A gay lawmaker on Thursday introduced a historic marriage equality bill in the Australian Parliament, a day after 61.6% of the country voted ‘yes’ to legalise same-sex marriage in a voluntary survey. The bill introduced by Dean Smith, a senator from the ruling Liberal Party, proposed to limit who can legally refuse to take part in same-sex marriage to churches and religious ministers, AP reported.
However, a number of same-sex marriage opponents want the amendments to broaden the range of businesses and individuals who can legally refuse to provide services such as cakes, flowers or a venue to gay couples.
But Smith told the Senate: “Let me be clear: amendments that seek to address other issues, or which seek to deny gay and lesbian Australians the full rights, responsibilities and privileges that they already have, will be strenuously opposed...Australians did not vote for equality before the law so equality before the law that is already gained be stripped away.”
Australia will become the 26th country to allow same-sex marriage if it passes the legislation.
The bill comes at a time when conservatives in Parliament are fighting for greater protection for religious freedom and conscientious objection, The Guardian reported. Smith said the postal survey results and the bill will only deal with changes to the Marriage Act, and that debates about freedom of expression or one’s beliefs “should be left for another day”.
Another Liberal Party senator, James Paterson, proposed a bill that offered “a limited right of conscientious objection to ensure no one is forced to participate in a same-sex wedding against their sincerely held beliefs”. Paterson’s bill, which won the support of lawmakers who oppose marriage reform, would also safeguard speaking out against gay marriage and bar government agencies from acting against people who hold such views. Paterson decided not to introduce his bill as most senators wanted to start the debate with Smith’s bill.
The results of Wednesday’s postal poll are not binding on the Australian Parliament, but Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull vowed to fulfill his promise to introduce a bill aiming to pass a law allowing same-sex marriage by Christmas. “It is unequivocal, it is overwhelming,” he said on Tuesday, after the results were declared.