URGENT ACTION ALERT: Senate Marriage Inquiry

As mentioned last week, there is a current Senate Inquiry into a popular vote on marriage in Australia.

The Inquiry is crucial, because it is asking for input on a number of issues, each of which (and all of them together) have the potential to influence the outcome of the public vote.  For example, the Inquiry terms of reference include the timing a vote will be held, the question to be asked, the funding to be allocated to each of the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns and more.

Unfortunately, less than two weeks were allocated for submissions to be made, and they close THIS FRIDAY, 4 SEPTEMBER 2015.

So you need to act now. 

What are the terms of reference?

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee has been tasked with looking at the following:

The matter of a popular vote, in the form of a plebiscite or referendum, on the matter of marriage in Australia, with particular reference to:

a.      an assessment of the content and implications of a question to be put to electors;
b.      an examination of the resources required to enact such an activity, including the question of the contribution of Commonwealth funding to the 'yes' and 'no' campaigns;
c.       an assessment of the impact of the timing of such an activity, including the opportunity for it to coincide with a general election;
d.      whether such an activity is an appropriate method to address matters of equality and human rights;
e.       the terms of the Marriage Equality Plebiscite Bill 2015 currently before the Senate; and
f.        any other related matters.

Why is it important that submissions are made?

The draft legislation was introduced by Greens Senator Janet Rice, and five out of six of its supporters are advocates for the redefinition of marriage.  The current process proposed is not in favour of those who wish to defend marriage.  We need to bring some balance into this discussion.

What are some key ideas which might be put into a submission?

It is up to you what to include in a submission, but I have included the text of my personal submission below in case it is of any assistance. 

Please do email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you would like some assistance in making a submission.

How can a submission be made?

To make a submission, you either need to register with the Parliament of Australia website, or send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Remember, submissions close THIS FRIDAY, 4 SEPTEMBER 2015.

Thank you in advance for defending marriage. 

Monica Doumit, Catholic Talk contributor

 

 ____________________________________________________________

DRAFT SUBMISSION

The Committee Secretary


Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee

By email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

To Whom It May Concern:

I wish to make a submission into the inquiry by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee into a popular vote, in the form of a plebiscite or referendum, on marriage in Australia (Inquiry).

Initially, I would like to express my disappointment at the unreasonably short timeframe allocated to the Inquiry.  The issue of the redefinition of marriage is a crucial one for which the Australian public should have been afforded a sufficient amount of time to consider the issues at hand and make submissions to this Committee. 

The question asked of the electors, and the timing and mechanisms by which that question will be asked, are each factors which could significantly influence the result of any public vote.  The presumption that these matters could be decided after such a limited opportunity for public involvement does not demonstrate the stated intention to allow the public to be heard on this important matter.

I note that the motion for the Inquiry was moved by Senator Janet Rice, and that five out of six of the Senators on whose behalf the Marriage Equality Plebiscite Bill 2015 (Senators Janet Rice, Glenn Lazarus, David Leyonhjelm, Ricky Muir and Nick Xenophon) have all publicly expressed their support for the redefinition of marriage.  All of these are independent senators or from minor parties.  This is hardly indicative of a process which is representative of the average Australian voter.

I hope that the expedited nature of the Inquiry and the composition of its proponents is not symbolic of the proposed timetable or consultation process which Parliament intends to employ going forward.

Support for the current definition of marriage

The terms of reference for the Inquiry do not include a question about whether or not those making a submission consider a change to the current definition of marriage is desirable.  However, the terms of reference do invite submissions on any related matters, and so I seek to make a comment on this matter, because it is fundamental to the consideration of any of the specified terms of reference.

The present definition of marriage should be maintained and therefore, no public or parliamentary vote on changing this definition should be held.  The comments in the remainder of this submission should not detract from the fundamental idea that it is in the best interests of society, particularly children, that marriage be defined as being between one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. 

Nothing in this submission should be seen as an endorsement of any legal process aimed at redefining marriage.

An assessment of the content and implications of a question to be put to electors

Under the Marriage Equality Plebiscite Bill 2015 (Bill), the question currently proposed to be put to electors is: “Do you support Australia allowing marriage between 2 people regardless of their gender?” 

It is submitted that this question is too simplistic, and does not take into account the necessary consequences of an affirmative response to such a question.  The question invites a respondent to assume that the only change to Australian law would be that two people of same sex would be permitted to marry, and that there would be no resulting changes, to law or to culture.

But changes would occur, because such an amendment would impact the lives of others, particularly children.  When Australian electors are asked to consider these issues alongside each other, their position on the redefinition of marriage can look dramatically different.

For example, a recent Galaxy Poll asked respondents whether they agreed with this statement: “Where possible, as a society, we should try to ensure that children are raised by their own mother and father and promote this.”   76% of respondents agreed (notably, this is a higher proportion than those who currently respond in favour of a redefinition of marriage.)

It is obvious that the two are inconsistent.  As a society, we cannot redefine marriage while ensuring children are raised by their own mother and father.

This point will be addressed further under the terms of the Bill itself, but it appears the intent is to ask a simplistic question, and then to have an affirmative response require the Parliament to legislate for the redefinition of marriage, without the terms of that legislation or its effects also being put to the public for a vote.

As the Galaxy poll demonstrates, if invited to respond to just a single question, electors may respond in one way, even if they also hold a contradictory view about which they have not been asked.  Asking just one question is not sufficient to elicit the true wishes of the Australian people.

The legislation and its consequences, in all of its complexity, needs to be put to the Australian people if a public vote is to occur.  

An examination of the resources required to enact such an activity, including the question of the contribution of Commonwealth funding to the 'yes' and 'no' campaigns

I do not have any comments on the resources required to enact an activity, and it appears that if, as the Bill proposes, the provisions of the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act 1984 apply, then Commonwealth funding to the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns will be equal.

However, attention also needs to be paid to how the campaigns will be funded by private persons, both corporate and natural.  It is well documented that the United States company, Atlantic Philanthropies, managed to obfuscate referendum campaign funding laws in Ireland by financing Irish domestic organisations which then went on to make large contributions to the ‘yes’ campaign.  This is not simply about fairness in Commonwealth funding.  Fairness also needs to be applicable in other forms of funding.  There needs to be an assurance that any decision is made by the Australian public, and not the result of a campaign of overseas interest groups.

Additionally, it has been seen in recent weeks that various television and radio networks are refusing to screen advertisements which support the current definition of marriage.  In addition to equality of funding, there needs to be the ability for the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns to have equivalent airtime to make their case.

An assessment of the impact of the timing of such an activity, including the opportunity for it to coincide with a general election

If the matter does go to a public vote, it is submitted that this should not be at the time of the next election, as is currently proposed in the Bill.  Sufficient time is needed to ensure both the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns obtain an equal hearing.  This has not occurred up to this point.

There are many examples of those who are in favour of the current definition being bullied and intimidated into remaining silent, in both mainstream and social media.  Accusations of hatred and homophobia have been levelled at those supporting the current definition of marriage in an attempt to shut debate down rather than let it occur.  This situation needs to be remedied before a proper conversation about marriage can take place , and the next general election will not allow sufficient time.

Additionally, if the vote occurs at the time of the next federal election, it will be drowned out by other issues.   The institution of marriage and how we will define it going forward is an issue which is so crucial to our society that it must be addressed on its own, so that it can be afforded the appropriate attention.  A public vote should not occur at the time of the next general election.

Whether such an activity is an appropriate method to address matters of equality and human rights

A public vote not the ideal way to make a decision on important issues, particularly ones which attract an emotional, rather than a rational, response.  The most popular decision is not always the correct one, and parliament should not govern according to the prevailing view.

Also, and as mentioned above, people are being intimidated into agreeing with the ‘yes’ side, because they are labelled as homophobic, bigoted or “out of touch” if they express an “alternate” viewpoint, so it is not clear that what is presently labelled as the “popular” view is actually reflective of the wishes of the Australian electors. 

While a parliamentary vote would be the ideal way to decide such a matter, our elected representatives are being subject to similar types of pressure when it comes to their decision, and so the current situation for our parliamentarians is also not ideal.

It is worth noting that the redefinition of marriage is not a matter of human rights.  The United Nations Human Rights Committee in the case of Ms. Juliet Joslin et al. v New Zealand, Communication No. 902/1999, U.N. Doc. A/57/40 ruled that the “right to marry” as expressed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights did not include a “right” to marry a person of the same gender.  We need to stop misleading the public in speaking about this as a matter of “human rights”.

The terms of the Marriage Equality Plebiscite Bill 2015 currently before the Senate 

There are a number of points to be made about the Bill.

The Bill envisages a plebiscite, but it is not certain that a referendum is not required.   It is arguable that the High Court in Commonwealth v ACT [2013] HCA 55 did not need to make a ruling that the term "marriage" as included in section 51 (xxi) of the Constitution includes a marriage between persons of the same sex in order to reach its conclusion.  This leads to the conclusion that paragraph 38 of the judgment forms part of the obiter dicta of the case, meaning that a referendum may still be necessary.

Given this, the ability and likelihood for a purported redefinition of marriage to again be the subject of a constitutional challenge, it makes practical sense to hold a referendum rather than a plebiscite if a public vote is to occur.

In the alternative, if it is determined that a referendum is not required, a simple majority (as is currently proposed in the Bill) is not an appropriate voting hurdle because the issue of marriage is too important to be decided by 50% of the public.  Marriage goes to the very foundations of society, and so a higher voting threshold should be applicable if we are to make such a dramatic change to our culture.  It is submitted that a double majority, as required for a referendum, be applicable even in a plebiscite.

As noted above, the Bill requires Parliament to give effect to a successful ‘yes’ vote, if it occurs, within six months of the plebiscite.   However, the Bill provides no detail as to how this will happen, or what the final form of any legislation to give effect to the public vote might look like.   And the Bill places no requirement on the Parliament to make these details available to the public prior to the vote.

As currently written, the Bill will ask Australians to vote on this crucial issue without any clarity on what type of legislation will eventually be put before Parliament.  A citizen cannot make an informed decision when key ideas are not disclosed to them.  And the apparent rush to have this vote occur at the time of the next general election does not provide an observer with the confidence that complete information will be provided.

As an example of this, there is no discussion as to if or how religious freedom will be protected.   Australian citizens deserve the opportunity to have a fulsome discussion on all of the relevant issues to the redefinition of marriage. 

It is not appropriate to ask Australians a simplistic question which would result in Parliament having a mandate to pass marriage legislation without also binding Parliament to considering other crucial and connected matters as well. 

Concluding thoughts

The manner in which this process has been conducted to date is a cause for great concern.

The Inquiry is only permitting submissions over a two-week period.  The vast majority of Australians do not even realise that the Inquiry is occurring, meaning it will be over before the many of those interested will be able to have their voices heard.

The Bill proposes a simplistic question, an affirmative response to which will give Parliament a broad mandate to enact marriage legislation with no requirement to ensure other freedoms are protected. 

And the Bill proposes a general election as the time to put this question to the public, ensuring that it will be overshadowed (or at least impeded) by the discussion of other issues.

All of this suggests that the Parliament is treating this public vote as a mere formality, rather than as an opportunity for the active and considered involvement of all Australians.  This must not be the case.  Marriage remains the fundamental building block of our society and any changes to its nature must be approached with due care, and mindfulness of the gravity of the task at hand.

I am willing to clarify or expand upon any of the items contained in this submission at your request.

Yours faithfully

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, 01 September 2015 05:14 Written by 
Editor

Editor

Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in CathTalk blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of all members of that of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.

Leave a comment