Late last week, the LCA announced its support for several key areas of agreement reached by the select committee on the exposure draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill. These included:
- Ministers of religion should be able to refuse to marry same-sex couples;
- Removal of ‘conscientious objection’ provisions;
- Creating a new category of independent religious celebrants to cater for those people with religious beliefs, but requiring all other celebrants to marry same-sex couples; and
- Strictly confining the exemptions available to ‘religious bodies’ to discriminate against same-sex couples.
Many of the areas of agreement were in accord with the recommendations made in the LCA’s submission on the exposure draft. Society president Fiona McLeod SC said the agreements would be a great improvement to the bill if implemented.
“The Law Council has been a longstanding supporter of same-sex marriage, however, changes to the Marriage Act need to carefully balance freedom of religion with the freedom from discrimination,” she said.
“We are pleased to see that the committee suggests that ministers of religion, and certain religious celebrants, should be able to refuse to marry same-sex couples in line with their beliefs. Civil celebrants, on the other hand, are performing a secular function and so have no other proper basis for exemption.”
Ms McLeod noted that the committee and the LCA agreed that ‘religious bodies’ that were not specifically established for religious purposes should not be exempt from anti-discrimination laws. The LCA also supported the agreement that individuals and businesses should not be able to conscientiously object to providing goods and services for same-sex weddings.
“Striking this balance between freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination is a challenging task. It is the Law Council’s view that the committee’s suggestions achieve this balance well and should therefore be accepted by parliament,” Ms McLeod said.