Australia’s anti-LGBT lobby still wants to block equal marriage despite public vote

Parts of Australia’s anti-LGBT lobby are encouraging Parliamentarians to vote down same-sex marriage despite the public voting in favour.

Earlier this month Australians gave their overwhelming backing to equal marriage in a public vote, by a margin of 61.6% to 38.4%.

As the vote was purely advisory in nature, 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.

Ahead of Parliamentary debates on the issue, the groups behind the ‘No’ campaign are calling for Parliament to disregard the will of the people and vote down equal marriage, despite the outcome of the vote.

Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull

In a release the Australian Family Association called for MPs to “vote down the Dean Smith [same-sex marriage] bill, claiming: “Australian’s did not vote for ‘gender-fluid’ marriage.”

The group took issue with the government’s promised ‘religious freedom’ review, an intended concession to anti-LGBT conservatives.

They said: “By removing the possibility of protections being written into the Dean Smith bill to redefine marriage, following the ‘yes’ vote in the marriage ballot, and indicating that it may be dealt with in a separate bill at some time in the future, the Government is asking people to trust them to provide adequate protections to our freedom of religion, speech, association and action, not to mention our right to protest and right to conscientious objection.

“The decision by the Turnbull Government to appoint a four person panel to look into protections for religious freedom is no guarantee that any protections will be granted to people who hold the view that marriage is between a man and a woman, whether those views are based on religion or simply the natural law.

“And why should we trust the government?”

The group claimed that equal marriage “will force gender-fluid sex education and shared-gender toilets, showers, change rooms and facilities upon school children, force women’s jails and women’s shelters to house men identifying as women with the threat of rape that that poses, allow men identifying as women to compete in women’s sporting teams and force identifying documents such as births, deaths and marriage certificates, passports and driver’s licences to include an indeterminate or unspecified gender”.

The Australian Christian Lobby is also continuing its opposition to the current legislation.

In a message to supporters it said: “The Smith Bill is a dangerous piece of legislation that would wipe away important freedoms for parents, free speech and faith.

“The Yes campaign promised there would be no negative consequences for freedoms if gay marriage was made law.

“Now it’s time for them to come good on their promise.”

It asked supporters to “email these MPs and Senators today” to support ‘freedom to discriminate’ amendments to the Marriage Act. Supporters for equal marriage have threatened to vote down a bill that includes such wrecking amendments.

Of the religious freedom review,  the ACL said: “Once again, the Turnbull Government has failed to consult relevant stakeholders. It is hard to view this inquiry as anything other than a thought-bubble, designed to solve a political problem for the Prime Minister.

“Religious freedoms were central in the debate that occurred throughout the plebiscite campaign. Nearly 5 million Australians voted against changing the Marriage Act. They did so out of a concern for their freedoms.

“Now the Prime Minister has said those freedoms need to wait.

“This is not good enough, especially when the Prime Minister himself told the Australian people during the campaign that they should not be concerned, because any bill to change the Marriage Act would include strong protections for religious freedoms.

“This inquiry should not stand in the way of amendments protecting religious freedom being debated and supported by the parliament at the same time as the Marriage Act is amended.”

In a bid to forge a consensus earlier this week, PM Malcolm 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.

“Any reforms to protect religious freedom at large should be undertaken carefully. There is a high risk of unintended consequences when Parliament attempts to legislate protections for basic rights and freedoms, such as freedom of religion.

“The Government is particularly concerned to prevent uncertainties caused by generally worded Bill of Rights-style declarations.

“This will be a timely expert stocktake to inform consideration of any necessary legislative reforms.”

(Photo by NYEIN CHAN NAING/AFP/Getty Images)

He added: “The Hon Philip Ruddock is the right person to conduct this review. Mr Ruddock has most recently served as Australia’s Special Envoy for Human Rights.

“In his many years in public life he has maintained a steadfast commitment to cultural and religious diversity in this country.”

Equality advocates have called for the LGBT community to be represented on a review of religious freedom because the issue disproportionately affects LGBT people.

The review will report back in March 2018, while equal marriage is expected to pass through Parliament before the end of 2017.

Just.equal spokesperson, Rodney Croome said: “Religious freedom is too often used as an excuse for discriminating against LGBTI people, so it’s vital our community is represented on the religious freedom review.

“The panel members who were announced today include human rights experts, but they are not necessarily familiar with the concerns of LGBTI Australians when it comes to how ‘religious freedom’ is used to undermine our equal rights and dignity.

“The context of this review is the myth that marriage equality is at odds with religious freedom, and the subsequent push to roll back laws protecting LGBTI people from discrimination, so it’s vital there is an LGBTI panel member to ensure our community’s concerns are heeded.

“Genuine religious freedom must be respected and protected but it must never become a weapon to be wielded against vulnerable minorities.”