please block the plebiscite because the majority of LGBTIQ Australians believe that is the right course of action.

 

And please block the plebiscite, even if there is a risk doing so might result in marriage equality being delayed by three years.

 

Of course, that does not have to be the case. There is absolutely no reason why 226 representatives of the Australian people, sitting in the House of Representatives and Senate in Canberra, could not debate, vote on and resolve this issue, all before the end of October.

 

Despite yesterday’s protestations by the Prime Minister, and Attorney-General, and their attempts both to apportion blame and to speak on behalf of gay and lesbian couples around Australia, we are more than capable of thinking, and speaking, for ourselves.

 

We know who the real roadblock on the path to equality is. We are completely aware of who it is standing in the way of our relationships finally being treated fairly under the law.

 

It is a Government that, rather than vote on the issue of marriage equality in the ordinary way – in parliament – has instead chosen to engage in a $170 million glorified national opinion that will take up to six months and won’t even be binding on its own MPs.

 

It is an Attorney-General, and Cabinet, and Party-room, who have engineered a ‘mean and tricky’ process, designed to increase the chances of the plebiscite’s defeat, one which will allow taxpayers’ money to be spent on vilifying LGBTI Australians, our relationships and our families.

 

And it is a Prime Minister who claims to support marriage equality, but who is not prepared to do so on the floor of our nation’s parliament. Who says he is on our side, but will not actually do anything that demonstrates that commitment. Who is more interested in retaining his job than in recognising the rights of LGBTI people.

 

They are who I will blame, as will the vast majority of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians, should the current Parliament be unable to pass marriage equality during this term.

 

So, I implore you to listen not just to me, but to the views of literally hundreds of LGBTI people who undertook my survey, who want you to block the plebiscite.

 

Please join with the Greens, Nick Xenophon Team and Derryn Hinch in voting against the Government’s enabling legislation, thereby increasing pressure to resolve this issue in Parliament – the same place that prohibited equal treatment of our relationships in the first place.

 

Please, please, please block Malcolm Turnbull’s marriage equality plebiscite.

 

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

 

**********

 

Hon Bill Shorten MP Official portrait 20 March 2013

Will Bill Shorten be the leader that Malcolm Turnbull clearly isn’t?

 

Footnotes:

[i] For more on the first four arguments raised, please see my submission to the Senate Inquiry which considered this issue in late 2015: No Referendum. No Plebiscite. Just Pass the Bill. https://alastairlawrie.net/2015/08/29/no-referendum-no-plebiscite-just-pass-the-bill/

[ii] For more on exactly how bitter and nasty the campaign is likely to become, please see: Lyle Shelton’s ‘Respectful’ Debate. https://alastairlawrie.net/2016/09/06/lyle-sheltons-respectful-debate/

[iii] For a longer list, please see: 7 Better Ways to Spend $158.4 million. https://alastairlawrie.net/2015/12/22/7-better-ways-to-spend-158-4-million/

[iv] Please also see my 2016-17 Pre-Budget Submission: Save $158.4 million – Scrap the Marriage Equality Plebiscite. https://alastairlawrie.net/2016/02/02/2016-17-pre-budget-submission-save-158-4-million-scrap-the-marriage-equality-plebiscite/

[v] The next four reasons (5-8) are based on the following post: Malcolm Turnbull’s Proposed Marriage Equality Plebiscite is Truly Extraordinary. https://alastairlawrie.net/2016/05/22/malcolm-turnbulls-proposed-marriage-equality-plebiscite-is-truly-extraordinary/

[vi] An argument which at the very least has seen WA Liberal Senator Dean Smith indicate he will not vote for the enabling legislation, although so far he is alone in this position. Brisbane Times, Dean Smith: Not voting for plebiscite is a vote for parliamentary democracy, 13 September 2016. http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/comment/openly-gay-liberal-senator-dean-smith-wont-vote-on-samesex-marriage-plebiscite-20160913-grf006.html

[vii] Lateline, Interview with Michael Kirby, 26 August 2016: http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2016/s4527742.htm

[viii] Daily Telegraph, Gay man bashed twice in Waterloo: “I’ve never been so scared in my life and I thought I would die”, 23 February 2016. http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/gay-man-bashed-twice-in-waterloo-ive-never-been-so-scared-in-my-life-and-thought-i-would-die/news-story/f269aa5cb3d623754e7e16109e0a1147

[ix] Please see: To Plebiscite or not to plebiscite? https://alastairlawrie.net/2016/07/17/to-plebiscite-or-not-to-plebiscite/

[x] Please see: Plebiscite Survey Results: Part 1. https://alastairlawrie.net/2016/08/07/plebiscite-survey-results-part-1/

[xi] Please see: Plebiscite Survey Results: Part 2, In your own words. https://alastairlawrie.net/2016/08/21/plebiscite-survey-results-part-2-in-your-own-words/

[xii] Please see: Lyle Shelton’s ‘Respectful’ Debate. https://alastairlawrie.net/2016/09/06/lyle-sheltons-respectful-debate/

[xiii] Guardian Australia, Marriage equality plebiscite ads run by third parties won’t need to be true, 13 September 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/sep/13/marriage-equality-plebiscite-campaign-ads-run-by-third-parties-wont-need-to-be-true

[xiv] Please see: Senator Leyonhjelm’s Marriage Equality Bill undermines the principle of LGBTI anti-discrimination. Should we still support it? https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/12/21/senator-leyonhjelms-marriage-equality-bill-undermines-the-principle-of-lgbti-anti-discrimination-should-we-still-support-it/

A Referendum, a Plebiscite & an Inheritance

There are only a few possessions that hold sentimental value for me.

 

Like most people, there are some photos that have a special place in my heart because they remind me of people or moments that have been significant to me. Then there’s the engagement ring Steve gave me (of course). And the unit we bought together too – well, the small part that isn’t currently owned by the bank – not because it is our dream home by any stretch of the imagination, but because it is the home we are making together.

 

One other object I am sentimental about is actually a copy of the Australian Constitution. No, I’m not that much of a nerd – it’s because it once belonged to my grandfather, Alexander Greig Ellis Lawrie, a Senator who represented Queensland from 1 July 1965 to 11 November 1975, and who passed away in the same year I was born.

 

For people who know me, and where I sit on the ideological spectrum, the fact he was a member of the Country Party might come as a bit of a surprise. But, as well as inheriting his physical appearance (or so I’m told), he also passed down – through my father who was once a National Party candidate, too – a keen interest in contributing to politics and public life.

 

Which meant that, when his wife – my grandmother – died early last decade, the Constitution he was provided with when he was originally sworn in, in Senate red and with his name etched on the front cover, was given to the most ‘political’ of his grandchildren.

 

IMG_0916

My grandfather’s Senate copy of the Australian Constitution.

 

One of the things I love about his copy of the Constitution is that, given he started his first term before the successful 1967 referendum on Aboriginal issues (amending the races power, and including Aboriginal people in the population of the States and Territories for the first time for the purpose of allocating seats in Parliament and determining Commonwealth grants), he has actually crossed out, in pencil, the words “other than the aboriginal race in any State” in section 51(xxvi) and struck a line through section 127 entirely.

 

As a consequence, it feels like I own a piece of history – an object that is connected to a special moment when Australia took a small step forward from its past, and in too many cases present, mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

 

I’ve been thinking about that 1967 referendum quite a bit of late. Not just because today, May 27, is the 49th anniversary of that historic vote. But also because it is the last time the Australian people came together to formally vote on the rights of a minority group.

 

At the moment there is a serious chance there will be a similar public vote at some point between November of this year, and the 50th anniversary of that referendum in May 2017. This time, however, the minority group whose rights will be decided in this way are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians.

 

That’s because, as you’re probably well aware by now, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has promised that, if his Liberal-National Government is re-elected at the July 2 federal election, they will hold a plebiscite to decide whether to finally introduce marriage equality.

 

In light of this possible plebiscite, I’m sure I’m not the only person reflecting on the 1967 referendum, both as a source of inspiration – because it shows that Australia can change for the better – but also to learn some of its lessons, including how to present a vision of what a more equal country could look like.

 

Nevertheless, while there are some obvious similarities between these two public votes, we shouldn’t overlook the fact the marriage equality plebiscite will be a fundamentally different challenge, in at least three key ways:

 

First, unlike the referendum on Aboriginal issues – which was required to amend two sections of the Constitution – a plebiscite on marriage equality is entirely unnecessary. The High Court has already found that Commonwealth Parliament has the power to amend the Marriage Act 1961 to remove discrimination against LGBTI couples – it’s just that Coalition MPs and Senators are refusing to pass such legislation. In this way, the marriage equality plebiscite can be seen as a political choice rather than a legal necessity.

 

Second, the changes approved by the 1967 referendum enjoyed such clear political and community support that there wasn’t even an official ‘No’ case put before the people. That provides at least part of the explanation for why more than nine in ten Australians voted Yes – which remains the highest affirmative vote in any Commonwealth referendum or plebiscite.

 

Unfortunately, we already know there will be a well-funded and well-organised campaign against marriage equality in any upcoming plebiscite. The recent attacks on the Safe Schools program – by ‘the three Australians’ (Christian Lobby, Marriage Forum and The Australian newspaper) – is just a small foretaste of what an anti-marriage equality campaign would resemble. As a result, the Yes vote for marriage equality will be significantly lower.

 

Third, the decision to hold a referendum in May 1967 had the support of the community whose rights it would affect – from the accounts I have read, it seems most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were in favour of holding such a vote.

 

In marked contrast, it is not the LGBTI community putting forward the option of a plebiscite – indeed, the overwhelming majority of LGBTI organisations strongly oppose this proposal. Instead, a plebiscite is being advocated by the opponents of equality – not just the Australian Christian Lobby, but also by some conservative members of the Government who would prefer equal marriage never happened. This obviously creates a different dynamic for this particular public vote.

 

In short, a marriage equality plebiscite is a fight we have not chosen. But, if it does proceed, it will be a fight we must engage in, with all our collective efforts.

 

And it’s a fight that we must win, because there is simply too much at stake. Not just for the tens of thousands of couples, like my fiancé Steve and I, who are growing tired of waiting for the simple right to get married, in our own country and in front of our families and friends.

 

But also for the children of rainbow families, who deserve to grow up in a country where their parents are treated equally, and have the ability to get married if they so choose – surely those are the kinds of ‘family values’ that most people would support.

 

We must win because of the impact this change will have on literally hundreds of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex children and young people, both now and into the future, who will learn that most Australians believe who they are, or who they love, is now accepted.

 

And I sincerely believe we must all fight, and hopefully win, a plebiscite on marriage equality because of what it will ultimately say about our country – about who we are and the values we hold dear.

 

Is Australia an accepting, generous and inclusive nation, the home of the ‘fair go’, willing to treat people equally no matter who they are? Or are we exclusive and unequal, denying the right to get married solely on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status?

 

The experience of the May 1967 referendum on Aboriginal issues shows us that we can get the decision right. The Senate copy of the Constitution I inherited from my grandfather demonstrates that we can ‘cross out’ the discriminatory provisions that exist in our laws.

 

So, if we wake up on the morning of July 3 and a plebiscite on marriage equality remains squarely on the public agenda, then we must all make sure we do everything within our power to leave our own inheritance, for LGBTI people and indeed all Australians – a better, fairer, and more equal country.

 

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Things you can do right now:

 

In the battle for marriage equality, we must not forget to fight against religious exceptions

The long struggle for marriage equality does not involve waging just one battle. Instead, it includes a range of related, and sometimes overlapping, fights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) equality.

 

Obviously, there is what most would consider to be the ‘central’ fight – to amend the Marriage Act 1961 to ensure all LGBTI couples who wish to can be married under secular Australian law. Victory on that particular issue is long overdue.

 

A closely-related fight is ensuring that the definition used to amend the Marriage Act is sex and gender neutral – referring to the union of two persons (replacing man and woman which is currently used in section 5) rather than referring to man/man, or woman/woman, unions. The latter would only be gay or same-sex marriage, instead of genuine marriage equality, and would continue to deny equal rights to some members of the LGBTI community.

 

Fortunately, most recent legislative attempts to amend marriage have used this more inclusive definition[i], although this is something that we will need to be vigilant about until equality is finally achieved in Australia (whenever that might eventually be).

 

And then there is the current procedural fight about how marriage equality should be implemented – with Malcolm Turnbull’s Liberal-National Government intent on holding an unnecessary, inappropriate, wasteful and divisive plebiscite.

 

The $158.4 million-plus[ii] public vote appears to be supported by only the Australia Christian Lobby and other extremists opposed to LGBTI equality, while pretty much everyone else believes Parliament should simply do its job and pass a law to introduce equality (in exactly the same way then-Prime Minister John Howard entrenched inequality in the first place, way back in 2004).

 

However, there is one fight that is inherently connected to the larger battle for marriage equality that seems to be commonly overlooked – and that is the need to ensure that, irrespective of how marriage equality is ultimately achieved, no new special rights are created allowing religious organisations, and individuals, to discriminate against LGBTI couples.

 

These so-called ‘religious exceptions’ could take several possible forms. The narrowest version would be the introduction of a new right for civil celebrants and other celebrants, like military chaplains, who are not ministers of religion to be able to refuse to officiate ceremonies solely on the basis of the sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status of the couple involved[iii].

 

The next, more expansive type of special rights to discriminate would allow businesses that provide wedding-related services to deny those services to couples where one or both persons are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex. This is the type of exception that excites Christian fundamentalists in the United States, with claims that requiring florists and bakers to sell their products to LGBTI couples is oppressive or even totalitarian in nature.

 

The broadest form of new religious exceptions would more radically change existing anti-discrimination laws, allowing all individuals and businesses to discriminate against LGBTI couples on the basis of their own religious beliefs, with such discrimination not restricted to wedding-related activities.

 

No matter how narrowly or broadly these new special rights to discriminate are defined, they are all completely unjustified – there is no reason why civil celebrants, businesses or anyone else operating in public life should be free to deny LGBTI people equal treatment.

 

But, just because they are unjustified, doesn’t mean they are not on the public agenda, as recent experience in the United States amply demonstrates.

 

From Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis, who found fame by refusing to perform the duties of her Government job[iv], instead denying service to members of the public solely on the basis of their sexual orientation, through to more recent state-wide Bills to ‘restore religious freedom’ (or, more accurately, to reinstate the rights of individuals and businesses to treat LGBTI people as second class citizens) in North Carolina, Mississippi and elsewhere, there has been a renewed push for religious exceptions to undermine marriage equality, and anti-discrimination laws more generally.

 

There seem to be three, inter-related and mutually reinforcing objectives behind the religious right’s latest homophobic ‘crusade’:

 

  1. In a practical sense, they genuinely want to prevent the equal treatment of LGBTI people – both by being legally permitted to refuse service to LGBTI couples themselves, and to encourage the broader population to do the same;
  2. In a symbolic sense, they want to undermine the equality aspect of marriage equality – if lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people are allowed to marry under secular law, then Christian fundamentalists want to ensure that they are still treated as differently as possible, turned away by civil celebrants, wedding-related businesses and even public servants; and
  3. In a strategic sense, they want to use this ‘moment’, when marriage equality and LGBTI rights are being discussed across the community, to reassert the supposed primacy of ‘religious freedom’ and use it to dismantle LGBTI anti-discrimination laws where they exist – or hinder their development where they have not already been passed.

 

Before we judge our US counterparts too harshly, however, we must remember that conservative and other right-wing forces in Australia are engaged in exactly the same campaign here.

 

For example, Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm’s Freedom to Marry Bill 2014, that would have introduced marriage equality (of a sort), included provisions that would have granted civil celebrants the ability to reject people on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status[v].

 

Others on the ‘religious exceptions’ bandwagon include former Human Rights Commissioner, and now Liberal candidate for Goldstein, Tim Wilson[vi], as well as his former employers, the Institute of Public Affairs.

 

In addition to their outrageous calls for what limited LGBTI anti-vilification laws we do have[vii] to be temporarily suspended for the duration of the plebiscite, fringe group the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) have also repeatedly argued for any Marriage Amendment Bill to include permanent special rights for individuals and businesses to discriminate against LGBTI people.

 

In his own words, ACL ‘homophobe-in-chief’ Lyle Shelton believes existing anti-discrimination laws are somehow a threat to Australian democracy:

 

“The rights to a free conscience, freedom of religion or belief, freedom of speech and freedom of expression are the nuts and bolts of democracy. If they are to fall, then we have serious questions to answer regarding out democracy…

 

“Most fair-minded Australians would accept the right of a person to maintain their belief that gender and biology still matter to marriage and family and to always be free to give voice to that belief.

 

“Marriage between a man and a woman is fundamental to a flourishing society. When the definition is changed, the law will say that gender is irrelevant to the foundation of society.

 

“Those who believe gender, kinship and biological identity do matter to society’s fabric will be fundamentally at odds with the law and the anti-discrimination laws will be weaponised against them.”[viii]

 

Leaving aside the fact the ACL have been able to use their disproportionate-sized megaphone to publicly spew forth hatred against LGBTI Australians for many years[ix], without any apparent consequence, on this as with too many other issues they have found numerous supporters within the Liberal-National Government.

 

Indeed, ongoing debate on the issue of whether a draft Marriage Amendment Bill should include new ‘religious exceptions’, and if so how broad they should be in scope, is a key reason why Malcolm Turnbull was forced to back down from previous statements he would announce the timing and details of the marriage equality plebiscite ahead of the 2016 Federal Election.

 

In reporting on the decision by Turnbull to shelve the plebiscite announcement until after the poll, Dennis Shanahan in The Australian made the following observation:

 

“The key to reassuring those opposed to same-sex marriage, including conservative Coalition MPs, is not only the wording of the proposed plebiscite question changing the Marriage Act but also the protections for freedom of religion and speech.

 

“Those involved in the talks regard it as essential that Senator Brandis provide protections for those beyond the tight circle of religious and marriage celebrants who do not want to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.”[x]

 

Lenore Taylor in the Guardian Australia had earlier reported that internal tensions over the extent of these exceptions could cause the Government to delay announcing the Bill:

 

“The Turnbull government is wavering on its commitment to reveal details of its planned marriage equality plebiscite before the federal election because of deep divisions on crucial issues such as public funding and exemptions from anti-discrimination laws…

 

“[C]conservative MPs have been demanding broad exemptions from anti-discrimination laws for officials and wedding service providers, including florists, bakers and reception centres. Government sources said there were concerns that the issue would become internally “divisive.””[xi]

 

These reports confirm that the potential creation of new special rights to discriminate is very much a live option within the Turnbull Liberal-National Government.

 

This development is something that should have anyone interested in achieving marriage equality worried, especially because, as previous debates around Safe Schools and the plebiscite itself have demonstrated, the conservative and/or religious right are not shy about throwing their weight around inside the Coalition party room – and that applies just as much, if not more, under Prime Minister Turnbull as it did under his predecessor Tony Abbott.

 

The consequences of a conservative victory on this issue would be dire. On top of the practical and strategic problems identified above, the inclusion of new special rights to discriminate against LGBTI people in the plebiscite question – or its associated legislation – would make campaigning for marriage equality significantly more challenging.

 

In effect, it would ensure that the proposal considered at a plebiscite was fundamentally flawed from the beginning and that therefore many people in favour of genuine marriage equality would be forced to campaign, and vote, for something less than ideal while effectively ‘holding one’s nose’.

 

It would also tarnish the achievements of a successful ‘Yes’ campaign – instead of a unifying moment of national celebration, where true relationship equality was extended to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians without qualification, we would be left with a law that continues to permit discrimination in certain circumstances. In short, a ‘Yes’ result would be marred, leaving the overall job half-finished – and making it bittersweet to celebrate ‘equality-lite’.

 

For all of these reasons, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that, at the same time as we fight for marriage equality, we fight against the introduction of new religious exceptions, whether in the Marriage Act itself, or the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (or its state and territory equivalents).

 

Fortunately, we already have allies in this particular fight. In addition to the Greens, who have long campaigned against religious exceptions, the Australian Labor Party is also firmly opposed to their introduction.

 

160417 Guardian Why Knot

The Guardian Australia/Australian Marriage Equality event ‘Why Knot?’ where Opposition Leader Bill Shorten gave a firm commitment that Labor will oppose any expansion of religious exceptions – and will seek to repeal any provisions that are introduced by the Turnbull Liberal-National Government.

 

At the recent Guardian Australia/Australian Marriage Equality ‘Why Knot?’ forum in Sydney, I had the opportunity to ask Opposition Leader Bill Shorten the following:

 

“There is a real risk that, when Malcolm Turnbull finally gets around to drafting it, his Marriage Amendment Bill will seek to include new special rights for civil celebrants and other wedding business-providers to discriminate against LGBTI couples. Just to get it on the record: Mr Shorten, will you commit the Labor Party to voting against any attempt to expand religious exceptions beyond existing provisions and, if they do somehow end up being passed and polluting the Marriage Act, will you seek to repeal them at the earliest available opportunity?”

 

Mr Shorten’s answer was unexpectedly strong, and reassuring: “Yes, and yes.”

 

As reported by the Guardian Australia, he went on to note that “[i]t’s not allowed now under the current law – why would we water down existing laws? We don’t need to water down anti-discrimination law to keep some people [who oppose same-sex marriage] happy.”[xii]

 

It is possible that, after the Federal election, the combined votes of Labor and the Greens in the Senate will be able to block any attempt by a re-elected Turnbull Liberal-National Government to include expanded religious exceptions as part of its legislative package creating the plebiscite.

 

However, with a double dissolution election now almost inevitable on July 2nd, and the reduced Senate quotas associated with it, the final result in that Chamber will be especially hard to predict, with a range of minor parties still chances to win the 12th and final seat in each state.

 

Which means that there are now only two ways to avoid the creation of new special rights to discriminate against LGBTI Australians: for Shorten and Labor to be elected (and then implement their own policy to introduce marriage equality legislation within 100 days), or for a re-elected Prime Minister Turnbull to publicly commit to not introducing new religious exceptions in his own Marriage Amendment Bill.

 

Given his track record on LGBTI issues since taking over from Tony Abbott last September – selling the LGBTI community out on multiple occasions by ‘gutting’ the Safe Schools program and abandoning his previous personal position against holding a plebiscite – securing any enforceable commitments from Mr Turnbull will likely be an incredibly difficult task.

 

But, if we are committed to genuine marriage equality, then I believe this is a fight we must take on. Because if we don’t, we might find that we win marriage equality in the next 12 to 18 months but, instead of being able to celebrate achieving a better, fairer and more equal Australia, we are left to deal with new forms of exclusion, discrimination and state-sanctioned homophobia.

 

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[i] Although Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young’s Recognition of Foreign Marriages Bill 2014 disappointingly only sought to recognize overseas marriages between “a man and another man or a woman and another woman”.

[ii] As quoted on page 22 of the Senate Committee Report: Matter of a popular vote, in the form of a plebiscite or referendum, on the matter of marriage in Australia, 15 September 2015.

[iii] Thus providing them with the same right to ‘reject’ couples that ministers of religion already enjoy under the Marriage Act.

[iv] It is instructive to consider how people like Ms Davis would be received were they to refuse to serve African-American people, rather than LGBTI people – presumably such acts of outright racism would not be tolerated, or even celebrated, in the same way her egregious acts of homophobia and transphobia have been.

[v] For more on why Leyonhejlm’s Freedom to Marry Bill 2014 was offensive, see “Senator Leyonhjelm’s Marriage Equality Bill Undermines the Principle of LGBTI Anti-Discrimination: Should we still support it?”

[vi] In Wilson’s opinion piece in The Australian on 6 July 2015, “Religious freedom and same-sex marriage need not be incompatible” he argued for religious exceptions to be extended not just to civil celebrants but also to a wide range of wedding-related businesses.

[vii] Only four states and territories currently have vilification laws that cover lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people: Queensland, NSW, ACT and Tasmania. There are no protections federally. Instead of suspending the paltry laws we do have, the Commonwealth Government should actually be introducing LGBTI anti-vilification laws of its own. See also: “Don’t limit racial vilification protections, introduce vilification protections for LGBTI Australians instead”.

[viii] From ACL Media Release, 5 April 2016 “ACL Concerned by Shorten Plan to Fine Business Owners who Disagree with Same-Sex Marriage.”

[ix] With Mr Shelton’s predecessor Jim Wallace saying that smoking was healthier than gay marriage, and the ACL under both leaders drawing comparisons between LGBTI parenting and the creation of another Stolen Generation, which is not just deeply offensive to LGBTI Australians but to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as well.

[x] Dennis Shanahan, The Australian, 26 March 2016, “Federal election 2016: Same-sex marriage plebiscite pause for poll”.

[xi] Lenore Taylor, Guardian Australia, 16 March 2016, “Marriage Equality: Coalition disunity puts pre-election plebiscite details in doubt.”

[xii] Paul Karp, Guardian Australia, 31 March 2016, “Shorten: Labor won’t change discrimination laws to please gay marriage opponents.”