The Legal Affairs, Police, Corrective Services and Emergency Services Committee of the Queensland Parliament is holding public hearings today on a bill introduced by Deputy Premier Andrew Fraser to enshrine civil unions in state law.
The text of the Civil Partnerships Bill can be found here.
So far, all the witnesses have been drawn from Christian groups, and not ones supportive of civil unions. Indeed, judging from the BT coverage, the evidence seems not to go to the issue of relationship recognition by the state, but to fears around same sex marriage.
There are two important things to note about the bill:
(a) The bill, though primarily directed to according relationship recognition to same sex couples, does not stipulate the gender of those who wish to enter a civil partnership. Thus it also accords rights to opposite sex couples who may not wish to marry, and who do wish to have formal recognition of their partnership, and the legal rights which accompany such recognition.
(b) The bill also makes consequential amendments to a range of other state legislation. For instance, spouses of judges who are civil partners have entitlements to pensions, and first home owners grants can be applied for by a couple in a civil union. The Anti-Discrimination Act is also to be amended.
It’s disappointing, in my view, that the debate has been one that hardly goes to the actual text of the bill, and focuses on hoary themes used to oppose same sex marriage. The bill seeks to grant rights in civil law, and has nothing to do with a religious conception of marriage, or indeed marriage. That’s one of the principal reasons I myself would want to give very strong support to the bill.
Although I certainly favour the extension of marriage rights to same sex couples, I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a fan of the heteronormative institution of marriage. One consequence of the debate, and an important one, ought to be reflection on institutional forms of recognition of partnerships, and how very important a range of social bonds and ties are in our lives. Those go far beyond the heterosexually normative concept of the nuclear family.
Such bonds and ties deserve recognition and celebration.
So I am extremely gratified to see this legislation introduced.
I think it’s also worth pausing to note that there’s a strong likelihood that any attempt subsequent to the national ALP conference to amend the Marriage Act to facilitate same sex marriage is likely to fail. Compromise between the different Labor factions is likely to result in a conscience vote, which means, in all probability, that given the Coalition has stated its intention to vote against any amendment en bloc, legislation will not pass.
That’s paralleled by the intention of the state LNP in Queensland to vote against the bill, on the grounds that it is a “distraction”.
It is not. It is an important social reform, and long overdue. I hope Andrew Fraser is right and there will not be 6 ALP MPs voting against the bill when it returns to the floor of the Legislative Assembly. I also hope state MPs, including LNP and independent MPs, search their consciences in an informed manner. Hopefully, some of the witnesses giving evidence later today will enable them to do that, and I would welcome that too.