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ACT makes a dog's breakfast of marriage equality

  • 29 October 2013

After the June decisions of the US Supreme Court on same sex marriage, I restated in July 2013 my support for civil unions. Conceding that neither side of the debate was much interested in that outcome, I said, 'We can probably no longer draw a line between civil unions and same sex marriage. That will be the long term consequence of last month's US Supreme Court decisions which will impact much further west than California.'

The caravan has been moving at some pace since then in Australia but it is difficult to assess in what direction or whether it just be around in circles with the advocates for marriage equality digging themselves into a judicial hole from which it might be difficult for either side to emerge.

During the recent federal election, Kevin Rudd pulled out all stops to advocate same sex marriage legislation in the Commonwealth Parliament. Tony Abbott stuck firmly to the line that his party would maintain party policy that marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman to the exclusion of others, and that the party policy would be maintained unless and until the party revised its position, including whether or not to allow a conscience vote. In the Liberal Party, as distinct from the Labor Party, members are always free to cross the floor without the risk of automatic expulsion from the party — though their prospects of promotion tend to take a nosedive.

I remain of the view that any extension of the civil law's definition of marriage should be the preserve of the Commonwealth Parliament with all members being granted a conscience vote. Presently the 1961 Commonwealth Marriage Act as amended states that 'marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life'.

At 11.40am on 22 October the ACT Legislature voted by nine votes to eight to agree in principle to the passage of its Marriage Equality Bill. Thirteen minutes later, they voted by eight votes to seven to agree to 25 amendments including a renaming of the bill as the Marriage Equality (Same Sex) Act 2013. The purpose of the amendments was to 'clarify that this is a law for same-sex marriage and the ACT is not seeking to legislate in an area of law already governed by the Commonwealth under the Marriage Act 1961'.

The result is a dog's breakfast. And everyone