Two of the contentious changes to Liberal senator Dean Smith’s same-sex marriage bill put forward by Liberal and Greens colleagues have been defeated.
On Monday, Liberal senators James Paterson and David Fawcett announced they would introduce five amendments to Senator Smith’s same-sex marriage bill, one of which would have introduced a separate definition of marriage accommodating same-sex couples.
They propose keeping the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman as well as inserting a separate definition allowing same-sex couples that says “marriage is the union of two people to the exclusion of all others,” but the measure was defeated in the Senate 41 votes to 24.
“What the change does is preserve the traditional definition of marriage as roughly 4.9 million Australians believe in it, and also a new definition of marriage that is inclusive of same-sex couples on equal standing in the law,” Senator James Paterson told ABC Radio on Monday evening.
Meanwhile, the Greens are also putting forward their own amendments, yet to be voted on, which would alter contentious provisions in the Smith bill.
Smith’s bill currently provides exemptions for churches, religious organisations, their businesses, and existing civil celebrants who have religious objections to same-sex weddings.
The Greens want to remove the Smith bill’s provision that allows a three-month period for existing civil celebrants to nominate to become religious marriage celebrants and gain the ability to refuse to solemnise marriages on the basis of their religious belief.
The Greens also want to add a clause that the marriage law is not intended to exclude or limit state or territory anti-discrimination laws.
On Tuesday, Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said all of the proposed amendments so far “would upset the careful balance” that was negotiated during the development of the Smith bill in a cross-party Senate inquiry and they would be opposed by all Labor MPs.
“Many of these amendments variously extend discrimination, or seek to curb peoples’ religious freedoms,” he said.
“Labor will not be supporting any of the susbstantive amendments as yet put forward by senators.”
Labor resolved in October that the Smith bill “strikes an acceptable compromise” between marriage equality and religious freedom and should be passed in its current form as quickly as possible.
The Equality Campaign co-chair Anna Brown said: “We strongly support the principle of [the Greens] amendments and understand why they are being moved but, like the Greens, we support the passage of the Dean Smith bill even if the amendments don’t succeed.”
Veteran marriage equality campaigner Rodney Croome backed the Greens amendments and said Smith’s bill’s current exemptions were the absolute limit the LGBTI community would and should tolerate.
“Anything more would make a joke of our collective effort to achieve full equality and would not be worth the right to marry,” he said.
“A recent survey of 3,300 LGBTI Australians across all demographics showed around 70% opposition to those sections that allow discrimination by civil celebrants who nominate themselves as ‘religious’ and by commercial services that are tied to religious organisations.
“The exemptions set bad precedents for allowing discrimination in the name of religion and they give new life to old prejudices about same-sex marriage being a threat to faith and freedom.
“The real slippery slope is the dismantling of Australia’s anti-discrimination laws so that anyone with a religiously-linked or conscientiously-held prejudice has a special legal privilege to harm others.”
Australia’s existing Marriage Act currently protects religious freedom by ensuring no minister of religion or faith community is forced to solemnise marriages in violation of their doctrines.