A Dubbo woman has slammed a bill that would legalise same-sex marriage but dramatically roll back and override anti-discrimination provisions to allow “conscientious objectors” to boycott gay weddings.
Kris Stevens, an advocate for same-sex marriage, said laws that prohibited people from discriminating on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, gender and other factors needed to remain in place to protect everyone.
She was concerned supporters of a bill mooted on Monday were “trying to kick the can a little bit further down the road and delay what is inevitable”.
The bill, sponsored by Liberal senator James Paterson - a “yes” supporter and 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 MPs.
Its release now, ahead of the results of the postal survey on Wednesday, is 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.
Ms Stevens said the bill sought to put in place a series of changes to the laws to protect their right to discriminate.
“We’ve had laws in this country for a long time to say that you can’t discriminate on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, gender, all sorts of things like that,” she said.
“All of those laws need to remain in place to protect everyone.”
Ms Stevens said there were alread laws in place to protect religious organisations.
She had a blunt message for opponents of same-sex marriage.
“If you want to be a civil celebrant or if you want to make wedding cakes or you want to be in the business of marrying people, whatever that be, then they are all business transactions, and if you don’t want to carry out a business transaction with a certain section of our community, then you’re in the wrong business,” she said.
“I get really upset when I read about them talking about how they may be discriminated against or they may be sued.
“They just need to get out of that business.”
Her criticism was echoed by The Equality Campaign, which slammed the Paterson proposal as regressive and unfair.
"It's a rebuke to the Australian people," campaign director Tiernan Brady said
"It literally is the opposite of what the people will have voted for.
"We're not going back to a time when we have signs on windows saying certain people can't apply or certain people won't be served. That is precisely what the bill does."
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 on Monday – have pointed to Senator Smith's bill as their preferred legislation.
Senator Cormann told the ABC he would want amendments to Senator Smith's bill, but it had been through a Senate committee process and was "a good starting position" for negotiations.
Senator Smith said he would introduce his private member's bill as soon as this week if a "yes" vote is announced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Wednesday.