Australia: Marriage equality will remove prejudice, not promote conflict, says Liberal MP

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Marriage should not be “a statement of moral superiority”, the federal Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro has told parliament, speaking in support of marriage equality.

The marriage legislation amendment bill, which has cross-party support, was introduced by the Coalition MP Warren Entsch, and debate resumed in the parliamentary chamber on Monday.

“At its heart, this bill is all about removing discrimination and prejudice from what is fundamentally a personal decision that each and every one of us is entitled to make: our own freedom of choice as to who we choose to love for the rest of our lives,” Gambaro said.

“As I have said many times, that decision is not one any government is entitled to make and it is not a decision that should be permitted to set one section of our society against another. To those who oppose this bill, or who are in some way threatened by it I say this: marriage is not a statement of moral superiority.”

Meanwhile, submissions into the marriage equality plebiscite bill, before the Senate, closed on Friday. The draft law proposes to ask voters for their stance on gay marriage in the form of a plebiscite at the next election.

Coalition MPs have not been granted a free vote on the Entsch bill in this term. The prime minister, Tony Abbott, has instead proposed a “people’s vote” some time in the next term of parliament, but the Greens and several cross-benchers have introduced the plebiscite bill to try to lock in a vote at the same time as the next election.

The Australian human rights commissioner, Tim Wilson, said in his submission that both a plebiscite or a referendum were inappropriate methods of addressing the issue.

Issues of rights were not best resolved through a public vote but by responsible government, he said.

“The resolution to this debate should be through calm, considered, nuanced and reasoned consideration of the implications of the rights and freedoms of all Australians,” Wilson’s submission said.

“A public vote will do nothing to resolve the substantive issue in a way that unites Australians and takes the country forward, together with a proper respect for the rights and freedoms of all.”

In its submission, the Australian Family Association said voters who held a belief on formal or religious grounds that marriage could only be the union of a man and a woman should not be accused of homophobia or hatred towards same-sex-attracted or gender-diverse people.

“The protection of religion, thought, belief and conscience must be protected if marriage is redefined so as to be in conflict with deeply held views of many Australians,” the association said. “Those of a different view must not be discriminated against.”

A group of professors from the University of Adelaide’s public law and policy research unit said in their submission that allowing people a yes vote in either a referendum or a plebiscite was not enough to establish marriage equality, because there would still need to be legislative change by the parliament.

“Neither a referendum nor a plebiscite presents a legal guarantee that such a legislative amendment will be introduced or indeed passed,” the submission said.

“And while politically it might be thought very unlikely that a yes vote in a referendum or a plebiscite would be ignored by the parliament, such a vote will not, and indeed cannot, legally bind the parliament to make the necessary legislative change.”

Both houses of the parliament passing an amendment to the Marriage Act, along with the governor general’s assent, was all that was necessary to allow for marriage equality in Australia, the research unit said.

SOURCE: The Guardian, 07/09/2015, http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/sep/07/marriage-equality-...