My local member of the Federal Parliament, Mr Mark Dreyfus QC, gave a keynote address at today’s Freedom For Faith Conference, held in Melbourne.
Mr Dreyfus spoke on the topic of Marriage Equality & the Proposed Plebiscite. I appreciated his candour and contribution, to what has become a stimulating day thinking through issues of Religious Freedom.
I wish to offer 6 brief comments in response to Mr Dreyfus’ presentation.
First, Mr Dreyfus began by asserting that the main concern of persons opposing SSM is the issue of religious freedom. Indeed, there is a range of questions and issues relating to freedom of religion should the Marriage Act be changed, and no doubt these are a concern to those not supporting SSM. It is however a mistake to suggest these concerns are the main reason for opposition, which I would argue is, the reasoned belief that marriage by definition is between a man and a woman.
It is important for the public to understand that issues surrounding religious freedom are an important corollary, but the primary concern relates to the definition of marriage, and that marriage shouldn’t be redefined to allow two persons of any sexuality for the very reason that marriage refers to the life long covenantal relationship between one man and one woman.
Second, Mr Dreyfus made his argument for SSM saying, ‘it comes down to a simple truth – love is love’. Such an argument however is inadequate. There are many forms of love, and most of them should surely not be grounds for marriage. Love is a necessary ground for marriage, but it does not stand alone. There are other necessary prerequisites, which include biology, gender, children, social order and good.
Third, Mr Dreyfus suggested that ‘it is not right to judge another person’s love’. I am happy to go a long way in agreeing with this statement, except it must be noted that marriage is not merely a private matter; by nature it is public. Marriage is the formal declaration of a new family unit, separate from other familial relationships socially, physically, personally, and legally. Thus by definition, it is only appropriate that society has a role in determining our understanding of this institution.
Fourth, Mr Dreyfus presented 3 reasons why Australia should refrain from holding a plebiscite.
- it will acts as an unhelpful precedent
- the cost
- the danger to LGBTI people
I have argued elsewhere that the precedent argument is somewhat fallacious, given that Australian Parliaments (both Federal and State) have undertaken 60 referendums and plebiscites since Federation.
Mr Dreyfus’ second and third objections have warrant, although there are reasonable responses to these as well (cf. https://murraycampbell.net/2016/09/08/labor-party-proposal-deserves-attention/)
Fifth, Mr Dreyfus admits that altering the Marriage Act may well lead to significant social changes to society. This is a significant admission, one that we shouldn’t overlook – as Australia’s Shadow Attorney General, and as a supporter for marriage change, Mark Dreyfus indicated that changing our definition of marriage will foreseeably change the fabric of society.
Sixth, Mr Dreyfus challenged the room (filled with lawyers and academics!) to prove that changing the law will not lead to restrictions in religious freedom. Several lawyers and academics took up the challenge, citing examples from overseas and even from within Australia, in relation to employees being forced to choose between their conscience or compromising in order to keep their job.
As Mark Snedden noted during the question time, the cost to religious liberty is already being demonstrated including in the Australian Labor Party, where if you wish to gain preselection you must now either give up belief in heterosexual-only marriage or be denied preselection.
Once again, I found it helpful and insightful to hear my Parliamentary representative speak on this important issue. However, the concerns of many Australians will not be alleviated as a result of his address, if anything, they have gained substance. But one thing was positive, I witnessed another example of a civil and serious engagement on the topic of marriage.