A Liberal MP has released a rival bill that would legalise same-sex marriage but dramatically roll back and override anti-discrimination provisions to allow "conscientious objectors" to boycott gay weddings, The Age reports.
The bill, sponsored by Liberal senator James Paterson – a Yes supporter and a vocal proponent of individual liberty – clashes with an existing proposal from his colleague Dean Smith, which has already been backed by Labor and some Coalition ministers.
Its release now, ahead of the results of the postal survey tomorrow, is viewed as an attempt by conservatives to shape the debate about how to legislate for same-sex marriage in the widely-expected advent of a Yes vote.
The Paterson plan would allow any person or business to refuse to co-operate with the staging of a same-sex wedding, protecting them from civil litigation under anti-discrimination laws.
It would override existing state and territory anti-discrimination laws, stating plainly that when the two come into conflict, the federal law would prevail.
And it goes further than just protecting beliefs about the nature of marriage, establishing what Senator Paterson calls a "relevant belief" about homosexuality itself.
Anyone who holds and expresses a belief that same-sex relationships are unholy or immoral would also be protected from anti-discrimination laws by the Paterson bill, as would anyone who believes "the normative state of gender is binary".
And, in a key bone for conservatives, the bill does not actually remove the definition of marriage as between "a man and a woman", inserted under John Howard's leadership in 2004. Instead, it adds a second clause declaring marriage can also be "the union of two people".
Senator Paterson told Fairfax Media he was proud to have voted "yes" in the postal survey, but: "30 to 40 per cent of Australians will vote 'no' and I don't want to see their rights and freedoms diminished at all".
Whether the Paterson proposal will ever be debated in the Coalition party room is unclear. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and several cabinet ministers – including conservative Finance Minister Mathias Cormann – have pointed to Senator Smith's bill as their preferred legislation.
Conservatives to tackle PM on same-sex rights (The Australian)
It’s a Yes as SSM support gathers pace in the post: Newspoll (The Australian)
Vote shows we can respect views with which we disagree (The Australian)