Australia has edged closer to legalising same-sex marriage with a diverse group of cross-party senators backing a Liberal senator’s bill to change the law.
Ahead of the postal survey result announcement at 10am on Wednesday, the pro-change push cleared a crucial hurdle on Tuesday when Dean Smith’s bill won support from senators from the Liberal Party, Labor, the Greens, the Nick Xenophon Party, and independent Derryn Hinch.
In the event Australia votes ‘Yes’, the cross-party show of support gives Senator Smith’s bill an edge over another proposal from Liberal Senator James Paterson, which would roll back anti-discrimination laws in order to strengthen religious and free speech protections.
In a rebuke of the push from some government conservatives, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declared on Tuesday the government “would not countenance” legalising discrimination “that is unlawful today”.
Mr Turnbull, a supporter of same-sex marriage, said any bill that allowed businesses to deny services for a gay wedding “would have virtually no prospect of getting through the Parliament”.
“But the fact is that assuming there is a ‘yes’ vote tomorrow … there will be a private member’s bill and amendments can be moved and if people want to move an amendment of that kind, well you know they can,” he said.
“I think it would have virtually no prospect of getting through the Parliament, but as far as the government is concerned, we are keeping our promise.”
Mr Turnbull’s view was backed by prominent ‘Yes’ supporters within the government George Brandis and Simon Birmingham.
Most polls have pointed to a clear ‘Yes’ vote, meaning parliamentarians have turned their minds to a possible fight over how the reform will be introduced.
Senator Paterson’s bill is favoured by some Coalition conservatives for its added protections for religious freedom and freedom of speech, but has drawn criticism from same-sex marriage advocates, who argue it would legalise discrimination against one group of Australians.
The bill would legalise same-sex marriage, but would also allow a person or business to refuse service related to a same-sex wedding, and government employees to register a same-sex marriage, among other provisions.
Treasurer Scott Morrison, the government’s most senior ‘No’ supporter, said on Tuesday there would “need to be additional protections than those provided in the Smith bill”.
“I support there being strong religious protections in the bill, should tomorrow the Australian people have decided through the marriage survey that they would like to see same-sex marriage legislated in Australia,” he said.
Senator Smith’s bill draws on the recommendations of a Senate committee and has the backing of the other prominent same-sex marriage supporters on the Coalition backbench: Trent Zimmerman, Trevor Evans, Warren Enstch and Tim Wilson.
His proposal would allow a minister of religion or a religious marriage celebrant the right to refuse to solemnise a marriage.
It also allows religious organisations to refuse to make goods and services for the purpose of a marriage.
Liberal senators Linda Reynolds and Jane Hume, Labor’s Penny Wong and Louise Pratt, the Greens’ Richard Di Natale and Janet Rice, NXT Senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore and independent Derryn Hinch have co-signed Senator Smith’s bill.