LETTERS News Weekly
, March 1, 2014
I was very pleased to read that the federal Attorney-General George Brandis has instructed the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) to identify provisions in Commonwealth legislation that “unreasonably encroach upon traditional rights, freedoms and privileges” (News Weekly, February 1, 2014).
It may be of interest to your readers to know that I have recently reviewed the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2013, which was introduced in the Senate late last year by Senator Sarah Hanson-Young (Greens, South Australia).
The bill’s declared purpose is “to amend the Marriage Act 1961 to create the opportunity for marriage equality for people regardless of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, and for related purposes”.
Sec.8 of the bill reads as follows: “To avoid doubt, the amendments made by this Schedule do not limit the effect of Sec 47 (ministers of religion not bound to solemnise marriage etc) of the Marriage Act 1961)”.
Prima facie, it would appear therefore that the traditional rights, freedoms and privileges of ministers of religion will not be trampled should this bill pass both houses of federal parliament.
Unfortunately, this is not the case.
In August 2013, a number of substantive amendments were made to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 by our federal parliament.
The objects clause — that is, the statement of the underlying purposes — of this act includes the removal of discrimination in the administration of Commonwealth laws on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Section 5A of the act states that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation occurs when an aggrieved person is treated less favourably in the same or similar circumstances than a person with a different sexual orientation.
The administration of Commonwealth laws under the act includes the performance of a function or the exercise of a power under a Commonwealth law.
This would apply to ministers of religion who have the power to solemnise marriages under the Marriage Act 1961.
By virtue of sec 5A of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, these ministers of religion will be prohibited from refusing to solemnise same-sex marriages if the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2013 is enacted and in spite of the exemption appearing under sec 8 of that bill.
To make matters worse, should a state government amends its own equal opportunity legislation to counter this, the state legislation will be inoperative as it will conflict with the Commonwealth’s.
This is a scandalous state of affairs which we should only expect to arise in totalitarian countries, but not in a country like Australia.
I am sure many Australians, including clergy, are ignorant of this.
I hope that the ALRC will pick up on this important encroachment of the rights of church marriage celebrants when it conducts its review.
Undoubtedly, News Weekly and many of its readers will make their concerns known to Attorney General George Brandis in this regard.
The question is: will this be enough to stop the tide?
On behalf of all International Harvester, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Volkswagen, Ford, Holden and Toyota employees, I’d like to thank the free-trade advocates for their level playing-field policies, which have led to the total destruction of the car manufacturing industry in this nation.
No doubt they will be congratulating themselves on the loss of over 100,000 Aussie jobs, which have now gone offshore forever.
I’d also like to thank the spineless CEOs of these companies that have allowed both major political parties to bully them into accepting the government’s free-trade agenda. Well done, guys, for such a perfunctory display of leadership.