A House of Representatives committee has dodged the question of whether to pursue marriage equality after a record 276,000 responses during its inquiry.
Instead, the eight-member committee offered six diverging views in additional comments written by the members, which the chair Graham Perrett described earlier today as a “consensus”.
Only the Labor MP and Greens representative Adam Bandt supported a change in the law at this time. In a telling example of how the ALP might divide once the bills read the floor of the Parliament, half the four Labor members opposed reform on the grounds that society had not yet caught up.
Liberal MPs on the committee wrote that their party would oppose the bills as they would break the promise the Coalition made before the last election to retain the status quo. They also said marriage laws limited for heteros-xuals “is not discrimination against people who wish to belong to same-s-x relationships” due to the unique nature of the institution.
Inquiry reports usually have at most one additional conclusion representing the opposition’s stance. This report had six.
Perrett, in his foreword, wrote that the the nation has changed but the constitution provided churches protection to practise their religions without the interference of the state: “It is important to remember that God did not write the Marriage Act,” he wrote. “It is written by lawyers and legislators and must reflect the views and values of today.”
Bandt warned of going to a vote too early saying that there was nothing to lose by allowing longer debate: “It would be disappointing if we did not use this opportunity but it would be even more disappointing if we ‘rang the bells’ too early and divided the Parliament simply because some wish this matter off the national agenda.”
The inquiry hearings provided provocative testimony that same-s-x marriage would lead to legal challenges from many other types of relationships, like polygamy and incest, but those arguments were knocked down in some the committee members’ additional comments as “repugnant and ridiculous”.
Later today the House of Representatives will debate the bills as the theatre moves from duelling campaigns at Sunday mass and gay lobby groups. It will be the first time marriage has been debated in the lower house since the Howard government codified “one man and one woman” in 2004.
Politicians will be armed with plenty of workshopped material, whatever their view. Cardinal George Pell wrote the statement opposing same-s-x marriage that was read out to Roman Catholic parishes on Sunday. While at the first ever national conference of Rainbow Labor, Senator Penny Wong offered words of support.
Public statements of support collated by Australian Marriage Equality show only a third of the Parliament are ready to pass marriage equality, and less than half of Labor MPs. Coalition MPs would have to cross the floor to support the bills as Tony Abbott has not allowed a conscience vote, so it is unlikely the bills would pass in the current Parliament.
A marriage equality inquiry in the Senate is due to report later this month.