THE Senate has released a consensus report on the government’s draft marriage equality bill, deciding not to endorse targeted discrimination against same-sex couples in wedding services.
Attorney-General George Brandis introduced the government’s bill late last year, which allowed civil celebrants and religious organisations and businesses to turn away same-sex couples based on their religious beliefs.
Advocates have welcomed the multi-party consensus report, saying it provides a pathway for marriage equality in this term of parliament.
Convenor of Rainbow Families Victoria, Felicity Marlowe, said it was great to see the Senate take on board the recommendations it heard and read throughout its inquiry into the bill over the past few months.
“We are gratified to see that the committee listened to us and many others who expressed serious human rights concerns and that they have not endorsed anti-discrimination exemptions for civil celebrants, service providers, or businesses,” she said.
“The time for equality is now, but not at the cost of allowing even a little bit of discrimination to exist in any proposed Marriage Bill.”
In the report, the committee acknowledged that a reformed definition of marriage should be fully inclusive of trans and intersex Australians.
It also stated that civil celebrants should not be able to legally discriminate, including against same-sex couples.
And it proposed that a new category of ‘religious celebrants’ should be created for existing civil celebrants who, for example, serve small religious congregations.
Much like ministers of religion who act as marriage celebrants, religious celebrants would be able to legally refuse service to anyone.
Spokesperson for just.equal and marriage equality advocate Rodney Croome said he welcomed the Senate’s report.
“We welcome this report, not only because it fails to endorse proposed discrimination against same-sex couples but because it shows progress on marriage equality is possible when our elected members work across party lines,” he said.
“This is just the latest of many parliamentary inquiries into marriage equality, which together have canvassed all the implications imaginable, so there are no longer any excuses for inaction.”
Australian Greens LGBTI spokesperson and Senator Janet Rice side the report showed an unprecedented collaboration, negotiation, and consensus.
“The Greens took to the table a respect for the rights of people of faith, but did not waver in our view that these must not be at the expense of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and intersex Australians,” she said.
“The time for marriage equality is long overdue. For all LGBTI Australians and their families, this gives us hope that the wait is close to over.
“Now, the Coalition and Labor party, who urged us to stick with consensus in the committee despite our concerns, must work with us and deliver on a bill and the votes that will get it through parliament.”