The Legislative Council’s Standing Committee on Social Issues, which was tasked with analysing the feasibility of such legislation, stated in its report that “equal marriage rights would best be achieved by amendment to Commonwealth legislation” as it feared any future state-based law would be the subject of a High Court challenge, the outcome of which it could not predict.
The inquiry had earlier received a record number of submissions for any Legislative Council Committee, with over 7,500 responses sent.
Speaking to media assembled inside Parliament House late on Friday afternoon, Nationals MLC and Committee Chair Niall Blair said the report mostly sought to clarify the law and not pass judgement on the merits of marriage equality, or lack thereof.
“The Committee tried to provide an informed document that will allow MPs to participate in the debate and understand a range of views right across NSW,” Blair said.
“But more importantly to participate in the debate knowing that the state has the power [to legislate for marriage equality], however there may be constitutional issues related to that.”
Responding to the release of the report, members of the parliamentary Cross Party Working Group for Marriage Equality welcomed the Committee’s report as a “momentous step forward” on the issue in NSW.
“The Cross Party Working Group remains committed to marriage equality, and looks forward to working with all people, both within and outside the Parliament, to deliver reforms for same sex couples,” members of the Working Group said in a joint statement.
“We will be examining the detail of the report, and will release further comment regarding our Bill in the near future.”
The NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (GLRL) claimed that the report’s release gave the green light for State Parliament and other states and territories to legislate equal marriage laws if their federal counterparts remained reluctant to do so.
“Our right to marry is a matter of fairness which cuts across political divides, and the collaborative approach taken by the cross-party working group is an example for others to emulate,” GLRL Co-convener Dr Justin Koonin said.
“Further, with Premier Barry O’Farrell and Opposition Leader John Robertson both supporting free votes on same-sex marriage within their parties, there is now a real opportunity for NSW Parliament to make an important statement.”
Australian Marriage Equality (AME) said the report’s findings meant it would now step up its campaign to have a NSW same-sex marriage law enacted.
“The common misunderstanding that a state same-sex marriage law would be unconstitutional has been shown to be false,” AME NSW convener Malcolm McPherson said.
“This removes one of the main impediments to state same-sex marriage law.”
Committee members Greg Donnelly (Labor) and Natasha Maclaren-Jones (Liberal) dissented from the majority ruling, however, accusing the committee of being “flaccid” in almost all of its findings.
It is expected a bill allowing for same-sex marriage will be entered into NSW Parliament later this year following the federal election.
INFO: The report can be accessed here.