Canberra Quakers believe that the Spirit of God dwells in all people equally and we value all relationships which are committed and loving. Therefore, we support both:
Canberra Quakers further support any effort to ensure that committed relationships of same-sex couples married in the ACT retain legal recognition, for example as civil unions, even if their status as legally recognised marriages is overturned for constitutional reasons.
If neither the option of recognising same-sex marriage or introducing legal recognition of civil unions is to be adopted, the Canberra Quakers would support introducing legal recognition by registration of committed same-sex and different-sex relationships.
Quaker Beliefs and Testimonies
The Religious Society of Friends has no official creeds, dogmas or hierarchy, instead obtaining spiritual guidance from the individual experience of each person and the collective discernment of the Society. Quakers, however, commonly express a belief or sense of ‘that of God in everyone’. From this basis several testimonies have arisen, most notably the Peace, Simplicity, Equality and Integrity Testimonies.
The Quaker Equality Testimony in particular informs Quakers’ views on Marriage Equality.
Quakers: It’s Time for Marriage Equality
Quakers and the Equality Testimony
Quakers have acted on the Equality Testimony in many ways throughout our 350 year history. At different times different expressions of the Equality Testimony have become more prominent. Early in our history, Quakers recognised the equality of the sexes admitting women to full participation in the life and decision-making processes of the Society. Quakers have also been prominent in the anti-slavery movements of the 18th and 19th centuries and in prison reform, including improving the conditions faced by early female convicts transported to Australia.
Australian Quakers continue to bear witness to the equal value of all people through their work on indigenous issues and the issues faced by asylum seekers and prisoners.
Quakers and Same-Sex Attracted People
The Religious Society of Friends in Australia began to move towards recognising the equality of same-sex attracted people in the 1960s. By 1971 Australia Yearly Meeting, the Australia wide body of the Society, was ready to state:
The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Australia calls for a change in the laws…to eliminate discrimination against homosexuals. This statement is made in the light of the Society’s desire to remove discrimination and persecution in the community. The Society also calls on all people to seek more knowledge and understanding of the diversity of human relationships and to affirm the worth of love in all of them.
Quaker marriages have long had legal recognition. The Religious Society of Friends is a Recognised Denomination under the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth). To fulfil the requirements of that Act, Quaker meetings appoint Registering Officers who are authorised celebrants and ensure that legal obligations are complied with.
Quaker weddings consist of the two people to be married exchanging their vows in the presence of a meeting, without a third party presiding over spiritual and personal aspects of the ceremony. In spiritual terms, the meeting’s role is to witness the wedding and take the marriage under its care rather than providing special religious sanction for the marriage.
Australian Quakers also acknowledge that some couples, whether same-sex or different-sex, may not wish to describe their relationships as marriage for a variety of reasons. Quakers celebrate the relationships of such couples through commitment ceremonies that are similar to weddings but which do not result in a marriage. Commitment ceremonies may be considered analogous to the proposed civil unions.
CRM Submission on ‘The recognition of Same-Sex Relationships in the ACT’
The ACT Government discussion paper ‘The recognition of same-sex relationships in the ACT’ asks for submission to express views on the suitability of three options for recognising committed same-sex relationships:
- civil unions, and
The substance of Canberra Regional Meeting’s submission is as follows.
The Canberra Regional Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) supports the availability of legal recognition of committed same-sex relationships as marriages equal in status to different-sex marriages under the laws of the Australian Capital Territory.
We support this in recognition that the Spirit of God dwells equally in each person. We have welcomed same-sex attracted people as full participants in our meetings and we value committed same-sex relationships as we value all relationships that are committed and loving. Same-sex marriages already exist as spiritual commitments between two people before God and we believe that our laws are the poorer for their inability to perceive this reality.
We support using the term ‘marriage’ for legally recognised committed same-sex relationships, despite possible constitutional questions, on the grounds that to use one term for different-sex relationships and another term for same-sex relationships fails to recognise fully the equality of all people.
Using the term ‘marriage’ also goes beyond the question of equal rights. It raises the social recognition of committed same-sex relationships by acknowledging that, as with all marriages, the spouses have voluntarily and lovingly taken on obligations to each other.
We note that potential constitutional questions may surround the recognition of same-sex marriages by the ACT. We are also aware of the disruption that would occur in the lives of same-sex couples married in the ACT if a same-sex marriage law were overturned for constitutional reasons. We therefore support any effort to ensure that their committed relationships retain legal recognition, for example as civil unions, in the ACT even if their status as legally recognised marriages is overturned for constitutional reasons.
The Canberra Regional Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) further supports the introduction of civil unions for both same-sex and different-sex couples.
We acknowledge that some couples are uncomfortable with describing their relationships as ‘marriages’ for a variety of reasons. Quakers currently celebrate both same-sex and different-sex commitment ceremonies for such people. We feel that couples who have reservations about using the term ‘marriage’ to describe their relationship, including couples who have celebrated a Quaker commitment ceremony, should have the option of having their relationships recognised by law as civil unions. The rights and obligations of people in civil unions should be identical to those of people in legally recognised marriages.
If neither the option of recognising same-sex marriage or introducing legal recognition of civil unions is to be adopted, the Canberra Regional Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) would support introducing legal recognition by registration of committed same-sex and different-sex relationships.
We feel that if the registration option is adopted, registration should be open to both same-sex and different-sex couples and that the rights and obligations of people in registered relationships should be identical with those in legally recognised marriages.