Curb Your Enthusiasm: This Isn’t Equality

pic: Johnny Jet

Hold your horses. As it stand, Smiths bill would entrench prejudice and inequality in the law.

As I wrote earlier, there was a plan to endorse a postal plebiscite on Marriage Equality at the first LNP party room meeting August 8. But since then, campaigners and MPs supporting a free vote have stepped up their campaign, forcing opponents onto the back foot. The party room will now have two proposals before it: a postal plebiscite and a free vote on an LGBTI Marriage Bill drafted by Liberal Senator Dean Smith.

If Smith’s bill is not supported and granted a free vote, its supporters say they will vote with Labor to bring the bill into the House anyway. And to vote in its favour. This has got lots of people very excited about the possibility of “Marriage Equality next month”. Meanwhile Turnbull appears surprisingly relaxed about the possibility of members crossing the floor.

“A Liberal MP who supports same-sex marriage said he was “sure” his colleagues would interpret Mr Turnbull’s comments as permission to cross the floor.”

This has driven opponents into a frenzy, threatening to force a leadership spill.

As a group of moderate MPs called for a conscience vote on gay marriage as early as next week, senior Liberals told The Daily Telegraph they will move a spill motion on Mr Turnbull’s leadership if his government breaks its election promise and allows MPs to cross the floor in a vote on the issue.

The Right faction is lining up a ticket to replace Mr Turnbull, should this occur. Faction leaders said the most likely new leadership team would have Peter Dutton as leader, with Greg Hunt as deputy, rolling Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

Marriage Equality campaigners and supporters are in a frenzy of their own, trumpeting that we could have marriage equality as early as next week. They are forgetting that if all the leaks and reports are accurate, Marriage Equality is not what’s on offer.


As I wrote before the Bill is reportedly stuffed with special privileges not just for religious celebrants and clergy, but also secular celebrants and wedding service providers who have a ‘moral’ objection to equal marriage. Veteran advocate Rodney Croome pointed out that the LGBTI community has already set its face firmly against any further protection of religious privileges which might sanction discrimination against LGBTI couples.

“Earlier this year the largest survey of the LGBTI community ever conducted found overwhelming opposition to exemptions allowing discrimination against marrying same-sex couples even if it means marriage equality is delayed.”

He also expressed concern that community advocates are not involved in the drafting of the bill, especially in relation to religious “protections”, and called for immediate access to the draft by LGBTI community representatives.

“The LGBTI community must be consulted and its assent sought to any exemptions that go beyond what already exist, and now is the perfect time to do this. If the battle in 2016 over a plebiscite taught us anything it is that the path to marriage equality should not isolate, target or disadvantage the LGBTI community and that our community should be central to the process.”

Another notable blogger and LGBTI rights advocate, Alastair Lawrie, expresses similar concerns

Does the Bill treat LGBTI-inclusive couples exactly the same as cisgender heterosexual couples, or will it introduce new special rights for civil celebrants and/or other wedding-related businesses to discriminate against us?

From my perspective… whether we should accept legislation that includes these types of ‘religious exceptions’, comes down to this simple test:

Will it treat LGBTI couples in the future differently from, and worse than, divorced people seeking to get (re-)married today?

He concludes that:

… because civil ceremonies under the Marriage Act are secular, rather than religious, in nature, there is no need to provide civil celebrants with the right to reject divorced people on the basis of their personal religious beliefs.

We’ve waited long enough for genuine marriage equality. We shouldn’t settle, or be forced to settle, for marriage discrimination.

We should hold off on cutting the celebratory wedding cakes until we know exactly what is in the substance of any Bill, including any religious exceptions it may contain.


I agree. The only point – and it was always a dubious one – of these privileges and exemptions was to win over ‘religious’ opponents in the LNP. That argument has clearly failed. If our opponents are prepared to go as far as threatening Turnbull’s leadership if he green lights floor crossing, there is longer any need for ‘exemptions’. They must go.

A bill stuffed with permissions to ignore anti-discrimination laws would write anti-LGBTI discrimination into law, creating Marriage Apartheid. Second Class Marriage. It would also create a dangerous legal precedent: that it’s OK to ignore laws that don’t square with your conscience. The religious right could drive a B-Double through any future progressive legislation, such as a Bill Of Rights, using it as a precedent. They must not be handed this dangerous weapon.


Some marriage equality supporters, weary of the long fight, say we should let the ‘exemptions’, through, and work on removing them later. Don’t let the perfect drive out the good, they say.

This is not a case of letting the perfect drive out the good: it is a case of standing firm against a bad and dangerous proposal which would not even deliver what we are fighting for. As I have always said, this is not about Marriage. It’s about Equality. And unless all these exemptions are removed, Smiths bill would entrench Inequality in Law.

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)