Gay marriage and preserving religious freedom for celebrants

Pundit 18 March 2013
Will all marriage celebrants be immunized? The Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Bill will soon, it seems, be passed. The Second Reading went through comfortably by 77 votes to 44 in Parliament last night. I do not wish to debate the substantive merits of the Bill but rather to comment on the conscience clause inserted to protect religious liberty. Will marriage celebrants who object, on the ground of religious belief or conscience, to conducting marriage ceremonies for homosexual and lesbian couples be protected in law? There have been numerous assurances that they will be. The latest version of the Bill, as reported back form the Select Committee, contains a clause that the Committee thinks will do the job.

Section 29 amended (Licence authorizes but not obliges marriage celebrant to solemnize marriage)
In section 29, insert as subsection (2): “Without limiting the generality of subsection (1), no celebrant who is a minister of religion recognised by a religious body enumerated in Schedule 1, and no celebrant who is a person nominated to solemnize marriages by an approved organisation, is obliged to solemnize a marriage if solemnizing that marriage would contravene the religious beliefs of the religious body or the religious beliefs or philosophical or humanitarian convictions of the approved organisation.”

There is a problem however. Despite the Committee’s hope that this version will provide the necessary clarity that the Ministry of Justice and Crown Law advisers sought, a flaw still remains. The problem is that the exemption is not worded widely enough.

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