At 10:00am on 15 November 2017, the result of the Same Sex Marriage Postal Survey was announced. As predicted a “Yes” vote was returned with a majority of 61.6% in favour of same sex marriage. Victorian’s voted 64.9% in favour of same sex marriage, with the ACT returning the highest “Yes” vote in the country with a 74% majority. New South Wales returned the lowest “Yes” vote at 57.7% – still a majority vote. Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull said of our voters that “they voted yes for love.” The Prime Minister went on to say that it is the business of government to ensure that legislative change happens as soon as possible and he anticipates such change before Christmas.
On Thursday 16 November 2017, two competing Bills to amend the Marriage Act 1961 will be introduced by Liberal Senators James Paterson and Dean Smith. Senator Smith’s Bill is has been endorsed by several MP’s including Prime Minister Turnbull and expected to be the preferred and adopted Bill to amend the Act.
Senator Smith’s proposed Bill provides a simple change to the current Act by changing “man and woman” to “2 people” and the words “husband” and “wife” to “spouse”. The proposed bill allows religious groups to refuse to marry same sex couples on the ground of religious belief, but goes not further than this. Whilst Senator Paterson’s Bill has caused some controversy amongst its 59 pages of amendments to several existing Acts. Notably it proposes to allow people to be able to refuse goods, services, venues and accommodation to those participating in a same sex union.
Senator Penny Wong has spoken out against Senator Paterson’s proposal stating that she “thought we had gone past the point in this country where we had signs that said ‘we don’t serve Jews, we don’t serve blacks.’”
Fiona McLeod President of the Law Council of Australia has expressed further concern that Paterson’s Bill “will encroach on many protections for the LGBTQI people in an extraordinary and perilous way…you could see a situation where a hire car company could leave their customer stranded on the way to a marriage ceremony simply because the driver held a thought or belief against it. This is even if the belief had nothing to do with religion.”
The “yes” vote is merely the first step to marriage equality in Australia and if Senator Paterson gains support by the conservatives, we may well continue to see discrimination against same sex couples in the wider community. We have published previously our thoughts on the concept of the Postal Survey and the time for commentary about how the government chose to go about polling the views of the Australian people (of eligible age) has passed. Now what we need to focus on is the will of the people and hope that the preferred Bill that is passed through the two houses of Parliament is Smith’s Bill.
By Sarah Damon and Caroline Counsel