7 Reflections on the Marriage Debate

It has truly been an amazing few days. With the House of Representatives vote on the Smith Bill on Thursday afternoon, its royal assent on Friday morning, and commencement at 12am Saturday (instantly recognising the overseas marriages of many LGBTI couples, and allowing thousands more to register their intention to marry), Australia is a different country – a better, fairer and more inclusive country – today than it was this time last week.

 

Now that I’ve had a few days to let this historic achievement sink in, here are some personal reflections on the marriage debate:

 

  1. It’s LGBTI marriage. It’s not marriage equality.

 

My first reflection is probably the most controversial: while the passage of the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017, which permits all couples to marry irrespective of their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics, is obviously welcome, it does not deserve the moniker ‘marriage equality’.

 

That is because, as well as amending its definition, it also changes the ‘terms and conditions’ surrounding marriage in Australia, simply because LGBTI couples are finally allowed to participate.

 

This includes enabling existing civil celebrants to nominate to become ‘religious marriage celebrants’, and discriminate against LGBTI couples, solely on the basis of their personal religious beliefs [sub-section 39DD(2)]. As well as unnecessarily duplicating religious exceptions from the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 within the Marriage Act itself [section 47B].

 

The fact these amendments have been included now, but were not previously required in relation to divorced people re-marrying, suggests they have very little to do with ‘religious freedom’, and much more to do with homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.

 

Informed by past experience, the majority of LGBTI Australians fear that new rights to discriminate will be primarily used to target us – with recent research finding more than 60% of respondents strongly agreeing that, even if these laws technically allow discrimination against all couples, ‘it will disproportionately discriminate against same-sex couples’.

 

Of course, in the interests of ensuring LGBTI couples are able to marry at all, many people were prepared to accept these concessions. I certainly understand that viewpoint. But from my perspective, it means we now enjoy LGBTI marriage (or what a respected friend of mine describes as ‘partial marriage equality’) rather than genuine marriage equality.

 

And I think it is important to remind ourselves of this compromise, so that we can work to remove these discriminatory provisions in coming years.

 

  1. It could have been worse

 

Despite the significant flaws of the Smith Bill, we should also remember that it could have been much worse. At the start of November, most media commentary focused on how many ‘conservative’ amendments would be passed, allowing even more discrimination against LGBTI couples.

 

There was even the short-lived Bill from Liberal Senator James Paterson, the entire purpose of which appeared to be about entrenching ‘religious privilege’. Followed by amendments put forward by Attorney-General George Brandis, and supported by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, to permit all civil celebrants to say ‘no gays allowed’.

 

One of the proudest moments of my own participation in the long fight for equality came in recent months, collaborating with a small group of advocates to oppose these changes. Rodney Croome, Felicity Marlowe, Shelley Argent, Brian Greig, Sharon Dane, Ivan Hinton-Teoh, Sharyn Faulkner, Robin Banks and Peter Furness all fought for the principle of full equality until the very end.

 

In that struggle we were not alone, with others – notably including the Equal Marriage Rights Australia Facebook page, Pauline Pantsdown, Jacqui Tomlins and Doug Pollard –making important public contributions.

 

I should also take this opportunity to thank everyone – family members, friends, blog readers, No Homophobia No Exceptions followers, and complete strangers – who completed the just.equal webform, to let MPs and Senators know there should be ‘No compromise on equality’. I understand close to 200,000 emails were sent, obviously having a massive impact. Thank you.

 

Together, we were able to alter the conversation, so that the Smith Bill was no longer seen as a ‘starting point’, to inevitably be dragged further to the right, but as the compromise it clearly was.

 

Together, we were able to persuade the Greens to introduce amendments to remove the egregious elements of the Smith Bill, amendments that, even if they failed last week, can be used for advocacy in the future.

 

Together, we helped to stop the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017 from being much, much worse.

 

  1. It could still get worse

 

We must not overlook the fact that the reforms introduced last week are already under serious threat, as a result of the Review into ‘Religious Freedoms’ announced by Malcolm Turnbull on 22 November.

 

Former Liberal MP Philip Ruddock – the Attorney-General who oversaw the introduction of the ban on marriage equality in August 2004 – will spend the first three months of 2018 examining how Australian law can ‘better protect’ religious freedoms.

 

As we all know, increases in special privileges for religious individuals and organisations almost inevitably come at the expense of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians (as well as other groups, including women).

 

Despite this, the panel for the Ruddock Review does not include any representatives from the LGBTI community (with Ruddock joined by the head of the Australian Human Rights Commission Rosalind Croucher, retired judge Annabelle Bennett and Jesuit priest Frank Brennan).

 

So, by all means spend the remainder of December celebrating our recent success. Because when 2018 starts we must stand ready to defend those gains, as well as protecting a wide range of other existing LGBTI rights, which will likely come under sustained attack.

 

  1. Renewed appreciation of the importance of LGBTI anti-discrimination laws

 

Some of the rights most at risk in the Ruddock Review – as they were during the parliamentary debate of the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill – are our essential LGBTI anti-discrimination protections.

 

Indeed, one of the few positives of the past few months, amid the intense lobbying surrounding the Smith Bill, Paterson Bill and attempted conservative amendments, has been renewed appreciation of the importance of these laws within the LGBTI community itself.

 

After all, it is difficult to convey the significance of provisions, like LGBTI anti-discrimination sections within the Sex Discrimination Act, that should be needed less and less in practice as homophobia recedes (although the experience of the postal survey indicates that hopeful vision of the future remains some way off).

 

However, even if we don’t individually use them to lodge complaints, we all rely on the standards these laws set. Hopefully, the recent focus on the subject of anti-discrimination laws means the LGBTI community will be ready to fiercely defend our existing protections in the near future.

 

But we must do more than merely maintain the status quo. We must campaign to improve the protections offered by these laws, especially in terms of who is covered, removing religious exceptions, and introducing LGBTI anti-vilification laws where there currently are none (Commonwealth, Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory).

 

To find out more about the current status of these laws in your jurisdiction, see: A Quick Guide to Australians LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws.

 

The first opportunity to improve these laws is the public consultation by the Northern Territory Government on modernisation of their Anti-Discrimination Act. Submissions close 31 January 2018. For more information, click here.

 

  1. Marriage is not, and never has been, the only LGBTI issue

 

This point may seem obvious to most (but sadly not all) people within the LGBTI community, but it is less so to those outside, including some who sit in our nation’s parliament.

 

The denial of the right to marry was never the only form of discrimination to adversely affect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians. For a lot of people, it wasn’t even close to being near the top of a long list of concerns.

 

Now that LGBTI marriage has been legalised, it is time to ensure a wide range of other issues receive the level of attention that they deserve, including (but definitely not limited to):

  • Ending involuntary surgeries on intersex children
  • Improving access to identity documentation for trans and gender diverse people
  • Ensuring the national Health & Physical Education curriculum includes LGBTI students, and content that is relevant to their needs
  • Implementing nation-wide LGBTI anti-bullying programs in schools
  • Fixing LGBTI anti-discrimination laws (including the broken NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977)
  • Stopping the offshore detention, processing and resettlement of people seeking asylum, including of LGBTI people in countries that criminalise them (such as Papua New Guinea), and
  • Ending HIV.

 

These last two issues directly affect the LGBTI community, albeit not exclusively. There are other issues that may not be specifically ‘LGBTI’ per se, but that we have an interest in, and a responsibility to help address.

 

That includes improving the treatment of people seeking asylum generally, supporting the campaign for constitutional reform for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – especially because the same-sex marriage postal survey was used to push the Uluru Statement from the Heart off the political agenda – and helping to Close the Gap. Oh, and addressing climate change (including stopping the Adani coal mine) because there’s no human rights on a dead planet.

 

  1. The ends do not justify the means

 

One of the most nauseating parts of the parliamentary debate last week (amid some fairly stiff competition) was the sight of Liberal and National Party MPs trying to retrospectively justify their decision to hold the postal survey in the first place.

 

They must never be allowed to get away with this argument.

 

The postal survey was unnecessary.

 

It was wasteful – at a final cost of $80.5 million (a figure that Coalition MPs should arguably be forced to repay).

 

And it was harmful, just as LGBTI Australians always said it would be: “experiences of verbal and physical assaults more than doubled in the three months following the announcement of the postal survey compared with the prior six months”, while “more than 90% reported the postal survey had a negative impact on them to some degree.”

 

As Junkee’s Rob Stott aptly described it: “Hey Malcolm, I’m glad you enjoyed the postal survey. It was one of the worst times of my life.”

 

Even the United Nations Human Rights Committee recently criticized the Government for this process:

 

“While noting that the State party is currently undertaking a voluntary, non-binding postal survey on the legalization of same-sex marriage, the Committee is of the view that resort to public opinion polls to facilitate upholding rights under the Covenant in general, and equality and non-discrimination of minority groups in particular, is not an acceptable decision-making method and that such an approach risks further marginalizing and stigmatizing members of minority groups.”

 

Which is exactly what happened.

 

The fact Commonwealth Parliament has since passed LGBTI marriage cannot be used to excuse the postal survey – because passing legislation is what parliaments are supposed to do. You know, like how John Howard banned marriage equality in August 2004, without an $80.5 million farce beforehand.

 

The postal survey should never have happened. And it must never be allowed to happen again.

 

  1. This was not Malcolm Turnbull’s victory. It was ours.

 

Another extremely nauseating moment last week was watching Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull try to claim credit for the passage of LGBTI marriage.

 

This is a so-called ‘leader’ who:

  • Refused to introduce legislation to legalise marriage equality
  • Instead, imposed an unnecessary, wasteful and harmful postal survey on the LGBTI community
  • Then refused to participate in the Yes campaign, and
  • When legislation was finally before parliament, supported amendments to allow even more discrimination against LGBTI couples.

 

Thankfully, his brazen ‘gloating’ has been called out by people like Magda Szubanski and perhaps even more powerfully by Jordan Raskopoulos.

 

Malcolm Turnbull does not deserve credit for what he did. He deserves our condemnation.

 

On the other hand, and given the sheer scale of the accomplishment, there are plenty of individuals and organisations that do deserve our thanks. Including the advocates I named earlier. As well as, obviously, the Yes Campaign and Australian Marriage Equality, GetUp!, PFLAG Australia, Rainbow Families Victoria, the NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby, just.equal, Equal Love, CAAH, Rainbow Labor and the unions (well, most of them), and the Greens. Plus many, many more.

 

Nevertheless, one of the best parts about the long struggle for LGBTI marriage in Australia is that it was truly a collective effort, much bigger than any one individual. Because it involved millions of actions, by millions of people, the vast majority of which will never be recorded by history. Which means the victory belongs to everyone who has contributed to the fight along the way. All of us.

 

**********

 

So, there you have it, my final thoughts on the marriage debate. Feel free to share yours – including where you may passionately disagree – in the comments below.

 

But now, on a personal level, it’s time for me to stop writing about the right to get married. And to instead go and exercise that right, by planning Steven and my long overdue wedding.

 

House of Reps Vote

The moment LGBTI marriage was passed by the House of Representatives.

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Submission re Tasmania’s Proposed Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2016

Update 19 January 2017:

Unfortunately, the Tasmanian Government has pushed ahead with its flawed legislation to allow greater rights to vilify LGBTI people, and especially vilification by religious organisations.

The Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2016 – full text here – was passed by the Legislative Assembly on 25 October 2016.

This includes an expansion of the ‘public purpose’ defence for vilification, to cover “a public act done in good faith for… religious purposes” where religious purpose is defined as “includes, but is not limited to, conveying, teaching or proselytising a religious belief.”

Disappointingly, the Legislative Council failed to refer the Bill to an inquiry, although the Government ran out of time for the Bill to be passed in 2016 – the Attorney-General, Vanessa Goodwin, stated that:

“Due to our heavy legislative agenda and given the proximity to the end of the parliamentary year, the Government does not intend to bring the bill on for debate until next year. This will allow further time for community debate and stakeholder feedback to MLCs on this important issue.”

With Tasmanian Parliament resuming on March 7, that means there’s now less than 7 weeks left to convince upper house MPs not to undermine what has been, until now, Australia’s best anti-discrimination scheme.

Original Post:

Department of Justice

Office of Strategic Legislation and Policy

GPO Box 825

Hobart TAS 7001

c/ legislation.development@justice.tas.gov.au

Friday 9 September 2016

To whom it may concern

Submission re Proposed Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2016

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission in relation to the Government’s proposed amendments to Tasmanian anti-vilification laws, which are included in the Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2016 (‘the Bill’).

I make this submission as an advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) equality, and as someone who takes a keen interest in anti-discrimination and anti-vilification laws, both at the Commonwealth level, and in Australia’s states and territories.

My first comment in response to the proposed Bill is to observe that it appears to be a ‘solution’ in search of a problem.

As far as I can ascertain, there seem to be two main motivations for these reforms. The first is to satisfy the demands of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), who have repeatedly requested that state and territory LGBTI anti-vilification laws (where they exist) be suspended, or even abolished, in the lead-up to the potential national plebiscite on marriage equality.

The obvious response to such a demand is that, if their arguments against the equal treatment of LGBTI people under secular law require them to breach anti-vilification laws, perhaps they need better arguments rather than worse laws.

The second motivation appears to be a recent case, involving Mr Julian Porteous, following the distribution of the Don’t Mess with Marriage booklet by the Tasmanian Catholic Church that stated same-sex parents “mess with kids”, and that same-sex partners are not “whole people”. Possibly the most salient point to note is that the complaint was subject to attempted conciliation, which did not result in it being resolved, but then did not even proceed to the Tribunal.

I would argue that these two motivations – to allow the ACL to contravene vilification standards during any forthcoming plebiscite debate, and to respond to a single case that did not even make it to the Tribunal – are not sufficient justification to propose reforms that would ‘water down’ the anti-vilification protections that are currently offered to LGBTI Tasmanians.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what this Bill attempts to do. By replacing the wording of section 55, and expanding the exceptions to the vilification protections offered under sections 17(1) and 19 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (‘the Act’), the Bill would effectively allow greater vilification of people on the grounds of sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, gender identity and intersex (among other grounds).

In doing so, it would wind back hard-fought, and hard-won, protections introduced after the long-running decriminalisation campaign of the 1980s and 1990s. It is very hard to see, 18 years since its original passage, why there is a need to make anti-LGBTI hate speech easier in the contemporary environment.

I have two more-specific concerns about the proposed changes to section 55.

The first is to question why the exception, which would be expanded to include ‘public acts done reasonably and in good faith’ for a ‘religious’ purpose (where ‘religious purpose includes, but is not limited to, conveying, teaching or proselytising a religious belief’), should apply with respect to section 19[i], which establishes the more serious offence of ‘inciting hatred’ (whereas sub-section 17(1)[ii] regulates ‘conduct which offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules’).

It is difficult to comprehend why the Act should be amended to make lawful the incitement of ‘hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of’ people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual (noting that section 19 currently does not offer protection to transgender or intersex people) merely because it is done for a ‘religious purpose’.

According to advocate Rodney Croome “Worst of all is the Government’s decision to erode hate speech protections even more than people like Julian Porteous want. He has called for the law against denigrating statements to be watered down, but has said the law against the more severe crime of incitement to hatred [ie section 19] should be kept intact.”[iii]

It seems this particular ‘solution’ isn’t just in search of a problem, it is lacking beneficiaries too (although it is clear who the losers will be from such an amendment: lesbian, gay and bisexual Tasmanians).

My second concern is to question the limits of the proposed exception for vilification for ‘religious purposes’, with respect to both sections 17(1) and 19. In particular, and noting it will be challenging for the Tribunal, or courts more broadly, to determine when a public act for a ‘religious purpose’ is ‘done reasonably and in good faith’ or not, how far will religious individuals or groups be allowed to go in ‘proselytising’ a religious belief that itself incites hatred?

An example of such a belief would be for an extremist christian organisation to promote a ‘literal’ reading of Leviticus 20:13, which has been interpreted as “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them”[iv].

And, before it is suggested that this example is implausible, we should recall that it is only four years since a senior figure within the Salvation Army publicly defended this belief – that gay people should be put to death – live on radio[v].

Given this, how would the proposed amended law deal with a situation where, instead of distributing the booklet Don’t Mess with Marriage, a religious school sent children home with a pamphlet entitled Gay Men Should Die (or perhaps slightly more generously, Gay Men Should Die Unless they are Celibate) conveying the ‘religious belief’ that men who have same-sex sexual intercourse ‘shall surely be put to death’?

It is reasonably clear such a pamphlet would ‘offend, humiliate, intimidate, insult or ridicule’, as well as likely inciting ‘hatred, serious contempt for or severe ridicule’ of, people on the basis of both sexual orientation and lawful sexual activity, and in doing so contravene both sections 17(1) and 19 of the Act.

But it is also possible the proposed new section 55 would ‘excuse’ these actions because it would be a public act done in ‘good faith for a religious purpose’, as it was ‘conveying, teaching or proselytising a religious belief’, no matter how offensive it is, to young people at a school operated by that organisation[vi].

I would argue that this would be an unacceptable outcome, and hope that the legislative sponsors of these amendments, and indeed anyone pushing for changes to Tasmania’s vilification laws, would agree.

It is particularly concerning that such an undesirable result could be achieved given we have seen above that there doesn’t actually appear to be any justification for the introduction of this Bill.

More generally, as someone from outside the State I would argue that the undermining of Tasmania’s anti-vilification regime, which is currently among the best, if not the best, law in the country, in this way would be a negative precedent for other jurisdictions.

This is especially important given only four states and territories currently have any anti-vilification protections for any sections of the LGBTI community (Tasmania, Queensland, NSW and the ACT). Nor do such laws exist federally. Even where they do exist, such as in NSW, they have significant flaws (for example, only protecting lesbians, gay men and some transgender people from vilification, and not protecting bisexuals or intersex people at all).

In my view, the Tasmanian Government should be concentrating on ensuring its anti-vilification laws are comprehensive (such as by amending section 19 to prohibit the incitement of hatred, serious contempt for or severe ridicule of transgender and intersex people) and effective, instead of making it easier for people to vilify others because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Thank you again for the opportunity to make this submission and for taking it into consideration. Should you require clarification, or additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me at the details provided below.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

Footnotes:

[i]19. Inciting hatred

A person, by a public act, must not incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or a group of persons on the ground of –

  • the race of the person or any member of the group; or
  • any disability of the person or any member of the group; or
  • the sexual orientation or lawful sexual activity of the person or any member of the group; or
  • the religious belief or affiliation or religious activity of the person or any ember of the group.”

[ii]17. Prohibition of certain conduct and sexual harassment

(1) A person must not engage in any conduct which offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules abother person on the basis of an attribute referred to in section 16(e), (a), (b), (c), (d), (ea), (eb) and (k), (f), (fa), (g), (h), (i) or (j) in circumstances in which a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances would have anticipated that the other person would be offended, humiliated, intimidated, insulted or ridiculed.”

NB This covers sexual orientation (16(c)), lawful sexual activity (d), gender identity (ea) and intersex (eb).

[iii] The Mercury, Talking Point: Green light being given to homophobia and any bigot with a bible’, 31 August 2016. http://www.themercury.com.au/news/opinion/talking-point-green-light-being-given-to-homophobia/news-story/00ffb213c903540b1febfdb94dbef243

[iv] Of course, such a position would overlook the inherent contradictions of adopting a ‘literal’ interpretation of some sections of the bible, while rejecting literal readings of others, a double standard which has been perfectly encapsulated by the now famous ‘Letter to Dr Laura’ (responding to a US radio host’s bible-based description of homosexuality as an ‘abomination’):

dear-dr-laura

[v] Huffington Post, Andrew Craibe, Salvation Army Official, Implies Gays Should be Put to Death in Interview, 26 June 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/26/andrew-craibe-salvation-army-official-gays-put-to-death_n_1628135.html

Joy 94.9FM presenter Serena Ryan: According to the Salvation Army, [gay people] deserve death. How do you respond to that, as part of your doctrine?

Craibe: Well, that’s a part of our belief system.

Ryan: So we should die.

Craibe: You know, we have an alignment to the Scriptures, but that’s our belief.

[vi] The only question is whether the public act was ‘done reasonably’, although I would suggest there is a risk at least some Tribunal members or judges may view the promotion of any religious belief, no matter how offensive, to be reasonable provided that belief was sincerely held.

Response to Letter to Malcolm Turnbull About the Marriage Equality Plebiscite

A lot has happened in the 10 days since I first posted my letter to Malcolm Turnbull about the marriage equality plebiscite.

To begin with, a number of Coalition MPs have publicly revealed that, irrespective of the outcome of any plebiscite, they will continue to vote against the equal recognition of LGBTI relationships.

This conservative crusade was led by Senator Eric Abetz who told The Guardian that:

“everyone knows my view is very strongly that a marriage between a man and a woman is the foundational institution for socialising the next generation. And every member of parliament will make up his or her mind after the plebiscite is held. People will take into account the views of the electorate, the views of the nation and their own personal views… There will be people in the parliament who could not support the outcome of a plebiscite whichever way it went.”

His view – that if the voters of Australia supported marriage equality at a plebiscite they could essentially ‘get stuffed’ – was soon supported by both fellow Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi, who told Sky News that “[a] plebiscite is a glorified opinion poll, and no government should be bound by that” and Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie, the latter so committed to opposing LGBTI equality she is willing to deny legal rights to her own brother.

Then, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott (who similarly thinks his own relationship more worthy of recognition that that of his sibling) jetted off to address an audience of homophobes in the US, telling them that:

“[w]e shouldn’t try to change something without understanding it, without grasping why it is one that one man and one woman open to children until just a very few years ago has always been considered the essence of marriage and the heart of family… We can’t shirk our responsibilities to the future, but let’s also respect and appreciate values and institutions that have stood the test of time and pass them on, undamaged, when that’s best. That’s a goal we should all be able to share” [emphasis added].

Despite claiming that he still supports holding a marriage equality plebiscite, it is clear which outcome he wanted, placing into serious doubt his sincerity in introducing legislation following a successful ‘yes’ vote (were he still Prime Minister – a position to which he obviously wishes to return).

The Australian Christian Lobby has also done its job in undermining the credibility of any marriage equality plebiscite, with comments reported by The Guardian that:

“Abbott emerged from that meeting announcing the Coalition had decided to use its numbers to block the introduction into the Australian parliament of yet another bill to change the definition of marriage… Instead, a people’s vote known as a plebiscite would be held sometime after the 2016 election, kicking the issue into the long grass (putting the issue off) and blunting the momentum of same-sex marriage lobbyists” [emphasis added].

Australian Marriage Equality head Rodney Croome, quoted in the same article, quite accurately summed up these developments with the following: “[a]s a policy option, the plebiscite is collapsing under the weight of its own cynicism.”

Indeed, one of the most pleasing aspects of this week’s debate has been the increasing media scrutiny of the proposal to hold a plebiscite on marriage equality, with respected journalists such as Lenore Taylor describing it asdaft and Mark Kenny observing that:

“Malcolm Turnbull’s commitment to the plebiscite can be seen for what it really is: an internal matter – the price of entry to the leadership. Slow and costly… his own credibility with voters is also at stake if he is seen to trade principles in pursuit of power and an easier life.”

The final major development of the past 10 days was yesterday’s (Friday 29 January 2016) announcement by Australian Marriage Equality that it now believes there is majority support for passing majority equality legislation in both houses of parliament – if only the Coalition were willing to grant their MPs and Senators a free vote.

All of which puts the issue of marriage equality squarely in the Prime Minister’s court (the current one, Malcolm Turnbull, not Prime Minister-in-exile Tony Abbott). The original proposal to hold a marriage equality plebiscite may not have been his, but, now that he is in the Lodge, he owns it.

It is up to Malcolm Turnbull to decide whether Australia will be subjected to a pointless plebiscite on this issue. The time has come for him to show whether he is a leader who is strong enough to back a free vote, or whether he is instead prepared to allow this farce to drag on for not just months, but years, solely for reasons of political expediency.

The signs, however, are not good. Turnbull reiterated the Government’s position in support of a plebiscite to 3AW Radio just yesterday, saying it will “absolutely” pass parliament following a successful vote (something which Abetz, Bernardi, McKenzie and others may have more to say about in coming weeks).

Finally, he has responded to my letter to him on this subject – well, sort of anyway. Given he seems to have outsourced his decision-making on marriage equality to his homophobic predecessor Tony Abbott, it is possibly unsurprising, although nevertheless disappointing, that he has outsourced responsibility for answering correspondence regarding the marriage equality plebiscite to Attorney-General Senator George Brandis, who in turn has delegated it to his Department.

Here is the Government’s response to my letter to Malcolm Turnbull about the marriage equality plebiscite:

 

“27 January 2016

 

Mr Alastair Lawrie

[Address withheld]

 

Dear Mr Lawrie

Thank you for your recent correspondence to the Prime Minister, the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP, about same-sex marriage. Your correspondence was referred to the Attorney-General, Senator the Hon George Brandis QC, as marriage falls within his portfolio responsibilities. The Attorney-General has asked that I reply to you on his behalf.

I appreciate you taking the time to write to the Government on the issue of same-sex marriage and for sharing your personal experiences. It is clear that this issue holds particular significant for you.

The Government appreciates that, like you, many Australians have strong personal views about same-sex marriage. That is why, last year, it was decided that this issue should be resolved through a national vote that gives every Australian the opportunity to have their say.

The Government believes it is thoroughly democratic to ask the Australian people whether the Marriage Act 1961 should be amended to allow for same-sex marriage, provided there are appropriate safeguards in place to protect religious freedom[i].

Although a plebiscite will cost money, the Government is of the view that every Australian should be able to have their say on this important issue.

Thank you for bringing your views to the Government’s attention.

 

Yours sincerely

[Name withheld]

Marriage Law and Celebrants Section”

 

Croome on Plebiscite

 

[i] The reference to “appropriate safeguards in place to protect religious freedom” is obviously of major concern, given the push for exceptions to be granted to civil celebrants and other businesses that supply weddings to allow them to discriminate against LGBTI couples. This is an issue that will be addressed in a future post.