Same-sex safeguards not for all businesses
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