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Select Committee on the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill
Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill

PORTEOUS, Archbishop Julian, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hobart

SHARPE, the Hon. Penny, MLC, Member, New South Wales Parliamentary Working Group on Marriage Equality

CHAIR: Thank you for appearing today and for your submissions. I invite each of you to make a brief opening statement.

Ms Sharpe : I am the Labor member of the New South Wales Working Group on Marriage Equality, which is a cross-party group within the New South Wales Parliament. We have been in existence since about 2012 and have made attempts to progress same-sex marriage in the New South Wales Parliament, but, obviously, subsequent to the High Court decision in the clarity around that matter, the ball is now in your court. I am here on behalf of the entire group.

I would like to begin by acknowledging the work that has gone into the bill and the fact that it is before us. I welcome the opportunity to contribute to a discussion about how we take marriage equality forward in Australia. The working group believes that the bill recognises the dignity and the equality that LGBTI people and their families in Australia do not currently experience. It will take us a big step forward and that will make a real difference in many people's lives. We also welcome the decision of the government not to pursue a plebiscite in relation to progressing marriage equality in Australia. And so here we are with this bill.

CHAIR: John Howard said the rule of arithmetic that prevented that course of action was opposed to the government.

Ms Sharpe : I think that is right, but it was very welcome nonetheless from where I sit. We just wanted to begin by saying that there is much in this bill, obviously, that we support strongly. We support the changing of the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act from a 'man and a woman' to 'two people', we support the conditions for a valid marriage under the Marriage Act staying the same and we support legal recognition of foreign same-sex marriages in Australia. I note that there are now twenty-six countries at least in which same-sex couples are getting married. Many of them are Australians and they should be able to be recognised like everyone else, and we support that addition.

Where we have some concerns is with religious exemptions. The working group believes that it is necessary to protect religious freedom in Australia and that protection ought to be included in the marriage amendment bill. We absolutely support that. We support allowing ministers of religion to perform religious marriage ceremonies per the doctrines, tenants or beliefs of the ministers' religion. However, the working group urges the committee to consider the differences between religious marriage and the government institution of civil marriage under the state. As such, the working group does have some reservations, and I will go to those in a minute. We oppose the full extent of religious exemptions currently provided in the draft bill. The working group also asks you to have a look at what the situation is in relation to exemptions in other countries, particularly countries similar to ours—Canada, New Zealand, England and Wales, just as examples. We believe that their religious exemptions do not go as far as what is proposed in this bill.

In relation to what we have concerns about with religious exemptions, essentially our concerns are through this bill extending exemptions under antidiscrimination law to just one particular group in the community—particularly, same-sex couples. We think that there is significant reach that will have a huge impact in relation to antidiscrimination law generally. I know that these issues are very contested and have been contested in the past, but we believe that this is a significant extension of those exemptions, but it targets specifically same-sex couples as a group. As a result of that, we oppose the broadening of section 47 of the Marriage Act, allowing for ministers of religion to specifically refuse to solemnise a same-sex marriage, as we believe the current exemption under 47 is adequate. We do not need to single out same-sex marriages under that. We also oppose the exemption allowing for a minister of religion to refuse to solemnise a marriage on the grounds that the minister has a conscientious objection to same-sex marriage. We oppose the exemptions allowing for a civil celebrant to refuse to marry a same-sex couple on the basis of conscientious or religious belief. You would be aware that within our submission we offer another path forward through that which is the option of allowing an opt-out clause for current celebrants and then basically grandfathering them for the future, and any new celebrants under the regime would not have that exemption. We also oppose the exemption for religious bodies and religious organisations to be able to refuse to provide facilities, goods or services for the purposes of same-sex marriages.

In closing our submission urges the committee to strike a better balance between religious freedom and equality for LGBTI people and their families. We believe there is a significant difference between religious marriage and what is being proposed under the Marriage Act as a civil recognition and a civil marriage. We believe this is different. We do not believe that churches should have to marry outside the tenants of their doctrine at all, but we do not believe that civil celebrants acting on behalf of the state to solemnise these relationships should have an exemption.

CHAIR: Thank you. Archbishop Porteous.

Archbishop Porteous : Firstly, thank you very much for the invitation to speak. I have not presented a submission. The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference presented a submission this morning and Bishop Comensoli spoke to that. I think I have been asked because of my own particular and individual experience with regard to the law as it stands and antidiscrimination law as it stands also in Tasmania at the moment. As you possibly are aware, I distributed the booklet Don't Mess with Marriage, which was a formal statement by the Australian Catholic bishops on the nature of marriage and, I believe, it was a respectful document, which also gave a recognition of our respect for people who have same-sex attraction, so it was in no way meant to be derogatory of them or exclusive of them.

That was distributed to all parishes in the Archdiocese of Hobart, which is the whole of Tasmania. It was distributed to our Catholic agencies and, in a sealed envelope, it was sent home to the families of children who attend our schools. We have about 16,000 children attending Catholic schools in Tasmania. The purpose of it was that, at that moment, there was a good deal of possibility of a formal debate commencing in parliament and I thought it would be helpful for the Catholic people to have an understanding of the Catholic Church's position on marriage. So it was meant to be an informative explanation, not just so people know what we believe but to give some background explanation about why we believe what we believe.

As a result of that, I was cited and was required to go before the anti-discrimination commission. There was a claim made that what I had done had been offensive. I would be happy to address my own experience with you in that regard this afternoon.

I might mention that, having read the exposure draft, I commend the fact that protection is offered to ministers of religion, particularly in being able to solemnise marriages, but celebrants too may have a conscientious position with regard to marriage. Are their consciences being respected? Thirdly, I would say that religious bodies and organisations would be able to maintain the integrity of the use of those properties according to the tenets and beliefs of that particular religious body. So I commend those particular elements of the document.

However, I am very conscious that, while there are these specific exemptions being made, one of the difficulties is that there is no recognition of the human right of religious freedom for all members of society. In other words, it is quite specifically to do with religious groups. I know there are people who may have no religious affiliation whatsoever but have very strong views about the nature of marriage. This does not protect them at all. I can certainly talk about some of those instances later on.

I believe that the right of religious freedom cannot just be seen as being granted by exception. It needs to be a central, integral principle enshrined in this legislation—and indeed in all legislation. As a democratic society which holds to the respect for the dignity of every human being, one of the core elements of every human being is their religious faith, their view of reality, if you like, inspired by that faith. As you are aware, many international covenants respect that. Particularly United Nations covenants respect that. I believe that it is important that the government, before proceeding with anything to do with marriage, formally recognise that the right of religious freedom is something that needs to be guaranteed and protected for all Australian citizens. I am happy to answer any questions you may wish to ask.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. I will start with a few questions to both of you before I hand over to my colleagues. One thing that has come up a number of times, particularly from the state based agencies who oversee the state anti-discrimination law, is essentially the comment, 'We couldn't possibly do that because that would go against our state based discrimination law.' As a legislator in the state parliament, is the general perception, understanding or will there to recognise that, if Australia has signed up to an international covenant, we actually have an obligation both federally and at the state level to bring our laws into alignment with that? Agencies from various states have almost said, 'No, you can't make that law federally because that would offend our state law.' What is your understanding, or what is the understanding of your working group?

Ms Sharpe : To be honest, I think it would depend who you asked. There is a general need for alignment between federal and state anti-discrimination law. Those far more qualified than I, who have spent a lot more time with that piece of legislation, know that there are differences in the laws of each state and territory as they have gone through. So I think they are raising an issue that is legitimate, but, beyond what I personally think about it, as we have argued in our submission, there are exemptions that already exist that would not offend state law and also not further extend exemptions, whereas I think this bill is a step forward into further extending those, which we are pretty uncomfortable with.

CHAIR: Archbishop Porteous, we have heard from a number of witnesses today that, if same-sex marriage were to be legislated—and I do just point out, by the way, that this is an exposure draft for comment that we are talking about; it is not actually a formal government piece of legislation; it has not been through the party room or the cabinet; it was developed as part of the plebiscite package—and were a bill to go through, we have had the comment that there has been no harm to people to date and there would be no harm once it became law, and that your case has been cited by a number of people, saying, 'Well, there was no finding against you; therefore, there was no harm.' I am just wondering if you would like to comment on that and also on the specific nature of what was objected to. We had some evidence yesterday that said: the objection was not about the church actually voicing its view on marriage; the objection was very specifically on a couple of small elements of the booklet. I am just wondering if you can give us some background on that.

Archbishop Porteous : I think initially the complaint came about because there were public statements made by Rodney Croome in the media to say that, because of the distribution of the booklet, people should take their complaints to the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner. So it was like an inciting of people to respond to it. Martine Delaney was the one who actually did this. Martine was not an immediate recipient of the document. It was not sent out to her. Martine actually obtained it from the Australian Catholic bishops website. I think that is important because it meant that an activist then set out, if you like, to be offended by the document.

That is one of the issues about this: something was directed to a particular group—in this case, Catholic parents; Catholic people—and somebody outside that group decided that they would be offended by what was actually directed to the Catholic people. So I would just like to make that point to begin with.

Martine required a formal apology by the Australian Catholic bishops for their release of the document. So I do not think it is just a matter of a few words. I think Martine wanted the bishops to formally apologise for the very fact that they wrote the document and had it produced. Martine also required that I would then begin LGBTI awareness programs in Catholic schools in Tasmania. So her opening gambit was very clearly directed to the document being completely suppressed as a whole, and, as Martine mentioned, she wanted it such that it would be withdrawn from public use so that no more people would be offended by the document. So I do not think you would say it is just a few words. I think Martine saw that the document as a whole was, in her view, offensive and needed to be completely expunged from public use.

The approach that I took was to say that I would like to seek early resolution. So, rather than go through a formal process, I was wondering whether we could have a dialogue. So we had two occasions where we sat down for a couple of hours and dialogued to see if there was a way. I said many times: my intent was to help the Catholic population understand why we believe what we believe and give a bit more substance and background to assist them in this very important debate. I was saying to Martine: the document itself, and certainly my own intent was never to be offensive to anybody with same-sex attraction or involved with LGBTI issues. The church has clearly always maintained that it respects the dignity of each person but it has very clear views about the nature of marriage and the nature of sexuality.

We had that process. I got involved. You get these very heavy documents given to you, and you have to wade through them, and you know you are out of your depth, so you get in lawyers. I had to have meetings; I had to do all this to try to sort out what would be the best approach. So it was quite engaging for me, and stressful, too, you know, trying to work it all through.

In the end, in talking to Martine, we could not come to any final agreement. Towards the end, Martine had asked for some particular words, which largely were the way in which Martine interpreted the text and were never the intent of the text—in other words, from her own perspective; she was looking for offence rather than something which is clearly offensive in its very nature. In the end, I received a letter from her solicitor to say that Martine had withdrawn the complaint. The commissioner also sent me a letter to indicate that the complaint was ended and that the commissioner would not continue with it.

For me that is a major issue, because the issue is unresolved. In fact, Martine said that at some stage in the future she may take it up again. There is nothing stopping her or anybody else making exactly the same claim and me going through the whole process again of having to deal with it. So to me it was very unsatisfactory. Martine just said, 'Look, it's getting too complex. It's taking too long.' If there is a level of offence, one would expect that one felt deeply about a matter and they would want to see it through to its resolution. In this particular instance, Martine just withdrew it.

I know that one of the effects of that is uncertainty. I do not know whether tomorrow somebody will present the same claim to the government. Nobody else in Tasmania has assurance that if they make any public expression of belief in traditional marriage they themselves will not be considered to be offending people and be presented. One fellow said to me, 'I cannot even talk about my belief in marriage around the coffee table at work, because I am frightened I will get reported.'

If an archbishop has a certain standing and capacity to deal with these issues, the ordinary person is completely and totally vulnerable. You have to hire lawyers. The case could drag on and on and become terribly expensive for the person, certainly engaging in their time and emotional energy. At the moment, in Tasmania, because of the nature of our law there, there is enormous uncertainty. It has this chilling effect. Nobody is game to say anything, because they just do not know what could happen. So the matter is quite the opposite. It has not been resolved. It remains completely and totally unresolved.

Senator PRATT: Ms Sharpe, I want to thank the parliamentary working group for putting in this submission. It is extremely helpful. It is clear that you have considered the bill before us as legislated, in terms of balancing the different interests of the community. I am interested in asking you how you seek to go about that work as a parliamentary working group. This is not the only issue that you have had before you. You have dealt with adoption and other issues. I am interested in asking you how you go about building cross-parliamentary support that weighs up those various interests in order to make progress on these issues.

Ms Sharpe : It is a very long story. I will not bore senators with all of it. We realise there are some issues that are not clearly partisan political issues. People feel deeply, particularly, about equality and pursuing equality. We found a group of us within the Parliament of New South Wales who wanted to address equality for the LGBTI community, many for different reasons—sometimes party political, sometimes individual.

What happened over that time it is that we were able to form a group and see how it went, really. We were able to find people from the National Party, the Liberal Party, Independents, Greens and Labor. Over time we had a long conversation about how we can progress these things. The reality of our operation for LGBTI rights is that in most cases in our parliament it has been subject to the conscience vote. That also necessarily frees members to pursue that in a way outside of political partisanship that we are often locked into through our party rooms. Because these issues are subject to conscience votes, it has also provided an opportunity for us to work together.

So really for us it is a matter of sitting around the table, working out what we agree on, working out what we do not agree on and seeing if we can find a compromise through the middle. Then it is about negotiating it through our respective parties. I think there are reasons why it works well. One is: leave partisanship at the door. The other is: do no harm to one another. When it is tempting to go and blast other people in the media for what their party may or may not be doing, we resist that. I always have done that. I think over time that has built a trust amongst the group that we can pursue these matters in a way that is respectful to our own roles within our own parties but always seeking to take the next step forward. I feel very lucky that we are able to do that.

Senator PRATT: I think there is a lesson for all of us in that. With respect to the references that you have made to the Sex Discrimination Act, what you are suggesting here quite reasonably and closely aligns with what the Human Rights Commission is suggesting. I guess as legislators we need to be cautious that we are not carving out a whole new area of law, as the draft bill before us seeks to do. You are expressing the same caution, and therefore an alignment for any kind of exemption with the Sex Discrimination Act is a happier marriage in terms of how we bring these things forward?

Ms Sharpe : Personally, I could argue a bunch of things around anti-discrimination law at various state and federal levels. What we are arguing is that the current exemptions that exist within the federal anti-discrimination act are adequate to cover what we are seeking to do through a change to the Marriage Act. We believe that there are strong exemptions for religious bodies. I listened carefully to Archbishop Porteous and understand the issues around conscientious belief, for example; but that does not exist anywhere in the Sex Discrimination Act or in our anti-discrimination act. It is a legitimate debate for parliaments to have around that, but we would argue strongly that this bill is not the vehicle to do that. We have significant concerns about trying to move forward very positively in a way for LGBTI couples to recognise for them to be married, to be treated equally before the law, but at the same time setting out a whole new pathway of exemptions and an ability to discriminate that does not exist anywhere else or for any other group.

Senator PRATT: Archbishop Porteous, I have some questions for you. I cannot see how your capacity to distribute this material or not is actually affected by the bill before us. Changing the definition of marriage does not in and of itself affect whether you can or cannot distribute such material.

Archbishop Porteous : I realise that. I think I was asked to speak from my own individual experience. But, more broadly, one of the concerns that I would have would be that the right for, say, Catholic institutions—if we just take that for a moment—to be able to promote and give expression to its own teachings and tenets is of vital importance to us, obviously. A concern would be that, if there were a change in law, there would be increased pressure put on catholic institutions to present this law, to say this is the law of the land, and so one could imagine that pressure could be applied in a variety of ways. There are instances already. For example, the Victorian government is wanting to impose a safe-sex program not only in government schools but also in Catholic schools.

Senator PRATT: That is independent of marriage. I understand these debates are taking place, but, to be fair, there is no thin end of the wedge attached to those debates. They are separate debates that are taking place. I cannot see yet any legal link between that kind of movement versus the changes to the Marriage Act that are before us.

Archbishop Porteous : I beg to differ. The Safe Schools program basically captures a lot of the ideas around same-sex unions and would seek to promote—obviously, if the law changed they would feel a degree of confidence that their program should be imposed because it reflected the law of the land. This would be a case where we would be pressured to present teachings in our schools which are at variance of the basic tenets of our faith. So I think that the two are linked. If there is a change of law, it would have all sorts of consequences. What is initially being proposed seems fairly innocuous at one level—you know, why not give people with same-sex attraction the right to be married—but it has vast consequences which will flow not from day 1 but as time goes on. Activists will be wanting to take things further and further and really impose these views on society as a whole, where there would be many people in society who would not agree at all with this as being the nature of marriage.

Senator PRATT: I guess, with respect, Archbishop Porteous, I have been one of those activists active in that area of law reform and, indeed, in terms of community campaigning. But they are distinct areas of law. While LGBTI people in the community might want access to such material in schools, it is not linked to this legislation before us.

CHAIR: Senator Pratt, can I just make one comment there. Our terms of reference talk about consequential amendments that may be required. A number of the submissions have referred to some legal cases in the US where, following the change of law to allow same-sex marriage, the school curriculum has started to include, enforced by law, with fines and things, a different curriculum in the school as a direct linkage. That is why a number of the submissions are making that link between this legislation and consequential amendments that may be required because of the overseas experience.

Senator PRATT: I can understand that point. Indeed, in terms of curriculum, that may well be true. But the obligation to introduce such curriculum within a Catholic school, for example, I would contest that there would be no such obligation under this law.

Archbishop Porteous : I understand that, but, in the strict terms of what is being proposed here, that is not being proposed at all. However, it is simply the case that once law is changed there is a shift now to, obviously, carry out the implications for that law. So I think it is inevitable that this is what would happen. So while we say it is not enshrined in these words here, in effect that is, I think, what would happen over time.

Senator PRATT: With the respect to the 'Don't Mess With Marriage' documentation, it is my understanding, thanks to the evidence of the Commissioner Robin Banks yesterday, that the specific offending words within the document was not the document as a whole but 'messing with marriage is also, therefore, messing with kids'. Is that not true?

Archbishop Porteous : In terms of the way the dialogue between myself and Martine went, at the beginning there was this general view that the document needs to be withdrawn and completely dismissed, and an apology be given. As time went on, Martine finally came down to these two specific statements in the document. I assured Martine that the interpretation of the expression 'messing with children' was as we were using the phrase 'messing with marriage': it was a colloquial phrase. So it was not meant to be anything more than the use of a colloquial expression to capture the idea that starting to change the nature of marriage will actually—and it does—change the whole situation with children in marriage. That was all that was implied by that. Martine chose to take another interpretation, which I do not think the document itself, and the context of the document, in any way bears out.

Senator PRATT: I would beg to differ. As a parent in a same-sex relationship, I think, given the history of debates on, for example, paedophilia in our country, these are not the kind of statements that can be taken lightly, and that, as someone in the LGBTI community, having that kind of label put on our parenting relationship would be akin to making such a statement to, for example, a Catholic priest on his pastoral relationship with children. They are not the kinds of statements that I think are fair to either community.

Archbishop Porteous : The statement particularly highlights the fact that where you have a child being brought up by a same-sex couple there is a real effect, immediately, in the sense that the child does not have a father and a mother as the key sources of formation. The bishops are just making the comment. They are not attacking, but they are saying that it does bring about change. The child will actually grow up in a single sex household and, therefore, will have the influence of two women or two men but will miss out on the advantage of having both a father and mother, which we would say is vital for the best outcome for children.

It is not to say that children cannot be loved and cared for, but we are just making the point that it is a change. There is a different situation for the child, which in this case is actually legislated for, as against where a marriage breaks down—that is unfortunate—and they may not have the presence of a father and a mother. In this case, we are saying we now formally support the notion that a child can just be brought up by two mothers or two fathers. We believe that that is not the ideal by any stretch.

Senator PRATT: I think you are making some very sweeping statements about the nature of LGBTI parenthood and, indeed, the family formations that exist within it. Those formations are as diverse as heterosexual couples and families, which are also diverse. I think your sweeping statements from the church do not reflect the nature of LGBTI families.

Just briefly, I have some questions from Senator Rice. Do you accept that the line 'messing with kids' in the context of that pamphlet was offensive to LGBTIQ people, and do you want sufficiently strong exemptions that specifically would allow for the distribution of such materials throughout Catholic schools? Those questions are from Senator Rice.

Archbishop Porteous : I would probably just say it is a matter of the way in which the terms are interpreted by some that is the issue. I do not think the document intended to be offensive or in any way denigrate the role of same-sex couples raising children. With regard to the document as a whole, it stands as a document produced by the Australian Catholic bishops explaining the nature of marriage. I think it is a very valid and useful and, I think, balanced and respectful document.

Senator PATERSON: I have one quick question for Ms Sharpe and then a couple of quick questions for Archbishop Porteous. Ms Sharpe, I heard you mention in your opening statement your concern about proposed section 47B, and the word that particularly caught my attention was your reference to 'facilities'. Am I to understand correctly from that that you do not believe that a religious organisation such as a church should be able to decline to have a gay wedding service at a church, for example?

Ms Sharpe : We do not believe that antidiscrimination exemptions should be extended in this way for same-sex couples to facilities.

Senator PATERSON: So a Catholic church should not be required to have a priest present to officiate on a marriage, but, if a couple wanted to be married in a Catholic church—that physical location—the church should not be able to refuse to provide that to them?

Ms Sharpe : That is a specific—we could have hypotheticals on all these. I have been following the inquiry and I know you have had a few of those. I would again just say that our argument is that if you want to extend exemptions generally then it is actually a discussion more broadly about antidiscrimination law, and it should not just apply to same-sex couples. I hear what you are saying. We believe, though, that what is being proposed in the draft legislation goes much further than the specific church example. Does it go to private schools? Does it go to a church hall? Does it go to a camp? And we think that, when you are actually looking at doing your report, our suggestion at the very least is that there is no definition about where that would go, and I think that that is also highly problematic for us.

Senator PATERSON: Thank you. I just wanted to clarify that. Archbishop Porteous, I am going to ask you kind of an impossible question to answer, but let's see how we go. Obviously, as you mentioned, one of the frustrating things about your case is that it did not have a resolution; it was withdrawn. Did your lawyers advise you what they expected the likely outcome to be had it proceeded?

Archbishop Porteous : We were uncertain. We were in uncharted waters. I was still intent on the early resolution process. I was hoping that, with dialogue between myself and Martine, Martine might understand firstly that there was no intent on my part or the part of the church to directly attack her or in any way offend her. We were presenting to the Catholic people our position. So I was always hoping that we may eventually come to, in one sense, say, 'I respect the fact that the church can say this and I respect that Martine can also not agree with me or agree with the church.' I was hoping we might come to that sort of stage where we could both agree to differ, if you like, but not see it as a matter for antidiscrimination.

Senator PATERSON: But obviously it would have been more clarifying for everyone else watching this and wondering what is within the bounds of the law and what is not to have had a resolution of some kind.

Archbishop Porteous : If it needed to go to a tribunal and go through a tribunal process then, what would happen there, I am not sure, but we would obviously talk about public interests, which was a major focus of our efforts. There was no intention to attack, to belittle or to be in any way negative towards or offend some person. It was public interest in presenting teaching.

Senator PATERSON: On notice, I would be interested in whether you have done the figures on what the cost of being involved in this process was. Do you have the legal fees that were incurred or the time that was incurred—any kind of estimate? I do not expect you to do it on the spot, obviously.

Archbishop Porteous : No, I have not quantified either the time—there was a lot of it—or legal costs.

Senator PATERSON: Could you quantify?

Archbishop Porteous : We could estimate.

Senator PATERSON: I would be very happy with an estimate.

Archbishop Porteous : I would have to take out diaries and try to work out the multiple meetings.

Senator PATERSON: Yes. Just an estimate of your law firm or whoever was engaged to represent you—that would be very helpful. Thank you.

Senator KITCHING: Were there any other complaints that you were aware of in relation to the pamphlet—even perhaps informally?

Archbishop Porteous : There were, yes. I received some emails and some other forms of communication to indicate that they were not happy with receiving the document, yes.

Senator KITCHING: Were they part of your archdiocese or were they, if I can call them, first recipients?

Archbishop Porteous : A number of them were recipients, yes?

Senator KITCHING: So direct recipients?

Archbishop Porteous : Yes.

Senator KITCHING: How was that resolved? How did you resolve those comments?

Archbishop Porteous : I might say too I received many, many letters of commendation.

Senator KITCHING: That is fair enough, yes.

Archbishop Porteous : It was not all one way. In the case where people wrote a thoughtful comment, I would try to write a response back on the level of that. If something was over the top, sometimes I might just acknowledge it, and one or two we did not acknowledge.

Senator KITCHING: I think everyone here would have received letters that perhaps had no point in replying to.

Archbishop Porteous : A bit like Robinson Crusoe!

Senator KITCHING: This morning, Bishop Comensoli was here and we discussed one of the matters we have to take into consideration: where exemptions may fall. Even though he did not really like the language around exemptions, he did give a useful form of words, which was that those exemptions should exist where they are 'integral, direct or intimately connected' with marriage for example. If you were chair, you could hire a marquee, for example. The exemption would not apply to you. But if you were more connected with the service, for example, then that exemption would not exist to protect you. How do you feel about that in your archdiocese? Where do you feel the exemption should be?

Archbishop Porteous : The exemption area is very complex by its very nature. An interpretation of exemptions will vary enormously and this will be a great difficulty, I think, in having exemptions. There will be a natural tendency for exemptions to be more and more narrowed as time goes on. That is the way things go, the way things have been—when in doubt, tighten it up. I think in the long term that is going to be detrimental. People will find that what they initially thought were exemptions—when it came out; like what is stated in the draft proposal here—will be negotiated as time goes on. I can see restrictions taking place. So there will be this narrowing of exemptions. When you have an exemption, it is so easy when the time is right to dismiss it, when they say: 'Look, everybody else accepts this. Why is this little exemption existing?'

I do not favour the whole notion of exemption. I believe that in going ahead as a community, it would be far wiser for us to make a general support for an international position with regard to freedom of religion, that we make that statement. If the government says that then we use that as a recognition. I think that is part of being a democracy. From that, we structure bills in relation to marriage and so on. In other words, there is a principle established. We respect that and we acknowledge that principle. I think this is something inherent in who we are as a nation. As a nation, we deeply believe in respect for individuals. In fact, people who are arguing for the change in the definition of marriage are doing it because of respect for those in LGBTI situations.

I think we need to enshrine in law formally the fact that as a nation we respect the basic human right of freedom of religion. Then if it is law, everything else can be tested against it. We can then work out how things can go. I believe that is the best way forward in this debate. I fear that what will happen if things do come to pass that there will be an ongoing battle and it will set up antagonisms and bitterness and so forth. Nobody will be happy. Everybody will feel that their rights are being denied. Some of the other issues, deep issues that affect immediate human life, it will never be the case that everybody else comes in line. Those who have deep beliefs, particularly beliefs coming out of religious perspectives on things like euthanasia, abortion—all of these kinds of very fundamental human issues—will never go away.

CHAIR: Thank you for your submission and for appearing here today. If you have been asked to take anything on notice, we have a tight time frame to report. Could I ask you to get that back to the committee within a week. That would be much appreciated.