Conservatives Try to Sneak 'Religious Freedom' Into Australia's Marriage Bill

Australia

Australia is expecting a sizable "yes" majority to the question of legalizing same-sex marriage, according to recent polls.

However, this vote is nonbinding, which means it is up to the country's Parliament to pass legislation. And versions of this marriage equality bill include so-called religious freedom exemptions that attack LGBT rights, reports Al Jazeera.

Sen. Dean Smith, a member of the ruling Liberal Party (which is actually conservative), drafted a bill with bipartisan support that would give religious officials the power to refuse to marry same-sex couples.

An even more draconian bill written Monday by Sen. James Paterson would give a broad license to discriminate against LGBT people to businesses, teachers, parents, and nonprofits. If passed, this law would, for example, allow a baker to refuse to bake a cake for a gay couple, or students to "opt out of classes that conflict with their values," said Paterson.

"If it is wrong to force a priest to participate in a same-sex wedding against their beliefs, it should be wrong to force a florist or a photographer too," Paterson told The Australian.

This legislation echoes fears voiced by the "no" campaign in Australia, which promoted myths that same-sex marriage would lead to "compulsory" gay sex education courses as well as cross-dressing kids.

Paterson's version was denounced by the opposition Labor Party. "Are we really saying, in Australia today, that you can refuse to serve someone because they're gay? You can refuse to bake them a cake or drive them in your car? Honestly, that is a bridge too far," said Tanya Plibersek, the party's deputy leader.

LGBT activists also said this bill runs counter to the will of the Australian people casting a vote for equality, not a "license to discriminate."

"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," said Anna Brown, cochair of the Equality Campaign.

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