Religious protection fight looms over same-sex marriage bill

Liberal senator James Paterson has proposed an alternative same-sex marriage bill

Liberal senator James Paterson has proposed an alternative same-sex marriage bill

"It's already against the law", Senator Brandis said.

The draft Marriage Amendment (Definition and Protection of Freedoms) Bill 2017 to legalise same-sex marriage, released by Senator James Paterson yesterday, represents an "extraordinary and perilous" winding back of Australia's anti-discrimination laws under the cover of marriage equality, according to the Law Council of Australia.

Liberal frontbencher Christopher Pyne has said the bill could be debated in parliament as early as this week.

"What the government has always said is if there's a "yes" vote then we will facilitate debate in the parliament before the end of the year, on a private member's bill or private senator's bill, and that we would respect and accommodate and allow for religious exemptions", he said. "Different senators will have their own views about whether the protections in Senator Smith's bill go far enough", Senator Brandis said.

Liberal senator James Paterson's drafted legislation include extreme exemptions.

"I will now work constructively with my parliamentary colleagues over the coming weeks on amendments to ensure that the strongest possible protections for the freedoms of all Australians are enshrined in the final legislation", he said.

Standing alongside Turnbull at the press conference after the survey announcement, Cormann said he agreed the Smith bill was "a good starting point" but warned that it needed "additional religious protections".

The Tony Abbott camp in Parliament are very keen to slice ribbons off any prospective bill in the name of protecting freedom of conscience and religion.


Throughout the day several Liberals who voted against same-sex marriage in the survey said they would vote in favour of it in parliament, including the assistant minister for cities, Angus Taylor, and the Liberal MP Lucy Wicks.

A handful of ministers backed the sentiments expressed in Senator Paterson's rival bill, including Resources Minister Matthew Canavan and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar, who have supported the "no" side.

Under Senator Paterson's plan, it would also allow any person or business to refuse to co-operate with the staging of same-sex weddings, protecting them from civil litigation under discrimination laws.

It is expected that same-sex marriage will be legalised following the plebiscite, and the LGBT community is seeking an anti-gay "loophole" to be closed.

Various opinion polls point to a majority "yes" vote, possibly as high as 60 per cent.

Senator Smith's bill has been co-sponsored by eight senators from across the political spectrum, and both Labor and The Greens have thrown their support behind the bill.

One Nation, which controls three votes in the Senate, has reserved its position.

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