The legislation being proposed by a “rebel group” of backbench Liberals is a travesty. While the bill would technically legalise marriage equality, it will also enshrine religious bigotry in law, guaranteeing that gay marriage can be seen as something less than the marriage between a man and a woman. Religious ministers and civil celebrants will be protected from legal action if they refuse to marry same-sex couples, and bakers/florists/photographers/etc. will need to prove a link to a religious body to object to being made to supply goods or services.
The five men, Dean Smith, Trent Zimmerman, Trevor Evans, Tim Wilson and Warren Entsch, may be well intentioned in their desire to undo John Howard’s 2004 changes to the Marriage Act, but all they are doing is reinforcing the narrative that anyone on the LGBTIQ+ spectrum is a second class citizen.
There are a few ways to look at this: if there was an addendum to this proposal stating that if a religious minister or civil celebrant objected to marrying a white woman to a black man, they would be protected by their right to religious freedom, people would flip their shit. Bill Shorten would be grandstanding on Q&A and Greens supporters would be screaming into the void all over social media. It would be insanity. Of course, Pauline Hanson would be defending the rights of churches and be given major airtime on Andrew Bolt’s Sky show and Sunrise, of course, but that’s just the world we live in now.
If the new marriage bill said that, in addition to gay marriage being legal, Muslim men could take as many wives as they choose, because that’s protected in their religion and the Liberal party is committed to protecting religious freedoms, every conservative in the country would lose their tiny little minds. It would be a free for all, with countless calls for the authors of the legislation to lose their seats. There would be death threats and there would be a viral video of Waleed Aly explaining that no, Islam doesn’t actually say a man should take all the wives he wants.
If the proposed changes were the opposite of what is currently on the table, and said that anyone attempting to use religion to openly and wilfully discriminate against Australian citizens would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, it would be similar to the previous scenario, except that this time we would also see conservatives suggesting that Australia requires a Bill of Rights (which of course, we do, but that’s an argument for another time).
Section 116 of the Australian Constitution states:
The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.
This is the only official protection for religion in this country. And while we have signed on for international protections for religions, our last two governments have treated the UN and the Human Rights Commission as a pain in the arse – more for show than dictating how nations should act. The Australian Human Rights Commission’s own website admits that Australia really has no protections for religion.
… there is no comprehensive Commonwealth legislation that protects religious freedom or prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion or belief.
What would stop a gay celebrant from refusing to marry a Christian couple because their religion is offensive to him? Would that be enough to highlight how ridiculous this protection for religious groups will be?
Australia has no state religion. Even though no one actually filled out the census last year, it showed that no religion was growing exponentially. Protections for religions should begin and end at “believe what you want and don’t be a dick about it”.
We’re past the point of being held back by the whims of hyper-conservative child molesters. Women can safely get abortions. Intravenous drug users can access clean needles. Victoria is on the verge of legalising euthanasia for fuck’s sake. Why, in the name of all that is holy, do we still need to afford these snowflakes special protections for their vile hatred of a certain group of human beings? What makes them so special? Just because they believe in a magic cloud man who, per their favourite book, never said anything about gay marriage, but they decided he must be against it, we have to tip-toe around their feelings? I mean, I believe that Harry and Hermione should have got together, does that mean the Marriage Act should allow for me to force people into relationships because I think they’d be good together?
As it is, the passage of this bill (if it gets out of the Liberal party room) will be monumental for the simple fact that it will allow for gay marriage. But don’t be surprised when the High Court rules that these capitulations to religious groups are not protected by the Constitution, and we see new legislation taking us back to 2004.