Religious Exemptions ‘Entirely Unnecessary’

The battle is won. Now a new battle begins to determine the nature of the peace.
And to get all religious exemptions out of the government’s marriage bill.

The government has declared its hand by pushing for yet more religious exemptions in Dean Smiths Marriage Amendment Bill. During the bill’s passage through parliament we can expect many attempts to stuff in yet more.

Speaking before the result was known (and while the Paterson Bill was still alive), Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek said it wasn’t reasonable for opponents of marriage equality to “think that they can draft the marriage equality bill that’s presented to the parliament”.

But that’s what they’re being allowed to do.

Around the same time Equality Campaign director Tiernan Brady said:

“The people are being asked if we should treat LGBTI people equally. If the answer is yes, then anyone who wants to turn around and say ‘we should pass a law that discriminates against LGBTI people’ is doing the opposite of what the people have just said,” he said.

“That would be profoundly disrespectful and a rebuke to the people of Australia. A yes vote cannot and should not and must not become a moment where others try to unravel existing anti-discrimination law.”


The just.equal campaign issued a statement by veteran LGBTI rights campaigner Rodney Croome in which he slammed the inclusion of any religious exemptions in the marriage amendment bill as entirely unnecessary.

“Australia has decisively rejected the No campaign’s case that marriage equality poses a threat to freedom and faith, so there is no mandate to write into law unnecessary and discriminatory ‘protections’ from this spurious ‘threat’.”

Just.equal called on Parliament to vote down the discriminatory marriage amendments flagged today by Attorney-General, George Brandis, in the wake of the announcement that Australia has voted yes for marriage equality. Senator Brandis has proposed amendments to allow civil celebrants to discriminate and potentially to allow advocates of traditional marriage to be exempt from anti-discrimination and hate speech laws. Croome said

“Civil celebrants are delegated by the government to perform an official duty and should not be allowed to discriminate in the conduct of that duty.”

“Anti-discrimination and hate speech laws are important protections for the most vulnerable people in the community and no-one should be in the privileged position of having a special exemption from them.”

“Today’s Yes vote was a vote for full equality for all couples, and against any further discrimination.”

“Australia has decisively rejected the No campaign’s case that marriage equality poses a threat to freedom and faith, so there is no mandate to write into law unnecessary and discriminatory ‘protections’ from this spurious ‘threat’.”

“The Prime Minister has promised there would be no new forms of discrimination and we want the Parliament to hold him to that promise.”

“We call on Parliament to vote down these proposed amendments.”

Speaking exclusively to the stirrer, Croome added:

“This is why Labor and the Equality Campaign should not have given away everything at the start of the process. The Brandis amendments are not about protecting freedom or even getting marriage equality through parliament. They are all about preventing a split in the Liberal Party and defending the Prime minister from attacks by conservatives.”

A large number of experts have also condemned the push to insert special privileges for religious people into any marriage bill.


Associate professor of finance at UNSW Business School

Religious groups provide many services to the general public. They might include schools that are open to people of all faiths, properties that are open for rent, or religiously affiliated businesses that provide general services. Superficially, one might argue that providing services for same-sex couples could be at odds with the religious group’s beliefs. However, two factors count against that.

First, the religious group has actively decided to offer its services to the world at large. In so doing, it has signalled that it is willing to serve people who do not agree with its religious tenets.

Picking and choosing which people to serve is arbitrary and exclusionary and this is precisely the type of discrimination that anti-discrimination law aims to avoid.

Second, the services being offered are non-religious. For example, leasing a property, baking a cake, and providing flowers are all non-religious services. Thus, providing these services to same-sex weddings does not violate the religious group’s beliefs. Thus, it cannot impinge religious freedom.

There is an argument for exempting religious groups from anti-discrimination laws when they perform religious actions.

However, there is no such argument for exempting businesses, or religiously affiliated organisations, when they offer services to the public at large. Such exemptions would undermine the very purpose of anti-discrimination law.


Senior Lecturer in History, La Trobe University

Scratch the surface, and the fundamental homophobia behind individual exemptions to sex discrimination law becomes obvious. For it is only the allowance of discrimination in the provision of services to people with different religious convictions about sexuality that is being proposed.

Bakers, party planners, florists and caterers have had no problem up to this point providing services to people with different religious convictions. Christian florists have so far raised no objection to providing flowers to Muslim weddings, Jewish bar mitzvahs, or anyone with different religious convictions.

Arguing that religious sensitivities only need protecting with regard to sexuality, and no other area of religious conviction, suggests that this is not about freedom of religion, but about legitimising homophobia.


University of Melbourne

Currently, discrimination law does not provide the same protection for religious individuals as it provides for organisations. There are good reasons for this. Allowing each individual to determine according to his or her religious convictions which laws they will keep and which they will disregard raises the troubling spectre of a religious diverse society in which each individual is a law unto themselves.

The debates about the extent to which the laws should allow exemptions for religious individuals who object to them is not new and is not restricted to same sex marriage. It includes everything from segregationist churches in the US who wish to discriminate on the basis of race, to pacifist Quakers looking to withhold tax that goes to defence spending.

As with any conflict between rights, the debate is one on which reasonable minds might differ and there are sometimes good reasons for giving exemptions on religious grounds. With respect to non-discrimination law, however, the current balance between protecting religious institutions but not religious individuals provides evidence that it is a sensible principle to continue with respect to same sex marriage.


According to various posts on Facebook last night, Shorten said ‘everything would be sorted by December 7th’ – a date also quoted by Brandis. When asked about the religious exemptions he is reported to have said something like: the Smith Bill was a ‘bad bill’, but Labor would strive to “do the best we can with it.”

He has previously given a cast iron public commitment to Alastair Lawrie that Labor would not allow religious exemptions in the law, and would remove them if any got in.

If the Brandis exemptions remain, and even more are added, the proposed Bill becomes even more of a bad bet than it was already.

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)