Australian lawmaker breaks election pledge to support equal marriage
An anti-gay lawmaker in Australia has broken a pledge to vote in favour of equal marriage if it got public backing.
Earlier this month Australians gave their overwhelming backing to equal marriage in a non-binding public postal vote, by a margin of 61.6% to 38.4%.
As the vote was purely advisory in nature, legislation on the issue is up to Parliament.
A bill passed through the Senate earlier this week by a vote of 43 to 12, with several abstentions.
But commentators noted that a lawmaker who had made an election pledge to respect the result of the public vote failed to make good on his word.
Liberal Senator Zed Seselja, a vocal opponent of equal marriage, decided to abstain on the motion.
Prior to the last election, the Senator had assured his constituents that he would vote for an equal marriage bill if it got majority public support.
Calling for a public vote on the issue last year, he had said: “If the people vote yes, I will vote yes.”
He had also claimed ahead of the vote: “I’d call on everyone to honour the will of the Australian people as expressed through this plebiscite, so for those of us who are arguing against change, if it goes against us, we should honour it. That’s what I’ll do.”
The Canberra Times asked Seselja why he had so clearly decided to go back on an election promise.
First off he denied telling constituents he would vote yes, saying: “Prior to the 2016 election I said that I didn’t support same sex marriage but in the event of a yes vote I would not frustrate the will of the Australian people but would likely abstain.”
His exact wording prior to the election was, in fact, “if the people vote yes, I will vote yes.”
Of his broken promise, he added: “I fought hard to include reasonable protections in the bill but they were all rejected. I could not vote for a bill that would compromise freedom of speech, freedom of religion and parental rights.
“I nevertheless honoured my promise to not frustrate the will of the people and abstained as indicated just a few days before the election.”
Seselja previously claimed Christians would be “persecuted” if equal marriage becomes law.
Speaking in the Senate he said: “The reality is that in countries where the definition of marriage has changed there have been flow-on effects on education, parental choice, freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
“These are the facts, but those on the ‘yes’ campaign have assured us throughout this debate that changing the Marriage Act will have no implications beyond marriage.
“I would hope that to be the case, but that hasn’t always been the case in other places.”
He added: “My views on marriage have been well-known for a long time. While all legal protections and rights should be afforded to same-sex couples, as the parliament has previously done, there is a place for preserving the unique nature of marriage between a man and a woman as the ideal situation to raise children.”
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull this week backed amendments to the country’s equal marriage bill that would allow people to refuse to recognise same-sex unions.
The country’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has struggled to get his conservative lawmakers in line on the issue, and today made another concession in a bid to quell unrest.
In a U-turn on his previous position, Mr Turnbull signalled that he will give his backing to amendments enshrining protections for people who disagree with equal marriage.
The Australian reports that when the bill goes to the House, Mr Turnbull will back an amendment that give civil celebrants the right to refuse same-sex marriage.
It states: “Nothing in this Act limits or derogates from the right of any person, in a lawful manner, to manifest his or her religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”
He will also back an amendment tabled by Attorney General George Brandis to protect charities with anti-LGBT views.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister told the newspaper: “The Prime Minister supports protections for religious freedom, including safeguards for the legal status of charities, as well as provisions that would ensure that marriage celebrants are able to decline to solemnise marriages which they do not wish to solemnise.
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“Depending on the form in which amendment proposals are presented to the house, it is likely that the Prime Minister will support measures that seek to provide greater protections in the legislation, where the legalisation of same-sex marriage necessitates immediate action on those protections.
“The reason amendments were unsuccessful in the Senate is because Labor refused to allow its senators a free vote on those amendments.”
The amendments, which were previously rejected by the Senate, are still likely to be voted down in the House if they are opposed by the opposition Labor Party and some pro-LGBT members of Turnbull’s coalition.
The bill’s architect, Senator Dean Smith, insists that the existing protections for religious people in Australia law are sufficient.
He said: “The lack of substantive amendments indicates we got the balance correct. The bill expresses a faith in the current architecture of Australia’s religious protections. The architecture is precise.”