Same-sex marriage law must protect our freedoms
After what seems like a very long time, the debate about same-sex marriage reaches another milestone today with the release of the result of the postal vote. About 80 per cent of those people entitled to a vote have expressed their opinion, and if the polls are to be believed, it seems almost certain that the Yes vote will have triumphed.
Yet such a result will by no means be the end of the debate.
That will now switch from pubs and clubs to the Federal Parliament, where it is possible more than one Bill will be proposed to address how to turn the same-sex marriage vote into law.
One of those will be a Bill proposed by WA Liberal senator Dean Smith, who has long campaigned for the change.
But conservatives have been pushing for the adoption of measures outlined in a rival draft Bill which they say is needed to ensure freedom of conscience and religion is better protected.
Sponsored by Liberal senator James Paterson, the conservative Bill proposes changes that would allow people — such as cake-makers or florists — to refuse to participate in a same-sex wedding, and clauses that allow opponents of gay marriage to promote their views without penalty.
It would also give parents the power to remove their children from classes that “conflict with their values”. Proponents of gay marriage say the conservatives’ approach would represent an unacceptable winding back of anti-discrimination laws.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has warned that far-reaching religious protections that were discriminatory would have virtually no prospect of getting through Parliament.
But the concerns which the conservatives have detailed deserve a fair hearing.
Many voices, including this newspaper, have noted the potential widespread impacts of a law to allow same-sex marriage.
Those concerns revolve not just around ministers and marriage celebrants who may not feel comfortable conducting same-sex marriages.
The West Australian warned in September that “there may be a wider impact, for example on schools, hospitals and businesses”.
“Before voting, the public needs to know what safeguards will protect their freedoms if same-sex marriage becomes law,” we said. That was not addressed satisfactorily during the campaign.
Assuming the Yes vote has won, the resulting laws should not be rushed. They require full debate, and fair opportunity for MPs or senators to propose amendments.