Senator Dean Smith Unveils Marriage Equality Bill


West Australian Liberal Senator Dean Smith

Senator Dean Smith has revealed his private members’ bill to allow same-sex marriage ahead of Monday’s Liberal party room meeting.

He, along with lower house MPs Warren Entsch, Trevor Evans, Tim Wilson and Trent Zimmerman, all of whom except Entsch are gay men, is pushing for a parliamentary vote on marriage equality, saying it must be legislated as soon as possible.

But the conservative wing of the party believes Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull must maintain a commitment to a plebiscite, despite Labor and crossbench members vowing to block it again.

Senator Smith (pictured) said he would argue as “vigorously” as he could for a free vote, describing his own bill as the most comprehensive same-sex marriage bill – of which there have been more than 15 – to be presented to Parliament.

“I will be arguing the parliamentary free vote option as I think that is most consistent with our traditions but more importantly, there is an electoral advantage as it deals with this quickly by the parliament and is settled for all,” he said.

If the Liberal Party leadership does not agree to a parliamentary vote, then Labor could force a vote by suspending standing orders and pressuring some Liberal MPs to vote against their ranks.

The bill has two aims: to extend the definition of marriage to allow two people the freedom to marry regardless of their gender, and to simultaneously protect religious freedom by providing exemptions for celebrants whose religion only allows heterosexual couples to marry.

It draws upon the unanimous findings of a cross-party senate committee on the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill which earlier this year recommended both that legislation for same-sex marriage be passed, and that religious freedom be protected.

The proposed bill would insert an “objects clause” to the Marriage act 1961 to:

a) allow civil celebrants to solemnise marriage, understood as the union of two people to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life;

b) allow ministers of religion to solemnise marriage, respecting the doctrines, tenets and beliefs of their religion, the views of their religious community or their own religious beliefs; and

c) allow equal access to marriage while protecting religious freedom in relation to marriage.

Senator Smith said today he was a conservative and traditionalist who had for many years opposed same-sex marriage, but that like many Australians in recent years, he had changed his mind.

“I was particularly moved by the story of Tori Johnson in the Lindt Cafe,” Senator Smith told ABC.

“I don’t know his circumstances, but I came to the conclusion that had he and his partner been wanting to get married, or had been waiting to get married, in the same way that so many gay and lesbian Australians are waiting to get married, and then his life was taken in such a tragic way.

“That moved me and it just reinforced my resolve. I came to the conclusion very quickly, with great clarity, that it is now time to legislate by parliamentary vote same-sex marriage in Australia.”

Co-chair of Australian Marriage Equality, Alex Greenwich, described the bill as the most robust and genuine approach to achieve marriage equality that the parliament has even seen.

“This legislation provides the parliament with a historic opportunity to come together and deliver on the settled will of the Australian people,” he said.

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