Labor has backed Liberal Senator Dean Smith’s same-sex marriage bill if the same-sex marriage survey delivers a majority “yes” vote next month.
The Labor caucus on Tuesday voted to allow a conscience vote on the bill – which contains protections for religious freedoms demanded by conservatives – should the Australian Bureau of Statistics announce a positive result on November 15.
Senator Smith’s bill, which is also signed by Coalition MPs Warren Entsch, Trevor Evans, Tim Wilson and Trent Zimmerman, was unveiled in August.
It would prevent civil celebrants from refusing to perform same-sex marriages but would create a new category of celebrants who can choose not to marry same-sex couples on religious grounds.
That’s in line with the recommendations of a cross-party Senate inquiry that reported in February.
According to the resolution passed by the caucus, Senator Smith’s bill strikes an “acceptable compromise” between marriage equality and religious freedom and Labor will push the government to pass it in its current form as soon as possible following the “yes” result.
Prominent “no” campaigners including former prime ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott and immigration minister Peter Dutton have stoked fears about religious protections in any same-sex marriage bill put before parliament following a “yes” vote.
But Smith said his bill had been developed following “wide community consultation” through the cross-party Senate committee early this year.
“The bill is a responsible way to allow for same-sex marriage while at the same time protecting religious views about marriage,” he said.
Marriage equality campaigners welcomed Labor’s decision to back the religious protections in Senator Smith’s bill.
Just.equal spokesperson Rodney Croome said new laws should not be created specifically sanctioning discrimination against LGBTI people.
“We would refuse to accept the right to marry under the conditions being proposed by some, more extreme Government members,” he said.
The Equality Campaign’s Alex Greenwich and Anna Brown told The Guardian the “yes” campaign expects “urgent action and a fair bill” if a yes vote is returned.
“The bill is so robust it was welcomed by faith leaders, LGBTI organisations, the Labor party, crossbenchers, and key figures in the Coalition including federal Liberal party president Nick Greiner,” they said.
“This represents an incredible consensus, something rare in today’s political world. We’ve got the bill, we’re having the postal survey – let’s get this done by the end of the year so we can all get on with our lives.”