The Best Of All Possible Marriage Bills

Religious Protections. pic: the mule

As we wait for the result of the postal survey, everyone is jockeying for position.


AME put out a statement backing the Dean Smith Bill (HERE), while just.equal stalwarts Rodney Croome, Shelley Argent and Ivan Hinton Teoh argued for its rejection. They want the religious and conscience exemptions (except those already extant for clergy), removed from the bill. So, for the record, do I.

Argument raged back and forth on Facebook between those who deem those exemptions too minor to worry about, and those who fear the precedent they set and the message they send.

Both GetUp/AME and just.equal are conducting surveys to bolster their respective positions (HERE).


Meanwhile back at the ranch in Canberra, the government continues to try to navigate between its DelCons (Delusional Conservatives) – who want to kill or at least severely maim any marriage bill – and more moderate members, who support the Smith “compromise”. Holding the ring between the two are the so-called Praetorian Guard – ‘realistic’ conservatives like Scott Morrison, Peter Dutton and Matthias Corman, who don’t care for marriage equality but want the issue out of the way before year end.

The RealistiCons are attempting to herd the DelCons into line, while at the same time trying to steady nervous equality supporters. Most likely bolter at this stage appears to be Senator James Paterson, petrified by the threat to his preselection from his intellectually equal but doctrinally superior and highly ‘religious’ opponent, Karina Okotel.

Other soft supporters are trying to fly ‘third way’ kites such as the creation of a ‘free marriage market’ with a minimal role for government. I have a ‘third way’ kite too, but more on that below.


As this all bubbles along, senior party members are working on a plan of action to get the matter dealt with almost before opponents have time to draw breath. This would involve bringing on the Smith bill on the Wed & Thu of the week after the survey result is published, or at the very latest, the week following.

Two days will be set aside for debate: one in the House and one in the Senate. In the house it will be introduced by Zimmerman and seconded by the so-called Rainbow Five, plus the Prime Minister.

The problem with this plan is twofold. Firstly, the Cabinet has to agree to it, and they have to agree that it need not go to the party room. If it does, all bets are off, and the DelCons will do their utmost to wreck the government plans. This would be the time when Malcolm Turnbull would have to face down his detractors and likely precipitate a leadership challenge.

Given Malcolm’s record to date in the face of enemy fire, you would have to imagine he is more likely to cave in. In which case, the government would swing behind the bill being drafted by Ian Goodenough. And little as I like the Smith bill, we don’t want that under any circumstances.


But assuming the Cabinet falls into line and doesn’t take the bill to the party room, the next obstacle looms, and that’s the Goodenough bill again.

No bill can make it onto the order paper and hence come up for debate unless it is placed there by the all-powerful and theoretically independent Bill Selection Committee, chaired by… you guessed it, Ian Goodenough. Yes, that Ian Goodenough, the strong NO supporter, determined to introduce a marriage bill of his own, chairs the Bill Selection Committee. His fellow committee members are all said to be staunch NO voters too.

His Bill is said to contain the widest of all possible exemption clauses, giving absolutely everyone carte blanche to have nothing to do with anything even remotely related to what he calls “homosexual marriage”, overriding federal, state and territory anti-discrimination laws.

It is entirely possible, therefore, that the Bill Selection Committee will select his egregiously mis-named “Goodenough Bill” for debate, and refuse to bring the Smith Bill on for debate. This might lead to a round of unsavoury horse-trading that could see more religious and conscience exemptions crammed into the Smith bill, to try to get the committee members to put it on the order paper.

There is a way to circumvent this.  Someone – and the government is hoping Labor will oblige them here – must move to suspend standing orders before the Goodenough Bill comes on. This manoeuvre lets the House forget what’s on the order paper and debate whatever else it chooses – the Smith bill for example – instead.

Once debate finally gets underway, the government is prepared to guillotine debate to force the bill through the House as fast as possible. It then goes to the Senate, which is considered to be a good deal more tractable. But you never know…


I mentioned above that some nervous nellies, coalition MPs and senators, looking nervously over their shoulders at their preselection committees and constituency members, might be preparing to moderate their support for unconditional equality, and that some of them are flying speculative kites, suggesting potential ‘alternatives’ to marriage equality bills.

At the same time, as readers will know, I have been sneered at for opposing he Smith bill and told that if I’m so bloody clever, why don’t I come up with a marriage equality bill of my own?

Always up for a challenge, I have.

I admit it’s second-hand, but it’s none the worse for that. In fact it’s been in operation successfully elsewhere since 2013. It has an elegant simplicity, contains no unnecessary additional clauses, and above all, it has been proven to work very successfully. The sky has not fallen in, pastors have not been hauled off to jail, birds have not fallen from the skies, schools are happy and inclusive, and it’s only a short an inexpensive flight to pop across and check out what I say.

In short, ladies and gentlemen, it’s the perfect model for our marriage equality bill. The only major change would be the name of the country. The rest is just bureaucratic detail. Anyone can make sense of what it says in a minute.

So here is my marriage equality amendment bill. You’re welcome.

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)