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Senate harmony on marriage glosses over the deep divisions in rainbow politics

By Lyle Shelton - posted Friday, 24 February 2017


The day after Valentine's Day, there was an apparent outbreak of love in Parliament amongst Senators on opposite sides of the same-sex marriage debate.

There had been a meeting of minds and hearts, it seemed. Consensus had been reached on a pathway forward for so called "marriage equality", it was asserted.

The trigger for this goodwill and warm feelings was the tabling of a Senate Select Committee report examining the potential impacts of redefining marriage on religious freedom.

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It was significant that it was tabled without the usual dissenting report attached.

Labor, Greens, Liberal and Nationals Senators had agreed that some religious freedom should be protected and that Australians who were not professional pastors would have their rights and freedoms impacted should marriage law ever change.

Consequences to the freedoms of other Australians is something rarely if ever conceded by proponents of same-sex marriage.

For years they have said changing the Marriage Act was a simple tweaking of a few words, nothing more.

The committee was chaired by South Australian Liberal Senator David Fawcett who supports keeping the definition of marriage.

He told the Senate: "I note that if Australia is to remain a plural, tolerant society where different views are valued and legal, legislators must recognise that this change will require careful, simultaneous consideration of a wide range of specialist areas of law as opposed to the common perception that it involves just a few words in one act of parliament."

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While the committee did not agree on how best to ensure that different views on marriage could remain legal without seeing ordinary Australians hauled before human rights commissions and fined, they at least agreed there would be consequences.

But the committee recognised that it was not bigotry for ministers of religion, civil marriage celebrants and even business owners who supply the wedding industry to wish to be free to live out their beliefs about marriage.

Senators supporting same-sex marriage were keen to foster the idea of collegial consensus between differing parties and that a harmonious path forward for redefining marriage could be charted.

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About the Author

Lyle Shelton is Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby based in Canberra.

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