AUSTRALIA: Proposed Change To Marriage Act Would Allow Civil Servants And Businesses To Refuse Service

The Guardian reports:

The government will propose new protections for “conscientious objectors” to same-sex marriage which marriage equality advocates fear could allow civil celebrants, registrars and even bakers and florists to refuse to serve same-sex weddings.

According to briefing notes on the plebiscite prepared for the Coalition party room, seen by Guardian Australia, the legislation would allow “conscientious objectors” to reject same-sex weddings, an exemption more extensive than merely allowing religious leaders to refuse to conduct them.

The prospect of extensive exemptions to discrimination law would provide a further reason for Labor and others to block the plebiscite, and and could split the yes vote if the plebiscite went ahead.

The note said the government will introduce proposed amendments to the Marriage Act and other relevant legislation to give effect to the decision of the plebiscite “well in advance” of the popular vote. “Those amendments will also include appropriate protections for religious freedom and conscientious objections,” it said.

On Wednesday the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, introduced the same-sex marriage plebiscite-enabling legislation which confirmed voters would be asked: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” But the bill did not contain any details of the proposed “protections for religious freedoms and conscientious objectors” which will follow in a later bill.

Australia’s Just Equal reacts:

Long time marriage equality advocate Rodney Croome, said, “I’m deeply concerned about the proposal to allow unspecified exemptions on the grounds of religion and to allow conscientious objection.”

“I believe religious ministers should be free to marry who they want, but the government’s proposal could mean civil celebrants, marriage registrars and wedding service providers like bakers and florists are all free to discriminate.”

“How can the Parliament be expected to support a plebiscite given the matter voters will be asked to decide on is still so unclear and potentially radical?”

“The hidden danger in the Government’s proposal is that it will split the ‘yes’ vote and sink marriage equality in the same way as the republic referendum.”

“Some marriage equality supporters will balk at voting ‘yes’ to removing an old form of discrimination if the price is entrenching new forms.”

Mr Croome went on to say the much-publicised case of Kentucky County clerk, Kim Davis, who refused to marry same-sex couples, may be behind the move to allow conscientious objections to same-sex marriages.

“The government’s proposal potentially imports the US culture war over homosexuality into Australian legislation, something that most Australians do not want to see.”