Marriage Bill reported back

The Government Administration Select Committee has reported back Louisa Wall’s Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill.

The changes to the bill are:

  • Will not come into force immediately upon royal assent, but up to four months later
  • A new s29(2) which says “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.”
  • Repeals s56 which made it an offence to deny the validity of a marriage
  • Has consequential amendments to the Adoption Act, Crimes Act and other Acts

These are very helpful amendments, and meet the concerns of many whom submitted they were concerned that a law change could force Ministers of Religion into being forced to conduct same-sex marriages. It was doubtful it would, but the proposed changes remove doubt.

Another change, which I submitted on, was that if someone said a was not a “true” marriage they could be charged under the obscure s56. There never has been a prosecution, but removal of the section again removes doubt.

One consequential change is that if a married person legally changes their gender identity, they will no longer be automatically divorced.

Also there was some doubt over whether married same sex couples would be eligible to adopt children as a couple, based on this law change. The consequential amendments make it clear they will. Note that a gay or lesbian can already adopt a child, and many have. They are just currently restricted to adopting by themselves, rather than with their partner.

I expect the second reading is likely to be on Wed 13 March, and committee stage on Wed 27 March and finally a third reading on Wed 17 April. But this all depends on what local bills or other members’s bills are around, so dates may change.

The MPs on the select committee had over 20,000 submission to wade through and heard hundreds of oral submissions. While people will disagree on the main purpose of the bill, I think most will appreciate the improvements made to the bill – which is the main job of a select committee. It is up to Parliament as a whole to really decide if a bill proceeds or not. The Select Committee’s job is to improve it, and I think they have done this.

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