Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017

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Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017
Coat of Arms of Australia.svg
Parliament of Australia
An Act to amend the law relating to the definition of marriage and protect religious freedoms, and for related purposes
Citation Act no. 129, 2017
Territorial extent Australia
Enacted by Parliament of Australia
Date enacted 7 December 2017
Date of Royal Assent 8 December 2017
Date commenced 9 December 2017
Legislative history
Introduced by Senator Dean Smith
First reading 15 November 2017
Second reading 28 November 2017
Third reading 29 November 2017
Introduced by The Hon. Warren Entsch MP
First reading 4 December 2017
Second reading 7 December 2017
Third reading 7 December 2017
Related legislation
Marriage Act 1961
Keywords
same-sex marriage
Status: Current legislation

The Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017 is an Act of the Parliament of Australia, which legalises same-sex marriage in Australia by amending the Marriage Act 1961 to allow marriage between two persons of marriageable age, regardless of their gender.

Introduced as a private member's bill by Western Australian Senator Dean Smith of the Liberal Party following the Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey, the bill passed the Parliament on 7 December 2017. It received royal assent on the following day and came into effect on 9 December 2017.[1]

Background[edit]

Same-sex marriage legislation had been presented to the Australian Parliament on 22 occasions between September 2004 and May 2017, though on each occasion the legislation failed to pass either the House of Representatives or the Senate.[2] These attempts followed the Howard Government's 2004 amendment to the Marriage Act which explicitly defined marriage as a union between only a man and a woman and banned the recognition of same-sex marriages conducted lawfully in foreign jurisdictions.[3] Prior to the legalisation of same-sex marriage, same-sex relationships could only be treated as de facto unions under federal law. These unions provide couples with most, though not all, of the legal rights of marriage, although those rights may be difficult to assert and are not always recognised in practice.[4][5]

Postal survey[edit]

The Liberal Turnbull Government went to the July 2016 federal election promising to put the issue of same-sex marriage to a national vote, in the form of a plebiscite.[6] Despite narrowly winning the election, the government could not pass the legislation to establish the plebiscite in the Senate and so eventually decided to conduct a voluntary postal survey of all Australians on the electoral roll.[7][8] Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pledged the government would facilitate the passage of a private member's bill in the event of a "Yes" result in favour of same-sex marriage, which occurred when the results of the survey were announced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on 15 November 2017.[9]

Dean Smith bill[edit]

On the day the postal results were released, Liberal Party Senator Dean Smith, an openly gay backbencher in the government, introduced the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 into the Senate.[10][11] Smith's bill had been publicly released earlier in August, during the midst of a divisive internal effort in the Liberal Party to change policy and vote on same-sex marriage legislation without conducting a national vote.[12]

The bill itself was the result of a cross-party effort following the reporting of a Senate committee in February 2017 which investigated how a same-sex marriage law with religious freedoms incorporated in it might operate.[13][14]

Several months later, Smith published a draft of the bill which would later be the one to be introduced to the Parliament in November.[12] The bill was formally introduced into the Parliament and read for a first time on 15 November 2017.[11] Chief among the bill's reforms is the amendment of the definition of the word "marriage" in the Marriage Act, replacing "a man and a woman" with "a union of 2 people", as well as the repeal of Section 88EA of the Act, which bans the recognition of same-sex marriages lawfully entered into in foreign jurisdictions.[12][15] This means that same-sex couples who married in foreign jurisdictions automatically have their marriages recognised in Australia.[16] In accordance with the recommendation of the Senate committee report, the bill creates a new category of marriage celebrants in Australia, the "religious marriage celebrant", who is protected from being required to solemnise any marriage.[17] Additionally, religious bodies and organisations established for a religious purpose are exempt from being required to provide facilities or goods or services for a marriage ceremony that conflicts with their faith.[15]

The terminology in the bill, specifically the wording "2 people" with respect to the definition of "marriage", alleviates the concerns of several transgender and intersex rights organisations.[18] These groups had expressed concern in the past that a same-sex marriage bill might not include this terminology, but rather only mention "same-sex" marriage, potentially prolonging the inability of some intersex and transgender people to marry.[19][20] This had been a concern expressed when the Australian Capital Territory drafted a same-sex marriage law in 2013.[21][22] The bill addresses these concerns by defining marriage in Australia in gender neutral terms; "the union of 2 people".[15]

Though introduced by Smith, the bill was co-sponsored by eight other Senators; Linda Reynolds (Liberal), Penny Wong (Labor), Louise Pratt (Labor), Richard Di Natale (Greens), Janet Rice (Greens), Skye Kakoschke-Moore (Nick Xenophon Team), Derryn Hinch (Justice Party) and Jane Hume (Liberal).[23]

Proposed amendments[edit]

There was some unresolved disagreement by politicians who advocated for a "No" result in the postal survey as to whether further religious protections should be added to the Smith bill as an amendment at this time or whether a later bill for this purpose should be considered.[24] In the Senate, several politicians sought to incorporate amendments designed to further religious, conscientious and other protections, in areas relating to marriages, classrooms and organisations. All such amendments were rejected by the Senate.[25][26] Similar amendments were sought by government MPs Andrew Hastie and Michael Sukkar in the House of Representatives, such as including two definitions of marriage (both man-woman marriage and two-person marriage) and expanding exemptions from anti-discrimination laws for religious organisations and conscientious objectors.[27] All such amendments were also similarly rejected by the House of Representatives.

Summary of the Act[edit]

Provision(s)[28] Effect Commencement
Short title
  • Title of the Act.
8 December 2017
Commencement
  • Details the dates parts of the bill go into effect.
8 December 2017
Schedules
  • Establishes that legislation that is specified in a Schedule to the bill is amended or repealed as set out in the applicable items in the Schedule concerned, and any other item in a Schedule to the bill has effect according to its terms.
8 December 2017
Schedule 1 – Part 1
  • Sets out objectives of the bill.
  • Amends the definition of "authorised celebrant" to include a minister of a registered religion, a person authorised to solemnise marriages, a marriage celebrant, religious marriage celebrant, and chaplain or officer other than a chaplain authorised by the Chief of the Defence Force to solemnise marriages.
  • Omits the phrase "a man and a woman" from the definition of "marriage" and substitutes "2 people". Also makes an identical change with respect to the requirement of a celebrant to state the nature of a lawful marriage in Australia.
  • Makes revisions to the laws relating to establishment of religious marriage celebrants and their rights and obligations and makes general provisions relating to all marriage celebrants.
  • Establishes that ministers of religion, religious marriage celebrants and bodies established for religious purposes may refuse to make facilities available or provide goods or services for a marriage ceremony.
  • Repeals section of the Act (88EA) which banned the recognition of same-sex marriages lawfully solemnised in foreign jurisdictions.
9 December 2017
Schedule 1 – Part 2
  • Amends the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to establish that a minister of religion, religious marriage celebrant and chaplain may refuse to solemnise a marriage irrespective of other provisions in the Act.
9 December 2017
Schedule 1 – Part 3
  • Makes minor, technical amendments to the Marriage Act which go into effect only if Schedule 9 to the Civil Law and Justice Legislation Amendment Act 2017 is not yet in effect by the date of this bill's commencement.
9 December 2017
Schedule 1 – Part 4
  • Amends the Marriage Act to create a list of people who are religious marriage celebrants and the religious body or organisation to which they belong.
Commences immediately after the commencement of Schedule 9 to the Civil Law and Justice Legislation Amendment Act 2017 (though if the Schedule does not commence, then the provisions of this Part do not commence at all).
Schedule 1 – Part 5
  • Establishes that marriages of same-sex couples lawfully entered into in foreign jurisdictions, prior to the commencement of this bill, are recognised as valid in Australia.
  • Clarifies that for the purpose of this bill, "Australia" includes the external territories.
9 December 2017
Schedule 2
  • Makes additional amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 so that a state or territory government can no longer impose the requirement of being unmarried in order for a person to request a gender change on a document issued by that state or territory government.
9 December 2018 (only provision to commence 1 year after Act goes into effect)
Schedule 3
  • Makes consequential amendments to references to "spouse" and "married couple" in several Commonwealth laws which previously were not gender neutral.
9 December 2017
Schedule 4
  • Inserts transitional provisions relating to family law matters, financial agreements, separation declarations and related matters that have been before or were currently before the courts at the time of the bill's commencement.
9 December 2017

Passage in the Senate[edit]

First reading[edit]

The bill had its first reading in the Senate on 15 November 2017.[29]

Second reading[edit]

The second reading debate on the bill began on 16 November[30] and continued on 27 November.[31] The bill passed the second reading stage without a division being called for on 28 November 2017.[32]

In committee[edit]

The committee stage was where amendments to the bill were proposed. The committee stage was held on 28 and 29 November. Several amendments to the bill were proposed, though only one package of technical amendments making minor changes to other legislation, proposed by the Attorney-General George Brandis, was approved by the Senate.[10][33] Following Brandis' amendments being agreed to, Senators Fawcett and Paterson introduced five separate tranches of amendments. The amendments went to a range of issues, including inserting a different definition of "marriage" in the Act, extending legal protections to individuals who hold a "traditional marriage belief", adding a "no-detriments clause" for people who hold a traditional view of marriage (which would supersede state anti-discrimination laws) and legislating for the right of parents to remove their children from classes relating to marriage, among other areas.[33] All of Fawcett and Paterson's amendments were rejected by the Senate.[33] Subsequently, Senator Brandis and Canavan jointly moved two amendments (one to insert the words "nothing in this Act limits the right of any person...to manifest [one's] religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching" and the other to extend a right of conscientious objection to civil celebrants). The Labor Party opposed the first amendment on the basis that it "cherry-picked" elements of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.[33] Both sets of amendments proposed by Brandis and Canavan were rejected by the Senate.[33]

On 29 November, additional amendments were proposed by Senators Hanson, Leyonhjelm and Rice, all of which were rejected by the Senate.[34] The bill, in its amended form, was then agreed to by the Senate in committee.

Third reading[edit]

On 29 November 2017, immediately after the committee stage concluded, the bill proceeded to the third reading and was passed by 43 votes to 12.[35][36]

Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 – Third Reading[35]
Party Votes for Votes against Abstained/Absent
Labor (26)
Liberal (19)
Greens (9)
Liberal National (5)
One Nation (3)
National (2)
Xenophon Team (2)
Country Liberal (1)
Justice (1)
Liberal Democratic (1)
Australian Conservatives (1)
Independents (2)
Total (72)[nb 1] 43 12 17

Passage in the House of Representatives[edit]

First reading[edit]

The bill was read for a first time in the House of Representatives on 4 December 2017. The bill was introduced into the House by the member for Leichhardt, Warren Entsch.[37]

Second reading[edit]

The second reading debate on the bill began immediately after the bill was read a first time, on 4 December 2017.[37] During the second reading stage, Tony Abbott, the member for Warringah, moved a motion saying "whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes that it is vital that individuals and entities are not disadvantaged nor suffer any adverse effects as a result of conscientiously holding a particular view of the nature of marriage".[37] Abbott noted that same-sex marriage would be introduced in Australia and said he looked forward to attending his sister's same-sex wedding in 2018.[27] Openly gay MP and same-sex marriage advocate Tim Wilson made history during his second reading speech when he proposed to his partner, Ryan Bolger.[38] Bolger accepted Wilson's proposal. It was the first known engagement on the floor of the House of Representatives.[38] The second reading debate continued on 5 and 6 December 2017.[39][40] The amendment moved by Abbott was rejected and the bill passed the second reading stage without a division being called for on 7 December 2017.[41]

Consideration in detail[edit]

The bill moved to the consideration in detail stage immediately after the second reading was held.[42] All amendments, most of which were moved by government MPs which sought to expand religious and conscientious exemptions to same-sex marriages, were rejected by the House.[10][43] The bill then passed the consideration in detail stage.[42]

Third reading[edit]

Results by division. Green indicates a Yes vote, red indicates a No vote, dark gray indicates the member abstained, and light gray indicates the member was not present.

The bill then immediately passed the third reading stage.[44][45][46][47] A division on the third reading was called for, but because the number of MPs voting against the bill was less than five, the Speaker, in accordance with the standing orders, simply declared that the question was resolved in the affirmative.[44] Eleven MPs are known to have abstained from the division, by leaving the House before the third reading commenced.[48]

Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 – Third Reading in the House of Representatives[44][48]
Party Votes for Votes against Abstained/Absent
Labor (69) 66
Liberal (43) 35
Liberal National (21) 15
National (10) 8
Greens (1)
Xenophon Team (1)
Katter's Australian (1)
Independents (2)
Total (148)[nb 2] 128 4 16[nb 3]

Royal Assent and commencement[edit]

Royal assent was provided by the Governor-General on 8 December 2017.[49] The Act went into effect on 9 December 2017, allowing same-sex couples who lawfully married in overseas jurisdictions to be recognised as married from that date,[50] and therefore also able to divorce in Australia under the Family Law Act 1975.[51] The date of effect allowed the first marriages under the amended law to occur on 9 January 2018,[52][53] some of these occurring just after midnight.[54] However, several couples successfully applied for an exemption from the normal one-month waiting period,[55] and the first legal same-sex wedding under Australian law was held on 15 December 2017, with further weddings occurring the following day.[56][57] The Australian Capital Territory Government offered free marriage certificates for couples who married there under the annulled 2013 law, which was struck down by the High Court.[58]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ There were 4 vacancies in the Senate at the time of the vote due to the ongoing parliamentary eligibility crisis.
  2. ^ The seat of Bennelong was vacant at the time of the vote due to the ongoing parliamentary eligibility crisis. Liberal House Speaker Tony Smith did not cast a vote.
  3. ^ Labor MP Wayne Swan was the only MP absent from Parliament for the duration of the sitting (refer to the last page of the parliament's Votes and Proceedings Record for the Sitting), all the other MPs listed deliberately abstained from the division.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017". Federal Register of Legislation. 9 December 2017.
  2. ^ "Chronology of same-sex marriage bills introduced into the federal parliament: a quick guide". Parliament of Australia. 15 February 2018.
  3. ^ "John Howard defends Malcolm Turnbull on same-sex plebiscite". The Australian. 8 August 2017. (Subscription required (help)). John Howard: "What we didn’t want to happen in 2004 was for the courts to start adjudicating on the definition of marriage because that was a real threat in 2004 because some people who had contracted same sex marriages in another country had the capacity to bring their issues before courts in Australia".
  4. ^ Elphick, Liam. "Do same-sex couples really have the same rights as married couples?". SBS News. Archived from the original on 15 September 2017. Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  5. ^ "Fact check: Do same-sex couples in a settled domestic relationship have the same rights as married couples?". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 3 October 2017. Archived from the original on 7 October 2017. Retrieved 7 October 2017.
  6. ^ "Election 2016: Malcolm Turnbull expects gay marriage plebiscite this year". The Sydney Morning Herald. 30 May 2016.
  7. ^ Francis Keany (7 November 2016). "Same-sex marriage plebiscite bill blocked by Senate". ABC News.
  8. ^ "Turnbull government kills same-sex marriage conscience vote, agrees to postal plebiscite". The Sydney Morning Herald. 7 August 2017.
  9. ^ "Australia says yes to same-sex marriage in historic postal survey". The Guardian. 15 November 2017.
  10. ^ a b c "Legislative Tracker: Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017". Parliament of Australia. 15 November 2017.
  11. ^ a b "Hansard". Parliament of Australia. 15 November 2017. Refer to pp. 8557
  12. ^ a b c "Dean Smith releases marriage equality bill as Liberals prepare for showdown". The Guardian. 6 August 2017.
  13. ^ "'Really significant step': Consensus report emboldens push for free vote on same-sex marriage". Fairfax Media. 15 February 2017.
  14. ^ "Report on the Commonwealth Government's Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill" (PDF). Australian Senate. Select Committee on the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill. 15 February 2017.
  15. ^ a b c "Revised Explanatory Memorandum: Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017". Parliament of Australia. 4 December 2017.
  16. ^ "Thousands of gay couples to become legally married overnight when law changes". The Sydney Morning Herald. 2 December 2017.
  17. ^ "Dean Smith introduces same-sex marriage bill to parliament". The Guardian. 16 November 2017.
  18. ^ Sainty, Lane (29 August 2017). "WTF Is Up With "Transgender Marriage" And The Same-Sex Marriage Debate?". BuzzFeed. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
  19. ^ Gina (1 June 2012). "Submission to the 2012 Senate enquiry on marriage equality". Organisation Intersex International Australia. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
  20. ^ Morgan (9 January 2017). "Marriage and people with intersex variations, a submission". Organisation Intersex International Australia. Retrieved 24 November 2017.
  21. ^ Ozturk, Serkan (21 October 2013). "ACT marriage bill "excludes" intersex people'". Star Observer. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  22. ^ Busby, Cec (21 May 2014). "Advocates work together to ensure inclusive marriage equality bill". Gay News Network. Archived from the original on 4 July 2014. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  23. ^ Anna Brown (15 November 2017). "And we're off! Notice of motion tabled - a powerful display of cross-party support for a Bill that will deliver #MarriageEquality if Australia says YES". Twitter. Archived from the original on 12 June 2018.
  24. ^ Murphy, Katherine (19 November 2017). "Religious freedoms must be included in same-sex marriage bill, says Matt Canavan". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  25. ^ "The Senate Just Voted Down All The Conservative Amendments To The Same-Sex Marriage Bill". BuzzFeed. 28 November 2017.
  26. ^ "Legislative Tracker: Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017". Parliament of Australia. 15 November 2017. Refer to this reference for a list of amendments proposed to the bill
  27. ^ a b Koziol, Michael (4 December 2017). "Same-sex marriage amendments to be blocked in lower house as final debate begins". Brisbane Times. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 4 December 2017.
  28. ^ "Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017". Federal Register of Legislation. 9 December 2017.
  29. ^ "SENATE - Hansard". Record of Proceedings (Hansard). Australia: Australian Senate. 15 November 2017. p. 8557-8560.
  30. ^ "SENATE - Hansard". Record of Proceedings (Hansard). Australia: Australian Senate. 16 November 2017. p. 8615-8645, 8717-8743.
  31. ^ "SENATE - Hansard". Record of Proceedings (Hansard). Australia: Australian Senate. 27 November 2017. p. 8760-8811, 8856-8913.
  32. ^ "SENATE - Hansard". Record of Proceedings (Hansard). Australia: Australian Senate. 28 November 2017. p. 8927-8949.
  33. ^ a b c d e "SENATE - Hansard". Record of Proceedings (Hansard). Australia: Australian Senate. 28 November 2017. p. 8949-8959 (Brandis Amendments)
    8959-8985 & 9041-9125 (Fawcett/Paterson Amendments)
    9125-9141 (Brandis/Canavan Amendments).
  34. ^ "SENATE - Hansard". Record of Proceedings (Hansard). Australia: Australian Senate. 29 November 2017. p. 9145-9181.
  35. ^ a b "SENATE - Hansard". Record of Proceedings (Hansard). Australia: Australian Senate. 29 November 2017. p. 9181-9193.
  36. ^ "Same-sex marriage bill passes in Australian Senate". The Guardian. 29 November 2017.
  37. ^ a b c "HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES - Hansard". Record of Proceedings (Hansard). Australia: Australian House of Representatives. 4 December 2017. p. 12315-12360, 12433-12451.
  38. ^ a b Koziol, Michael (4 December 2017). "Same-sex marriage: the day Tim Wilson got the answer to the question he can now ask". Brisbane Times. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 4 December 2017.
  39. ^ "HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES - Hansard". Record of Proceedings (Hansard). Australia: Australian House of Representatives. 5 December 2017. p. 12539-12556, 12604-12706.
  40. ^ "HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES - Hansard". Record of Proceedings (Hansard). Australia: Australian House of Representatives. 6 December 2017. p. 12769-12823, 12893-12954.
  41. ^ "HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES - Hansard". Record of Proceedings (Hansard). Australia: Australian House of Representatives. 7 December 2017. p. 12997-12999.
  42. ^ a b "HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES - Hansard". Record of Proceedings (Hansard). Australia: Australian House of Representatives. 7 December 2017. p. 12999-13073, 13107-13143.
  43. ^ Remeikis, Amy (7 December 2017). "Marriage equality vote nears as amendments tumble – politics live". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 December 2017.
  44. ^ a b c "HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES - Hansard". Record of Proceedings (Hansard). Australia: Australian House of Representatives. 7 December 2017. p. 13143-13145.
  45. ^ "Same-sex marriage bill passes House of Representatives, paving way for first gay weddings". ABC News. 7 December 2017.
  46. ^ Karp, Paul (7 December 2017). "Marriage equality law passes Australia's parliament in landslide vote". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 December 2017.
  47. ^ Sainty, Lane (7 December 2017). "The Australian Parliament Just Passed Same-Sex Marriage Into Law". BuzzFeed. Retrieved 7 December 2017.
  48. ^ a b "Same-sex marriage: Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce, Scott Morrison and the other MPs who didn't vote "yes" or "no"". The Sydney Morning Herald. 8 December 2017.
  49. ^ "'It's now part of Australian law': Same-sex marriage bill signed by the Governor General". SBS News. 8 December 2017.
  50. ^ "Same-sex marriage signed into law by Governor-General, first weddings to happen from January 9". ABC News. 8 December 2017.
  51. ^ "These Are The Words Australians Won't Be Hearing At Weddings Any More". BuzzFeed. Retrieved 9 December 2017.
  52. ^ "Finally! Gay couples' weddings officially mark dawning of marriage equality". Guardian Australia. 9 January 2017. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  53. ^ "When can you lodge your Notice for Intended Marriage?". ABC News. 7 December 2017. Retrieved 7 December 2017.
  54. ^ "Midnight weddings as Australia celebrates first official day of marriage equality". Yahoo7. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
  55. ^ "Same-sex marriage: How Australia's first wedding can happen within a month". ABC News. 13 December 2017.
  56. ^ Patrick Williams (7 March 2018). "Heartbreaking story behind Australia's first same-sex marriage revealed". ABC News. Retrieved 7 March 2018.
  57. ^ Julie Power & Goya Dmytryshchak (16 December 2017). "Australia's first same-sex couples say 'I do'". The Age. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  58. ^ "Free marriages for same-sex couples who wed in Canberra in 2013". ABC News. 8 December 2017. Retrieved 8 December 2017.

External links[edit]