John Howard has called on the Turnbull government to deal with the issue of protections for religious freedom before the same-sex marriage postal survey, adding his voice to a growing Coalition infight on the issue, The Guardian reports.
On Thursday, the former prime minister told the ABC radio program AM it was “quite necessary” to deal with the question now and it was “not good enough” to wait until after the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports the results of the survey on 15 November.
The Turnbull government has refused to nominate which bill will be put forward in parliament if the postal survey approves of a change in the law to allow same-sex couples to marry and the extent of any religious exemptions to discrimination law.
The Coalition has been engaged in a rolling infight over religious freedom, with moderates including attorney general, George Brandis, Christopher Pyne and Simon Birmingham arguing the survey concerns marriage only, while conservatives including Tony Abbott, Peter Dutton, Zed Seselja and Matthew Canavan argue religious freedom is at stake.
Conservatives are concerned that Senator Brandis and Liberal senator Dean Smith’s bills do not provide exemptions to discrimination law for religious people – including bakers, florists and photographers – to refuse to serve gay weddings.
So far, only the Liberal senator James Paterson has called for the issue to be dealt with before the postal survey, as conservatives seek to stoke fears to increase the no vote and moderates refuse to engage in the debate on their opponent’s terms.
Mr Howard said the questions about “assurances of religious freedom” aired in the debate were “perfectly legitimate”, adding “and I think it would be a good thing if we get to have more specificity on that before we vote”.
“In fact, I think it’s quite necessary.”
He said the current bills “only related to the putative marriage ceremony [and] there’s a lot more to it than that”.
Mr Howard called on the government to provide more detail, specificity and assurances including defining “what steps it will take to ensure that state governments don’t withdraw exemptions in discrimination acts, for example, for religious schools”.
Marriage case has broader consequences (News.com.au)