The peak body representing civil marriage celebrants has said a majority of its members don’t want new rights to discriminate, as politicians debate amending legislation to allow civil celebrants to refuse same-sex weddings.
The Coalition of Celebrant Associations said that celebrants should abide by anti-discrimination laws and that the group “does not approve of” exemptions.
“We feel that if that’s the law of the country, then that’s what you do,” the group’s chair Dorothy Harrison told Fairfax Media.
“We have discrimination laws and we have to live by them.”
Liberal Senator Dean Smith’s same-sex marriage bill, which enjoys cross-party support, would allow churches and religious celebrants to refuse to wed same-sex couples.
The bill would also change the definition of “authorised celebrant” to include a new class of “religious marriage celebrants” who can refuse to conduct a marriage ceremony if it is contrary to their religious beliefs.
The bill also provides a three-month period for existing celebrants register as “religious marriage celebrants” if they wish to.
Last week, Attorney-General George Brandis told the Senate he would introduce amendments that would give all civil celebrants the right to refuse same-sex couples on conscientious or religious grounds.
“I don’t regard them as merely public servants. They’re officiants of the ceremony,” Brandis told Q&A on Monday night.
“If they have a conscientious objection to a particular form of the ceremony, I think it’s quite wrong to force them to officiate in a way that would violate their conscience.”
The Coalition of Celebrant Associations said they were comfortable with Smith’s same-sex marriage bill as it stands, without the extra provisions.
A survey conducted by the group of 1500 civil celebrants found that 80 per cent would happily perform same-sex weddings, and just 3 per cent would resign if such protections were not legislated.
Ten per cent would consider refusing a same-sex wedding “discreetly,” for example by claiming to be unavailable.
Civil Celebrations Network founder Rona Gould said civil celebrants should not be allowed to turn away couples based on gender or sexuality.
“Don’t bring in a law to get rid of discrimination and build in more discrimination,” she said.
Human Rights Commissioner Ed Santow told Fairfax Media there were “real gaps in how Australian law protects freedom of religion” but the Australian Human Rights Commission had “strong concerns” about any proposed exemptions to existing anti-discrimination laws.
“The price of marriage equality can’t be that we wind back our anti-discrimination laws,” he said.
“If you’re a civil celebrant performing civil marriages, the ordinary anti-discrimination laws should apply.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is under pressure to get same-sex marriage legislation through the parliament before Christmas, following the “yes” result of the same-sex marriage postal survey.
On Wednesday, Turnbull announced former Howard government minister Phillip Ruddock would head a panel conducting a separate review into religious freedom in Australia.
The panel is due to report by March next year.