THE Attorney-General’s department has released an draft of proposed changes to the Marriage Act should the Australian public vote yes to marriage equality in the February plebiscite.

Changes including changing the definition of marriage to be between two people, overseas same-sex marriages would be recognised in Australia and religious leaders and marriage celebrants would be allowed to refuse to marry a same-sex couple.

Attorney-General George Brandis released the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill saying it will form the basis for ongoing consultation “should the same-sex marriage plebiscite go ahead”.

The key features of the Exposure Draft are:

  1. The definition of marriage would change: The definition of marriage in of the Marriage Act would be changed to replace “a man and a woman” with “two people”.
  1. The conditions for a valid marriage would stay the same: It will continue to be the case that a marriage would be void if, for example, the parties are in a ‘prohibited relationship’, consent was not real, or one or both parties are not of marriageable age.
  1. Foreign same-sex marriages would be recognised in Australia: All valid marriage solemnised under the law of a foreign country, including same-sex marriages, would be recognised in Australia if they are consistent with Australian law. A foreign marriage would not be valid in Australia if the marriage would be unlawful in Australia, for example, if the parties are siblings, in a parent-child relationship, or are polygamous.
  1. Existing protections for ministers of religion would be retained and strengthened: ministers of religion would be able to refuse to solemnise a marriage on the grounds that the marriage is not the union of a man and a woman, if that refusal conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of the minister’s religion, or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of the religion, or if (irrespective of the teachings of his or her church) the minister has a conscientious objection to same-sex marriage.
  1. Marriage celebrants (including those who are not ministers of religion) would be able to refuse to marry a same-sex couple: In addition to the existing law whereby marriage celebrants are under no obligation to solemnise marriage, the Marriage Act would be amended to allow marriage celebrants who are not ministers of religion to refuse, on the basis of conscientious or religious beliefs, to solemnise a marriage on the grounds that the marriage is not the union of a man or a woman. Religious bodies and religious organisations would also be able to refuse to provide facilities, goods or services for the purpose of solemnisation of a same sex marriage, or for purposes reasonably incidental thereto, if the refusal conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of the religion, or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents to that religion.

The Attorney-General’s department said if the plebiscite were to go ahead the government would establish a Joint Select Committee to review and report on the Exposure Draft.  Which people would form the Committee would be as agreed by the Government, the Opposition, and Crossbench parties.

The government reaffirmed its commitment to the plebiscite, despite most Australians opposed to the public vote: “In all its dealings in this matter, the Government has acted in good faith to acknowledge the diverse and strongly held views of all participants.”

“The Government recognises that it is important for Australians to know what the effect may be of voting ‘yes’ or ‘no’ at the plebiscite,” the department said in a statement.

“This is the quickest way towards achieving same-sex marriage in this Parliament. For those who believe in same-sex marriage this is the most immediate and only feasible opportunity to achieve this in the foreseeable future.”

The Federal Labor caucus is expected to announce today whether it will block the plebiscite enabling legislation.

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