Finding a respectful course for the marriage equality debate

21 September 2016 By Melissa Coade

A panel talk hosted by Baker & McKenzie has explored the ins and outs of Australia’s political crossroads on marriage equality.

The Melbourne event was moderated by barrister and legal academic Dr Matthew Collins QC, who has published extensive commentary on how the end does not justify the means in the case of a plebiscite on gay marriage.  

Certain voices from the ‘no’ side “are apparently bent on using the cover of a plebiscite to advance specious arguments connecting same-sex marriage with the abuse of children, sexually transmitted diseases and drug abuse”, Dr Collins argued in a piece penned for The Conversation in March.

Dr Collins has also echoed concerns raised by retired High Court judge Michael Kirby that there appears to be a tradition of voting down plebiscites in Australia. Because a marriage equality law would not require amending the constitution, the barrister said he could see no legal reason for a plebiscite to be held.


“There have been only three national plebiscites in Australia’s history. Not one provides a useful precedent.

“Australian parliaments routinely legislate in respect of socially contentious issues without resorting to plebiscites or referenda,” Dr Collins said.

Sydney lawyer Craig Andrade participated as a member of the panel that discussed the role of corporate Australia and others in debating the issue respectfully.

The Baker & McKenzie partner and LGBTI ambassador said the initiative was part of the firm’s ongoing position on marriage equality in Australia.

He said the firm recently affirmed its stance on marriage equality as a signatory to relevant petitions and briefs in Australia and abroad.

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"Baker & McKenzie, together with over 1,000 organisations across Australia, signed the Australian Marriage Equality petition in support of marriage equality.

"Our commitment to marriage equality in Australia follows on from the position the firm took internationally in signing amicus curiae brief in support of marriage equality in the US Supreme Court case of Obergefell v. Hodges,” Mr Andrade said.

Earlier this year Mr Andrade, who also leads the BakerLGBTI & Allies network, spoke to Lawyers Weekly about the next steps firms must to take for workplace diversity to be embraced in the most meaningful way possible.

"In the LGBTI space, Baker & McKenzie are focused on three things: our staff, on our clients, on the community.

“Across those three areas we ask ourselves, ‘What do we value? What’s important to us? What is our story? What is our narrative in how we’re going to try and make a difference in the lives of people across all three of those areas?',” he said.

The panel discussion canvassed a number of issues, including the concerns of corporate involvement in the current debate and the potential risks the plebiscite poses to the push for marriage equality, LGBTI Australians and their families.

An audience poll taken at the event found that 80 per cent of over 100 people in attendance preferred to wait three more years for the issue to be decided at a federal election than by way of a plebiscite.

While the federal cabinet has voted to hold the same-sex marriage plebiscite early next year, enabling legislation has not been presented to the Australian Parliament. Strong questions remain as to whether the bill would have the numbers to pass through the senate, with Labor threatening to block the vote.

Joining Mr Andrade on the panel were beyondblue CEO Georgie Harman, Professor Dennis Altman AM, PwC chief of staff, consulting Tanya Matthewson, and Commonwealth Bank executive David Brine.

The event was hosted in partnership with professional mentoring group Out for Australia.

Finding a respectful course for the marriage equality debate
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