Campaigners Say Same Sex Marriage Bill Must Protect LGBTI Australians
15 November 2017 at 12:39 pm
The Australian Parliament must move swiftly to introduce legislation that legalises marriage equality while preserving important anti-discrimination protections for LGBTI Australians, according to the Law Council of Australia and “yes” campaigners.
ABS chief statistician David Kalisch revealed the postal vote result on Wednesday which showed the national “yes” responses were 7,817,024, representing 61.6 per cent of votes.
“Millions of Australians reported and responded to this voluntary survey. The final number was 12,727,920 people achieving a response of 79.5 per cent ,” he said.
Kalisch said “no” responses reached 4,873,987, representing 38.4 per cent of clear responses.
— AU Marriage Equality (@AMEquality) November 15, 2017
Law Council President Fiona McLeod said the peak legal body had supported marriage equality for over a decade and was delighted with Wednesday’s result. But she said it is important to understand what the result does and does not mean.
“The people of Australia were asked if they wanted same-sex couples to marry and they have delivered a resounding ‘yes’,” McLeod said.
“They have not been asked if Australia’s anti-discrimination protections should be wound back. This important distinction should be front of mind for all parliamentarians. Australians have voted for marriage equality, they have not voted to erode anti-discrimination protections.”
McLeod said while freedom of religion is crucial right, there is no need for drastic change.
“The changes suggested in Senator Dean Smith’s Bill offers a reasonable compromise and a fair balance of rights,” McLeod said.
However, she restated the Law Council’s opposition to legislation that sought to wind-back protections against discrimination.
“We strongly warn against the passage of the bill released by Senator James Paterson,” McLeod said.
“Senator Paterson’s bill, or any variant of it, would encroach on Australia’s long-established anti-discrimination protections in dangerous and unprecedented way.”
Former Olympic Swimmer and yes vote campaigner Daniel Kowalski told Pro Bono News that emotions were running high and “it was difficult to put into words” how happy he felt on the yes vote.
“There are so many emotions and I am so overwhelmed,” he said.
“I have been involved in this campaign since February across regional and remote parts of the country and heard amazing stories from couples who have been together for more than fifty years as well as those 16 and 17 year olds who have had the courage to come forward,” the openly gay Kowalski said.
He said he was confident the legislation would work for everyone.
“What really cements that is that the final statistics [showed that] 130 of 150 electorates voted yes,” he said.
“The [government’s] hands are very tied now. They’ve got no choice but to act on this vote and really see all aspects of equality for what it really is.”
Lee Carnie, from the Human Rights Law Centre LGBTI Unit, told Pro Bono News: “We are going to work as hard as we can to ensure that the marriage equality bill is one that removes discrimination against LGBTI Australians.
“Australians have voted yes to remove discrimination,” Carnie said from the steps of the Melbourne State Library, where hundreds of “yes” supporters had gathered to celebrate the postal vote decision.
“We are confident that now that Australians have done their job and voted yes that Parliament will come together and vote of a fair Marriage Equality Bill without any of the unnecessary and unprecedented discrimination that appears in Senator Patterson’s bill.”
President of The Law Society of NSW Pauline Wright said the it would scrutinise any proposed legislation and forward its recommendations to the Law Council of Australia to be included in a submission from the national body.
“All Australians are entitled to be free from discrimination, to be subject to the same laws and to be treated equally before the law,” Wright said.
“Reform is appropriate where there are laws which discriminate against people on the basis of inherent characteristics, such as their sexual orientation or gender identity
“At the same time, it is appropriate that any proposed legislation be scrutinised to ensure that it does not erode other traditional rights and liberties that we presently enjoy.”
Wright said for that reason, two working groups would be established to inform and advise the Law Society’s Council and Committees about proposed reforms arising from the national postal survey.
A voluntary ballot was unnecessary, but it’s wonderful to see equality emerge the winner. Let’s look to Parliament to enact the wishes of the Australian people. #marriageequality
— Gillian Triggs (@GillianTriggs) November 15, 2017
UNICEF Australia encouraged decision makers, community and religious leaders, the Australian media and other stakeholders to ensure that ongoing discussion and public debate on the matter was “safe for and respectful of children and young people”.
“Acknowledging that this area of public policy, and the result of the national postal survey are emotional and important subjects for many members of our community, we are taking this opportunity to remind people to think of emotional safety and wellbeing of children who may have parents or family members who are same-sex attracted or are same sex attracted themselves,” Amy Lamoin, director of policy and advocacy at UNICEF Australia., said.
“In public discussion over coming weeks we should avoid the use of derogatory remarks, stereotypes, verbal abuse and acts of violence; be informed and evidence-based; non-discriminatory; and inclusive,” Lamoin said.
“Discussions should be safe and respectful for all children and young people.”
Professor Patrick McGorry, who is the executive director of Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, said freedom of speech protections that wind back anti-discrimination laws were not necessary for same-sex marriage legislation.
“I think it’s a current test for the prime minister to actually deal with this rear guard action that will almost certainly occur to blunt the force of this decision in those ways,” McGorry told Pro Bono News.
“[These protections] have nothing to do with the issue and are red herrings actually. So I think it’s very important he displays leadership with the support of the opposition to the other parties to actually get it done.”
McGorry added that the survey campaign had adversely affected the mental health of young LGBTI Australians.
“From the youth mental health agencies, we’ve definitely seen a surge in help-seeking. I think the duration of the campaign, some of the negativity we’ve seen and even the fact the campaign has been occurring [in the first place], has really affected the mental health of young LGBTI Australians,” he said.
“I hope the result today will really dissipate that distress and damage that has occurred. It’s a pity that we had to have a campaign to get this result, but the fact we had such a positive result hopefully will reverse and maybe even take us to a better place, once the bill is legislated for.”
A number of major faith-based charities did not want to immediately comment today on the same sex marriage postal vote decision when contacted by Pro Bono News .
Unitingcare pointed to a pastoral statement it made to its community last week in which it said: “Whatever the result of the postal survey, many people in our community will feel hurt, some deeply.
“Our families and friends who are LGBTIQ have found the whole survey incredibly difficult, and indeed unsafe. Many of our families and friends in the broader community have also found this time disconcerting,” the statement said.
“There has been a great deal of anger, fear and hurt, for which we grieve.
“The question for us is how we will act as the church now, and in the weeks and months ahead. We must care for each other, acknowledging that most of our congregations will host a diversity of opinions, as does our community. We cannot use our roles in the church to tell people what to think, to criticise, or to abuse, others.”
However, Fr Frank Brennan, CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia and a known supporter of same sex marriage said: “After all the divisiveness of recent months, today is a day to honour those who with dignity and perseverance have convinced their fellow Australians that the civil law should both recognise their faithful, exclusive commitments and support their families, regardless of their sexual orientation.
“For them, it is rightly a day of celebration,” he said.
“We need our politicians to lead the nation in healing the hurts caused by the plebiscite campaign.
“While legislating promptly for same sex marriage, our politicians also need to commit to a transparent, fair dinkum process for determining and rectifying the shortfalls in Australia’s legal architecture for the protection of religious freedom and conscientious beliefs.
“This must be done with all participants accepting that from now on, civil marriage in Australia will be available to any two persons wanting to commit faithfully and exclusively to each other.”
Anglicare Victoria CEO Paul McDonald said: “We welcome the yes vote and the very clear message it sends that the LGBTI community is entitled to the same rights as other Australians.
“The outcome shows strong support for the LGBTI community, and the need to end discrimination. This is a real positive for our staff, the young people and families we work with, our carers, volunteers, donors and supporters,” McDonald said.
“We are pleased that the Australian community, like Anglicare Victoria, strongly supports the right for all Australians to have loving, committed relationships and to be married under Australian law.”