This is a submission to the Committee with respect to paragraph (1) of its Terms of Reference, particularly "the nature and effect of proposed exemptions for ministers of religion, marriage celebrants and religious bodies and organisations".
I submit that the draft bill has two defects in relation to the proposed exemptions for ministers of religion, marriage celebrants and religious bodies and organisations.
First, the draft bill greatly overcomplicates the wording of exemptions. In its present form, section 47 of the Marriage Act 1961 already (and quite properly, in my view) provides ministers of religion with very considerable discretion concerning whether or not to solemnise a marriage—regardless of the reasons. This provision could be strengthened to apply "despite any law" and also applied to other marriage celebrants. The following would suffice:
Ministers of religion and marriage celebrants not bound to solemnise marriages.
Despite any law, an authorised celebrant, (whether or not a minister of religion) may refuse to solemnise a marriage.
Similarly, the provision relating to exemptions for religious bodies and organisations could be simpler, more comprehensive and more straightforward, for example:
Religious bodies and organisations may refuse to make facilities available or provide goods or services
Despite any law, a religious body or a religious organisation may refuse to make a facility available, or to provide goods or services, for the purposes of the solemnisation of a marriage, or for purposes reasonably incidental to the solemnisation of a marriage.
Secondly, the identification of same-sex marriage as a ground of exemption is:
—redundant in view of the overarching nature of available exemptions; and
—itself hurtfully discriminatory, particularly as it is in any case redundant.