Australian Conservatives leader Cory Bernardi has set the stage for a stoush in the parliament over religious exemptions in same-sex marriage legislation.
Last week, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told News Corp that if a “yes” vote was returned in the postal survey, legislation would “sail through” the parliament and the issue would be dealt with before Christmas.
“I can assure you politicians are very alert to public opinion… if 70 plus per cent of population vote and the majority vote yes, parliament will respond,” Turnbull said.
Senator Bernardi told ABC Radio on Thursday he wants a much slower approach to the reform.
“I do note that a senior government minister has said we will sit until Christmas Eve to make this happen,” he said.
“But I don’t want to legislate in haste. I would rather make sure that if we’re going to make a profound change to one of our great institutions that we’re doing it with a great deal of prudence.”
Bernardi said the religious exemptions in the private member’s bill put forward by Liberal Senator Dean Smith are inadequate.
The bill is based on the findings of a Senate inquiry and provides exemptions for churches, religious organisations and their businesses, and existing civil celebrants who have religious objections to same-sex weddings.
Labor and LGBTI campaigners have both supported Smith’s bill, with both Labor and Coalition MPs granted a conscience vote on any same-sex marriage legislation.
Bernardi said regardless of how Australians vote in the postal survey he will be voting against any same-sex legislation put before parliament.
“I’ve repeatedly said that I’ll be representing the views of those who vote ‘no’,” he told ABC Radio.
“I won’t be voting to redefine marriage. But I think that this process, with all its flaws, and there are flaws within it, I recognise that it is going to inform the role of the parliament.”
A group of conservative MPs are privately drafting their own same-sex marriage bill that contains much wider protections for religious freedom than Smith’s bill, according to News Corp and The Guardian.
Some “no” campaigners have argued the protections should allow commercial, educational and other service providers to refuse services to same-sex couples on religious grounds, but LGBTI groups argue the push is a veiled attempt to water down existing anti-discrimination laws.
Just.equal spokesperson Rodney Croome said Senator’s Smith’s bill offered more than enough protection for religion freedom and conscience.
“Australians do not want the marriage equality debate to become a vehicle for the latest brand of US-style anti-LGBTIQ hate politics,” he said.
The Equality Campaign’s Alex Greenwich said Australians were voting to bring in same-sex marriage, not increase discrimination, and he hoped such suggestions would be ignored by MPs.
“After advocating so strongly for the plebiscite, to then try to further complicate things and drag them out, it’s a sign that there are people on the ‘no’ side who are just interested in playing politics with the lives of gay and lesbian people,” he told Buzzfeed.
“That’s becoming increasingly evident as time goes on.”