Opponents of gay marriage in Australia suffered defeat after defeat yesterday when religious exemptions were systematically kicked into the long grass as the equality bill was debated.
According to this report, tempers flared as a series of conservative amendments to the same-sex marriage bill were voted down by large margins in the Senate, defeated by a powerful coalition of equality supporters.
This was a decisive victory for the “yes” campaign and LGBT+ advocates, who feared opponents of same-sex marriage would try and insert clauses into the bill that would roll back anti-discrimination law.
A day and a half of speeches on the bill itself wrapped up around lunchtime with a heartfelt speech from Attorney General George Brandis. The Senate waved through some uncontroversial technical amendments to change the language in several other pieces of legislation to recognise the changing definition of marriage – and then turned to consider five amendments proposed by Liberal senators James Paterson and David Fawcett.
But their arguments that the amendments were necessary to reassure “no” voters and protect various freedoms were met by staunch rebuttals from Liberal senator Dean Smith, Labor senate leader Penny Wong, Greens senator Janet Rice, and others.
A glum minority remained on the government benches as the night went on, with some senators growing noticeably testy as they lost vote after vote.
The first amendment debated by the Senate would have effectively allowed civil celebrants to refuse to marry same-sex couples based on their religious or conscientious beliefs. It was defeated 42-24.
A further amendment relating to defence force chaplains was also defeated, as were amendments in relation to registered charities and religious organisations, with similar margins.
After the five amendments from the conservative bloc were defeated, the Senate also voted down two amendments from Brandis and Resources Minister Matthew Canavan.
The first, defeated 36-27, would have inserted a line about religious freedom taken from the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights into the bill, and the second, defeated 38-25, would have extended a right to civil celebrants to refuse to solemnise gay weddings.
The bill will now go to the House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass easily next week, fulfilling the Turnbull government’s promise to facilitate a marriage equality bill in the event of a yes vote and legislate the historic social reform before Christmas.
The Coalition for Marriage, the largest body opposing Australian marriage equality, screeched about a Senate “betrayal”. In a statement its spokesman, Lyle Sheldon, above, said:
After witnessing a betrayal of promises made to all Australians that freedoms of speech, religion and parental rights would be protected in any same-sex marriage bill, the senators who voted against or abstained from voting in relation to the Labor/Greens/Smith bill did so in solidarity with Australians who will see those freedoms quickly disappear.
The senators who voted ‘no’ or abstained on the same-sex marriage bill demonstrated a courageous commitment to the freedom of the Australian people.
In recent days, we have seen too many senators once again prioritise politics over the people. It is particularly disappointing that those who purport to defend freedoms did not stay true to those principles today.
The senators who voted against or abstained from voting for the bill knew that the Labor/Greens/Smith bill would pass without amendment, but chose to vote in a way that was symbolic of their commitment to a ‘fair go’ for all Australians. We are grateful to them for doing all that they could, even up until the last moment in the Senate, to stand up for freedoms.
Now that the result is out and the Parliamentary phase to legislate same-sex marriage has begun, it is clear that the Yes side has no intention of allowing freedom of speech, adequate protection for freedom of religion and freedom for parents to absent their children from radical LGBTIQ sex education in schools.
This is deeply disappointing and the Yes campaign have been given a leave pass from most of the media.
I have spoken to leaders from the Islamic and Christian school movements who are deeply concerned that their schools will not be able to provide parents the education they expect in the values of their religions.