Turnbull flatly rejects same-sex marriage bill that legalises discrimination
The government “would not countenance” legalising discrimination against same-sex weddings and a bill to do so would have “virtually no prospect” of passing parliament, Malcolm Turnbull has said in an extraordinary rebuke of conservatives demanding the rollback of anti-discrimination laws.
As conservative Coalition MPs and senators rallied around the same-sex marriage bill released on Monday by Liberal senator James Paterson, Turnbull slapped them down ahead of the release of marriage law survey results at 10am on Wednesday.
Turnbull’s intervention contrasted with calls from Tony Abbott to do more to protect religious freedom than the Dean Smith marriage bill and “entrench the right to dissent from any new orthodoxy”.
The Paterson bill has been criticised by lawyers, marriage equality advocates and the attorney general, George Brandis, for allowing discrimination against same-sex weddings by commercial service providers.
On Monday Turnbull described the Smith bill as a good starting point, and at a press conference in Manila on Tuesday he went further, warning: “I don’t believe Australians would welcome, and certainly the government would not countenance, making legal discrimination that is illegal, that is unlawful, today.”
Asked about a bill that would allow businesses to say “no gay weddings serviced here” – in reference to Paterson’s proposal – Turnbull said: “I think it would have virtually no prospect of getting through the parliament.”
Smith based his bill on the recommendations of a Senate committee inquiry. It is co-signed by four Liberal supporters of marriage equality, enjoys support from Labor and qualified support from the Greens, who intend to seek amendments.
On Tuesday Bill Shorten promised to work with Turnbull to legislate marriage equality “as soon as possible” after a yes vote, saying Labor would “give the numbers along with those in the government who support it, to stare down the conservatives seeking to delay marriage equality”.
“I promise Australians that as soon as the result is known, we’ll be pushing for the Smith bill.”
The Smith bill allows religious ministers, current celebrants who register to become religious celebrants and religious organisations to refuse to conduct or serve same-sex weddings. Smith has said he intends to introduce his bill as early as Thursday.
Turnbull said the government was keeping its promise to give everyone a say on the marriage law, after which Coalition parliamentarians would have a free vote.
“If there is a yes vote announced tomorrow, the private member’s bill will be debated and people will be free to move whatever amendments they want and they will be debated and voted on ... and they won’t be ... constrained by any party policy,” he said.
The executive director of the Equality Campaign, Tiernan Brady, said: “If the people vote yes tomorrow they will be voting for fairness and equality for LGBTI people and that LGBTI people should be treated the same as everybody else by the law of the land.
“To try and use that moment to actually introduce new discrimination and to unravel existing anti-discrimination protections ... is literally the opposite of what the people will have voted for.
“In the event of a yes vote, the momentum that will flow from the will of the people will be irresistible and will sweep all before it.”
Brady said it was good that “across the political spectrum”, from the prime minister, crossbench and opposition, “people are clearly of the mind it is time to get this done”.
A Coalition for Marriage spokeswoman said the no campaign found Turnbull’s comments “surprising” because he had recently said “he believed more strongly in religious freedom than in same-sex marriage”.
“During the Senate select committee hearings earlier this year and ... throughout the campaign, many Australians have raised concerns about the consequences of redefining marriage and these have been ignored in the Smith bill,” she said.
“Whatever [Wednesday’s] result, we will continue to do what we can to ensure the freedoms of speech and belief are protected for all Australians.”
Before Turnbull’s intervention the infrastructure minister, Darren Chester, and backbench MP Craig Kelly had added to calls to debate the bills in the Coalition party room when it next meets in two weeks.
Conservative ministers including Matt Canavan, Michael Sukkar, Zed Seselja and Angus Taylor have been vocal in support of the Paterson bill.
But senior ministers including Brandis, the education minister, Simon Birmingham, and influential conservative Mathias Cormann have held the line that parliament, not the
party room, should consider which bill to use and possible amendments.
Chester told ABC News the joint party room would discuss marriage and “people will come to a final position on the private member’s bill eventually brought forward”.
The Liberal MP Craig Kelly told Guardian Australia he expected a debate in the next party room meeting in two weeks “about which bill the Coalition will bring to parliament”, although Smith was entitled to separately bring his private member’s bill.
The Liberal senator David Fawcett said Paterson’s bill “reflects more fully” than the Smith bill the recommendations of the Senate committee inquiry into same-sex marriage that he chaired.
“Australia has never legislated to protect religious freedom comprehensively,” Fawcett said. “The James Paterson bill is more comprehensive, and it is my preferred starting point.”
Fawcett said he wanted “sensible grown-up conversations” about the legislative process ahead, and he would encourage all parties to discuss which bill to use “not necessarily in the debating chamber of the Senate”.
Malcolm Turnbull said the government will ‘not countenance’ legalising discrimination against same-sex weddings.