Same-sex marriage law before religious freedoms

Australia Parliament

The political fight over religious freedom will be pushed into next year, in a bid to guarantee same-sex marriage can be legislated by Christmas, as conservatives agitate over parental rights and scramble to gain enough numbers to secure their changes.

The plan sets up a wider debate about freedom of conscience once the parliament votes on marriage equality, as politicians from all sides vow to act on the resounding 61.6 per cent support for changes to the Marriage Act in the nationwide postal vote.

In a strategic intervention late yesterday, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton called for a “free discussion in the new year” over the full scope of religious freedoms in a way that would not stymie the vote on marriage in the coming weeks.

However, conservative Liberal and National senators yesterday confirmed to The Australian that they would defy calls for the issue of parental rights to be pushed back until next year and intended to put up a range of amendments including parental rights.

The Senate opened debate on marriage reform yesterday but is yet to find a consensus on amendments such as protecting free speech, mandating parental rights, exempting civil celebrants or shielding religious charities from funding cuts if they believe in traditional marriage.

Despite Mr Dutton’s suggestion that debate on parental rights could be deferred to next year, Senate conservatives are pushing on with an amendment that will dare senators to vote against protection of parental rights.

Malcolm Turnbull said he was “very, very confident” that same-sex marriage would be legislated by Christmas, as he emphasised there would be no government ruling on amendments, leaving each to a free vote in parliament. “There will be a lot of amendments moved: some of them will get up, most of them probably won’t,” the Prime Minister said.