Emil Ford Lawyers

What can charities say in the same-sex marriage debate?

In light of the survey in which Australians are about to participate, charities must remember what they can and can’t do when it comes to publicly campaigning or advocating for a change to law, policy or practice in Australia.

Charities must have a charitable purpose. Without this, the ACNC can revoke their charity registration and the concessions that come with it. Charitable purposes include the advancement of health, education, social or public welfare, religion, culture, human rights or the natural environment.

However, the purpose of promoting or opposing a particular political party or candidate, engaging in or promoting unlawful activities or engaging in or promoting activities that are contrary to public policy are not charitable and the ACNC can revoke a charity’s registration if it does such things.

A charity is able to advocate and campaign for changes to government policy (or, in this case, to promote the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ case) as long as the advocacy or campaigning advances the charitable purpose of the charity. The advocacy or campaigning must also not be prevented by its Constitution or other governing document.

For example, a charity that has an object of increasing the wellbeing of LGBTI people could advocate or campaign in the same-sex marriage debate as this activity would be consistent with its object. Similarly, churches (which are charities) may advocate for the ‘no’ case as this is consistent with the Christian view of marriage. However, a charity such as the RSPCA, which has the care and protection of animals as its main object, could not campaign or advocate in this debate because doing so would not promote the charitable purpose of the charity.

Finally, a charity’s policy position may be aligned with that of a political party. However, the charity must not go so far as to promote or oppose a political party or a candidate.

Charities can play a valuable role in raising awareness and encouraging debate about issues such as legislating to change the definition of marriage. However they must ensure they abide by the law and by their own governing rules before they carry out these activities.

If you are unsure of what your obligations are as a charity in light of the same-sex marriage debate, please contact or for further information.

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