A majority of LGBTIQ Australians reject controversial provisions in the government’s draft marriage equality bill. Those provisions would specifically allow the refusal of services to same-sex couples by civil celebrants and faith-owned businesses.
The government released a draft marriage equality bill last year. That bill was part of the planned plebiscite, ultimately torpedoed by the Senate.
But the draft bill itself is now before a Senate inquiry. That inquiry is looking at proposed exemptions “for ministers of religion, marriage celebrants and religious bodies and organisations to refuse to conduct or solemnise marriages.”
Marriage equality advocates have zeroed in on two clauses in the draft bill.
Firstly, one that would allow civil celebrants to refuse to solemnise a marriage if the refusal “is because the marriage is not the union of a man and a woman” or is based on a “conscientious” belief.
A second clause proposes that “religious bodies” and “religious organisations” be permitted to refuse to provide facilities, goods or services to LGBTI couples for weddings. This provision also singles out same-sex couples. However, advocates say it matches existing religious exemptions in federal discrimination law.
The bill also makes clear that the contentious provisions “[do] not limit the grounds on which” a marriage celebrant or religious minister may refuse to solemnise a marriage.
LGBTIQ groups PFLAG and Just.equal recently commissioned a survey on the issue. 81 percent of the 6,342 LGBTI Australians polled opposed allowing refusal of services under the exemptions.
That figure increased to 88.8% when respondents were told same-sex couples were specifically singled out in the bill. A similar number of respondents remained opposed to the exemptions even if – hypothetically – passing marriage equality this year depended on them.
PFLAG spokesperson Shelley Argent said that the groups will campaign on the back of the survey results.
“We will show politicians that LGBTI people want true marriage equality, not a watered-down version that entrenches prejudice and discrimination.”
Australian Marriage Equality and Australians 4 Equality said civil celebrants acting on behalf of the state shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate. Further, they said, the provisions of the draft bill would set a ‘dangerous precedent’.
“Ministers of religion are and should always be free to conduct marriages in accordance with their religious tenets and doctrines,” A4E co-chair Anna Brown said.
“The Bill proposes to introduce the concept of a ‘conscientious belief’ and permit civil celebrants to discriminate against same-sex couples on the basis of their personal individual views not necessarily linked to religion.
“There is a risk that this exemption will extend to other contexts such as commercial services, education or health. It might also become justification for discrimination on the basis of age, sex, race, religion.”
Ms. Brown said existing laws already protect religious freedoms.
Celebrants response to draft marriage equality bill
The Coalition of Celebrant Associations told the inquiry they did not support exemptions for celebrants.
The Australian Federation of Civil Celebrants admitted a 2016 survey of their members found 87% supported marriage equality. Despite that, the organisation wanted the exemptions to remain.
Veteran marriage equality campaigner Rodney Croome said the result was a challenge for political leaders.
“They must find a path forward that treats all Australians with equal dignity.
“The LGBTIQ community does not want the path to marriage equality lined with new inequalities. Just as they didn’t want a hateful plebiscite.”
The Senate committee is due to report by February 13.
For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.