Why does the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission support same sex marriage?
The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission’s mandate is to protect and promote human rights and equality for everyone.
This means we address discrimination where it occurs and work to create a fairer society.
The Commission strongly supports amending our laws to allow same-sex couples the right to equality by allowing them to marry. Respect for equality is essential in a democratic and inclusive society. It is our role to advance and advocate for equality and the elimination of discrimination.
How will same-sex marriage protect equality?
The federal Marriage Act currently defines marriage as between a man and a woman. This definition creates a distinction on the basis of sexual orientation and has prevented same sex couples from marrying.
Amending the Marriage Act to change the definition of marriage to that of "two people" will remove the legal obstacles that treat people differently. Allowing all people to marry, regardless of the sex or gender of the person they love will promote and protect the right to equality by giving the same rights to everyone in our community.
If same sex couples are allowed to marry, how will that affect religious rights?
The same sex marriage debate has engaged the right to equality and the right to freedom of religion. Questions have been raised about how marriage equality would affect the religious freedoms of those with differing religious and doctrinal views of marriage.
Protecting all human rights in our society is important and rights must be exercised in a way that respects the rights of others. Marriage between same sex couples will generally not interfere with the fundamental freedom of everyone to demonstrate their religion in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
That said, there are circumstances where the enjoyment of a right may interfere with another right.
Our laws are flexible and enable us to balance rights and competing public interest considerations. Striking the right balance is a central task for law makers. The law can allow same-sex couples to marry while simultaneously allowing religious bodies to adhere to their beliefs and balance these rights.
Earlier this year, the Senate Select Committee agreed that any amendments to the Marriage Act should protect religious freedoms and observed there was considerable consensus for exempting ministers of religion and religious celebrants from being involved in the solemnisation of same-sex marriages.
A respectful debate
The nature of the same-sex marriage debate is capable of generating unusually pernicious and potentially harmful material.
We urge all proponents in this debate to speak and act respectfully and be conscious of the impact of their words and actions.
The LGBTI community has warned that any extended debate on marriage equality risks harming members of the LGBTI community, particularly young LGBTI people (and especially young LGBTI people in regional areas), who face a higher risk of suicide than their heterosexual peers. There is no place for hateful speech in a debate that only affects those LGBTI people who wish to marry.
This debate is not about the freedom to practice religion, or what children are taught in school, or whether one side is being politically correct or not. We must correct the record and call out false information, especially when it is unrelated to the postal survey that is set to ask solely whether two people of the same sex should be able to marry each other.
Similarly, attacks on people who oppose marriage equality are unacceptable.
What happens after the vote?
The Federal government’s plan for a postal survey on marriage equality is optional and non-binding. The one thing we will be able to say at the end of the postal survey is that it shows the opinions of those who chose to take part.
The next step will be for Federal Parliament to vote on whether to change the law.
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