West Australian MPs may decide the fate of same-sex marriage

Same sex marriage survey is posted back to the Australian Bureau of statistics. 14th September 2017. The Age Fairfaxmedia News Picture by JOE ARMAO
Same sex marriage survey is posted back to the Australian Bureau of statistics. 14th September 2017. The Age Fairfaxmedia News Picture by JOE ARMAO

On November 15, the results of the same-sex marriage survey will be announced and the Yes vote will prevail.

LGBTI people and their allies will be jubilant, but despite the promise of Prime Minister Turnbull that "gay marriage will be legal by Christmas", this will not happen.

What does happen next could well depend on three Liberal Party MPs from Western Australia.

Senator Dean Smith introduced a model bill for same-sex marriage before the survey which has broad cross-party support, but religious conservatives are currently manoeuvring to oppose this and to sabotage gay equality.

Andrew Hastie MP and Ian Goodenough MP, are threatening to introduce their own same-sex marriage bill, one designed by opponents of equal marriage.

The opponents of reform pushed the issue of the postal survey to the High Court claiming it was "urgent," believing they could win the No vote.

But having lost the public vote they will now do everything they can to stop marriage equality in the parliament.

Arguments over legislation for same-sex marriage will drag on for months, possibly right up to the next federal election in 2019.

This was always the plan of opponents to marriage equality; prevent it from a free vote in parliament and kick it into the long grass. Drag it out in a tedious, pointless plebiscite and then make the resulting legislation so contentious it won't be supported.

Ian Goodenough delivered a committee report on section 18c of the Racial Descrimination Act at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday 27 February 2017. Photo: Andrew Meares

Ian Goodenough delivered a committee report on section 18c of the Racial Descrimination Act at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday 27 February 2017. Photo: Andrew Meares

They tried hard to muster the No vote with a fear campaign of misinformation around "religious freedom," "radical sex education," and "motherless children."

It didn't work. The Yes campaign has won this race, but the No campaign want to decide what prize is given to the winners.

Their strategy is to insist on greatly watered-down marriage laws with one hand, while stripping away a raft of existing rights for LGBTI people with the other.

They are indicating a form of marriage segregation with sweeping exemptions and privileges for religious people to discriminate against LGBTI people in all walks of life.

This includes a push to have a federal law to override state-based anti-discrimination and hate-speech laws which currently protect LGBTI people.

We know this because long-time anti-gay campaigner Senator Eric Abetz made this clear in his dissenting report to the senate committee which looked into gay marriage in February.

We know this because religious MPs Tony Abbott and Kevin Andrews have been spreading fear and doubt with the No camp for weeks, claiming that "religious protections" in the proposed same-sex marriage bill "don't go far enough," without ever saying how.

We know this because conservative religious lobby groups have made clear their intentions to import US-style "religious freedoms" into Australia by calling for "hundreds of amendments" to Senator Smith's draft bill .

They claim it does not go "far enough to protect freedom." What they really mean is the freedom for conservative Christians to discriminate against LGBTI people.

This mix of homophobia and religious privilege dressed up as "freedom" has its origins in the US Bible belt through the states of Indiana and Kentucky. It is a direct response to the emergence of gay marriage in the USA and represents a fundamentalist backlash which seeks to place religious belief above civil law.

Andrew Hastie during question time at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday 13 June 2017. Photo: Andrew Meares

Andrew Hastie during question time at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday 13 June 2017. Photo: Andrew Meares

It is personified by Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple because it "violated her beliefs," and who become the symbol of "religious freedom" in the USA as she disobeyed federal law.

This particular brand of politics is now being imported into Australia by conservative MPs who are using the debate on same-sex marriage to try and push open the doors of "religious freedom" like never before; rebranding anti-gay discrimination as "freedom," and casting themselves as victims.

Suddenly, this issue is no longer about the rights of gay couples to get married, but the rights of religious bakers, florists, taxi drivers, caterers, schools and hospitals to refuse LGBTI people service on the grounds of belief.

This is a real test for Malcolm Turnbull and for the LGBTI community. Hard decisions must be made.

Both are weary of this issue and both want it resolved quickly. However, if the religious MPs in the coalition are not reined in this debate will become even more divisive than it is now.

Middle Australia voted Yes to equality. They did not vote Yes to winding back anti-discrimination laws. Most Australians will reject any weakening of gay marriage legislation that threatens to take us down the road of US fundamentalism, forcing gay couples to be second class citizens.

Brian Greig OAM is a former Democrats' Senator and veteran LGBTI advocate.

- WAToday