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Confusion? Only ‘cause it’s Turnbull

By Kyran O’Dwyer

The question asked of Australians in the recent survey was; “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”

If you wished to participate, the survey required a response. ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.

All of the noise, all of the fearmongering, all of the othering, all of the distractions offered in response to this very basic question did nought to change the question. It was, and remained, a most simple proposition.

“Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?”

79.5% of eligible Australian voters participated in the survey, of which 61.6% responded in the Affirmative. A device invented to sharpen division and hate became a devise that underscored inclusion and acceptance. As noted on a social media post, had this been a Federal election, ‘Yes’ would have 133 seats and ‘No’ would have 17 in the House of Representatives. 100% of the Senate would likely be ‘Yes’.

Notwithstanding the fine work of Mr Smith, with bi-partisan cross bench support, it seems odd that this very simple question doesn’t just require a reversal of the amendments made in 2004. That was when the Howard/Ruddock changes went through.

How hard can that be?

Marriage is, after all, a legal construct, most easily defined as a union between two people to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. As per the original Marriage Act in 1961.

In terms of relevance, the Family Law Act of 1975 is far more reflective of changing societal norms, as it does not lend undue influence to a ‘marriage’, as opposed to an ‘informal’ union between two people. That, however, is a different conversation.

Now that religious extremists have derailed the issue, it seems only fair to look at marriage, this concept that causes extremists so much concern. The ABS have a report from 2015, which will suffice as there does not appear to be any material change since then.

To start with, we are talking about a ‘ceremony’ that only effects a relatively small part of the population. The ‘crude marriage rate’ (the number of marriages registered during a calendar year per 1,000 estimated resident population at 30 June of the same year) is about 5%. There were 113,595 marriages in 2015.

Couples who lived together prior to marriage accounted for 81.0% of all marriages registered in 2015, an increase from the 75.9% recorded in 2005.

Of the 113,595 couples that wed, 85,115 (or 74.9%) utilised a civil celebrant. Ministers of Religion performed 28,419 (or 25%) of the ceremonies. Of significance, in 2005, a mere ten years before, Ministers of Religion accounted for 40% of the ceremonies.

The divorce rate is worth a mention. Its trajectory is downwards since 1995. Whilst a generalisation of numerous statistics, about 45% of marriages end in divorce.

All of this long-winded explanation is to demonstrate two things.

Firstly, the incredible prominence being given to a ceremony that only effects about 5% of us. It will be interesting to note if there are any significant changes to this number as a result of equality.

Secondly, the extraordinary prominence being given to religious institutions whose influence and relevance is noticeably and demonstrably in decline, to the point of decay.

These institutions are seriously out of step with any notion of a modern society’s needs, let alone wants.

For the sake of discussion, let’s lump all of the religious institutions together. My reasoning is basic. The figures from the 2016 Census report that 30% of Australians say they have ‘no religion’ (up from 22.3% in 2011). 52% of Australians identify as Christian (down from 88% in 1966, a mere 50 years ago), and the balance identify as non-Christian.

Most of the religious institutions are now in lock step. Many of their fundamental doctrines are similar in their opposition to same sex unions. For any one religious institution to assume primacy over another, they would have to do what none of them can do. Produce their god. Until such time as that happens, it would be unreasonable to give one religious institution any significance over another. Hence, lump them all together.

The reason for the boring statistics is to underscore the increasing irrelevance of these religious institutions and the religious extremists currently representing them in our Parliament. Whilst 70% of Australians may identify as religious, one cannot help but notice that not a lot of them use a Minister of Religion for their marriage. It is also notable that a lot of them are either not ‘devout’ or are woefully ignorant of their own religious teachings. Of the 28, 419 that utilised a Minister of Religion, how many cohabited prior to their wedding? How many of those unions will end in divorce? How many of those unions will be impacted by infidelity? How many of those unions will use birth control?

There are numerous transgressions of religious teaching practised every day which, ultimately, are on the conscience of the transgressors. For the religious extremists in Parliament to not only hide behind that hypocrisy, but to use it as a clarion call to other extremists is breathtaking in its gall.

The religious extremists in our Parliament say this is the reason to enshrine discrimination in our legislation. To protect religious institutions. To ignore Sect 116.

Section 116 of the Constitution of Australia precludes the Commonwealth of Australia (i.e., the federal parliament) from making laws for establishing any religion, imposing any religious observance, or prohibiting the free exercise of any religion.

At the risk of oversimplifying the situation, the state makes laws for all of us, whether we like them or not. Our government has been handed a decisive survey to warrant that simple, fundamental change, back to the future, in 2004. Religions can only make rules for their followers, an addition to state laws, presumably in the justification that their followers adhere to higher standards.

This was never a question about religion. It was about the right of two people to marry. It was about equality.

By way of declaration, I have availed myself of the institution of marriage twice, both of which ended in divorce. I have, therefore, excelled. Statistically. I can think of no reason to deprive others of the opportunity to experience such misery and trauma simply because of their sexuality.

Also by way of declaration, I was born into the Catholic church, resplendent in nothing other than my ‘original sin’. I lost faith in the institution in my mid teens, and in the notion of an omnipotent, omnipresent deity not long after. My ‘original sin’ has had numerous replacements. I know several people who are religious by practice and many who identify as religious without practicing. I mean no disrespect to anyone who is consoled by their religious belief. Most of the ones I know have long since made the distinction between their beliefs and the institutional abuse of their beliefs. None of the ‘religious’ people I know believe they have any right, whatsoever, to lecture me on my morality, or lack thereof. Goodness knows, I’ve given them enough ammunition. Something about ‘stones’ and ‘glass houses’ seems to preclude comment by most of them.

It seems only fair to point out where this charade is now going. Phillip Ruddock, the fellow who facilitated Howard’s changes in 2004, is now ‘the man’ to oversee the reversal!

“A statement from the prime minister’s office said Mr Ruddock would conduct a “timely expert stocktake” that would determine whether there was any need to change the law to enshrine religious freedoms.”

In the off chance you missed the significance, our PM has just lobbed a hand grenade into his own agenda, like the Republic referendum, the NBN, and everything else he has touched. Ruddock’s review is not due till March, 2018. Turnbull has promised change by Christmas. Once again, our government has made incompetence the high bar for their ‘achievements’.

So, to finish my sermon, this was never about religion. It was about equality. However the institution of marriage is viewed by you, your family, your friends, the Australian people have said it’s fair enough that everyone has the same right of access to that institution.

Our government, held hostage by religious extremists, wants to make this about religious institutions and their freedoms. If Ruddock calls for submissions on what protections our ‘religions’ need, can we start with tax? Can we start with mandatory reporting of all abuse, absent any protection of a confessional? Can we start with unequivocal statements by all of these religious institutions that they accept the equality of all females, and will reflect that in their practice, not just their platitudes?

These religious extremists want to know what freedoms they should be entitled to. It is incumbent on all of us to let the government know what we think of that.

The government conducted a survey, “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” to which the Australian people said “Yes”.

Now the government wants to discuss religious freedom. Perhaps they could consider a survey …

“Should the laws be changed to ensure that all religious bodies comply with all of the laws of the Commonwealth of Australia?”

“Yes” or “No”.


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  1. Kaye Lee

    In 2004 John Howard said the following….

    “We’ve decided to insert this into the Marriage Act to make it very plain that that is our view of a marriage and to also make it very plain that the definition of a marriage is something that should rest in the hands ultimately of the parliament of the nation,” Mr Howard told reporters.

    ”(It should) not over time be subject to redefinition or change by courts, it is something that ought to be expressed through the elected representatives of the country.”

    “We are also going to amend the legislation to ensure that same sex couples … will not be eligible as prospective adoptive parents under any multilateral or bilateral agreement concerning the adoption of children to which Australia is a party,” he said.

    “…the government takes the view that not only is it a statement of its attitude towards marriage but it’s also a necessary assertion by the parliament of the country above all others to define what is regarded in our community what is a marriage.”

    Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said the changes to the Marriage Act would protect the institution of marriage, while the Family Law Act changes would make it clear that overseas adoptions by same-sex couples would not be recognised in Australia.

    “The government is fundamentally opposed to same-sex couples adopting children,” Mr Ruddock said in a statement.


    In reading the 2004 Bill a second time, Philip Ruddock said…..

    “The amendments to the Marriage Act contained in this bill will make it absolutely clear that Australia will not recognise same-sex marriages entered into under the laws of another country, whatever that country may be.

    As a result of the amendments contained in this bill, same-sex couples will understand that, if they go overseas to marry, their marriage, even if valid in the country in which it was solemnised, will not be recognised as valid within Australia.

    In summary, this bill makes clear the government’s commitment to the institution of marriage.

    It will provide certainty to all Australians about the meaning of marriage in the future”


    Great choice for a reviewer Malcolm….NOT! It’s as ridiculous as giving him, the man who designed offshore detention, the Human Rights Envoy sinecure.

  2. Peter F

    I think it is a good move by Turnbull: It will expose the depth of the hypocrisy enveloping this government. The more changes Ruddock recommends, the further he will move from the expressed wishes of >60% of those who voted. They just don’t get it. Their time is over.

  3. Matters Not

    Re the claim that:

    Marriage is, after all, a legal construct,

    Indeed it is! But for many (if not most) it’s much more than that. For example, marriage is a source of social celebration. It’s also a significant economic stimulus. Marriage also involves any number of Xs and Ys concepts … the list is almost endless.

    But as the author avers, the legalities are to the forefront – as evidenced by the oft ‘breakdowns’. Seems to me that the primacy of the legalities needs more recognition. Thus, let those – who choose to – engage whom they want to chant any number of incantations BUT only after the legalities have been addressed by a person legally empowered to so do.

    Let’s establish some priorities. (By the way ‘effect’ and ‘affect’ usually evoke different meaning attribution. But it matters not.)

  4. wam

    It is ironic that overseas foreign governments can over-ride australian birthrights but not on marriage.
    Ruddock is a nasty piece of work.
    We certainly did not vote for discrimination of any people a religious person chooses that is not the right to worship.
    But ruddickhead will conclude religious claptrap overrules laws on discrimination.

    lets have a poll on your question?

  5. Lurline O'Brien

    What a fantastic article. I just shared on my Facebook page with an exhortation to please read and share widely. You deserve a journalistic award for getting to the heart of the matter.

  6. margcal

    “For the sake of discussion, let’s lump all of the religious institutions together. ”

    No, let’s not.
    People who have a religious faith are no more homogeneous than any other group, and arguably less so by the time you take into account different religions, different branches of each of those religions, the parishes (or whatever) of those different branches, and the individuals themselves.

    Despite what their leadership bodies say, polls have consistently shown that Christians have supported marriage equality at a rate consistent with or slightly above the general community as a whole.

    Why make enemies of your supporters by tarring them with the same brush as the extremists in their midst?
    After all, there are extremist amongst atheists. Why not tar all atheists with the extremist brush? Because they’re not?

    Arguments would be more convincing if they weren’t so sloppy and biased as the quoted statement.

  7. Glenn Barry

    I always loathed Ruddock – the specific reasons have long since been forgotten, but I do recall it being related to dishonest mislabelling of boat arrivals – the beginning of the now over a decade long demonisation of refugees which commenced under Howard

    Assigning the anachronistic Ruddock a duty of any significance which requires integrity is realistically an insult to the nation, worse yet that it should be an attempt to enshrine prejudice based upon religious dogma.

    To have this low calibre of politician regain influence is yet another backwards step

  8. @RosemaryJ36

    Any individual authorised to conduct a marriage must not be allowed to discriminate between couples requesting their services. So if any refuse to accept that condition, they will not be licensed to conduct the marriage ceremony. Simple. That will leave them free to conduct a service after the couple has been married through a legal process.

  9. Barry Thompson.

    It is past time the likes of Ruddock and Howard were encased in glass and displayed in the pre-historic department of the museum.

  10. Peter F

    It has been reported that only 25% of marriages are conducted in Churches. Are there any statistics in the divorce rate for these 25% when compared to the of the majority?

  11. Claudio Pompili

    Thank you for this article Kyran.

  12. Kyran

    From memory, Ms Lee, you quoted a section from the speeches in 1961 from the original Marriage Act where they expressly allowed a general description of marriage to enable change as a result of society’s evolution, rather than parliamentary edict. Howard’s insistence that it was the duty of parliament, not society, to dictate who could marry was a reversal of the previous sentiment.
    As for the process of the 2004 amendments, Ruddock was up to his ears in rushing it through, by any means. Including using two bills, one of which was stuck in the Senate.


    As for Ruddock, he is quite a piece of work. As Min for Immigration, he oversaw the ‘Pacific Solution’. On the ten year anniversary of Tampa;
    “Regardless, Mr Ruddock says many people forget, when they think back to the Tampa affair, that the asylum seekers, as he phrases it, put the Government under duress.
    “When you think about it, those people should have been happy to have been rescued at sea and been happy to have been taken to the most convenient and closest place where they could get support and assistance, which was Merak.”


    Ruddock was so good in that capacity, Amnesty International disavowed him in 2000 and asked him not to wear his AI badge whilst performing ministerial duties. Something he refused to do.
    He was also Minister for Indigenous Affairs, where he oversaw the disbanding of ATSIC and dilution of the effects of the Wik decision.
    It could come as no surprise when he became Attorney General in 2003 that he quickly set about dismantling so many of the safe guards the AG’s office was meant to be protecting.
    Putting him in charge of ‘reform’ highlights Turnbull’s appalling judgement. ‘Dracula’ and ‘blood bank’ come to mind.
    Mr Graham summed him up some time ago.

    Personal Reflections Of Philip Ruddock: Minister, Baby Kisser, All Round Human Rights Abuser

    margcal, I see your point.
    “People who have a religious faith are no more homogeneous than any other group…”
    If you were to take political parties as an example, the two major parties are said to have a membership of 40-50k. Yet, come election time, they have votes in the millions. People may vote one way or the other, but that does not mean they agree with all the policies of the party they voted for. These distinctions exist everywhere, but aren’t recognized often enough.
    “Despite what their leadership bodies say, polls have consistently shown that Christians have supported marriage equality at a rate consistent with or slightly above the general community as a whole.”
    I suspect we are in agreement.
    “I mean no disrespect to anyone who is consoled by their religious belief. Most of the ones I know have long since made the distinction between their beliefs and the institutional abuse of their beliefs.”
    Many people identify as belonging to a religious group without adhering to all of that groups doctrine. I not only accept that, I respect that. The distinction between ‘adherents’ and the institutions was a deliberate intent of the article. I apologize if that wasn’t clear.
    “Why make enemies of your supporters by tarring them with the same brush as the extremists in their midst?”
    The religious institutions have been tarring all of those in the LGBTI community with the same brush at an institutional level for centuries, often contrary to the views of their own adherents. That was my point.
    The Australian people are now often regarded internationally as Human Rights abusers, because of the actions of our government. It is common for soldiers to be blamed for following the orders they were given, without ever really holding those who gave the orders to account. Think Vietnam, Iraq, etc. Many churches rely on division and fear for their very existence. They cite their god’s to vindicate that position and their followers to validate it. That was the commonality of the religions that caused me to suggest they be lumped together.
    Extremists are extremists, no matter what banner they hide behind. Asking Ruddock to sort it out reeks of copious amounts of whitewash coming out.
    Thank you AIMN and commenters. Take care
    PS. Apologies MN. Apparently, unintended vowel movements occur with age.
    PPS, Peter F. None that I could find.

  13. Terry2

    I still wonder if the question asked in the postal plebiscite had been :

    Should all Australian citizens be treated equally under the laws of Australia.

    How would the religious community have diverted the argument to their freedoms and protections ?

  14. diannaart

    Oh, for a PM to clearly state the vote for marriage equality is over, it has nothing to do with religious “freedom” and everything to do with equality of all Australians.

    I dream on…

  15. Kyran

    Terry2, you have reminded me of an ‘oddity’ in the Wikipedia entry that got my curiosity.
    “The Act recognises only monogamous, heterosexual marriages and does not recognise any other forms of union, including traditional Aboriginal unions.”


    Sure enough, when you read a bit more, only some state governments recognise our First People’s unions, and only some of the time.


    “Should all Australian citizens be treated equally under the laws of Australia?”
    I know I’m twisting the intent of your message, and apologise for that. Our government doesn’t think it can handle changing the Constitution to recognise our First People (let alone give them a voice), but it will move heaven and earth to change the Constitution to protect stupid politicians who appear to have no knowledge of their heritage, let alone know how to read and comprehend. Or are just plain liars.
    A slight amendment to your last question;
    “How would the religious community have diverted the argument for the freedoms and protections of our First People?”
    Oh, that’s right, I remember now.
    “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.”
    Desmond Tutu.
    Diannaart, “equality of all Australians. I dream on…”
    I just checked the calendar again. It is 2017. I have to keep reminding myself.
    Take care

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