A four-month cross-party parliamentary inquiry into legalizing same-sex marriage in Australia published its report today.
The report does not make recommendations but the chair of the committee that led the inquiry, Labor MP Graham Perrett, said in his foreword:
‘I fully support the legalisation of marriage for couples of the same sex… I encourage the House of Representatives to remove this final vestige of discrimination against same-sex couples.’
The report also clarifies that religious leaders will not be forced to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies if it is against their wishes.
Perrett references section 116 of the Australian constitution which ‘does enshrine the protection of Australians to practise their religions without the interference of the state’. He noted however that:
‘It is important to remember that God did not write the Marriage Act. It is written by lawyers and legislators and must reflect the views and values of today.’
The report will be read by MPs before they vote later this year on two same-sex marriage bills that are before parliament.
In an interview on ABC Radio today Perrett said that the outcome of that vote will be decided by leader of the opposition Tony Abbott.
‘The reality is if Mr Abbott dictates what the conscience of Liberal MPs is, well then the vote will go down,’ Perrett said.
Currently Abbott has not said he will allow his MPs a conscience vote on the issue, so they will have to tow the party line against legalizing same-sex marriage.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said she will allow Labor MPs to vote freely on the issue, despite being personally opposed to it.
The inquiry received over a quarter of a million responses to the online survey, the largest number in the history of federal parliamentary committees.
Australian Marriage Equality (AME) called the report ‘a step forward’.
‘This report will convince many of the MPs who are still ambivalent or undecided about marriage equality to support the issue because it clears up many of their outstanding concerns,’ said AME national convenor Alex Greenwich.
The report addresses a concern raised by Australian Christian Lobby that same-sex marriage will lead to polygamy. Section 1.34 of the introduction reads:
‘Neither bill proposes any changes to the words "to the exclusion of all others" in the definition of marriage. Neither do they propose any changes to Section 94, which makes bigamy an offence. As such, polygamy, the practice of having more than one spouse, is not of relevance in considering these bills, despite having been raised by some respondents.’