HUMAN Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson has today made reference to Martin Place siege victim Tori Johnson in a plea for Australia’s parliamentarians to give the green light to same-sex marriage.

But in comments that have dismayed a marriage equality advocate, Wilson questioned whether it would be right to penalise people who might choose not to work at same-sex ceremonies due to a religious belief.

In a wide ranging speech at the National Press Club in Canberra this afternoon, Wilson, who is openly gay, said it was hypocritical for governments to expect all citizens to contribute equally but then arbitrarily deny some their equal rights.

“Every day gay and lesbian Australians are expected to fulfil their civil obligations,” he said.

“They’ve paid their taxes, worked, volunteered in civil society, fought and died in battle, and fallen to save others at Port Arthur and Martin Place.

“They’ve met their responsibilities; shouldn’t they get their civil rights too?”

Johnson, the manager of the Martin Place Lindt café, was one of two people who died in December’s siege.

Wilson said that while marriage was a “time-tested and valuable institution,” it was strong enough to withstand change.

However, the commissioner said the issue had been raised with him about the consequences for religious freedom should same-sex marriage be legalised.

“There is concern that if the law changes, civil celebrants, venues and photographers will face fines if they don’t participate in weddings they disagree with, as has occurred in the United States,” he said.

“I do not think that is constructive way forward.”

Wilson, whose portfolio also includes sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex rights, also said state governments should cease forcing married couples to divorce if one subsequently undergoes gender reassignment and chooses to have this reflected on official documentation.

“We should never be using the law to break resilient marriages apart,” he said.

Wilson, who was appointed to the role of commissioner in late 2013 by attorney general George Brandis, added that more needed to be done to educate service providers around trans* issues.

“In Brisbane I met with mothers desperately seeking access to medical and mental health services for their transgender children,” he said.

“Their stories were heartbreaking. All they wanted was the opportunity for their children to grow up and live happy, healthy lives.”

Australian Marriage Equality (AME) national director Rodney Croome applauded Wilson’s continued support.

“His advocacy, particularly to libertarian and conservative decision makers, is critical to achieving this reform,” he said.

However, Croome believes religious celebrants already had the legal right to choose who they marry and AME saw no reason in watering down anti-discrimination protections for possible future ceremonies.

“Wedding industry providers have everything to gain and nothing to lose from marriage equality,” he said.

“I’d urge Mr Wilson to do more to calm the fears of marriage equality opponents and less to legitimise them.

A forthcoming Human Rights Commission report announced by Wilson last May will recommend steps to ensure LGBTI Australians received fair treatment from government services.

Click here to read Wilson’s speech in full

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