No break for Australian Parliament until equal marriage is passed
The Australian Parliament will sit for “as long as it takes” to pass an equal marriage bill, the government has said.
The country is attempting to heal divisions after a divisive public vote on whether same-sex marriage should be legal.
As the vote was purely advisory, the issue will now head to the country’s Parliament – where lawmakers are still divided on the best way to proceed on the issue.
Hardline conservatives inside Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition government have backed amendments to ensure the law enshrines the ‘freedom to discriminate’ against same-sex couples for people who disagree with equal marriage, while LGBT allies favour a ‘clean’ marriage bill that does not undermine existing rights protections.
The government confirmed today that the House of Representatives will return on December 4 – a week later than planned – giving the Senate time to finish its debate on the marriage bill. The bill will then be debated non-stop by the House.
In a statement, government minister Christopher Pyne said: “The Australian people expect their parliament to respect the clear mandate of the marriage survey and legislate for marriage equality before the end of the year.
“Members should be prepared for the House to sit for some or all of the second week beginning 11 December or as long as it takes legislate for marriage equality and resolve all citizenship issues.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said: “Parliament absolutely can and I’m very confident it will, and my priority and the government’s priority is to recognise the will of the people is that we should get this done, and that’s what we’re going to be doing everything we can to achieve it before Christmas.
“I think the Opposition have got a similar commitment, so between us I’m very confident we can make it work.
“There’ll obviously be a lot of debate, a lot of amendments discussed. That’s what parliament’s for, but ultimately we know we have got a very clear direction from our masters, the Australian people.”
Speaking to The Australian, opposition leader Bill Shorten warned against any attempt to stall the marriage bill.
He said: “Woe betide any of Mr Turnbull’s government if they try and delay marriage equality. The survey’s very clear.
“I respect that people are entitled to say yes or no in terms of wanting to change the law on marriage equality. I respect that.
“I’m certainly open to, next year, having a discussion to make sure that people who practice faith feel they’re respected in our society. That’s not unreasonable.
“But for goodness sakes, Australians are ready to get the marriage equality debate out of the way. The two issues do not require resolution at the same time. I say to Mr Turnbull, if you are having trouble with some members of your government, Labor will be there.
“We will be there to support marriage equality and if we want to have a process in next year to look at if there are any genuine concerns about religious expression in this country and freedom, certainly we can have that discussion but there should be no excuses, no delays and no watering down of the current anti-discrimination laws on marriage equality.”
Elsewhere this week a large-scale survey of LGBTI Australians has shown opposition to a same-sex marriage bill that allow discrimination in the name of religion.
The study found a slim majority of LGBTI people would rather wait than accept a compromised bill.
The study conducted between the closure of the postal survey and yesterday’s announcement of the result, also found almost 80% of LGBTI Australians were adversely affected by the postal survey with 56% saying the process was not worthwhile, even with a Yes vote.
As a result advocates have called for the money saved on the postal survey to be spent on LGBTI support services.
The survey of 3,300 LGBTI Australians across all demographics was run by just.equal and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, and designed by social scientist, Dr Sharon Dane.
It found 63% opposition to civil celebrants nominating themselves to have the right to refuse their services for religious reasons and 87% opposition to businesses with religious links also being able to discriminate.
71% believe exemptions allowing discrimination against any couple would be used to disproportionately discriminate against same-sex couples.
54% said they would be willing to wait until marriage equality can be achieved without such exemptions. 28% were not willing to wait and 18% were neutral.
Just.equal spokesperson, Brian Greig, said: “The LGBTI community clearly wants marriage legislation that will not legitimise further discrimination.
“For LGBTI Australians religious exemptions like those in the Smith Bill already go too far and anything more would be a definite deal breaker.
“Religious exemptions like those proposed by Dean Smith and other Liberals are all about smoothing over differences in the Liberal Party and nothing to do with the aspiration of the LGBTI community for full equality.
“Other countries, including Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Ireland, did not attached spurious religious protections to marriage equality and neither should Australia.
“We call on the Parliament to amend the Smith Bill to tighten up its religious exemptions, and ensure there will be no detriment to LGBTI people.
“Our study also shows that despite a strong Yes vote the postal survey caused widespread harm and that nothing like this should be attempted again.
“We call on the Government to spend the money it saved on the postal survey on LGBTI mental health services to ensure there is support for those who continue to be affected by the prejudice the survey stirred up.”
The projected cost of the postal survey was $122 million but it came in $20 million under budget.
PFLAG national spokesperson, Shelley Argent said: “We believe in religious freedoms, but not religious privilege especially when it negatively impacts on our children’s freedoms. Our sons and daughters are not to be feared and the Yes vote shows the vast majority of this country believe it’s time to end discrimination.
“This LGBTI community study funded by PFLAG showed that LGBTI couples would prefer to wait for true marriage equality.
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“A Galaxy poll of the entire community also commissioned by PFLAG showed almost all Yes voters and 43% of No voters believe all couples should be treated equally should the nation vote Yes, which is decisively has.”
The survey designer, Dr Sharon Dane, said: “The study was conducted in the lead up to the postal survey announcement so that people’s attention was focussed on the result without being unduly influenced by the outcome one way or the other.
“Polls showing a likely Yes vote meant many LGBTI people were quietly optimistic about the outcome, yet a majority of respondents still oppose compromised legislation.
“We kept the questions as general as possible because the details of proposed religious exemptions will keep changing.”