Australian PM orders ‘religious freedom’ review to appease anti-gay marriage lobby

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is trying to appease anti-gay conservatives in his party by holding a ‘religious freedom’ review.

The country is in the process of passing equal marriage through Parliament after a public vote in which Australians backed equality by a margin of 61.6% to 38.4%.

As the vote was purely advisory, legislation on the issue is up to Parliament – where lawmakers inside Malcolm Turnbull’s conservative Coalition government are still divided on the best way to proceed on the issue.

Hardline conservatives have backed amendments to ensure the law enshrines the ‘freedom to discriminate’ against same-sex couples for people who disagree with equal marriage, while LGBT allies favour a ‘clean’ marriage bill that does not undermine existing rights protections.

In a bid to forge a consensus today, Turnbull announced a ‘religious freedom’ review that will take place separately from the marriage debate.

(Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)

The review will be headed by former Liberal frontbencher Philip Ruddock, a strong opponent of LGBT rights who was key to a 2004 push to ban same-sex unions and outlaw adoption by same-sex couples.

The former Attorney General spent much of his time in office battling to undermine LGBT rights, heading to court to deny a veteran’s pension to a gay soldier’s partner.

In 2006 he also sought to block a gay Australian man from marrying in the Netherlands, refusing to grant a ‘Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage’.

Ruddock’s appointment is a major concession to anti-LGBT conservatives, and equality activists fear that the review will be used to undermine LGBT rights protections by introducing a religious ‘license to discriminate’ against gay couples.

Turnbull said: “The impending legalisation of same-sex marriage has seen a variety of proposals for legislative reform to protect freedom of religion. Many of these proposals go beyond the immediate issue of marriage.

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