The Coalition has upheld its election promise by extending funding for the National School Chaplaincy Program, a decision welcomed by the Australian Christian Lobby.
The Coalition pledged before the election to continue the National School Chaplaincy Program in Schools to support the emotional wellbeing of students.
This month's federal budget revealed that a total of $243.8 million will be allocated to the program over the next four years. Under the program, Australian schools can apply for $20,000 grants from the government to hire a school chaplain. Many school communities raise extra funds so their chaplains can work more than two days per week.
Along with other groups, ACL has advocated for government support of the chaplaincy program, citing widespread community support for chaplains and the important pastoral care role they provide students.
In an interview on ABC News last week, Cabinet Minister Senator Eric Abetz commended the school chaplaincy program, saying:
‘The chaplaincy program is a wonderful investment in national building because if you talk to any school chaplain or indeed, any school principal that has a chaplain in their school, they will tell you what a wonderful investment it is in the spiritual wellbeing of young Australians.’
Scripture Union Queensland (SU QLD) - the largest provider of school chaplains in Australia - recently appeared before the High Court a second time to defend the chaplaincy program after an attempt by a Toowoomba resident to prevent funding of the program.
During the first High Court challenge, 85,000 Australians showed their support for school chaplains by signing a statement of support organised by SU QLD. They hope to present over 100,000 signatures to key members of parliament to show that school chaplaincy is important to thousands of families. ACL encouraged its supporters to get on board with the campaign earlier this year.
For release: Thursday, 12th December, 2013
The Australian Christian Lobby has welcomed the High Court’s decision to reject the ACT’s same-sex marriage laws.
Managing Director Lyle Shelton said the ruling upholds uniformity of marriage laws across the country.
“The ACT’s “marriage” laws were inconsistent with the federal laws and incapable of concurrent operation,” he said.
“This ruling shows it is not the jurisdiction of states to legislate in regards to marriage,” Mr Shelton said.
“It’s important for marriage laws to continue to be administered federally – this is why the Marriage Act was passed in 1961 to have uniform marriage laws,” he said.
“Marriage between a man and a woman is good for society and beneficial for governments to uphold in legislation. It’s about providing a future for the next generation where they can be raised by their biological parents, wherever possible,” he said.
However, Mr Shelton expressed concern for those same-sex couples who thought they were married under the ACT legislation.
“Understandably they will be disappointed at the decision handed down today and it is unfortunate they were put in this position,” Mr Shelton said.
“The debate about changing the definition of marriage has been given a fair go for the past three years with nine parliamentary attempts to change it,” he said.
“Like the republican debate, the public and parliamentarians have had plenty of time to evaluate it and it is now time to move on.”
The Commonwealth argued that the ACT’s same-sex marriage law, passed in October and taking effect on December 7, is invalid because it is inconsistent with the Commonwealth Marriage Act 1961. Under the Australian Constitution, the federal government has the power to legislate for marriage. The Constitution also says that any state or territory law inconsistent with a federal law is invalid.
In its arguments, the Commonwealth, represented by Solicitor-General Justin Gleeson SC, made two main points: the uniformity of marriage law in Australia, and the intention to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
One law for Australia
Firstly, marriage is a federal power because this allows for one uniform law throughout the country. Prior to 1900, the separate colonies had different laws governing marriage and divorce. A similar situation existed, and still exists today, in the United States. Wanting to avoid what they called this “mischief”, the founders deliberately gave the federal parliament the power to make laws for marriage, which they did with the 1961 Act.
In the words of Mr Gleeson, the need to avoid the problems of diverse marriage laws was “at the heart of the very case for Federation itself”.
The intention to define marriage as between a man and a woman
The second main theme in the Commonwealth’s arguments was that the Commonwealth has clearly shown its intention that marriage in Australia be limited to the union of a man and a woman. This was assumed in the original Act but made clear in the 2004 amendments, which inserted a definition and also expressly prohibited the recognition of same-sex relationships formalised overseas.
In response, the ACT argued that the Commonwealth law only regulates opposite-sex relationships, and that it is open to the states to confer the status of “marriage” onto same-sex couples. The ACT also argued that although the intention was clear, the text of the Marriage Act as amended does not expressly prohibited the formalising of same-sex marriages in Australia.
The High Court also allowed submissions from Australian Marriage Equality (AME), represented by Mr Kirk SC, who argued that the ACT law creates a new and distinct status, not “marriage” but “same-sex marriage”. The ACT – and any state or territory – has the right to do this, they argued, because the federal law only deals with the status “marriage” as defined in the Act.
The potential for other statuses of marriage
The Court drew two important points out of the ACT and AME arguments.
Firstly, after some probing questions from Chief Justice French and Justice Bell, AME had to admit that, based on its argument, a state or territory could legislate a new status of marriage for any type of relationship, including those currently prohibited by the federal Marriage Act. Such relationships include those where one or both parties are a child, or already married to somebody else, or where true consent is not given, or where the parties are related.
The fallacy of “equality”
Secondly, it was exposed just how shallow the claim of “equality” is.
Justice Bell asked the ACT’s solicitor Ms Eastman SC whether a same-sex couple married in the ACT would be “married” for the purposes of any Commonwealth laws which deal with married couples – such as the Evidence Act, which allows a person not to be compelled to give evidence against their spouse in a criminal matter.
Ms Eastman replied that “for Commonwealth laws, they are not recognised as married”.
In the words of Justice Bell, the ACT Act gives “a somewhat limited quality to equality”.
It is not known how the Court will rule next Thursday. It may decide the ACT Act is totally invalid, totally valid, or something in between. Despite the uncertainty, some same-sex couples are planning to wed under the new law on the weekend, even though they may be left without the legal recognition they thought they gained.
Based on legal advice the ACL has received, it seems there are strong grounds for the Court to reject the ACT bill as unconstitutional.
There is a clear case for the importance of a single marriage law for the whole of Australia. Moreover, it was the clear intention of our elected federal parliament to define marriage in Australia as between a man and a woman.
The transcript of the hearing is available here.
An audio-visual recording is available here.
The submissions from each party are available here.
- The case was heard before the full bench of the High Court, with the exception of Justice Gageler, who was recused, most likely because of an advice he gave as a private lawyer to the ACT Government regarding their civil union laws in 2006.
- The Commonwealth Government's arguments were presented by Commonwealth Solicitor-General Mr Justin Gleeson SC.
- The ACT Government's arguments were presented by ACT Solicitor-General Mr Paul Garrisson SC and Ms Kate Eastman SC.
- AME was allowed by the Court to make oral and written submissions as an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court” – a party not connected with the case but with arguments which may assist the Court with their decision. They were represented by Mr Jeremy Kirk SC.
At last Friday’s direction hearing into the challenge, which was attended by ACL staff, Chief Justice French adjourned the directions hearing until the 4th of November but signalled he was working towards having the case heard when the full court sits from the 3rd to 6th of December.
The ACT laws for same-sex ‘marriage’ are set to come into effect on the 7th of November and can be conducted a month later on the 7th of December.
Last week, Prime Minister Tony Abbott suggested that same-sex couples wait for the High Court to rule whether the legislation is valid before marrying in the ACT.
On Tuesday 22nd October, the ACT became the first jurisdiction in Australia to legislate for same-sex marriage. The federal government is challenging the law in the High Court, arguing its inconsistency with the Commonwealth Marriage Act.
The ACT has until 1st November to file its defence to the Commonwealth's challenge.
The ACL has long advocated for traditional marriage as between a man and a woman. It provides a natural, timeless and sustainable foundation for our society. The Commonwealth Marriage Act did not invent marriage, rather it recognises and protects something that has existed since the beginning of history.
Marriage serves as the best, most stable environment where society can nurture and protect its next generation. Marriage and family are intrinsically linked to human existence and human flourishing. This is not to say that single people don’t contribute to society. Instead it merely recognises that every child owes their existence to a mum and a dad.
Furthermore, redefining marriage has religious liberty implications. The ACT government has continued to say that religious freedoms are protected under this legislation – that no minister of religion will be required to solemnise a marriage, nor will any church or place of worship be required to host a ceremony. However, this fails to acknowledge that there’s no stopping an action being taken against a minister under the Discrimination Act or Human Rights Act as churches are generally public places.