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The committee embarked on this task cognisant of the deeply held beliefs and aspirations of people engaged in this national debate, regardless of how they view the institution of marriage. Debate surrounding previous bills introduced, and associated inquiries undertaken, into the issue of same-sex marriage have drawn on advice and evidence garnered from key stakeholders and the broader Australian community and have been informed by legal cases and legislative changes across the world. Often this evidence was presented in the context of a contested debate, with stakeholders expounding and defending their positions rather than seeking to engage in a balanced and respectful exploration of the issues at hand.

The committee considers that this inquiry into the Exposure Draft (released by the Attorney-General for consultation alongside the proposed legislation for a same-sex marriage plebiscite) provides an opportunity to consider much of this evidence in a more collegiate and coordinated manner and to identify where there may be areas of agreement, and to better understand and narrow those areas where there are differences of approach.

It is a matter of record that the enabling legislation for a plebiscite was voted down in the Senate. Despite this, the associated Exposure Draft released by the Attorney-General as part of the preparatory work for a proposed plebiscite,1 was deemed to be a useful vehicle to seek consensus on agreed elements of the proposal, and to better identify the substantive issues that remain contested as a result of people's varying political or philosophical perspectives. It is the hope and intention of the committee that this body of evidence will prove a valuable and instructive foundation, identifying the scope of issues to be addressed by a parliament considering legislative changes to the definition of marriage in this area.

The issues discussed below, and expanded on in the report, have been developed from provisions in the Exposure Draft, from the evidence received through the written submission process, and from the committee's three public hearings. With regard to the evidence, the committee is grateful for the quality of the written submissions and the constructive engagement of all witnesses over the course of the public hearings, despite the very short time frame available to all parties.

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