Liberal senator Dean Smith has said he will move his marriage equality bill “as soon as practically possible after a yes vote is known,” as conservatives continue efforts to delay the passage of legislation.
The bill, developed by Smith (pictured) out of a cross-party inquiry and backed by other Coalition MPs, includes provisions allowing civil celebrants with religious objections and organisations with religious links to refuse their services to same-sex couples.
Senator Smith said the cross-party support for his same-sex marriage bill meant it “makes sense for my bill to be the starting bill” and he would put it forward in the parliament “as soon as practically possible” – as soon as next week – after the announcement of a “yes” vote next Wednesday morning.
The senate sits from Monday to Thursday next week, before both houses of parliament return for two weeks of sittings from November 27 before the end of the year.
But Liberal MP Ian Goodenough said he and “more than a dozen” conservative colleagues are drafting an alternative bill – still unseen – with much stricter discriminatory provisions on the grounds of “protecting religious freedom”.
Leaked talking points published by the ABC on Thursday attack the Smith bill’s “[failure] to address non-religious objections to same-sex marriage” and say its “limited safeguards provided to clergy and religious celebrants do not override state anti-discrimination laws.”
Marriage equality advocates have launched a campaign against the introduction of any new legal discrimination against same-sex couples following a “yes” vote.
The campaign, by LGBTI groups Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and just.equal, includes a survey of the LGBTI community to determine its views on Marriage Act discrimination and a webform allowing marriage equality supporters to email MPs their views.
just.equal spokesperson Rodney Croome said that if a “yes” vote is returned “it will be ‘yes’ for full equality for all loving committed couples, not new exemptions from anti-discrimination laws.”
“We haven’t come this far and gone through such a bruising postal survey, to see new forms of discrimination entrenched in the Marriage Act in return for the right to marry,” he said.
“No other country passed marriage equality with discriminatory add-ons and Australia shouldn’t either.”
PFLAG spokesperson Shelley Argent called for “true equality” in the same-sex marriage legislation and warned against “half measures”.
“There are already sufficient religious protections in the Marriage Act. I don’t want to see any more exemptions at the expense of our LGBTI sons and daughters’ rights and freedoms,” she said.
“We were told that the postal survey was democracy in action. However, it would not be a democratic outcome if the government chooses to ignore a ‘Yes’ vote by enshrining further discrimination.”
Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham confirmed on Thursday the Smith bill would be the government’s choice of legislation.
He told the ABC while other amendments could be put forward, “it would be illogical and inconsistent with past practice for those who oppose change to seek to be the authors of a bill for that change.”
Queensland Liberal MP Warren Entsch told ABC Radio the alternative bill was being rushed to “kick the can down the road” past the end of the year and it was “not the broad view of the Coalition.”
“You’ve got a small group of individuals there that suddenly [decide] they want to actually put a bill up on same-sex marriage, who have stridently opposed it forever, and now expect the Australian public to believe that they are suddenly committing to making it happen,” Entsch said.
Labor has thrown its support behind Smith’s bill and MP Penny Wong said the Opposition would not consider another “delaying and blocking tactic from the same people who have opposed equality.”
“Let’s be very clear, if the survey is a ‘yes’, Australians are not going to tolerate this group of MPs and senators blocking progress again,” she said.
“If the ‘No’ case loses the survey, they need to get over it and they need to get out of the way.”