Marriage Equality Postal Survey

Marriage Equality Postal Survey

Thank you for your email regarding the marriage equality postal survey. I am referring emailers to this statement due to the volume of the correspondence and the nature of some of language adopted by some emailers.

Prior to being elected in 2013 and re-elected in 2016, I was clear in my support for marriage equality. Fundamentally, I believe that this is an issue of equality as I believe any two unrelated adults in a loving and committed relationship should be able to get married if they so choose. Additionally, my values, particularly opposition to discrimination drive my support for marriage equality.

There is an important caveat to all of this; Parliament must ensure legislation will not compel religious organisations to act against their belief systems.  Any marriage equality bill should ensure that nothing in the Marriage Act imposes an obligation on a minister of religion to solemnise any marriage.

Since the prospect of a plebiscite on marriage equality was first raised I have said that this should be dealt with by the Parliament. Some of those who advocate a plebiscite or postal survey to resolve this question say that marriage is a special case and should be put to the people to be resolved. This doesn’t align with the history of the Marriage Act, which has been amended by Parliament at least 20 times. The 2004 amendment to the Marriage Act, which the Howard Government did to ensure the High Court didn’t allow same sex marriage, was done so by Parliament.

In fact, all other issues that involve religious beliefs or fundamental ethical values such as abortion, no-fault divorce and RU486 have been resolved through Parliamentary conscience vote. In a representative democracy, this is what Members of Parliament are elected to perform and I think that opening this issue to a non-compulsory, non-binding postal survey is outsourcing the role of Parliament. It will also cost $122 million which could be better spent.

I will always support respectful and open debate; however this is not the same as vilifying people based on their sexual orientation. We have already seen groups saying that LGBTI Australians are paedophiles. We have seen people say children of LGTBI couples are Australia’s ‘next stolen generationand are somehow less legitimate than any other child. We have had a debate around marriage equality for decades now, but in the pressure of a contested postal survey it will get out of control. Modern society has always balanced free speech against hate speech through vilification laws.

Furthermore, there are significant questions around the implementation of the postal survey. It is unclear if Australians living overseas will have an opportunity to participate. It is a measure that will be less accessible to remote indigenous communities where postal services are still irregular and inconsistent. In addition, many young Australians do not receive the post and will be excluded.

In the end, the result will not be binding on parliamentarians. MPs opposed to marriage equality have already stated that a yes vote will not bind them in the subsequent parliamentary vote. The Government is being hypocritical in saying that if the survey returns a no vote, they will not put up legislation, but if there is a yes vote no parliamentarian will be required to vote yes.

As I mentioned earlier, I have long supported marriage equality. When asked about marriage equality during the 2013 election campaign I replied that I would be voting in favour of it. I intend to fulfil my election commitment. I was also clear when re-elected in 2016 that I would not vote for the plebiscite. I am fulfilling that commitment by voting against the plebiscite.

I am your representative, not your delegate. It is my job to form an opinion based on the available evidence regarding an issue and cast my vote based on my values and what I believe is in the interests of our region and the nation as a whole. If you disagree with my course of action, you are of course free to vote for another candidate at the next election. I am accountable to the electors of Shortland for my actions, that is the fundamental basis of our representative democracy.

Pat Conroy

Member for Shortland.

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