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Australia has voted 'yes' to marriage equality. What now?

There might still be a long way to go before marriage equality happens in Australia, or it could be really quick and simple

Australia has voted 'yes' to marriage equality. What now?
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(L-R) Ian Thorpe, Dean Smith and James Paterson.

Australians have just shown their support for marriage equality, by voting ‘yes’ to same-sex marriage in the postal survey on the issue. But there is still a long way to go before the same-sex marriage becomes legal in Australia.

In September, the Australian government decided to hold a non-binding, non-compulsory postal survey on whether the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry.

But it was not made clear what law would be changed and no one knew what legislation they were casting their opinions on.

In the days leading up to the postal survey result announcement, there was heated debate about what the same-sex marriage legislation should look like.

There are only  two weeks of Parliament sitting dates before the Christmas break. Marriage equality advocates – and many regular Aussies – have called on the government to act on the issue quickly to prevent it dragging into next year.

Dean Smith, the gay Senator

On the Sunday before the postal survey was announced Liberal Party Senator, the openly gay, Dean Smith introduced his own proposed bill on marriage equality.

His Private Members’ Bill was drafted after an extensive Senate committee process earlier this year. The Senate Committee received submissions from hundreds of people, groups and organizations on both sides of the debate.

Key features of Smith’s bill include allowing two people of any gender to marry in a civil service.

But they also include exemptions for religious organizations to refuse to hold same-sex weddings.

Civil marriage celebrants would also not be allowed to discriminate against same-sex couples. But a new category of religious marriage celebrants would be created who could refuse to marry LGBTI people.

Marriage celebrants who are already registered and whose religious beliefs would not allow them to solemnise a same-sex marriage have 90 days to apply to be registered as a religious marriage celebrant.

Smith plans to introduce his bill in the Senate as early as Thursday. That would give the Senate time to debate the bill before it goes to the House of Representatives.

‘After a cost of $122 million, and over two months of campaigning and years of public discussion, it makes no sense to delay a parliamentary debate,’ Smith told Perth Now.

‘Australians upheld their end of the bargain by voting en masse, now it’s time for Parliament to uphold its end of the same deal.’

Paterson’s bill

One of Smith’s colleagues in the governing Liberal Party, backbencher James Paterson revealed his own draft bill on Monday.

Written by external consultants, Paterson’s bill would allow greater religious exemptions. Service providers such as, florists and bakers would be allowed to refuse to serve gay weddings. A gay couple could be refused service at a hotel on their honeymoon, but not a regular stay.

Shops would be allowed to have a sign in their windows saying ‘no gay weddings’.

His bill would also roll back anti-discrimination measures and allow government employees to refuse to register a same-sex couple’s wedding. Much like the infamous Kim Davis in Kentucky.

Paterson’s bill would also allow celebrants to decide what gender a person is and that sex should not occur outside of marriage. Parents would also be allowed to remove children from classes where lessons go against their views on marriage.

Smith vs Paterson

Marriage equality advocates and Liberal Party members including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, slapped down Paterson’s draft bill.

‘This is not a marriage equality bill. It’s about enshrining discrimination and taking Australia back decades,’ said Anna Brown of the Equality Campaign.

‘Australians are voting to make our country a fairer and more equal place, not to take us back to a time where people can be denied service at a shop.

‘We are confident that the majority of parliamentarians are sensible and will see this for what it is and not wind Australia back decades.

‘Australians have voted for equality, not more discrimination. Australians believe in a fair go for all – this Bill goes completely against what people have voted for.’

Dean Smith’s bill received cross-party support and was co-signed today by other Senators from the Liberal, Labor and Greens parties.


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