LGBTIQ advocacy groups PFLAG and Just.equal are urging Australians to have their say in a survey on “where to draw the line” on proposed exemptions in the government’s marriage equality bill that would allow religious organisations to refuse to marry same-sex couples.
A draft marriage equality bill was released by the Government last year as part of its planned plebiscite on the issue, which was ultimately torpedoed by the Senate.
But the draft bill itself is now before a Senate inquiry that is looking primarily at proposed exemptions “for ministers of religion, marriage celebrants and religious bodies and organisations to refuse to conduct or solemnise marriages, and the extent to which those exemptions prevent encroachment upon religious freedoms,” according to its terms of reference.
According to Australian Marriage Equality’s analysis of the draft bill, religious exemptions that would allow ministers of religion to refuse to solemnise a same-sex marriage match existing religious freedom protections afforded to them more broadly.
“We have been unable to find a single country that, when legislating for marriage equality, has created a new exemption for religious bodies and organisations to discriminate in this way,” the group noted.
They said a separate clause in the draft bill allowing civil celebrants to refuse based on a “conscientious” belief was not defined and was potentially dangerous.
According to the draft bill, religious bodies and organisations could refuse facilities, goods or services for a same-sex marriage if the refusal “conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of the religion of the religious body or religious organisation.”
The legislation would not allow general commercial businesses, other non-religious organisations and individuals with a religious objection to same-sex marriage to discriminate against same-sex couples, according to AME’s analysis.
PFLAG and Just.equal are concerned the exemptions in the bill amount to legal discrimination against same-sex couples, which could affect same-sex couples in regional and remote areas with perhaps fewer providers to choose from.
Now the two groups have released a national survey asking all LGBTIQ Australians to give their views.
“The terms and conditions attached to marriage equality matter to each and every LGBTIQ Australian,” PFLAG spokesperson Shelley Argent said.
“The final decision about where to draw the line should lie with everyone who is affected, not just with small groups of politicians and lobbyists.”
Just.equal campaigner Ivan Hinton-Teoh said the survey has been designed by experts and will provide “the most accurate representation of LGBTIQ community opinion possible.”
“We will use the results of the survey to inform our lobbying and advocacy on marriage equality, beginning with the current Senate marriage equality inquiry,” he said.
To fill out the groups’ survey, visit the page here.
The Senate committee examining the marriage equality bill is also accepting direct submissions from individuals and groups online until January 13. The committee is due to report by February 13.