In what was perhaps the biggest non-surprise of the year, today’s announcement of the results of the Australian Marriage Law Survey have revealed what most people – and most opinion polls – already knew. The overwhelmingly majority of Australians are in favour of Australia’s Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) being amended to permit persons of the same gender to contract marriage under that act.
As I mentioned, one of Australia’s worst kept secrets.
The results of the survey, however, are not the end of the matter. The next step belongs to the members of the House of Representatives and the Senate passing the necessary legislation to give effect to the changes supported by the people of Australia. So there is still more to happen, still more arguments to be had in the federal parliament, before it will be possible to say that same-sex marriage is legal in Australia.
Speaking from my perspective as an Authorised Marriage Celebrant under Subdivision A, Division 2 of Pat IV of the said Act, nothing much is going to change. I am only authorised, and thus permitted, to solemnise marriages according to the religious rituals of the Church of which I am a minister. In my case, that means I must follow the ritual and internal rules of the Roman Catholic Church when I solemnise marriages under the Act, otherwise they won’t be recognised under Australia’s civil law (irregardless of the status under Church rules).
Unless the Roman Catholic Church changes its understanding of the sacrament of matrimony, then I am only permitted to solemnise a marriage between one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others, for life, that is open to the possibility of children. That will not change under any pending changes to the Act. So it’s business as usual for this and every other minister of religion who is also an Authorised Marriage Celebrant under the Act.
Already the debates in federal parliament are shaping up to see a continuation of the some of the nonsense that has characterised the public ‘debate’ surrounding the now completed survey. Most of the nonsense is not directly relative to the change of in the laws surrounding marriage; they are about an entirely different issue that is deserving of civil discourse and debate, perhaps at a better time.
As Fr Frank Brennan SJ argues (see my recent post) there is a strong need for legislative protection at a Commonwealth level surrounding various human rights, including the right to freedom of religion, and the right to conscience, etc. Many of these human rights are enshrined in three significant international documents: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
It is well past time for Australia to address the lack of legislative protection, and perhaps the pending changes to Australia’s marriage law will be the catalyst for this long-delayed process to take place.
Such a conversation needs to take place, but it should not be tied to the passage of amendments to the Marriage Act.