13 Nov New gay marriage bill to test Liberals
A conservative-backed same-sex marriage bill enshrining wide-reaching shield laws for celebrants, businesses, educators, charities and parents opposed to gay marriage will be taken to the Coalition partyroom in a looming showdown over freedom of speech and religious protections.
The 34-page bill, obtained by The Australian and to be released today by conservative Victorian Liberal senator James Paterson, would override state and territory anti-discrimination and freedom-of-speech laws to extend protections beyond religious affiliation to anyone who holds a “conscientious belief” in traditional marriage.
Significantly, the bill also includes a “safe schools” clause to confer rights to parents who want to remove their children from classes if they believe the values being taught do not accord with a traditional view of marriage.
In what will become a potentially critical test of Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership, the bill will be taken to the Liberals’ partyroom when it next meets in two weeks and presented as an alternative model to that favoured by moderates and sponsored by Liberal senator Dean Smith, which offers only limited protection.
However, it is believed there are plans to table the bill in the Senate as early as Wednesday if needed following a likely Yes result in the gay marriage postal plebiscite.
The release of the draft Marriage Amendment (Definition and Protection of Freedoms) bill 2017 will blindside moderate Liberal MPs who last week were demanding the release of any proposed conservative-backed model.
The bill is expected to receive qualified support today from the majority of the conservative bloc and will present a challenge to moderate MPs, with Senator Paterson being an open supporter of gay marriage.
Some conservative MPs, however, are likely to argue that the bill does not go far enough with new polling revealing overwhelming public support for laws to protect freedom of speech, religion and parental rights.
The bill requires not only amendments to the Marriage Act but an amendment to the federal Sex Discrimination Act. It would also override prevailing state and territory anti-discrimination laws that offer no protection for people with a traditional view of marriage.
The protections to shield proponents of traditional marriage from civil law suits, however, will be limited to only those goods and services directly related to the solemnisation of a same-sex marriage or the provision of a wedding. This includes goods and services provided by florists, bakers, hotels or function centres but only so far as they relate to a same-sex wedding.
Senator Paterson, who sat with Senator Smith on the Senate committee inquiry into same-sex marriage, said the bill better reflected the recommendations on preserving human rights and the protections of a diversity of views.
“If the parliament opts for a narrower bill with fewer protections, I fear we will see some Australians seek to impose their values on others, with court cases and other legal mechanisms. No one should want to see the messy court cases that have occurred after same-sex marriage was legalised in other countries,” Senator Paterson said
The potential clash with Liberal moderates was foreshadowed yesterday with North Sydney MP Trent Zimmerman telling Sky News the debate over religious freedoms was a separate issue to same-sex marriage.
“If Australians vote for marriage equality and then … the parliament for any reason delays or seeks to obfuscate or seeks to thwart the wishes of the Australian people, then I think the view of our parliament, the view of this process will be significantly diminished,” he said. “We should have it resolved before Christmas, I don’t think Australians will tolerate delay.”
“What we’ve seen during this debate is the conflation of a whole range of issues which frankly have nothing to do with the Marriage Act. And they can be debated. Protecting religious freedoms is something that Liberals feel very strongly about. But they shouldn’t be confused with this bill which is designed to deliver marriage equality.”
While the bill being proposed by conservatives gives effect to changing the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, it proposes more than 80 amendments covering six key protection provisions that Senator Paterson insists would ensure Australia’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The most contested amendment is likely to arise from a new definition of “conscientious objection” which offers protection to anyone from being forced to participate in a same-sex wedding “against their sincerely held beliefs”.
Anti-detriment laws would also be applied to prevent government agencies taking adverse action against a person who holds a traditional marriage belief and extend that shield protection to professions that are licensed, such as doctors and lawyers. Businesses and individuals would, however, not be included, preserving freedom of association.
Charities that held a belief in traditional marriage could not be stripped of their charitable status, as has occurred in other countries, while Christian schools and institutions would be protected in teaching traditional marriage.
Most critical to the case put by MPs, is parents’ rights to choose to remove their children from school classes that conflict with their values, providing a safeguard for parents who object to the controversial Safe Schools program.
“I’ve long believed that same-sex couples deserve the freedom to marry, just like every other Australian,’’ Senator Paterson said.
“That’s why I was proud to vote Yes in the postal marriage survey and have consistently argued in favour of changing the law since I was first publicly asked about the issue in June 2011.
“I’ve never believed that allowing same-sex couples to marry needs to come at the expense of the freedoms of other Australians.
“I have always argued the parliament is capable of ensuring there are no negative consequences for anyone else from allowing gay Australians to marry. Allowing same-sex couples to marry is not mutually exclusive with preserving our freedoms, with the right bill.
“These protections are important because it should be possible for Australians with different values to live harmoniously alongside each other. All Australians should be able to live their lives according to their own values. No group should impose their values on another group. This bill is not a reason to delay legislating same-sex marriage. If a Yes result is confirmed this week, this bill could be passed by the parliament as quickly as any other bill.’’
This article originally appeared in The Australian.