Three prong focus on same sex marriage survey

Sydney Morning Herald 25 October 2017

I was married on November 15, 2014. Like all couples, this was the happiest day of our lives and we shared our vows of commitment and love in front of family and friends.

The only sour moment of the day was the monitum in the Marriage Act, which must be read aloud in a civil wedding. I can recite it without reference to the text: "Marriage, according to law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life."

These words are particularly confronting because one of my groomsmen is gay. He is one of the most important people in my life. We have been through everything together.

It is deeply hurtful and unfair that we are obliged to tell people we love they are less equal under the "law in Australia".

I strongly believe in the rule of law, liberal democracy and a level playing field for every Australian.

Because of the monitum, we asked our celebrant to add that "Melanie and Andrew hope that the law changes so that everyone can be married should they wish".

This additional statement to the assembled friends and family simply expressed our view on fairness.

Spontaneous applause from the assembled followed and to be honest, I could never have dreamt that three years later that exact date – November 15, 2017 – would be the day Australia would learn the fate of a postal survey on that very change.

As we enter the closing weeks of the survey, I believe there are three things that must be done.

First, we should focus on the real issues: people's lives and equality in Australian law.

The fact is, same-sex couples do not have equivalent legal rights.

Australian Christian Lobby head Lyle Shelton's claim of equal rights already existing is simply not true when we look at de facto and next-of-kin laws.

De facto rules in each state and territory and nationally do not deliver the rights marriage automatically bestow upon a couple.

Next-of-kin arrangements are similarly not equivalent. It is much harder, or impossible, to prove a partner in a same-sex relationship can be the legal next of kin.

The second element is that the tone and tenor the debate must be respectful, even as the clock runs down.

Many people have a strong view that marriage is solely between a man and a woman. Their opinion deserves respect, even if we do not agree.

Free speech is precious and should never be muffled, no matter how much we disagree.

The conflation tactics the "no" campaign has tried on education and religion should be respectfully called out for what they are.

There is a clear difference between marriage and education policy, just as there is a difference between civil marriage and religious marriage.

Third, we should be focused on the outcomes from November 15 onwards if there is a majority for "yes".

In this scenario, the outcome we seek is to have marriage for all Australians by Christmas 2017.

A "yes" vote should not result in further endless discussion about the merits of the issue. We should be solely dedicated to executing the will of the people.

If a "yes" vote is recorded, the job of the Parliament is to extend the right of marriage to same-sex couples, which is a relatively minor legislative amendment. It would be the 21st change to the Marriage Act since 1961.

The vehicle for the change should be a private member's bill with a strong protection for religious freedom.

The bill, and any amendments, should then be considered and agreed before Parliament breaks in early December. The issues relating to this minor legislative change are well known and can be swiftly addressed.

All sorts of distractions will emerge if there is a "yes" vote, which is why the clear focus on outcomes is warranted. Until then, there is no place for complacency.

Andrew Bragg is national director of the Liberals & Nationals for Yes campaign.