Today we will be voting on a bill to allow same-sex couples to marry. This is a historic day for the Australian parliament and our nation. As I made clear in my second reading speech last night, freedom of speech and freedom of religion are fundamental freedoms in a representative democracy such as ours. I have long supported the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry, but throughout this debate I’ve worked hard to ensure that the views of every person I represent in Corangamite are acknowledged and respected. As I said last night, I believe charities must be protected, marriage celebrants must be free to marry whom they choose and freedoms of speech and religion must be protected. I am concerned that the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 does not provide adequate protections.
I wish to place on record that I support the principles which underpinned a number of the other amendments before the House today—such that we would all be free to hold, express or teach views supporting traditional marriage without fear of recrimination in any form—but I was concerned about their scope. In spite of some concerns that I had that these amendments might be beyond power, I supported the Treasurer’s amendments relating to faith based charities. The amendments I have moved demonstrate that I have stayed true to the commitment I gave to my constituents that I will support a bill to change the Marriage Act with strong religious protections.
The first amendment I have moved ensures the protection of religious freedom. It provides that nothing in this act limits or derogates from the right of any person, in a lawful manner, to manifest his or her religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. This amendment is intended to make it clear that religious freedom is protected using language based on paragraph 1 of article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It emphasises that nothing in the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 will in any way prevent or limit the rights of people to practice their faith, to preach their faith or to teach the doctrines, tenets, beliefs and observances which underpin their faith.
All Australians are free to choose their religion and to express and practice their religion and believes without intimidation or interference as long as those practices are within the framework of Australian law. If Labor members support religious freedoms, Labor members should vote for these amendments. But, as we have heard in this debate, Labor members have not been granted a genuine free vote.
The second amendment I have moved enables marriage celebrants other than ministers of religion to refuse to solemnise marriages on the basis of the celebrants’ religious or conscientious beliefs. This amendment would provide further support to the religious freedoms of secular celebrants whose religious beliefs and practices preclude solemnising same-sex marriage. It would also afford protection to those celebrants who have a conscientious objection to marriages which are not traditional marriages between a man and a woman. In other words, it would protect celebrants whose personal, philosophical or cultural beliefs about marriage are not founded in a religious teaching or viewpoint. Such celebrants could decline to marry a couple without rendering themselves vulnerable to complaints brought under antidiscrimination legislation.
It is the case that the Senate has considered these amendments and that these amendments were rejected, but that is no reason for members in this place to vote against them. I’m also unpersuaded by the argument that amending the bill would delay the carriage of this bill. We have to get this bill right. That is a fundamental obligation on all of us as legislators, and that is why amending the bill in the manner I have proposed is important and necessary. I commend these amendments to the House.