The current proposals to change the definition of marriage to the “union of two people” is unlikely to be supported by the current Government, according to Slater & Gordon principal Heather McKinnon.
Despite submissions for proposed amendments to the Marriage Act having now closed, McKinnon, the leader of Slater & Gordon’s family law practice, has this week voiced her support of the “long overdue” changes to the Act through the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill. This would amend the definition of marriage to the ‘union of two people’ regardless of sex; recognise foreign same-sex marriage; and provide religious ministers with the freedom to perform marriages according to their faith.
According to McKinnon, the amendments will remove the last significant piece of legislative discrimination against gay and lesbian members of the community.
“During the past few years the Government has changed more than 85 Commonwealth laws to eliminate discrimination against same-sex couples,” said McKinnon. “Changes have occurred in areas dealing with social security, taxation, Medicare, veteran’s affairs, workers’ compensation, education assistance, superannuation, family law and child support. Changes to the Marriage Act, giving equality to all, will arguably be the crowning glory to all these reforms.”
Highlighting that Australia has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which expresses equality before the law and the right to non-discrimination, McKinnon said that “in the context of evolving norms, the Marriage Act should be amended to define marriage as the ‘union of two people’, irrespective of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity”.
Also voicing its support for the proposed amendments this week was the Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR), which made a submission to the Senate Committee.
“The ALHR argues that to deny a person the right to marry on the basis of sexual orientation is a breach of international human rights law,” said Stephen Keim, the president of the ALHR. “It is a systematic denial of rights to a particular group of people which is not based on reasonable and objective criteria.”
Keim added that the proposed amendments would bring Australia in line with developments in other countries that have moved to liberalise the concept of marriage.
Despite pushing for such amendments to the Marriage Act, McKinnon conceded that change in the near future is unlikely.
“Given the international debate occurring in the UK, I think that it’s fairly unlikely that the politicians see it as an issue that has to be dealt with in a term of this parliament,” McKinnon told Lawyers Weekly. “My view is that they’re going to be brave, whoever does it, but I suppose it’s just keeping the issue in both sides’ minds that is important. But my current feeling is that they’re too gutless.”
McKinnon added that the lack of change in Australia is based on the wider issue of church and state and the separation of powers.
“I fundamentally think [the separation of powers] is the underlying issue,” she said. “I really think that’s the key issue that no-one wants to talk about.”