Same-sex marriage report tabled

THE man who chaired the parliamentary inquiry into legalising same-sex marriage in Australia has encouraged fellow MPs to "vote with the courage of their convictions" in supporting the change.

Queensland MP Graham Perrett said the House of Representatives social policy and legal affairs committee inquiry, which examined two private members bills, had generated unprecedented public interest and participation.

The cross-party committee's 74-page report, tabled in parliament on Monday, recommended amending some of the wording of the bills.

In providing additional comments in the report, Mr Perrett and deputy chair Laura Smyth wrote the debate had reflected "Australia's tolerant and progressive culture".

>>See a PDF of the full report

More than 276,000 people responded to the committee's online survey, with 64% and 60.5% supporting the bills respectively.

They also received an overwhelming number of written submissions and heard from people at a public inquiry in Sydney.

The report's authors did make the point the survey was not statistically valid, but were instead a "quick and easy means" for people to make their views known anonymously.

The inquiry, which began in February, was not tasked with determining the merits of same-sex marriage, but instead looked at the legal and social issues relating to the two bills, and the effectiveness of each bill in achieving its stated purpose.

The bills were introduced by Greens MP Adam Bandt and Labor's Stephen Jones in February.

Additional comments contained in the report indicate the committee was divided on the issue.

Seven of the eight committee members provided further comments for the report, with only, Mr Perrett, Ms Smyth and Mr Bandt writing in support of amending the Marriage Act.

Mr Perrett wrote MPs had the opportunity to "support Australia moving towards equality for all".

Labor MPs Shayne Neumann and Mike Symon provided a joint submission, outlining their reasons for opposing the bills.

"We do not believe there is anything like sufficient community consensus which would justify changes to such a fundamental societal institution as marriage," they wrote.

"Marriage, as the union between one man and one woman, has been steeped in history, law, culture and religion for millennia. This is a fact which cannot be denied."

The pair highlighted the more than 80 pieces of legislation they had supported ending discrimination against same-sex couples.

But the framers of the Australian Constitution did not have same-sex marriage in mind when they gave the Commonwealth powers to legislate with respect to marriage, they wrote.

Coalition MPs Ross Vasta and Sharman Stone detailed their objections to changing the Marriage Act.

Mr Neumann, the Member for Blair in Queensland, was one of a number of MPs from both sides of the house to speak against the bills in parliament on Monday.

It is for this the reason Mr Bandt wants Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to allow a conscience vote on the bills.

He said he was in no hurry to push his bill to a vote because "at the moment it would fail".

"But I am confident that in this parliament we can see reform if the Leader of the Opposition allows a conscience vote," Mr Bandt said.

Mr Bandt said he would prefer one bill instead of the current two, adding he did not mind if it was his or Mr Jones's.

He also expressed his desire for having a Coalition MP co-sponsor the bill.

Some of the key points made in the committee's report:

  • It is for the parliament to determine the passage of the bill.
  • Neither bill proposes any changes to the protections that currently exist in the Marriage Act, such as the marriageable age, the prohibition against consanguineous relationships, or the religious freedom of ministers of religion to refuse to solemnise any marriage.
  • In the online survey, more than 200,000 people indicated that they support religious bodies having the right to refuse conducting same-sex marriages.
  • Adam Bandt's Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012 should be amended as follows:
  1. remove the words "regardless of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity" in the definition in Item 1;
  2. replace the Objects with the words "The object of this Act is to amend the Marriage Act 1961 to ensure equal access to marriage for all couples who have a mutual commitment to a shared life".

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