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Please Read This Conversation About Exactly Who Shouldn't Serve Same-Sex Couples

A Catholic bishop, an Anglican bishop, and a panel of senators discussed when a cake is not just a cake.

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Taxi drivers should have to drive people to same-sex weddings, and chair hire companies should have to rent chairs to them. Photographers and musicians should be allowed to opt out, but the same photographers should have to take pictures of a gay couple's joint 30th birthday party.

Meanwhile, bakers shouldn't have to bake cakes for a same-sex wedding – especially if the cake is an artistic work – but anniversary cakes? Well, it's complicated.

These are some of the suggestions offered by Catholic bishop Peter Comensoli and Anglican reverend Michael Stead when pressed by a committee of Australian senators over religious exemptions for same-sex marriages on Tuesday.

Both Stead and Comensoli contend that "ordinary Christians" – including individual business owners such as bakers and florists – should not have to participate in same-sex weddings.

They say the government's proposal – which would allow religious ministers, civil celebrants, and religious organisations to turn away same-sex couples – is insufficient in protecting these ordinary Christians and needs to go further to protect religious freedom.

"It's not about denying services to gay people, but about the right to not participate in same-sex weddings," Stead told the inquiry in Sydney. "I think the argument becomes stronger the closer the connection with the actual wedding ceremony is: the photographer who's spending the whole day on site as part of the ceremony; or a musician playing at the ceremony; some cake bakers where it's an artistic work or an artisan product."

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Stead said he saw less justification for an exemption for someone who provides chair hire for a wedding.

"Where the personal services are on site, or the artistic contribution is intrinsic to the wedding – the closer that nexus, the more important it is to give people the option to not be forced to participate against their conscience," he said.

Comensoli said a taxi driver taking someone to a wedding should not receive an exemption.

Senator James Paterson asked if Stead and Comensoli saw a meaningful difference between the wedding ceremony and the wedding reception. The answer was no.

"Most of the receptions I've been to, they are very much intrinsic part of the celebration of the day," said Stead. "I would see the coverage as extending to the reception as well."

"I think if you ask anyone who's going to a wedding, what do they see as the wedding, it's the whole day," Comensoli agreed.

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Paterson then suggested there would be a "lot of sympathy" for Stead and Comensoli's position that photographers should not have to take photos of a same-sex wedding if they disagreed.

But, Paterson said, there would be less support if the photographer wanted the right to refuse to take photos of the same-sex couple's 30th birthday, or even their wedding anniversary.

"There are lots of other events not intrinsically connected to the wedding itself, but [that] may also involve some kind of acceptance of the relationship or recognition of the existence of the relationship," Paterson said.

Paterson then asked: "A baker of a wedding cake should be free to refuse to bake a cake that, for example, has two husbands, two men on top of it, because that's against their faith, but if the same baker is asked five years later to bake a cake for the wedding anniversary that looks the same and is the same as the one they would have had on their wedding day, they should not have that, right?"

Comensoli told Paterson he was "asking hypothetical questions that can't be answered".

Stead ruled out the 30th birthday as a valid reason for an exemption, but said the anniversary cake could be dicey.

"I don't think you could argue that taking photos at a 30th birthday has anything to do with your view of marriage," Stead said. "Maybe baking the first wedding anniversary cake which is exactly the same as a wedding cake, that may be a violation of someone's view of that marriage."

Neither Comensoli nor Stead were eager to discuss specific scenarios, suggesting the senators look at broader principles instead.

The inquiry will hold a third day of public hearings in Canberra on Wednesday.

Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Lane Sainty at

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