[A Close] Same sex marriage is back on the political agenda in Australia. In recent years there’ve been wide ranging reforms to provide equal entitlements and responsibilities for same sex couples. However there remains one significant area of difference between the treatment of same sex and heterosexual relationships and that’s the institution of marriage.
A Parliamentary committee heard from religious leaders during its enquiry into two proposed pieces of legislation allowing same sex couples to marry. If enacted the Bills would also recognise same sex marriages performed in foreign countries and ensure that Ministers of Religion are under no obligation to perform any same sex marriage.
Bishop Julian Porteous of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney opposed any such broadening of the term marriage to include other types of relationships.
[Bishop J Porteous] The church is very clear to say that marriage is by definition a union between a man and a woman and we believe that that has historically always been the understanding of the nature of marriage and that marriage itself should not be changed.
[A Close] Other church and religious leaders told the House of Representatives Social Policy Committee they want proposed same sex marriages to be called something else.
[Pastor P Cousins] What is at stake here is why is it that same sex marriages must borrow a term that has applied for centuries to a heterosexual relationship? Where is the creativity? Why don’t we call it something unique for that is what it is?
[Major G Rigley] It may be as someone suggested earlier looking at other definitions, other names for relationships that don’t change the fundamental nature of what we believe marriage has been ordained for thousands of years both by society and by our religious conviction.
[A Close] However supporters of gay rights argue that civil unions and domestic partner registries are not enough and for true equality same sex couples must have the right to marry. Professor Steve Denenberg views marriage as a dynamic institution which has evolved considerably over time.
[Prof S Denenberg] …and we therefore believe that the way that they live out their lives, as long it’s not to damage or harm others, should be respected and should be accepted as a norm. We believe that same sex commitment is normal and we therefore believe that the State should recognise this and give people of the same gender the same rights and the same opportunity to marry.
[A Close] The Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils believes denying same sex couples the right to marry could foster a climate of homophobia.
[Venerable B Sujato] But we can show some leadership. We can say well this is one thing we can do. By accepting marriage within the legislature of the country we are creating a situation where the Government and the State is leading by example. We’re saying what we can do is fully accept gay and lesbian couples within this marriage ceremony and hopefully that will go some way towards alleviating the stress and the pain which is suffered by gay people because of discrimination. And this seems to be the case as far as the empirical studies have been shown, that there’s less stress, less anxiety, less incidence of HIV and other indicators of harm in those areas which have legalised marriage for gay and lesbian couples.
[A Close] The Enquiry’s online survey of public opinion attracted nearly 280,000 responses. While two thirds of respondents supported same sex marriage an even larger majority supported the right of celebrants to not be required to perform same sex marriages. Bishop Robert Forsyth of the Anglican Church Diocese of Sydney believes that’s an important point when upholding religious freedom.
[Bishop R Forsyth] The Bills rightly reinforce that nothing in the Bills make a Minister of Religion having to solemnise a marriage. We welcome that of course, what else could be expect? We are anxious though that other laws of the Federal and State Parliament’s Anti-Discrimination Human Rights laws; if marriage was changed in its meaning might have very dangerous effects for those who in conscience cannot recognise a marriage which is not a man and a woman and could therefore lead to diminution of religious freedoms.
[A Close] However Bishop Forsyth says even if the Bills were to pass it should be regarded as an experiment.
[Bishop R Forsyth] Nowhere in the world has same sex marriage been existing more than a generation so we have no idea of its long term effects on society. So if it were to be passed I think that’s not the end of the game.
[A Close] While the M.Ps heard a range of views on the social, religious, moral and political questions surrounding this issue Committee Chair Graham Perrett was optimistic they can find common ground.
[G Perrett] …interpret marriage but simple in terms of it all comes down to the states approach to what’s best for the nation, the State’s approach to what’s best for the individual in terms of their desire to protect their committed relationship.