Greens Senators Nick McKim, Richard Di Natale and Janet Rice at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.
Mick Tsikas / AAPIMAGE
Much of the buzz about proposed amendments to Liberal senator Dean Smith's same-sex marriage bill has focused on what conservatives will bring to the table – but the Greens party will be making amendments in the other direction.
The party revealed on Monday they will push to remove a grandfather clause in the Smith bill that would allow current civil celebrants to nominate themselves as religious celebrants in order to be able to turn away same-sex couples, contained in the same-sex marriage legislation currently before the parliament.
The party will also move to change the name of the bill for when it becomes law, stripping the words “religious freedoms” from its title.
The private member's bill for same-sex marriage being debated in the Senate this week is penned by Smith and has, since the “yes” vote on November 15, been adopted as cross-party legislation.
As it stands, the legislation would provide a three-month grandfather clause for current civil celebrants with religious beliefs about marriage to move to a religious celebrant category, which would have the same broad exemption as religious ministers to refuse to marry any couple. Ministers of non-recognised religious denominations would be able to join this category too.
The bill also applies exemptions from the Sex Discrimination Act to the Marriage Act, exempting religious bodies – such as churches and religious schools – from providing services to any wedding that goes against its religious beliefs.
In an briefing on the amendment released Monday afternoon, the Greens indicated they would attempt to amend the bill to get rid of the grandfather clause.
In a 2015 survey, the Coalition of Celebrant Associations found that a mere 3% of civil celebrants were likely to take advantage of the clause.
BuzzFeed News understands that the Greens believe the change would set an unfortunate precedent in Australian law, even if it is not adopted by a large number of people.
The Greens will also move to axe the express provision allowing exemptions for churches and religious schools, contending this is already allowed in the Sex Discrimination Act and is therefore unnecessary symbolism, as well as moving to add a line explaining that the Act does not limit state and territory anti-discrimination laws.
They will also move the change the name of the law from the Marriage
Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017 to the Marriage Amendment Act 2017.
The Greens will all vote in favour of the Smith bill even if all of their proposed amendments fail.
Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm has made public his amendment, which proposes that marriage celebrants and wedding service providers have free reign to turn away any couple they don't wish to serve, for their marriage, engagement, or anniversary celebrations.
BuzzFeed News understands One Nation will move an amendment to extend an exemption based on religious belief to all celebrants, while attorney-general George Brandis will move an amendment extending exemption based on religious and conscientious belief to all celebrants.
Brandis will also attempt to insert a declaratory statement into the legislation that borrows language from the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, which he says is purely to reassure “no” voters that the bill will not diminish their rights.
Meanwhile, amendments from the conservative right of the Coalition are expected to include a clause about parents' right to pull their kids out of classes that might mention same-sex marriage and LGBTI relationships, and an anti-detriment clause.
Anna Brown, co-chair of Australians For Equality and director of legal advocacy of the Human Rights Law Centre, told BuzzFeed News: “We strongly support the principle of these amendments and understand why they are being moved but, like the Greens, we support the passage of the bill even if the amendments don't succeed.”
The Senate is expected to debate and vote on various amendments, and then the bill itself, over the course of this week. It will then go to the House of Representatives.