Labor Party Proposal Deserves Attention

This afternoon news broke that the Federal Labor Party are considering agreeing to the marriage plebiscite, so long as this set of conditions are applied:


Photo from The Age

  • plebiscite is self executing or binding
  • No public funding for either side
  • Voting is compulsory
  • question is fair and reasonable

In my opinion these are reasonable requests and deserve due consideration from Malcolm Turnbull and the Cabinet. The Age is reporting that ‘Christian groups’ will be angered by list, but I don’t see any reason for objecting.

Of course, the big question is, what will the question be, and it is understandable that people will wait for this announcement before making a final call on support for the plebiscite; I don’t envy those who are responsible for framing the question.

My only qualification to Labor’s suggestion is that it is unreasonable to expect MPs to vote against their conscience, that is, should the Australian public vote to change the law. If the majority of Australians vote to change the Marriage Act, I don’t think MPs should vote otherwise, but should their conscience not permit them to support same sex marriage they should have freedom to abstain from voting. Therefore, a self executing  plebiscite is preferable (I’m not a lawyer, and so I don’t know whether this is possible and how this would work).

There is one vital  matter that has not arisen, either today or in most public discussions on the issue, and that is how redefining marriage will impact many other aspects of Australian law and life. Changing the Marriage Act is not so simple,  as though all we are doing is removing a couple of words. Rather there will be a significant ripple effect throughout  many areas of law, including discrimination laws, family law, and property and finance laws. For example, when the U.K introduced same-sex marriage, they produced a 62 page document outlining many of the laws that would require reworking in light of the change. The point is a simple one, we mustn’t think that should we vote to change marriage, the discussions are over. It is only fair that in the lead up to the plebiscite, the Government outline to Australians, details of the many implications that will arise from altering marriage.

5 thoughts on “Labor Party Proposal Deserves Attention

  1. I wonder why they’re adamant about no public funding for either side? After all, it’s an important issue, for both sides.

    The cynical part of me thinks that Labor knows the SSM side has oodles more money than the marriage conservationist side…and thus has a better chance of winning the plebiscite.


    • yes, I suspect that may be true. It will disappointing if the media present a biased campaign, and I anticipate that being the case. Any media outlet with integrity will be keen to give equal time to various views.
      on the other hand, I’m not really keen for the Govt to set aside funds for both sides to do their campaigning (and anyway, who would determine who receives that funding?). I think the proposal is a fair compromise


  2. Interesting Akos, I’d always thought the ‘no’ campaign would be the one with more money available to it, when looking at the kind of funding in the conservative Christian political movements in our country. I think I’d like to see a cap on spending for both sides (even in the event of no public funding), although I can’t imagine a large percentage of our voting populace aren’t decided one way or the other already.

    I think this proposal is a potential game changer, and I think it’s quite fair and reasonable. Parliamentary vote & non-binding plebiscite both have the potential for the law to change and the people of our country to respond that it was against our (collective) will. This possibility at least means any change is actually because there was a clear mandate to do so (or not). I hope this gets bipartisan support.

    I agree that there’s a lot of complications beyond this vote. Is it possible that it may be better to get an in principle vote to change, and then have the detail worked our before the parliamentary vote? That the plebiscite question be something like ‘should Australia amend it’s marriage laws to include couples of the same gender, to be instituted by Parliament by June 2018’ or some such, giving them time to make thorough and sensible amendments through the system – including time for churches etc to discern their stance on the new status quo, and have input into the legislative changes?

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  3. I can’t find this 62-page document the UK produced regarding secondary legislative changes that were needed for their marriage act change, but I did find a shorter, 30-page overview of what other laws needed amending, from their parliament.

    Some of it is common-sense stuff which Australia (or rather, each state) would need to change for the new law to make sense. For example, the UK changed their gender recognition laws so that someone wishing to change the gender on their birth certificate no longer has to get a divorce first, to prevent the change from causing a marriage to become one between a same sex couple.

    Some of it is relevant only to recent UK history, such as their provisions for converting their same sex civil unions to marriages.

    Finally, some of it is rather obscure stuff which Australia won’t need to do because of our considerably better separation of church and state. The UK made changes to legally bar the Church of England from marrying same sex couples regardless of the beliefs of the local parish. Other churches must register to be able to perform same-sex marriages as they are by default not allowed. I understand how some may see these as “protective” measures, but to me they are just as much an affront to religious freedom as is Denmark forcing its state church to marry same sex couples. I’m glad that in Australia, our Marriage Act already gives any religious celebrant the right to refuse to marry anyone for any reason. It’s much simpler and preserves religious freedom the way it should be preserved. It gets the government out of our churches.

    On the whole though, I cannot think of any discrimination, finance, property or family laws which would need real change if the Marriage Act were altered to allow more couples to marry, perhaps beyond ensuring the references are gender neutral. Do you have any examples? Our family laws are about parentage, and are applied the same regardless of whether the parents are married or de facto. Finance and property laws are concerned as to whether a couple is married – not the gender of who is married. I also see no need to change any anti-discrimination laws. Whether or not you are allowed to refuse to serve a same-sex couple should not actually be based on whether that couple is married or not, just as discriminating against someone based on their race or religion is not relevant to their marital status. In fact, “marital status” is also a protected class, so it actually shouldn’t be a consideration when providing a service at all.

    I’ll note that there are some very good discussions going on around the country about how the balance is being struck (or upset) between religious freedom and discrimination, particularly in settings such as religious schools. But I am yet to see a situation, real or hypothetical, that is actually changed in any legally meaningful way, by whether or not any of the LGBTI people involved are married or not.


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