Liberals Plot Second Class Marriages

colouredLiberals exploring the possibility of a same-sex marriage bill stuffed with religious exemptions

The Herald Sun is reporting that backbench Liberal MPs are looking at ways to tackle the marriage issue before the next election. As the stirrer has reported before, many inner city MPs fear voters might boot them out if the government doesn’t get the issue off the agenda. And the only way to do that is to pass a marriage bill.

But don’t be fooled: they’re not trying to legislate marriage equality, only a substandard form of marriage for same sex couples replete with ‘religious’ exemptions: a kind of wedding apartheid. And they think they can get Nick Xenophon to support it.

The HS reports that some coalition MPs want to get the job done now because they fear Labor passing a true equal marriage bill in the next parliament, with less ‘religious protection.’ Others are simply determined to prevent Labor from claiming any credit for the reform.

“One Government MP told the Herald Sun that many within the Coalition would prefer to lose their seats than be forced to vote on a bill put forward by Labor.”

“Religious exemptions” are a thorny issue. On the one hand, activists like Rodney Croome believe granting broad religious exemptions legitimizes discrimination. On the other hand, Goldstein MP Tim Wilson sees freedom of religious expression as something to be ‘balanced’ against the right of LGBTI people to marry.

During his brief tenure at the Human Rights Commission, Wilson, proposing a rather complex set of tests, said:

“Exemptions wouldn’t be revolutionary but would have to be very narrow. They could apply only to wedding-specific services for businesses ordinarily engaged in providing such services, excluding pizza shops, coffee chains or hotel ­accommodation and the like. An exemption would be a reflection of individual religious conscience so only the owner of a small business could apply.”

This would not satisfy the likes of the Australian Christian Lobby, who want exemptions for all ‘conscientious objectors’, religious and secular. That would allow anyone with a prejudice against LGBTI people to refuse our wedding-related business. This would appear to be what our Liberal ‘friends’ have in mind.

When Anglican Bishop of South Sydney Robert Forsyth called for the legalisation of ‘justifiable discrimination’ by florists, photographers, bakers and other servicing the wedding trade, Rodney Croome took a radically different view, telling the ABC:

“I’m very concerned that a broad-based exemption from anti-discrimination law that allows wedding service providers to turn away people who don’t conform to their religious values could see partners turned away if they’ve previously been divorced.

“It could see Muslim couples turned away, it could lead to a whole range of discrimination, which I think the Australian people would find completely unacceptable in this day and age.

“I’m also concerned that if this exemption is a narrow one that’s only focused on same-sex couples and only allows discrimination against those couples, then that will clearly be motivated by prejudice and it will reinforce prejudice against same-sex relationships.”

Same-sex marriage supporters within the Liberals believe they can get enough of the religious right of the party to support a marriage bill if it includes enough religious exemptions. That means, by definition, that they are not working for marriage equality. They are working to consign LGBTI couples to a permanent second-class status.

Laws – including marriage and discrimination laws – should apply in exactly the same manner to everyone. Exemptions make a mockery of anti-discrimination law.

Meanwhile President-elect Donald Trump – setting a fine example for them – has promised to sign the First Amendment Defence Act, which will legitimise a broad range of discrimination against LGBTI married couples on religious and conscience grounds.


Before we rejected the plebiscite the government gave an indication of the incredibly broad scope of exemptions they have in mind. The suggestions were rejected by Alex Greenwich and Rodney Croome, among others

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)