Australia: Conservative amendments to same-sex marriage bill would make Australia’s laws the world’s weakest

On Monday the Senate will start debating a series of proposals to limit the scope of marriage equality reforms. If they are agreed, Australia would be the only country effectively to have wound back laws prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination after legislating to protect them.

As our comparative analysis below shows, it will also provide the largest carve-out of any country that permits same-sex marriage. Australia’s version of marriage equality would, on a global scale, be the weakest and least equal of all.

Discrimination on the grounds of belief

Recognising they would most likely lose the marriage equality survey, religious and conservative hardliners shifted their focus to limiting the scope and breadth of the marriage equality law. This was led by Liberal Senator James Paterson, who tabled a draft bill in advance of the survey result.

That bill proposed a range of exemptions for discrimination against same-sex marriage, celebration, ceremony or education on the grounds of personal belief. His bill also proposed to protect the tax-free status and public funding of religious organisations that discriminate against same-sex relationships.

The Paterson Bill was widely criticised and, after the announcement of a strong “yes” result, Paterson declared he would withdraw the bill in favour of a more popular one by Senator Dean Smith

However, it quickly became clear that the ideas and proposals behind Paterson’s bill were not dead; rather, they had always been intended to be the source of amendments to the Dean Smith Bill. This culminated with a set of proposals for amendments from various conservative parliamentarians. These include proposed amends by:

  • Senator George Brandis to allow both religious and civil celebrants to refuse to officiate SSM ceremonies and to include a declaratory statement regarding the right to freedom of religion;
  • Scott Morrison to allow parents to remove children from classes where “non-traditional” marriage is being discussed; and
  • Senator David Leyonhjelm to allow people to refuse commercial services to same-sex celebrations (the “wedding cake” clause).


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