Same-sex safe­guards not for all busi­nesses

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - ANDREW BUR­RELL

The Lib­eral sen­a­tor who drafted the bill to le­galise same-sex mar­riage in Aus­tralia says it won’t pro­vide safe­guards for busi­ness own­ers who refuse to pro­vide ser­vices to gay wed­dings un­less they can prove a link to a re­li­gious body.

Sen­a­tor Dean Smith said un­der his bill, a min­is­ter of re­li­gion could refuse to solem­nise a same-sex mar­riage, and re­li­gious groups were able to refuse to pro­vide goods and ser­vices for wed­dings. But he said there would be no pro­tec­tions, for ex­am­ple, for a Chris­tian-run bak­ery that re­fused to make a cake for a same-sex wed­ding, un­less it had for­mal links to a church.

Sen­a­tor Smith said bak­ers could not presently dis­crim­i­nate against gay peo­ple and he did not want to see anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion laws weak­ened.

“If the baker is Sis­ter Mary at the lo­cal Angli­can Church, she is pro­tected (un­der the bill),” he told The Aus­tralian yes­ter­day. “But if it’s Dean Smith, com­mer­cial busi­ness, he can’t dis­crim­i­nate today, and I’m not ar­gu­ing that we should be turn­ing back our an­tidis­crim­i­na­tion laws.”

Sen­a­tor Smith’s com­ments come as Lib­er­als and Na­tion­als who sup­port same-sex mar­riage es­ca­late their cam­paign today with an open let­ter signed by more than 50 sup­port­ers rang­ing from cab­i­net min­is­ters Ge­orge Bran­dis, Josh Fry­den­berg and Christo­pher Pyne to busi­ness lead­ers such as Tony Shep­herd and War­wick Smith.

The let­ter ar­gues that mar­riage equal­ity achieves the key con­ser­va­tive prin­ci­ples of com- mit­ted re­la­tion­ships and mutual re­spon­si­bil­ity, help­ing to build a stronger so­ci­ety. It also tells vot­ers in the postal sur­vey that a Coali­tion gov­ern­ment will pro­tect re­li­gious free­dom, con­trast­ing this with a La­bor gov­ern­ment that could change the Mar­riage Act with­out safe­guards.

Op­po­nents of same-sex mar­riage have pointed to the cases of Chris­tian-run bak­eries in the US and North­ern Ire­land that have fallen foul of anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion laws by re­fus­ing to make cakes for same-sex cou­ples.

Sen­a­tor Smith’s pri­vate mem­bers bill is likely to be put for­ward as leg­is­la­tion if the Yes vote wins the postal sur­vey.

Some Lib­eral MPs, in­clud­ing Andrew Hastie and James Pater­son, have sig­nalled they would fight for stronger pro­tec­tions for free­dom of re­li­gion and con­science, warn­ing that in­di­vid­u­als, busi­nesses, schools, char­i­ties and hos­pi­tals will be vul­ner­a­ble to le­gal ac­tion.

Mal­colm Turn­bull last week de­clared he be­lieved in re­li­gious free­dom “even more strongly” than same-sex mar­riage as he re­sponded to for­mer prime min­is­ter John Howard’s call for new

safe­guards to be re­vealed be­fore peo­ple voted. Mr Howard has also urged se­nior con­ser­va­tive Lib­er­als to come out against same-sex mar­riage, amid sug­ges­tions that Scott Mor­ri­son, Peter Dut­ton and Mathias Cor­mann are run­ning dead on the is­sue.

Tony Ab­bott last week weighed in by call­ing for the abo­li­tion of the Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion, ar­gu­ing that it would be dif­fi­cult to pro­tect re­li­gious free­dom if same-sex mar­riage were le­galised.

Sen­a­tor Smith said his bill had arisen from a cross-party Se­nate in­quiry that took into ac­count the views of ma­jor re­li­gious lead­ers as well as the gay com­mu­nity.

“The bill that’s been drafted is very clear in that it has re­li­gious pro­tec­tion for mar­riage,” he said af­ter at­tend­ing a rally for about 400 sup­port­ers of same-sex mar­riage in Perth.

“Lib­er­als need to be very care­ful; if Bill Shorten is elected, they will not get a bill like this. And Lib­er­als need to be very alert to the fact that they could be say­ing to peo­ple ‘don’t vote Yes’ and deny­ing Aus­tralians a good bill that al­lows for same-sex mar­riage and re­li­gious pro­tec­tions within Aus­tralia’s ex­ist­ing laws. That’s a crit­i­cal point. The im­por­tant el­e­ment of the bill that I have crafted and is sup­ported by other Lib­er­als is that it was born out of a Se­nate com­mit­tee process. It is a very, very sen­si­ble way to make same-sex mar­riage hap­pen in our coun­try.”

Sen­a­tor Smith also lashed out at his Coali­tion col­league Matt Cana­van over his claim at the week­end that same-sex mar­riage ad­vo­cates want to make it “il­le­gal” to ex­press a dif­fer­ent view.

“That is not the sen­a­tor Matt Cana­van I thought I knew,” he said. “That is false and it is wrong.”

Sen­a­tor Cana­van told the cam­paign launch for the Coali­tion for Mar­riage: “The Yes side want to make it il­le­gal to just ex­press a dif­fer­ent view about mar­riage, that is their agenda.”

He later said he feared “a strong push to ef­fec­tively erad­i­cate the view that mar­riage should be be­tween a man and a woman, to make it il­le­gal”.

Dean Smith at a rally in Perth yes­ter­day for same-sex mar­riage

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