On Wednesday we will finally learn the result of the marriage equality postal survey.
However, if the opinion polls are indeed correct and we get an overwhelming ‘yes’ vote, it’s not the final hurdle to legalise marriage for same sex couples in Australia.
The $122 million postal survey was, as we all know, non-binding. Now, members of parliament will be asked to vote on whether they want to see our marriage laws changed, informed by the will of the general public.
And to do that, they need a bill. Liberal Senator Dean Smith has said he’ll introduce the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 this week, in the event of a ‘yes’ vote. It’s a bill that has cross-party support for how it balances the legalisation of same sex marriage with religious concerns (namely, allowing ministers or celebrants to turn away LGBTI couples).
Listen: Mia Freedman talks to Janine Middleton, the CEO of Australian Marriage Equality.
However, there is another bill proposed by conservative Liberal Senator James Paterson that goes even further, backed and developed by no-leaning MPs. And if that fact alone rings alarm bells in your head, you’re on the money. This proposed bill has drawn criticism for its potential to undermine Australia’s anti-discrimination laws.
So let’s take a look at why this bill is so dangerous.
Empowering people to say no.
When we talk about empowering, it’s often seen in a positive light. In this case though, the bill, if enacted, would give anyone involved in Australia’s greater than $2 billion wedding industry the power to refuse their services to same-sex couples on grounds of “conscientious objection”.
This means that not only could a marriage celebrant or church refuse to hold a gay marriage, but a baker could refuse to bake their wedding cake, a function centre could refuse to host the reception, a florist could refuse to arrange the bouquets and a printing shop could refuse to print the invitations. Seriously.
Senator Paterson, who says he voted ‘yes’ in the postal survey, wants to make it clear this refusal is for weddings only (ie a bakery couldn’t decline to bake a gay person’s birthday cake because they’re gay).
“I think that’s an important difference because weddings are special. They are different from any other thing that happens in society. We have very strong beliefs about that,” told ABC’s Lucy Barbour.
And if you think this sounds ridiculous and a lot like discrimination, you’re not alone.