Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has poured cold water on a conservative push for same-sex marriage legislation that would allow discrimination against same-sex weddings by commercial businesses.
A same-sex marriage bill unveiled by Liberal Senator James Paterson has been criticised by lawyers, LGBTI advocates and Attorney General George Brandis, for allowing discrimination against same-sex weddings on the basis of a religious or “conscientious” belief by businesses providing goods and services.
“I don’t believe Australians would welcome, and certainly the government would not countenance, making legal discrimination that is illegal, that is unlawful, today,” Turnbull told a press conference on Tuesday.
He added that in the event of a “yes” vote MPs would be free to put forward amendments to same-sex marriage legislation and it would be debated and voted on.
But he said he believed the provisions in Senator Paterson’s bill “would have virtually no prospect of getting through the parliament.”
Attorney General George Brandis said such provisions would be “morally wrong.”
“If you are a gay man or a gay woman and you go into a florist and say ‘I’d like to buy a bunch of flowers’, it’s just wrong and illegal for florist to say ‘I don’t’ serve gay people,’ just as it would be wrong or illegal for the florist to say to an indigenous person ‘I don’t serve indigenous people,’” he told Channel Nine’s Today program.
“If it’s legally and morally wrong to discriminate against one gay person, I don’t know how it becomes right to discriminate against two.”
“My own view is that people, like ministers of religion, should not be obliged to conduct a ceremony of marriage against the teachings or doctrines of their church.
“The exemption can’t be so wide that it basically throws in the bin the whole of anti-discrimination law.”
Senator Paterson has defended the provisions to refuse service to couples by saying they would only extend to goods and service providers that are “directly connected” to same-sex weddings.
“It’s not about the person, it’s about the event. You can’t decline to supply a person based on their own characteristics [but] you can decline to participate in their wedding,” he told Fairfax Media.
The result of the marriage equality postal survey will be announced on Wednesday morning and the government has indicated its preferred bill is the one developed by Liberal senator Dean Smith and others.
Smith’s bill, which has its own provisions allowing religious leaders, civil celebrants with religious objections and organisations with religious links to refuse their services to same-sex couples, has the support of Labor and The Equality Campaign and is expected to be introduced to the Senate on Thursday after a “yes” vote.
Turnbull said on Monday that the Smith bill “has been around for some months and is clearly a good bill to start with.”
“In a situation like this when a bill is presented, it’s like the first draft,” he said.
“That gets put up, and there’ll no doubt be plenty of amendments debated, no doubt, for hours on end and at the end of it they’ll come to a conclusion on an amended bill.”
Labor leader Bill Shorten promised to work with Turnbull to legislate marriage equality “as soon as possible” after a yes vote, The Guardian reported.
He said Labor would “give the numbers along with those in the government who support it, to stare down the conservatives seeking to delay marriage equality.”
“I promise Australians that as soon as the result is known, we’ll be pushing for the Smith bill,” he said.