back to top

Here Are The Same-Sex Marriage Exemptions The "No" Campaign Has Previously Called For

Australia's survey on same-sex marriage still has weeks to run — but people are already looking beyond the vote.

Posted on

This week, immigration minister Peter Dutton predicted a win for the "yes" campaign in Australia's survey on same-sex marriage.

Of course, his words are just that — a prediction. There are still weeks to run in the survey with around six million possible votes floating around Australia.

But as we wait for a yes/no verdict, the focus of the debate has drifted to another question: if Dutton is correct, what should Australia's bill for same-sex marriage look like?

It's a more complicated question than just extending the definition of marriage from "a man and a woman" to "two adults" — there are questions, too, of who should be allowed to opt out and legally refuse to provide goods and services to a same-sex wedding.

While the "yes" campaign is loosely (though not unanimously) lined up behind a bill proposed by Liberal senator Dean Smith earlier this year, leaders of the "no" campaign have repeatedly refused to outline what kind of exemptions they want during the postal survey.

At the Coalition for Marriage launch in Sydney last month, former minister Matthew Canavan scoffed at the suggestion that the "no" campaign should outline what it wants.

"I can give them a bill, I can give them an act of parliament, I can quote from it section by section and line by line — it's called the Marriage Act 1961. That's our bill!" he said, to applause.

Prominent spokesperson Lyle Shelton has also said the onus is on the "yes" campaign to show its hand first.

"The 'yes' campaign can't say there are no consequences and then demand we detail protections for consequences they say don't exist," he tweeted on Thursday.

The Yes Campaign can't say there are no consequences & then demand we detail protections for consequences they say… https://t.co/0zfafhQLgW

Several influential "yes" groups — including The Equality Campaign, Australian Marriage Equality, Labor and the Greens — have lent support to Smith's bill.

It would continue the current exemption for religious ministers to refuse to marry a couple; provide a window for current civil celebrants to be afforded the same exemption; and allow religious organisations to deny goods and services to a same-sex couple wanting to wed, such as refusing to hire out a church hall.

Campaigners for "no" have been quick to label these provisions as inadequate, but have not been willing to suggest alternatives or improvements.

So we sifted through submissions to the Senate inquiry held earlier this year into what a same-sex marriage bill should look like, to see what groups officially affiliated with the Coalition for Marriage have actually called for.

No celebrant — religious or civil — should have to marry a same-sex couple.

According to the committee report, an "overwhelming majority" of people who submitted to the inquiry — meaning both the "yes" and "no" sides — supported an exemption for ministers of religion to refuse to solemnise a same-sex marriage.

The Australian Christian Lobby's (ACL) submission also recommended "No civil celebrant shall be compelled to solemnise any marriage."

Bakers, florists, and photographers should have a legal right to turn away same-sex couples wanting to use their services for a wedding.

In one inquiry hearing, where senators heard from Catholic bishop Peter Comensoli and Anglican bishop Michael Stead, a number of different scenarios were canvassed.

The bishops suggested the following, in response to questions: Musicians, photographers and bakers should be allowed to opt out, but only for weddings — not, for instance, a gay couple's joint birthday party. Wedding anniversaries are a dicier affair and may need exemptions. More peripheral service providers — taxi drivers, chair hire companies — should not have an exemption from anti-discrimination laws when it comes to their participation in wedding ceremonies.

A far-reaching proposal from the ACL called for an exemption for all businesses providing services in "wedding, family, and associated industries" to refuse service on the basis of their beliefs about "marriage, family, sexuality and/or gender".

According to the submission, this would apply to services ranging from photography and catering to floristry, supplied to events ranging from weddings and engagement parties to christenings. It also suggested businesses providing fertility services, counselling, adoption and foster care should be free to reject people on the basis of their beliefs about marriage, family, sexuality or gender.

This would apply whether the belief was a religious conviction or a secular view.

Several other groups — the Australian Family Coalition, the Australian Family Association (AFA), and FamilyVoice Australia — suggested there should be exemptions for individuals and businesses providing wedding services on the basis of religious or secular belief.

The AFA also suggested that exemptions in goods and service provision could be extended beyond just weddings to cover LGBT events and celebrations in general.

Under current Australian anti-discrimination law, it is illegal to refuse service on the basis of sexual orientation. There are some exemptions for religious organisations under the Sex Discrimination Act (SDA), but no precedent for exemptions based on conscientious belief across Australia's various anti-discrimination and equal opportunity laws.

Some of the suggested clauses for a marriage bill pertained to issues of same-sex parenting and the Australian curriculum, rather than marriage.

The ACL suggested a same-sex marriage bill should overturn state parenting laws by making it unlawful to put anything other than two biological parents on a child's birth certificate. It also recommended that the bill include a clause to make anonymous donor conceptions illegal.

Marriage Alliance said a bill for same-sex marriage should include a clause allowing parents to remove kids from sex education classes, expressing concern at classroom activities that might depict same-sex relationships as "normal".

"The Safe Schools program teaches, among other things, that sexual activity between people of the same sex is normal, which is contrary to the teachings of major faiths including Christianity, Judaism and Islam," the submission reads.

Many groups openly acknowledged that there was simply no same-sex marriage bill they would ever accept or see as adequate.

Asked by Dean Smith if there was any version of a same-sex marriage bill he would accept, David van Gend from the Australian Marriage Forum said: "No, because the very notion of same-sex marriage is both untrue to nature and timeless culture, and unjust to future children by its nature."

The Australian Family Coalition was dubious that a bill could ever be adequate: "It is debatable, as previously stated, as to whether any bill for same-sex marriage could ensure appropriate safeguarding of basic rights and freedoms. Further, any exemptions granted could easily be wound back or repealed by a subsequent parliamentary vote."

As was FamilyVoice Australia: "Any law which requires exemptions for people of faith is a bad law and should not be enacted in the first place."

Reverend Dr Hedley Fihaki, of the Assembly of Confessing Congregations, said the parliament should ignore the push to change the Marriage Act and instead legislate to strengthen religious freedom in Australia.

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

Contact Lane Sainty at lane.sainty@buzzfeed.com.

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.