The Australian, Chris Merritt
The dean of law at Sydney’s Notre Dame University and a coalition of barristers and academics have joined the revolt over the endorsement of same-sex marriage by the legal profession’s peak associations in NSW.
Professor Michael Quinlan, who heads the university’s law school in Sydney, is the most senior of 11 legal academics and lawyers who have issued a joint statement denouncing the NSW Law Society and the state’s Bar Association for endorsing same-sex marriage “laws” before draft legislation has been made public and without consulting members.
Their statement calls for both organisations to apologise and immediately withdraw the endorsement.
It contained errors of law and had left the misleading impression that all lawyers in NSW support gay marriage, the statement says.
“Had there been consultation with members, and had the members supported the issuance of such a document, improvements in the language and content could have been made to ensure the joint release accurately states the law,” their statement says.
The Law Society is under growing pressure for endorsing gay marriage in a joint press release with the Bar Association and the NSW branch of the Australian Medical Association.
Sydney solicitor Robin Speed, who is president of the Rule of Law Institute, has given Law Society president Pauline Wright until 4pm next Friday to dissociate the organisation from the joint press release or face the prospect of legal action.
Mr Speed believes the Law Society has given the false and misleading impression that gay marriage is favoured by all 29,000 solicitors in NSW.
An organisation of Catholic lawyers, the St Thomas More Society, says solicitors have complained of being intimidated at their workplaces for publicly criticising the endorsement of same-sex marriage by the professional associations and law firms.
The statement by Professor Quinlan and the other signatories says the three professional bodies made an error when their joint press release suggested the definition of marriage in Australia may be discriminatory under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“This is simply not correct,” the statement says.
“Some may believe that the joint release, given its authors, is a correct statement of the law but it is not, as the Senate committee report which looked into this question found.
“The claims made in the joint press release suggest a version of the international jurisprudence on same-sex marriage that is difficult to justify on any view of the current law.
“There is simply no international covenant that confers a right to same-sex marriage.’’
Professor Quinlan and the other signatories issued the statement in their personal capacities under the auspices of the Wilberforce Foundation, an organisation devoted to protecting common law values, rights and freedoms.
“Before making a statement on such an issue, the Law Society or NSW and the Bar Association of NSW ought to have consulted with their members or, at least the statement ought to indicate that bit has been prepared without consultation with members,” their statement says.
The Law Society’s Ms Wright said the society regularly makes resolutions through its council on a range of important legal policy issues.
“I recognise there will be divergent and strong views within the profession on any of these matters,” Ms Wright said. “But the overwhelming majority of responses received from the profession following the release of the joint statement have been supportive.
“We welcome the contribution of the Wilberforce Foundation to this important issue just as we always welcome and consider open debate on all policy matters.’’
The Bar Association has earlier stated its policy on gay marriage has been in place for several years.
The signatories to the Wilberforce Foundation’s statement include Notre Dame associate dean of law in Sydney Keith Thompson, Sydney barrister Michael McAuley, Adelaide barrister Christopher Brohier, Neil Foster of Newcastle University’s law school, Brisbane barrister Simon Fisher and Perth academic Augusto Zimmermann from the West Australian Law Reform Commission.