Same-sex mar­riage law must pro­tect our free­doms

The West Australian - - OPINION -

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.

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