13 February 2012
Andrew introduces a motion to clarify that if equal marriage rights are legislated, churches and religious ministers retain their right to refuse to solemnise same-sex marriages.
Mr WILKIE (Denison) (11:35): I move:
That this House agrees that should the Marriage Act 1961 be amended to allow for the marriage of same-sex couples, any such amendment should ensure that the Act imposes no obligation on any church or religious minister to perform such a marriage.
My support for marriage equality is well known. However, for me this issue is not simply to do with same-sex marriage. It is about equality that everyone, regardless of their gender, race, sexual preference or faith, should be treated the same under Australian law: in other words, that all people are equal and should be treated as such. It is no wonder then I believe that the current provision of the Marriage Act, that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, is in fact legislated discrimination.
While at all times I have tried to be very clear in my position, hopefully I have also been just as careful to respect the strong views of the many people who disagree with me, because it is a fact that time and time again I have spoken to people I have disagreed with and time and time again people have disagreed with me. That is fair enough, because marriage equality is indeed a polarising issue, for all sorts of reasons. This motion is not about telling people who are against same-sex marriage that they are wrong. Rather, it is about acknowledging that people have many and varied views on this topic and that the Australian parliament should respect those views.
To that end, this parliament should formally recognise again that in Australia the churches are private institutions and that consequently they and their officials must forever retain their right to refuse to marry anyone whom they do not wish to marry. There is nothing remarkable about this proposition, if only because throughout history churches have had differing views on whom they allow to marry. For instance, some churches would not allow a Catholic to marry a Protestant. Others would not allow divorcees to marry again. Some would even refuse a ceremony to those of different creeds or nationalities. While some such refusals would seem out of place in our modern society, the right was protected and churches were not forced to adhere to one rule of eligibility. In other words, their status as a private institution was protected—and rightly so.
It is my firm belief that as a parliament it is not our place to impinge upon free religious practices and beliefs. But as a parliament it is our responsibility to make laws in the best interests of our country and, in the second decade of the 21st century, it is simply not acceptable that as a parliament we are prepared to restrict marriage rights from a section of the population based only on their sexual preference.
When the parliament does tackle this great reform, I do not wish it to be hindered by an argument that we might be seeking to force churches to solemnise marriages they do not agree with. Therefore I am pleased to present this motion to the House. It is my hope that it articulates widespread public sentiment and will help progress the move to marriage equality, a move which is supported by over 60 per cent of the community, according to today’s Galaxy poll.
Some people might be concerned that this motion deals with a hypothetical. In response I say that marriage equality is patently inevitable, as it should be, so the public interest is best served by us in this place ensuring that the legislation enacting such reform is carefully crafted to respect the rights and sensitivities of those who oppose it. This motion is simply to that end and I suggest it would be counterproductive for those who oppose marriage equality to oppose this motion.
To the Leader of the Opposition in particular, I say: please respect your party’s rule giving all parliamentary members the right to follow their conscience every time they vote in this place. Even if the opposition opposes this motion, there is no reason whatsoever why any number of its members cannot still follow their conscience and support it. This should also be the case when Liberal Party members eventually pass judgment on the bills coming before parliament this week which seek to amend the Marriage Act to allow same-sex marriage. I commend this motion to the House and strongly urge all of my parliamentary colleagues to lend it their support.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mrs D’Ath ): Is there a seconder for this motion?
Mr Bandt: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.