Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Select Committee on the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill
24/01/2017
Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill

ARGENT, Mrs Shelley, National Spokesperson, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays

BROWN, Mrs Judy, President, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays New South Wales

CROOME, Mr Rodney, Spokesperson, just.equal

DANE, Dr Sharon, Private capacity

DAVIS, Ms Michele, Vice President, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays Perth

FOY, Ms Lauren, Co-convenor, New South Wales Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby

HINTON-TEOH, Mr Ivan, National Campaigner, just.equal

PYCROFT, Mr Chris, Co-convenor, New South Wales Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby

Evidence from Dr Dane was taken via teleconference—

CHAIR: I welcome representatives from just.equal, the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby of New South Wales and PFLAG. We also have Dr Sharon Dane joining us online. Thank you for appearing today and for your submissions. Do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Dr Dane: I am a researcher on same-sex relationships. I was approached by PFLAG and just.equal to assist in a private capacity with the design and recruitment of the LGBTI survey on refusal of service in relation to same-sex marriage.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. If one representative from each organisation would like to make an opening statement, we will do that before we proceed to questions.

Mrs Argent: As Australians, we bring our children into the world believing this is a free and equal society, but when one of our children comes out we learn quickly we are free but not all are equal. A recent survey that Dr Sharon Dane will talk about later showed that nearly 90 per cent of LGBTI people do not want these amendments made law. They would prefer to wait for a fair-minded government that will show a little compassion and legislate fairly.

As parents, we stand with our sons and daughters to support them on the issue of marriage equality and what we see as fair. It seems to me that much of the problem is that the personal bias or religious beliefs of individuals and/or groups are allowed to impact on the rights of others. We need to keep in mind they are personal and should remain so. Even ministers and priests of varying religions can be supportive, while others in the same church are very much against marriage equality. So it all comes down to opinion or belief, not fact.

When I first began lobbying MPs, I would say most of you were not even in politics. I was being told that our sons and daughters would want to marry the dog, the TV or the dead. Now it is all about the children and how business owners and government workers should have the right to refuse service to our sons and daughters—no other group, just our LGBTI sons and daughters.

As parents, we want our sons and daughters to have the right to marry in a respectful manner, just the same as their peers and siblings. But the proposed amendments are insulting and degrading to the couples and their families and I feel are of great concern to those in regional and rural areas, where communities are known to be generally conservative and regular attendees of the churches. In these areas couples do not often have the choice of florists, bakers or venues, and my question is, 'Where will this legalised discrimination end?' because it is really like: how long is a piece of string? Furthermore, on the issue of children, which a lot of the groups are talking about, marriage equality does not lead to couples automatically having or wanting children. Many do not want children, while others are already parents.

Some opponents claim to be concerned about the welfare of children, but they seem to forget the fact that couples are having children, regardless, and will continue to whether this government sees sense and allows a free vote, or whether opponents of same-sex marriage are agreeable or not. Opponents forget that these children are real; they are here, and they are not going anywhere. Opponents talk about the rights of the child, and so do we. Except we see the child's rights through different lenses. If opponents are truly concerned about the children, they would be encouraging couples to marry because it would improve the emotional stability for the children and remove them from the periphery of society, legally and socially.

However, I believe that this debate is not about the children; it is about my son and other LGBTI people having the right to marry. It is not whether he or they have the right to be parents, because that ship sailed long ago. As parents, all we ask is that our sons and daughters have the right to the same opportunities and to be seen as equal by the government, regardless of gender or orientation. They work; they pay taxes, and they contribute equally to society. We, their parents, want them, when they can finally marry the person they love, to have the same opportunities and privileges that marriage provides.

This panel needs to understand that we, as LGBTI sons and daughters and the parents we are representing here today, are 100 per cent adamant that the proposed amendments put forth by George Brandis will not be supported by us ever. Marriage equality is just that. It does not come with exclusions and amendments. It is about inclusion in family; it is about respect of the relationship, and it is about the right of couples to stand beside their partner in the emergency department without having to prove they are a couple. As parents, as I said before, we say no to any amendments, as we stand firm with our LGBTI sons and daughters. Thank you for listening, and I do hope that we see marriage equality for our sons and daughters before the next election.

Ms Foy : Chris and I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak to our submission at today's hearing. The New South Wales Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby was established in 1988 and is the peak body for gay and lesbian rights in New South Wales. Our mission is to achieve substantive legislative and social justice for lesbians, gay men and their families.

Same-sex couples not having the right to have their relationship legally recognised through marriage continues to be a significant concern. We are optimistic that this inquiry will serve as an opportunity for all parties and politicians to work together to pass marriage equality legislation. We know that marriage equality has broad community support, with polling consistently showing that two-thirds of Australians support marriage equality. We also know the majority of members of parliament in both houses have declared their support for marriage equality.

Marriage equality is an issue of human rights. Marriage reforms are essential to uphold the human rights of sexual and gender minorities. In recent history marriage reform, through the lens of nondiscrimination, has secured the legitimacy of interracial unions and furthered the agency of women in marital relationships. In the context of evolving norms the Marriage Act should be amended to define marriage as the union of two people irrespective of sexual orientation and gender identity. An extension of permitted exemptions undermines the inclusive spirit of Australia's core value—the fair go. It also entrenches institutionalised discrimination.

Following extensive consultation with New South Wales lesbian and gay communities in response to the bill, we wish to affirm our position on the proposed bill and incorporated exemptions. We do not consider proposed exemptions relating to ministers of religion to be necessary, given current protections within the Marriage Act, and we consider that civil law can be amended to allow two people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity to marry and have their marriage legally recognised.

We do not support any proposed exemptions to civil celebrants, or any other persons authorised by law, from officiating at marriage ceremonies, nor do we support exemptions for goods and service providers to explicitly refuse service, which is related to the solemnisation of marriage, to same-sex couples—and amendments to the Marriage Act to allow couples the right to marry should not require any amendments to federal antidiscrimination law.

One of the comments we received in our consultation summarises the thoughts of many. As a dual national of the United Kingdom and Australia, born and raised in Australia, I do not want to have to get married in the UK when it should be acceptable here in this great nation. Let us get this through as soon as possible, not as a privilege but as a step forward in equality for LGBTI people. To deny the will of the vast majority of Australians and to deny LGBTI Australians their right to equality, dignity and respect is a statement which says that our love, relationships and families are not equal. We hope that the trust we place in the democratic process of electing effective leadership to govern our wonderful country, to make decisions in the best interests of the nation, will include marriage equality for all Australians in the near future. We look forward to the day when marriage equality becomes a reality in Australia and we can all proudly say, 'I do'.

CHAIR: Mr Croome, are you making a statement?

Mr Croome : Yes. Thank you for the opportunity of allowing us to make our submission and to speak to it today. just.equal is a national advocacy and lobbying body on LGBTIQ equality, which has a national board and a database of about 60,000 Australians concerned with the issue. As you would see from our submission we, like PFLAG and the New South Wales Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, do not support the exemptions in the legislation before us. Like those groups, we are very strong supporters of marriage equality, and have been for as long as we have been formed. I, of course, in many different capacities have been an advocate for that for many years.

The point of allowing same-sex couples to marry is to remove stigma and inequality against our relationships. This bill simply seems to transfer that stigma and inequality to a new field—that field being commercial and other interactions in the wedding sector. Because these provisions are aimed specifically at same-sex couples they continue to stigmatise our relationships as second rate and less worthy than heterosexual relationships. As I said, if the point of marriage equality is to help remove that stigma and that inequity, then these provisions undermine that purpose.

In our submission we also talked a bit about access to service. This is something that is particularly important for me, being from a country background in Tasmania. Couples in rural and regional areas may find it increasingly difficult to access wedding services under the proposed provisions. Again, if one of the main reasons we support marriage equality is to allow couples to celebrate their love and commitment with friends and family in those places that mean most to them—for example, in the communities they grew up in—then we would not seek to deny them access to wedding services that other people have access to.

A particular concern for me is the way that the provisions we are talking about violate principles of anti-discrimination. In Australia we like to think that we treat everyone fairly, judging everyone according to their character and not the colour of their skin or how they worship or who they love. We also like to think we stand with the underdog, those who are powerless or disadvantaged or simply want the same opportunities in life as everyone else. We particularly dislike those who claim special privileges over and above others. Anti-discrimination laws should not only apply equally to everyone, they should foster in our community the spirit of egalitarianism that we so value. The proposed exemptions are an offence to every one of these values. They deny some people the opportunities others have, they give a special privilege to those who already have positions of authority and power, and they continue to stigmatise those who have already suffered stigma enough.

For these and other reasons, it is little wonder that comparable countries—such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada and the Republic of Ireland—have been able to enact marriage equality without the kind of caveats and exemptions that we are talking about. It is also no surprise that when we joined with PFLAG to auspice a national study on this very issue of refusal of service to LGBTIQ people, we found, as the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby did, very strong opposition within the LGBTI community. Not only strong opposition, but when asked very specifically whether people would be willing to wait for marriage equality rather than accept these caveats and conditions and exemptions, the response was, just as strongly, 'We can wait'. On that note I might ask Dr Dane, because she helped conduct the study and analyse the results, to talk a bit about some of the results. Is that okay, Senator?

CHAIR: That is okay. The longer you present, the less time there is for questions. But if you want to take two or three minutes to run through a summary of that, that is up to you.

Dr Dane : PFLAG and just.equal approached me to assist in a private capacity with the design and recruitment of an LGBTI survey specifically on refusal of service in relation to same-sex marriage. It is my area of research. I specialise in research to do with same-sex relationships and wellbeing. The survey to the best of my knowledge is the largest LGBTI research survey conducted in Australia, with over 6,000 participants. To ensure the results were likely to represent a broad cross-section of the LGBTI community an Australian marketing company was contracted to advertise the survey on Facebook targeting LGBTI Australians from all age groups, states and territories. As not all people engage on Facebook it was also advertised on LGBTI news websites and through emails sent to LGBTI religious groups, sporting clubs, business networks, parenting groups and social clubs.

The resulting demographic shows close to equal numbers of men and women, with two per cent more men, and large numbers from all age groups. The distribution in terms of state and territory is for the most part proportionately consistent with ABS population data. All data discussed here today is stored with the independent company SurveyMonkey, with all data tables in the report downloaded directly from their server.

Participants were first informed of the current law—that is, that they were first told that in Australia religious celebrants already have the right to refuse to marry any couple whose relationship they believe breaches the tenets of their faith group. They were then asked to what extent they supported or opposed extending these laws to make it legal to refuse service to marry or intending to marry same-sex couples based on personal conscience or religious beliefs. Eighty-one per cent opposed this and 71 per cent strongly opposed it. Participants were then presented with the exact same question but with the added information that this would only apply to same-sex couples. This increased the opposition to close to 90 per cent, with 82 per cent strongly opposing it. This strong opposition was found irrespective of gender, age, state or territory or whether they were currently in a same-sex relationship.

Participants were then provided with various scenarios such as those in relation to military chaplains; civil celebrants; employees of births, deaths and marriages; and private businesses and religious organisations providing hall rental, catering and other services related to the wedding industry. Opposition was high for all scenarios, ranging from 92 per cent opposed to 98 per cent opposed. The only exception was for religious celebrants. In this case 59 per cent disagreed with such a proposal and less than a majority strongly disagreed with it—that being 46 per cent.

Lastly, participants were asked the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with such proposals if it meant the passage of same-sex marriage legislation in this term of government. Even under these conditions the opposition remained high for all scenarios, with a drop of only two to three per cent. For example, 91 per cent disagreed with refusal of service by a civil celebrant based on personal conscience or religious beliefs—this compared with 93 per cent before—and 87 per cent strongly disagreed with it. Importantly, it was among those who felt same-sex marriage was extremely important to them personally that opposition was the highest, even when it was considered an exchange for the passage of same-sex marriage in this term of government.

Comments left by close to 2,000 participants at the end of the survey suggest that one of the biggest factors, if not the biggest factor, to do with such strong opposition was the singling out of same-sex couples. Many question why such proposals did not include couples divorced from a previous marriage, couples of a different faith or race or couples in which a partner had a known history of domestic violence. Another main factor was the issue of enshrining discrimination into Australian law.

CHAIR: Thank you. I want to start with the last point raised by Dr Dane because it has been raised by a number of submitters around the question of specifically calling out exemptions for same-sex couples. Two points have been made to the committee, and I would seek your response. One is to broaden the exemption and just say that, if there is an objection for whatever reason—whether it is a divorced couple, domestic violence or whatever—people should have that right to make that decision. So that is one way to mitigate that. The other is to, rather than have specific protections, approach it from the point of view of having a positive protection for people's freedom of conscience and belief within the law. They are two different approaches to try to achieve the balance. Would you like to give a response to those suggestions that have been put to the committee?

Dr Dane : We did not specifically present any of the participants with questions—

CHAIR: Dr Dane, I am actually asking the others. Rather than it being part of the survey, I am actually asking the groups who sponsored the survey.

Dr Dane : I see.

Mrs Argent : Personally, I do not see why we need to go through all that process of changing other laws and include other exceptions, because it has worked well. The problem is: why don't we just be inclusive, keep it simple and just include our sons and daughters?

Dr Dane : There were responses in the survey that touch on that in the sense that many participants mentioned that there should not be any discrimination. Particularly if you are working as a public servant, you need to fulfil that role. If you do not want to do that, then you need to find some other form of employment. That came through several times as well, so it was not just about the issue of same-sex couples being singled out, however that was a major factor.

CHAIR: Were you about to make a comment as well?

Mr Croome : I just want to pick up on what Mrs Argent said about evidence for there being an issue now. Is there a call from civil celebrants, for instance, to be able to legally discriminate against any couple on the basis of their religious or conscientious belief? Is that an issue at the moment with couples who can marry at the moment? As far as I can tell, it is not. So I could not see how, from a policy point of view, it could be justified to extend exemptions to other couples who may fall foul of someone's particular religious sensibilities. I recall that in 2012 the research company here in Sydney, Crosby Textor, did a very large research piece on marriage equality and it asked people about their concerns about what we sometimes hear are the unintended consequences of this reform, one of which is, as you would have heard already, of course, violations of freedom of religion. I understand that there are some people of faith who have genuine fears about that occurring with marriage equality being enacted, but what the Crosby Textor research company found was that only 16 per cent of Australians think that is a real thing. They think that is something which may happen. The other 84 per cent of Australians do not think it is something that is likely to happen—that there will be violations of religious freedom, that people will have their religious freedom taken away. So we have to have these figures in perspective. We have to look at those countries, like New Zealand and Canada and Britain, where marriage equality has been enacted without these exemptions to see whether there has been a genuine attack on religious freedom or religious freedoms have been taken away. I do not believe there has been. That is the question we have to answer before we begin looking at making these exemptions even broader.

CHAIR: Sure. It comes down, then, to a fundamental question this committee has to grapple with: how we balance the competing rights. We are signed up to the ICCPR, which has freedom of conscience, religion and belief, as well as freedom from discrimination, as equal rights under that. I give an example of the complexity. Mrs Argent, you were saying it is simple. I think the submission from the marriage celebrants' national body—correct me if I am wrong here—said that about three per cent, or around 1,000, of their celebrants had indicated that they would feel the need to resign and give up their business and, for the people who joined the business under the current law, this is, essentially, like a retrospective penalty for them. That is just an example I am giving of the fact that it is not clear cut. If the parliament is seeking to make laws that balance competing rights and interests, we cannot retrospectively make a law that suddenly cuts 1,000 people out.

Mrs Argent : The government makes amendments all the time and upsets people all the time, but it continues. I do not think that the three per cent should succeed over the rights of our sons and daughters. They have done nothing wrong. All they want is to be seen as equal.

Ms Foy : It is very disappointing that that would be seen as a penalty. It would value-add to the institution of marriage to have more people wanting to be in committed relationships and wanting to commit to those values and, if anything, would provide more strength within our communities and within Australian culture. Again, I do believe, and research tells us that Australians do believe, in a fair go. Broadening those exemptions further discriminates against a whole other cohort of people, which is not in Australia's best interests. It is going to divide us more.

CHAIR: My last question before I go to Senator Pratt comes down to a fundamental issue that we are grappling with. It is that not only within the ICCPR are those competing rights, we have had evidence from parties—in fact, our judicial system has recognised—that somebody's personal beliefs or conscience is very much central to their identity, just as somebody's sexual identity is part of their identity. So we are in a position of trying to find a balance on both of those parts. Just like you are arguing, you cannot dismiss somebody's sexual identity; nor can you dismiss somebody's conscientious or religious identity.

I am just wondering, from the comments you have made in your submissions, if it would be easy to take the inference that you believe that a religious and conscientious identity should be subjugated to the other. Is that your position or do you recognise that we have a role to try to accommodate a balance of those rights?

Dr Dane : In terms of the survey, the comments there, and these comments were made very frequently, are that same-sex couples are not likely to want someone to marry them who opposes their marriage. There are ways civil celebrants can let it be known that they are supportive of same-sex marriage, as there are many organisations—like accommodation places, travel, that say 'LGBTI friendly'—so there are ways of letting people know subtlety that this celebrant is supportive and so that is where the business will go. It is not likely or it is highly unlikely or there are very small cases where someone would deliberately want to force a marriage celebrant to conduct their ceremony when they are disapproving.

Mr Croome : We as a society respect everyone's right to hold particular religious views but we infringe their capacity to exercise those views or put those views into behaviour all the time. If a parent believes that a certain medical treatment is wrong, that it is religiously unacceptable, do we allow them to withhold those treatments from their children when their children are dying? There is not a balance between those rights. Where we draw the line is when it comes to harm and hurt and discrimination.

I cannot see how this case differs, in any way, from the many ways in which we curtail people exercising in the world their religious views, how it differs from any of the other examples of where we do that. We do not allow someone to drive on the right hand side of the road just because the religion says that's what they should do, because it harms others. As we have illustrated, as we have talked about, having laws which target same-sex couples and allow services to be refused to us, effectively, allows someone to put a sign in the window saying, 'No gays because of my religious belief.' It causes harm and hurt and damage to the people refused and to society as a whole. That is where I draw the line, in terms of the balance that you are talking about.

The other point to make is that it is hard for all of us to accept that we are talking in a sincere way about people's conscientious and religious beliefs, when the provisions in this bill are only about same-sex couples. If they were about genuine religious beliefs they would not be framed that way. To us it would sound like a way to legitimise prejudice.

Senator PRATT: I might pick up there, because I think the point you make is well made. In terms of a way forward in this parliament, looking at the bill before us, what kind of amendments would you suggest need to be made to see it put forward? For example, as you and many people have submitted, you would want removal of all those aspects that single out discrimination against same-sex couples specifically. Perhaps you might comment there about where we should be headed when it comes to what kind of bill is put forward.

Mr Pycroft : I might answer that question. Specifically from the consultation which we did within the New South Wales LGBTI community, it did largely come back specifically with a response of, you know, no discrimination, no new discrimination, no watering down of discrimination law. Having said that, we did specifically include with our submission one suggested amendment to section 47A of the Marriage Act to specifically protect existing religious freedoms that were in place but also give the ministers the ability to solemnise marriages. That was done largely in response to the feedback which we received which very much mirrored some of the feedback which was highlighted in the Just Equal survey: that people would only specifically want to get married by people who would actually want to perform those particular ceremonies. A lot of the feedback that we specifically received through our survey responses was that we should not necessarily be forcing people who do not want to solemnise our marriage ceremonies. So, from what we received, that was probably the single amendment which could potentially be made to the bill.

Having said that, I think that any amendment that would be introduced to the bill which would introduce exemptions in some form or another would need a review put in place, I would say two to there years after the specific exemptions were put in place, to evaluate their effectiveness and whether it is appropriate to keep those exemptions in place.

Senator PRATT: With reference to people's desire to access a celebrant that upholds their values, we had evidence from the celebrants' associations yesterday about how they currently need to manage that in terms of current marriages that they do not want to undertake, which is essentially that they tell people they are busy or find an excuse not to do it, which kind of precludes a more transparent conversation under current antidiscrimination law on whether someone is prepared to decline to undertake a marriage. So that is already the case. In terms of whether someone can have a transparent conversation with their celebrant in the secular setting, whilst clearly the current policy of this bill goes too far, where would you daw the line in terms of being able to have a legal framework that allows someone to have that conversation? Noting that this is the intimate part of a marriage—that act between the couple and their celebrant—where do you draw the line? Would you be happy with some level of generalised conscience within the provision of that service versus constraining the services provision, for example, in halls and cakes, where you would have no right of discrimination?

Ms Foy : The civil celebrant scheme exists fundamentally as an alternative to religious ceremonies, and they are non-religious in nature. Such personal views stemming from religious beliefs or otherwise should be irrelevant in providing a service to the general public especially when such an act of refusal of service would otherwise contravene antidiscrimination law.

Senator PRATT: So how do you find out if someone supports that and whether they are the kind of celebrant you want if they cannot freely express whether or not they support you, because they would be contravening antidiscrimination law? It is contradictory in terms of what, for example, Dr Dane said: people want to know whether their celebrant is supportive.

Ms Davis : It is personal. As you said, it is a personal relationship that you are forming. Similarly, when you want your photographer, you have a meeting with them and you get to know whether you are on the same wavelength and whether you are going to work together and it is going to be successful.

Senator PRATT: But someone under anti-discrimination law would be prohibited from disclosing their personal views in that arrangement.

Mrs Argent : You would still learn very quickly whether the person was interested or not, and there is no such thing as a perfect world. And I think allowing the civil celebrants to quietly move out is much better than having all these exemptions that are proposed, because, as I said, how long is a piece of string? You allow one exemption and then someone—you end up like the GST, and what is a cake. It will be this one, and then it will be this one, and it will go on and on and on. So, you stop it right at the beginning.

Senator PRATT: That is a point well made, and in fact that was the position taken by one of the celebrants' associations yesterday—that is how they currently navigate that situation.

Mrs Brown : With the conscientious objection factor, that is not enshrined in present law, is it? It is only mooted because we are talking about same-sex couples, isn't it?

Senator PRATT: That is correct, notwithstanding—

Mrs Brown : So really, it is that singling out of people who cannot do anything about the situation that they were born in.

Mr Croome : That is the point I was going to raise too. It is a good point. Is it a problem now? Are people finding that their celebrant is an ill fit because they are not able to have the conversations that they feel they should be? I do not understand that to be the case at all, because we do not hear anything about that. That is not an area of complaint. At this point, one of the broader points seems to be constantly a solution in search of a problem. I do not see that there is a problem now, so why would there be a problem in the future with couples being able to find the right celebrant under the strong anti-discrimination provisions that we have in Australia?

Senator PRATT: For example, currently celebrants are obliged under the secular law to marry people of large age differences even though they may have a moral objection to that, and they have to navigate that within existing anti-discrimination law, so that is a point well made.

Mr Croome : That is another part of this. Because it is marriage, there is an intimate aspect of this, a very personal aspect, but there is also a very official aspect. These people are delegated by the government to perform a government duty in the same way that justices of the peace are, and we would never think for a second of allowing justices of the peace not to sign statutory declarations of people they did not like, because they are representatives of the state. It is because of that that I find it really difficult to imagine some kind of solution that I think you are trying to find there.

Ms Davis : And regarding religious orders also having the same worries about couples having a large age disparity, I do not necessarily think couples are going to be banned from marrying based on what the minister might determine is an inappropriate match.

Senator PRATT: Ministers of religion would have that discretion, whereas secular celebrants do not currently.

Senator SMITH: Your dilemma is very much like the dominant churches in Australia, and that is that you could end up with the worst of all outcomes. So, I am interested in better understanding what your ranking is in regard to the objections. Or are they objected to equally? Our task is to try to accommodate as best we can the views of all Australians on what is a very, very sensitive issue. Now, if your final position is that you reject the exposure draft in its current form, people like me will accept that. I doubt very much, though, that gays and lesbians will accept that over the medium term. So, I am curious to understand: if we had to rank your objections—what is the most objectionable to the least objectionable—that would be a very constructive way to help this committee, as best it can, accommodate the various opinions across the country. So would someone like to help me better understand the objections. Ms Foy?

Ms Foy : On surveying the LGBTI community in New South Wales, we asked three broad questions, one being on exemptions for ministers of religion, exemptions for civil celebrants and exemptions for services. Our research tells us that, on religious body organisations refusing to provide service, out of 2,442 responses, 74 per cent of those respondents said that they do not agree with those exemptions. So that is pretty telling. That is also incredibly similar; it was also 74 per cent for civil marriage celebrants. In saying that, the percentage was closer when it came to ministers of religion, with 50 per cent stating that they support exemptions for ministers of religion versus 42 per cent saying that they do not. So, in terms of ranking, of order, it is a definitive no for service-provision civil celebrants. But we are in a position where we understand a person's personal choice and freedom of speech and religion—a conscious position—and we are prepared to work towards creating the happy medium that we need to be able to make sure that we can all have that fair go, and that is the point of the exercise that we are prepared to come to the table on.

Senator SMITH: That has been very, very constructive. Thank you. A proposition that was explored briefly yesterday was one where people, in all good faith, have signed up to be civil celebrants under the law as it currently stands and then find themselves being civil celebrants under a new law. What would be your level of acceptability—and these are my terms—if those people who became civil celebrants under a previous law were grandfathered, effectively, so that they were free to exercise that objection, if they had it? In the evidence we heard from the civil celebrants associations, because there were two, there was a group of people who had an objection. But what would your opinion be in regard to that accommodation?

Ms Foy : I guess they need to consider whether or not they are in the right profession. At the end of the day, they have entered into an agreement to provide a civil service, and that is part of the agreement—in the same way that it is business. But, for them, also, they would be losing business. I think Shelley made a good point in that I think you find out very quickly the people who support you and the people who do not without having to have a direct conversation about it. And people do have the freedom to choose in that sense. I do not see there being any evidence. Out of the research that the civil celebrants did, I think that there were 500 people out of the 10,000 people surveyed who said that they would not do it. That is a very small proportion of civil celebrants who said that they would not. But I guess we are incredibly concerned, in particular, for people in rural and regional areas—in small towns that have not so many businesses and not so many opportunities to access it. If there is only one civil celebrant in that town that objects because of their religious conscience, where else are they supposed to go? What else are they supposed to do? That does not seem just or fair.

Senator SMITH: That point has been made over the last few days. Mr Croome, do you have any comments in regard to the ranking of the objections that Ms Foy has just shared with us?

Mr Croome : I would ask Dr Dane just to refer to the statistics on this issue, of ranking, from the survey. On the issue of ranking, on the provisions before us, I would find it very difficult to say one or the other. But, as you said, as to the exemption in relation to religious celebrants, there seems to be much less opposition in the LGBTI community, and certainly from me personally, to the other provisions. In relation to the grandfathering question, there have been many changes to marriage law since civil celebrancy was established, some of which some religious folk would find objectionable. We know; they objected. And yet there was never any question about allowing civil celebrants not to marry couples where one partner had been divorced or had a no-fault divorce or where they had had children outside of wedlock or whatever it was. There was never any question of that. So, again, it is a bit difficult, on the face of it, to accept grandfathering in response to this one particular change to marriage law and, again, in response to us being the ones willing to walk down the aisle. Sharon, are you able to talk a bit about ranking or the different levels of response to the different types of exemptions proposed?

Dr Dane : Similar to the New South Wales survey when it came to religious celebrants, that is where the people were the most 'lenient', 59 per cent disagreed but only 46 per cent strongly disagreed. So there was much more agreement in that situation. The highest opposition was when it came to the employees of Births, Deaths and Marriages. That was extremely high with 98 per cent disagreeing. The rest of them, including civil celebrants, ranged from 90 to 92 per cent. So it hard to rank much difference there when they are also very high. Clearly, religious celebrants is where people seem to be able to move.

Mrs Brown : How often do the civil celebrants have to renew their licences? Is it every 12 months?

Senator SMITH: I do not know the answer to that.

Ms Davis : It is.

Mrs Brown : If that is the case, would it not come up when they are renewing their licence, that they are needing to abide by the current law?

Ms Davis : If we are also going to talk about religion and the effect religion has on marriage equality, I can refer back to the Irish example. We all know Ireland voted for marriage equality. There 62 per cent of the population voted for marriage equality. In terms of Ireland's religiosity, the recent census noted 92.3 per cent of the population in Ireland practise a religion; 90.4 per cent of those are Christians. So 90 per cent of Christians in Ireland are able to vote for marriage equality and they are clearly able to see that being religious is not a barrier to supporting same-sex marriage.

CHAIR: My understanding is that 62 per cent was of those people who turned out for the vote because it was not compulsory.

Ms Davis : It is not compulsory voting.

CHAIR: Therefore, those stats will actually change in terms of which demographic turned out to vote. You cannot necessarily extrapolate that straight across.

Ms Davis : Those who are motivated either for or against turned up, believe me.

Dr Dane : There is really no difference in terms of opposition versus support, but it relies on the strongly motivated on either side.

Senator KITCHING: Dr Dane, would you be able to run through the survey you did? You did it through SurveyMonkey?

Dr Dane : Correct.

Senator KITCHING: How did people know about the survey?

Dr Dane : We used a marketing company to do the advertising. They advertised it through targeting through Facebook. They were able to target sites that they knew LGBTI people were likely to visit and they targeted for every age group in every state, and both men and women. Then we advertised it through LGBTI news and magazines as well and, importantly, we actually went down to the level of sending out emails to hundreds of LGBTI parenting groups, religious groups, social clubs, sporting clubs, business networks to try to get as wide a breadth as we could of LGBTI people. The fact that the demographic result ended up with almost even numbers of men and women and the proportion of people from each state reflected very closely ABS population data suggested to us that we did indeed get a very wide section of the community.

Senator KITCHING: Dr Dane, would you be able to provide the committee with the questions that were asked?

Dr Dane : Yes.

Mrs Argent : Every MP and senator were sent a complete report.

Senator KITCHING: I am a very new senator.

Mr Hinton-Teo : I will give you a copy.

Mrs Argent : I can send it to you, but it was sent to every MP and senator.

Senator KITCHING: Thank you, I have it now.

Dr Dane : It has all the demographic information and every question asked. The data in the back of the survey was downloaded directly from the independent company, SurveyMonkey. None of us in Australia actually constructed those tables; they come straight from their server.

Senator KITCHING: I understand. In Saskatchewan, in Canada, where a celebrant is not comfortable performing a same-sex marriage the province undertakes to provide someone to that area. It has been suggested that this could be done where there is perhaps only one celebrant in a rural part of Australia. How do you feel about that?

Mrs Argent : I find it incredible. If this goes ahead, with these proposed amendments, I would like to know whether my son can refuse to support or provide his service to a Christian who has rejected his right to marry? My son was a policeman. So he could hang them out to dry. He is now a paramedic. So he could leave them on the road and say 'I don't think I have to pick you up because it's my right.' They would not like that but they are saying whether my son, and the sons and daughters of the other mother sitting here, has the right to marry. So I think it should work two ways.

CHAIR: The human rights committee has explored this area. Discrimination law says that you cannot discriminate on issues of sex, which has been extended to include sexual identity. But it also provides guidance saying that the application of that, and the balancing of rights, cannot be based solely on that right. So if somebody said 'I won't make you a cake because you are same-sex attracted' that would be discrimination. There is no argument about that—

Mrs Argent : But this is in the proposed amendments.

CHAIR: but when there is a combination of both the same-sex attraction and the status of the relationship then that is not solely on the basis of discrimination. That is where there is a difference between the example used of a policeman and somebody who has a conscientious objection because of the nature of the relationship.

Mrs Argent : I find it interesting. Our children did not choose to be lesbian and gay. But people's opinions and beliefs have grown on them—they were not born with them—so I want to know why an opinion should have more value or worth than our son's right to marry. I have gardeners who have been together for 42 years. I am over this! For 10 years I have been going to the parliament's doors with a begging bowl saying 'Please Sir, can my son have the right to marry?' We have gone from the dog to the TV—we have gone through all this rubbish—and we are still sitting here now discussing it. And you can be pretty sure that nothing will come out of this because we are more concerned about the right wing than our sons and daughters who live good, decent lives. What does it matter that they are gay or lesbian? They are good enough to go to war. They are good enough to stand up and fight for you. They are good enough to protect you and look after your children. That makes a difference to you. The sun will still rise and set if they marry—and your life, and anyone else's life, will not change. But our sons and daughters lives will change for the better if you get some sense and just allow it like every other industry English-speaking country. I am just past it!

Dr Dane : Thank you, Shirley. We seem to be stuck on the point that somebody is in a position where they are going to lose their job and they have nothing else to go to because we are not allowing grandfather clauses. Is there any benefit in looking at other situations in Australia where that has happened—where a government policy or something has impacted an employee to the point where they have had to leave their job knowing full well that their chance of re-employment somewhere else was next to zero? I can think of examples from my own experience where government policy has made it impossible for scientists to continue because of their own personal conscience. They knew full well in leaving that job that their chances of employment elsewhere were very limited. In some cases people just left the country or retired. Can we look at other examples to see where people are put in similar situations because of changing government policy?

Ms Foy : The change in the aged care legislation in 2013, where exemptions are not applied in that space and where the majority of service providers are faith-based organisations to older people. It would be interesting to see how that is going at the moment. From my understanding in being part of that consultation process, the process was driven with faith-based organisations that agreed that this should be part of their service provisions. In terms of setting a precedent, that is one example of service provision.

I would also like to stop and consider what kind of community cohesion we are looking to build. If you are in a small country town and you know that that particular person does not approve of you, that is probably not going to build very good community cohesion. I think we need to stop and consider what kind of communities we want to build; whether we want to build strong, supported and unified communities which want to build each other up or whether we want to create divided communities. Exemptions will continue to define people, and I really do not believe that that is what our government wants.

Mr Pycroft : Bringing it back to an explanatory memorandum which was included as part of the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2016. That specific memorandum stated that:

It is not considered appropriate to extend the right to refuse to solemnise marriages to other authorised celebrants. Under the Code of Practice for Marriage Celebrants and existing Commonwealth, State and Territory discrimination legislation, authorised celebrants who are not ministers of religion or chaplains cannot unlawfully discriminate on the grounds of race, age or disability. To allow other authorised celebrants to discriminate on the grounds of a person's sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status would treat one group of people with a characteristic that is protected under discrimination legislation differently from other groups of people with characteristics that are also protected.

Allowing that process to be in place would be perceived to be a potential extension of discrimination in this particular instance.

Senator KITCHING: I take your points and I too think society should be unified, open and accepting. Yesterday we had the civil celebrants and I was quite surprised when they said that sometimes they would not meet the couple they were marrying until the day of the ceremony and so there was no relationship and no way of being able to know whether they were happy. They also said that 10.5 per cent of civil celebrants would consider discreetly refusing. I think that society loses by that as well, because it is a hidden discrimination. That is why I am trying to tease out these issues.

Mr Pycroft : When discussing proposed exemptions specifically for civil celebrants, one of the grounds for refusing to perform a ceremony highlighted by our submission was conscientious belief. In our particular opinion that was not sufficiently defined in the exposure draft that was put forward by the government. In order to answer that kind of question we would need to seek clarity on what the government actually believes conscientious beliefs to be and to be defined as.

Mr Croome : Picking up on the latter point about social cohesion, I understand your point, Senator, that people are not necessarily having the conversations they should have or they are acting discreetly in order to refuse service, but what we are talking about in this bill is giving permission for people to withdraw from the legal principles, civic values and social norms which we all share and which bring us all to the public square. At a time of increasing tribalism—social, economic, religious, political—in the Western world, which is threatening to pull society apart, I really do not think that is a message we should be sending. The government's role is to foster shared values and not to allow people to opt out of the values that we share.

CHAIR: The time being 11.45, this section of the hearing will conclude. Can I thank each of you for your submissions and for the evidence you have provided today. If you have undertaken to provide any further information to the committee, could you do that within one week. We are working to a fairly tight time frame to review, draft and agree a report, and so within one week would be great. Thank you very much again for your evidence today.