Category: Articles

Statement on Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017

On 15 November 2017, the results of the national postal survey on the issue of same-sex marriage were announced. Of the 12.7 million Australians who participated in the survey, approximately 7.8 million (61.6%) voted in support of the law being changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. Approximately 4.9 million (38.4%) voted against.

The Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 (Cth), a private member’s Bill introduced by Senator Dean Smith to implement these changes passed the Senate last week.

On 1 December 2017, 14 senior church leaders across Australia wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten (“the Open Letter”), voicing their concern at the refusal of the Senate to make amendments to the Bill to protect religious freedoms.

The Victorian Christian Legal Society (“VCLS”) has members from numerous denominations and backgrounds. The VCLS does not presume to speak for its members as a whole on the issue of whether same sex marriage should be legalised. We recognise that there is a diversity of opinion among our membership.

However, it is uncontroversial that many Christians do subscribe to a traditional view of marriage as being a union specifically between a man and a woman, privileged over other types of relationship because of its status as a fundamental institution vital for the raising of children and the preservation of society. Christianity is not the only faith in which this is the established, conservative position.

The results of the national postal survey indicate that there is a significant (around 4.9 million strong) minority of voters that does not support redefining marriage at law to include same sex couples. This is not a negligible or small demographic by any means.

It is critical that any law that is ultimately implemented to allow same-sex marriage appropriately accounts for differing views within the Australian community, even as it implements the will of the majority.

We urge Parliament to act to ensure that it protects freedom of conscience, belief and religion in legislating to allow same-sex marriage.

In particular, we call upon the House of Representatives to ensure protection for the following rights, as articulated in the Open Letter of 1 December 2017:

  1. The right of parents to educate their children in accordance with their religious and moral convictions;
  2. The right of religious institutions to ensure that their facilities are used in accordance with their religious beliefs and principles;
  3. The right of religious institutions to establish and maintain faith-based charities in accordance with their convictions;
  4. The right of religious institutions to express their beliefs, provided it is done in a way that respectfully engages with the community; and
  5. The right of civil celebrants to act in accordance with their genuinely held religious or conscientious conviction.

None of the above rights are assured in the Bill’s current iteration.

We also call upon the House of Representatives to ensure that charities that express a traditional view of marriage will not be denied their charitable status. This protection is similarly not assured in the Bill’s current iteration.

An essential element for the proper functioning of our legal system (and our democracy) is the ability for individuals to express views that others may disagree with, without fear of persecution. The Society supports the protection of this freedom and warns strongly against the undermining of it through legislation.

Further information and useful reading

Several informative links to articles and webpages covering the passage of the Bill and arguments concerning its content are set out below. Please note that the links cover a wide range of views on the topic and are not necessarily representative of the views of the VCLS or of the Committee.

“Same-sex marriage bill: We need amendments and it’s not just about bakers and florists” (16 November 2017), ABC News.

Freedom for Faith media release (27 November 2017).

“Same-sex marriage passes historic hurdle as Labor moves to veto religious freedoms” (29 November 2017), The Sydney Morning Herald.

“The problem of a same sex marriage exemption for civil celebrants” (29 November 2017), Pursuit.

“Church heads pen open letter over same-sex marriage bill fears” (1 December 2017), The Australian.

“Anglican bishops break ranks to support Dean Smith’s same-sex marriage bill” (4 December 2017), The Sydney Morning Herald.

Parliament of Australia webpage for Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017.

Meet the Profession Dinner 2016 Wrap-up

Meet the Profession Dinner 2016

Click here for presenter Peter Agardy’s paper, “Reconciling Christian Principles with the Practice of the Law”

Thank you to all the students and members of the profession that attended our Meet the Profession Dinner on 7 September 2016.

We had the privilege of honouring one of the VCLS’ longstanding supporters and past VCLS president Ross Gordon for his many years of service as he transitions into retirement.


VCLS President Ms Derrick Toh presents Mr Gordon with an honorary lifetime membership.

We were also inspired by the thoughtful and insightful presentation by barrister and author, Mr Peter Agardy, on reconciling Christian principles with the practice of law. Peter has graciously permitted us to upload a copy of his paper.

Our speaker, barrister Peter Agardy, presenting his paper on reconciling Christianity with legal practice.

Our speaker, barrister Peter Agardy, presents his paper on reconciling Christianity with legal practice.

Thanks also to those who generously donated door prizes for the students, in particular Lewis Holdway Lawyers and barrister Ray Ternes who offered an internship and a shadowing opportunity, respectively.

We hope that everyone was able to make new connections and strengthen existing contacts and that we continue to be salt and light within the legal community.

For the students, if you would like to be involved with the VCLS, please get in touch.

If you are not yet on our mailing list and would also like to join as a member for FY2016/2017 please contact Amy at

Same-sex Marriage in the USA: A Short Reading List

On 26 June 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, 578 U.S. ____ (2015) (full slip opinion, including dissents, available here), ruling 5-4 that the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognise a same-sex marriage lawfully licensed and performed out-of state.

The decision does not have a direct impact upon Australia’s legal system. However, it is clear that Christians do frequently have difficulties responding in a Biblically principled and Christlike way to campaigns to recognise same-sex marriage in the law, in circumstances where the dominant view is that homosexual practices are prohibited in the Bible and that that prohibition is still to be observed.

It is agreed in Australian society at large that the state should not entrench or sanction one particular religion. However, Christians are permitted to be informed by their religious beliefs when making decisions about the legislative changes they want to support or oppose, in the same way that others are permitted to make decisions about political issues that are inevitably informed by their own cultural and/or religious values. The question is, how should our beliefs regarding the correct view of marriage shape our response?

The following is a short list of articles and reading materials on various aspects of the recent US Supreme Court decision, with a particular focus on legal issues that affect Christians and religious groups. We would also encourage readers who are interested in learning about the issue to read the slip opinion, which contains the majority decision and the dissents.

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Annual Dinner 2015 Photos (and Keynote Speech Notes!)

Annual Dinner 2015 - with guest speaker Justice Macaulay

EDIT: After some technological complications, we are pleased to make available Justice Macaulay’s keynote speech from the night, which His Honour has graciously provided to us.  We thank His Honour for his generosity and for his insights.

The Victorian Christian Legal Society would like to thank all those who attended its Annual Dinner 2015 to support the Society’s work – the dinner was a great success! Attendees enjoyed an inspiring speech delivered by the Honourable Justice Cameron Macaulay of the Supreme Court of Victoria and were treated to a delicious dinner in the beautiful setting of the Grain Store. Photos from the event are now available and can be viewed below; many thanks to Mr Casey Wong of core strategicreativity  for the excellent photography.

VCLS Annual Dinner 2015

We were honoured to have Justice Macaulay speak about the art of situating the practice of law in the context of the Christian faith. This topic is a difficult and highly relevant one for lawyers at all levels of experience, and we are grateful to Justice Macaulay for providing his insights and wisdom to help Christian practitioners grapple with the issue. For a PDF copy of His Honour’s speech, please click here.

VCLS Annual Dinner 2015

The event was attended by a diverse range of members of the legal community. The judiciary, the bar, government, solicitors, students and affiliated organisations, including the Melbourne Catholic Lawyers Association and Christian Lawyers for Justice (CLEAR), were all represented on the night.

VCLS Annual Dinner 2015

Our President Derrick Toh spoke about the Society’s work and vision for the future, and the announcement was made that the Society is now an incorporated association. Our new website, which had been soft-launched several days earlier, was also officially unveiled at the dinner.

VCLS Annual Dinner 2015

The Society is grateful to those who generously made pledges of financial support and donations at the dinner.  Your faithful support will help us to make a bigger impact in all that we do. Our next major event will be the ever-popular Meet the Profession Dinner, and we have already begun planning for it. Please look forward to it.

VCLS Annual Dinner 2015

The Executive Committee was overwhelmed by the support the Society’s work has received from the legal community, and is excited for things to come. Further plans to streamline the Society’s operations are in the works – stay tuned for future announcements!

VCLS Annual Dinner 2015

We would like to extend a special thanks to those who sponsored students to attend the event; we have received feedback that it was a great experience for them to hear an edifying message from Justice Macaulay and to also talk to members of the profession who shared the same faith.

VCLS Annual Dinner 2015

We hope that our upcoming projects will continue to foster a feeling of camaraderie among those who are involved in the legal industry and those who are preparing to enter it.

More photos can be found below.

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Proposed amendments to the Equal Opportunity Act 2010

In November 2014, the Victorian Christian Legal Society published an article on the Victorian Labor party’s pre-election proposal to introduce changes to the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) potentially affecting religious freedoms. This article is reproduced here for the benefit of online readers.

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The Victorian Labor party has announced that it will introduce a ‘bona fide occupational requirement’ limitation on the religious exemptions’[1] in the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic), if it comes into power at the upcoming election on 29 November 2014.

We understand that this would mean a reinstatement of the ‘inherent requirement test’ introduced by the Brumby Labor government in the original version of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) (“2010 Act”). There is a genuine concern about the proposed amendments in Christian circles, refer:

and several other e-mail campaigns have been mailed out by different groups.

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