In Britain, this has been achieved by legislating for civil unions. Archbishop Vincent Nichols, president of their Catholic Bishops Conference, recently said: "We were very nuanced. We did not oppose gay civil partnerships. We recognised that in English law there might be a case for those." It is time Australia went the same way.
Many same-sex couples tell us that their relationship is identical with marriage. Until the majority of married couples are convinced this is so, politicians would be wise to maintain the distinction between marriage and civil unions.
Our parliamentarians should now legislate to recognise civil unions. The Commonwealth Parliament should not legislate to change the paradigm of marriage unless and until the majority of persons living that paradigm seek a change. Decisions about adoption and assisted reproduction should always be informed by the best interests of the child. Religious groups should be free to maintain their paradigm of marriage for their own members.
Frank Brennan is a Jesuit priest and professor of law at the Public Policy Institute, Australian Catholic University.
THE NEWLYWED: AARON ALLEGRETTO
On the weekend I was speaking to my 78-year-old (Catholic) grandmother, who summed up my views on gay marriage with a simple yet poignant statement, "I do not understand why two people who love each other cannot get married."
Born in Australia, I became a British citizen in 2009. After a lifetime of being told that I could not marry the person I love, I finally had the right to choose. It was the first time that I felt equal in the eyes of the state.
Brett and I have been together for four years and had a civil partnership on January 21 under British law. It wasn't a conventional or traditional wedding - there was not a single grain of rice and no church service. What we did have in common to other weddings, were two people in love, standing before their friends, celebrating their commitment and pride in their relationship. Despite what some people will have you believe, the sky did not fall in.
Our friends are quick to point out that gay marriage is not a threat to the institution of marriage. The real threat to society is the failure to recognise the love between two people, and all of the negative consequences that come with that - hatred, homophobia, discrimination, violence and isolation. Love between two people should be celebrated, not demonised.
The right to marry is a human right and should be the choice of the couple, not the choice of the state. Far be it for me to comment on Julia Gillard's relationship, that is a matter for her and her partner, but if she is to be supported for making the choice not to marry the man she loves, logic and fairness dictate that she not stand in the way of others who want to do just that - marry the love of their life.
In taking this stance, government is promoting the idea that gay and lesbian people should be treated differently to other couples.
I look forward to the day the "banning of gay marriage" will be seen as the scar on the face of humanity in much the same way that the "prohibition on interracial marriage" in Nazi Germany, South Africa under apartheid and the US (prior to 1967) is considered today.
Aaron Allegretto is a workplace lawyer.
THE LAWYER: GEORGE WILLIAMS
Australian law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. As it stands, the federal Marriage Act discriminates against people on account of their sexuality by restricting marriage to the "union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others".
The unfairness and injustice involved in banning gay marriage has led many nations to change their law. Courts have often been the catalyst. For example, gay marriage was recognised in Canada and parts of the US after judges held that denying same-sex couples the right to marry breached their right to equality.
Unfortunately, Australia is the only democratic country in the world without a national bill of rights. This means we are alone in being unable to challenge our unequal marriage laws in court.
The argument against gay marriage can have a religious base. Australian law respects this, and states that people are entitled to act and express views based upon their religious convictions. In particular, section 116 of the constitution says the Federal Parliament cannot make any law "prohibiting the free exercise of any religion".
However, this has its limits. Australians are not entitled to impose their religious views on others. This is reflected in the separation of church and state. Hence, at the same time as protecting religious freedom, section 116 states that the Commonwealth shall not make any law "for establishing any religion" or "for imposing any religious observance", and "no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth".
These rules are vital to a healthy democracy.
The separation of church and state extends to the law of marriage. In Australia, marriage is governed by civil law. This means that it is for our elected representatives in state and federal parliaments to determine who can, and cannot, marry.
The law should state that every person is entitled to marry the person of their choice. It should also provide that religious officials cannot be required to solemnise any particular marriage. With this in mind, marriage under Australian law should be described as "the voluntary union of two persons to the exclusion of all others".
George Williams is the Anthony Mason professor of law at the University of NSW.
THE LOBBYIST: KELLIE McDONALD
"Legitimising gay marriage is like legalising child abuse," tweeted Family First senate candidate Wendy Francis in the lead-up to last year's federal election.
It was a comment that was unashamedly homophobic, but sadly typical in a country where views such as Francis's have been allowed to flourish under the nose of many consecutive governments.
When it comes to allowing same-sex couples to marry, Australia lags behind many other countries around the world such as Argentina, South Africa and the US state of Iowa.
This month, during Australia's Universal Periodic Review by the United Nations Human Rights Council, a number of countries recommended that Australia allow same-sex couples to marry to meet our international human rights obligations. The government in turn "acknowledged" these recommendations but is yet to act on any of them.
The government agrees that same-sex couples should be assessed for social security in the same way as heterosexual couples, so it should follow that same-sex couples be granted access to a civil institution like marriage in the same way heterosexual couples are. So why do we remain in a land of antiquity?
Christian groups who oppose same-sex marriage argue that heterosexual marriage is the bedrock of society, a safe haven to raise a family, and that the status quo should be maintained in the name of so called "tradition". But a tradition, in their view, that has always understood marriage as between a man and a woman.
This is a somewhat misguided view, particularly when you consider that the legal requirements and process for getting married in Australia have long been determined by secular laws, which govern us all.
Irrespective of Christian opinion on who should be entitled to marry, it is the Marriage Act 1961 - not the Bible - that defines marriage and provides the legal framework for both religious institutions and civil celebrants to legally marry people.
Perhaps more importantly, we need to recognise that one of our most fundamental human rights is the right to be treated as equals under the law and to live our lives free from unfair discrimination.
When people are denied this right, they are denied their dignity and respect.
The reality is, this is a fundamental human rights issue and supporters of same-sex marriage will continue to push for equal rights under the law.
Reform in this area is long overdue and despite fierce opposition, gay and lesbian communities are confident our elected representatives will find the courage to lead the way and allow same-sex couples to marry.
Kellie McDonald is the co-convenor of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby.
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Morning & Afternoon Newsletter
JESINTA Franklin’s support for the right of same-sex couples to marry springs from both a natural desire for equality and the chilling knowledge her own marriage to indigenous footballer Lance “Buddy” Franklin would have been subject to similar discrimination not so long ago.
This is the article on marriage equality she recently penned for Vogue.
At 26 years of age, I have been lucky enough to experience a lot of milestone moments in life, those moments you always dream about as a child growing up, like graduating from high school, buying your first car or home, getting your first big pay cheque, getting engaged and, of course, getting married.
Marriage has been a big topic of conversation for some time in Australia — marriage equality, to be more specific. It is a topic that has ignited debate, divided a country and ridiculously ended up being the biggest social issue of 2017. I say ‘ridiculously’ because when I think of all the social issues that deserve government funding and a nationwide debate and furore, I think of issues that are less easily resolved than what I see as a straightforward matter of two people of the same sex being able to get married.
The issue of marriage equality in this country is something I have been quite vocal about, because it is something that is close to my heart. Equality is something I feel passionately about, so whenever I have the opportunity to voice my opinion in a dignified and respectful manner, I do. My career has afforded me a public platform, one that I try to use for good. I have always been conscious not to abuse this privilege, but whenever it arises for me to use it to be a voice for those who aren’t always heard, I embrace it and try to use it to my best ability in a hope I am able to make a difference.
Which brings me to why I am writing this article. I hope that by writing this I can bring some light to why marriage equality is so important to those who don’t think it matters. I hope that someone from the LGBTIQ community reads this and feels somewhat less alone and understands that so many people around them, even those they don’t know, have their back and will fight for their rights.
The entire debate around marriage equality in our country really got me thinking about why people were so opposed to it. I’ve read a lot about both sides of the argument and I am yet to find a single reason that is completely logical as to why someone would be so angered and opposed to something that is only going to bring unity and happiness to so many people. The only conclusion I can come to is that they lack an understanding or ability to think or care about others.
To put this entire debate into perspective, I want to tell you a story about my husband, Lance, and I, and why marriage equality issues in this country could have stopped us from getting married.
Lance and I met five years ago. I’m not one those girls who ever lived in a fantasy world, always searching for her knight in shining armour, or really believed in love at first sight. However, when I first met Lance, there was an instant connection and attraction between us. As soon as he walked into the room, I felt his presence and energy and I remember being really taken aback by him. Our love story isn’t one that came without its challenges: we were both young, lived in different states and there were a lot of personal things we worked through, which really tested us as individuals but also as a couple. But through the ups and the downs, our love story was slowly written. Lance moved states for work, we moved in with each other, we got a puppy, we bought a house and then we got engaged.
We’d spoken quite openly about marriage with each other, but the engagement came as a surprise. Spending our lives with each other was always what we wanted, but I had no idea Lance was going to pop the question when he did. We shared our special news with our family straight away, then started telling extended family and friends. I’ll never forget the day Lance proposed to me: the butterflies in my stomach, the joy in my heart, and, of course, the happiness everyone had for us was overwhelming.
This was one of those milestone moments in life, one of those moments of complete and utter happiness that you cherish in your heart forever.
We had a long engagement, but couldn’t wait to get married. Without it consuming our entire lives, we always spoke about how we wanted our special day to be. It was so exciting, and the prospect of unifying as a couple in marriage was something that we were both really excited about. “I can’t wait until we are Team Franklin,” we would always say to one another.
Now, as I said, I am not one of those crazy, fairytale/fantasy-type girls and in no way did either of us feel like we needed marriage to validate our feelings or commitment to each other. However, getting married meant that our relationship was recognised in law. It would make our future together more united: if something were ever to happen to either of us we would be able to make decisions on behalf of each other; and things like insurance, mortgages and joint purchases would be a smoother process. Marriage made conducting life as a couple a more equal experience.
Never in my entire life did I ever think that I wouldn’t be able to marry the person I loved. This is the case for every heterosexual individual in Australia. However, looking back on history, there was a time when our love story could have had a very different outcome.
You see, there have been lots of changes around marriage in Australia throughout history. If some of these changes hadn’t occurred and if Lance and I had met only one generation ago, our marriage could have been opposed or prevented. My husband is an indigenous man and I am a caucasian woman. There was a time in history when authorities had control over who indigenous people married. We would have faced the same discrimination and treatment as same-sex couples are facing today.
This fact shocks and frightens me to my core. In the same way, the right of two loving people of the same sex to get married is controlled by archaic and discriminatory views of our current government. The colour of your skin, your race, religion or sexual orientation should never, ever be used as reason as to why you cannot marry the person you love. And none of these things should ever be used to divide society or nation.
I thank my lucky stars every single day that my husband and I met at a time when our right to marry each other was never something we had to worry about, and I am so grateful that we had people in history who stood up for what was right and fought to give us the freedom we have today.
To the LGBTIQ community: Lance and I will continue to fight for you, the same way people in the past fought for our rights. We stand with you side-by-side, because there was once a time when we would have been in the same position as you. You are loved, you are valued and we are your allies.
Australia, get your act together. I hope you have voted Yes, because we all deserve to marry the person we love.