Re­li­gious pro­tec­tion fight looms over same-sex mar­riage bill

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines - Paul Karp

The at­tor­ney gen­eral, Ge­orge Bran­dis, has said he will move a new amend­ment to al­low civil cel­e­brants to re­ject same-sex wed­dings as the Coali­tion gears up for a leg­isla­tive fight about ex­tend­ing re­li­gious pro­tec­tions be­yond the cross-party bill.

Af­ter the Aus­tralian Bureau of Statis­tics an­nounced that 61.6% of peo­ple had voted in favour of same­sex mar­riage, the prime min­is­ter, Mal­colm Turn­bull, warned that be­cause of the “over­whelm­ing” re­sult, par­lia­ment must now de­liver mar­riage equal­ity – and he ex­pected it to be law by Christ­mas.

Mar­riage equal­ity ad­vo­cates won the first round of an im­pend­ing leg­isla­tive fight, af­ter Sen­a­tor James Pater­son with­drew his ri­val con­ser­va­tive bill on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon.

The start­ing point for de­bate will now be the cross-party bill au­thored by the Lib­eral sen­a­tor Dean Smith and sup­ported by La­bor, the Greens and oth­ers. The bill makes min­i­mal­ist changes to pro­tect re­li­gious free­dom with­out le­gal­is­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion by com­mer­cial ser­vice providers.

Smith and the cross-party group cap­i­talised on the man­date in the sur­vey by in­tro­duc­ing the bill and pass­ing an hours mo­tion that will lead to the bill be­ing de­bated un­til it is passed in the sit­ting week be­gin­ning 27 Novem­ber.

Bran­dis told the Se­nate that par­lia­men­tar­i­ans would “have their own views” about pro­tec­tions of re­li­gious free­dom and con­science.

“I my­self would pre­fer to see them go fur­ther, so I fore­shadow that in the com­mit­tee stage of the de­bate I will move an amend­ment to ex­tend the right of con­sci­en­tious ob­jec­tion to per­form­ing a cer­e­mony of mar­riage from min­is­ters of re­li­gion to in­clude civil cel­e­brants as well,” he said.

Bran­dis said this was not a gov­ern­ment po­si­tion but his pri­vate view. He also called for a pro­vi­sion to state that “noth­ing in the bill makes it un­law­ful for peo­ple to hold and to ex­press the views of their own re­li­gion on mar­riage”.

In their con­tri­bu­tions, the La­bor leader in the Se­nate, Penny Wong, and the Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, warned that Aus­tralians had voted to “re­move dis­crim­i­na­tion” from mar­riage law, not to add to it, sig­nalling they are in­clined to re­ject ex­tend­ing the right to con­sci­en­tious ob­jec­tion to civil cel­e­brants.

In a state­ment be­fore the mo­tion, Pater­son said he would seek “the strong­est pos­si­ble pro­tec­tions for the free­doms of all Aus­tralians” through amend­ments.

Oth­ers to sig­nal sup­port for amend­ments in­clude the fi­nance min­is­ter, Mathias Cor­mann, and the for­mer prime min­is­ter Tony Ab­bott.

Stand­ing along­side Turn­bull at the press con­fer­ence af­ter the sur­vey an­nounce­ment, Cor­mann said he agreed the Smith bill was “a good start­ing point” but warned that it needed “ad­di­tional re­li­gious pro­tec­tions”.

“I be­lieve that the Smith bill will need some im­prove­ments,” he said. “Per­son­ally, I be­lieve that the Pater­son bill goes some­what too far.

“I would like to think that the par­lia­ment will be able to meet some­where in be­tween to give ef­fect to the de­ci­sion of the Aus­tralian peo­ple … and to also en­sure that we ac­com­mo­date the le­git­i­mate con­cern of many Aus­tralians for there to be ap­pro­pri­ate lev­els of re­li­gious pro­tec­tions.”

In a state­ment, Ab­bott said “the par­lia­ment should re­spect the re­sult” but he point­edly noted that both the prime min­is­ter and the op­po­si­tion leader, Bill Shorten, had “pledged their sup­port for free­dom of re­li­gion”.

“I look for­ward to a par­lia­men­tary process that im­proves on the Dean Smith bill to im­ple­ment same-sex mar­riage with free­dom of con­science for all, not just the churches,” he said.

La­bor’s cau­cus has al­ready passed a mo­tion sup­port­ing the Smith bill as an ac­cept­able bal­ance be­tween mar­riage equal­ity and re­li­gious free­dom.

Ear­lier, at a rally in Mel­bourne, Shorten promised: “To­day we cel­e­brate, to­mor­row we leg­is­late.”

Through­out the day sev­eral Lib­er­als who voted against same-sex mar­riage in the sur­vey said they would vote in favour of it in par­lia­ment, in­clud­ing the as­sis­tant min­is­ter for cities, An­gus Tay­lor, and the Lib­eral MP Lucy Wicks.

But the Lib­eral sen­a­tor David Fawcett, who chaired the Se­nate com­mit­tee in­quiry into same-sex mar­riage from which Smith’s bill was drafted, told Guardian Aus­tralia the in­quiry had con­cluded that re­li­gious free­dom needed to be pos­i­tively pro­tected.

At a press con­fer­ence Smith sug­gested a way through could be for an ex­ist­ing par­lia­men­tary in­quiry into free­dom of re­li­gion to re­port af­ter same-sex mar­riage was lega-

lised, be­cause con­ser­va­tives are rais­ing is­sues of par­ent­ing laws and free speech that are not rel­e­vant to a mar­riage bill.

Sen­a­tor Matt Cana­van told ABC News24 that he would re­spect the wishes of Queens­land and would not op­pose a same-sex mar­riage bill, but added he “won’t sup­port a bill that di­min­ishes fun­da­men­tal hu­man rights”, ar­gu­ing that the Smith bill was not “ad­e­quate”.

The Lib­eral Na­tional MP Ge­orge Chris­tensen said he would vote for a bill with pro­tec­tions in­serted but would other­wise ab­stain, say­ing it “keeps faith with my com­mit­ment ... [to] not vote against the wishes of my elec­torate”.

Af­ter a high no vote in west­ern Syd­ney, the La­bor MPs Ja­son Clare, Linda Bur­ney, Tony Burke, Michelle Row­land and Ed Hu­sic con­firmed they would vote in favour of mar­riage equal­ity, de­spite ma­jori­ties against it in their elec­torates.

Hinch said Pater­son had acted as a “stalk­ing horse” for con­ser­va­tive op­po­nents of same-sex mar­riage and sug­gested amend­ments put up one by one would be “slaugh­tered”.

One Na­tion, which con­trols three votes in the Se­nate, has re­served its po­si­tion.

Pho­to­graph: Lukas Coch/ AAP

At­tor­ney gen­eral Ge­orge Bran­dis has promised to move an amend­ment to the same-sex mar­riage bill.

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