Lawyer bodies to scrutinise marriage equality legislation

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The nation’s peak lawyer body has pledged that it will be vigilant of new legislation now that Australia has voted yes to marriage equality.

Law Council of Australia President Fiona McLeod SC warned that some may overlook important points the vote implies.

“The people of Australia were asked if they wanted same-sex couples to marry and they have delivered a resounding ‘yes’. They have not been asked if Australia’s anti-discrimination protections should be wound back. This important distinction should be front of mind for all parliamentarians,” she said.

“Australians have voted for marriage equality, they have not voted to erode anti-discrimination protections. Freedom from discrimination is a fundamental human right. Discrimination on arbitrary grounds, including sexual orientation is contrary to Australia’s international human rights obligations,” she said.

The Law Society of New South Wales has also pledged to scrutinise any proposed legislation and forward its recommendations to the Law Council.

“All Australians are entitled to be free from discrimination, to be subject to the same laws and to be treated equally before the law,” said Pauline Wright, president of the Law Society. "Reform is appropriate where there are laws which discriminate against people on the basis of inherent characteristics, such as their sexual orientation or gender identity. At the same time, it is appropriate that any proposed legislation be scrutinised to ensure that it does not erode other traditional rights and liberties that we presently enjoy.”

The Law Society is creating two working groups for the task. One will be chaired by Robin Speed and the second will be chaired by Wright.

“These working groups will advise the Law Society about safeguards to protect existing freedoms and rights including rights of free speech, conscience, thought, religion, association, assembly and expression,” Wright said.

Wright said that the Law Society acknowledges its members have divergent and deeply held views. However, it is important to remain courteous, considerate, and fair, she said.

The Law Council is supporting the changes suggested by Senator Dean Smith in his bill. It said that it strongly opposes Senator James Paterson’s bill, which the Law Council earlier slammed for its “extraordinary and perilous” winding back of crucial anti-discrimination laws.

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