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NSW Warns Loopholes in Australia Marriage Equality Bill

Australia’s marriage equality bill contains a discrimination law loophole.

The New South Wales (NSW) Anti-Discrimination Board has identified potential loopholes in the Australian Federal government’s same-sex marriage bill that could provide cover for florists, bakers, and other service providers who do not want to serve at gay wedding ceremonies. The draft bill also contains exemptions for civil servants who would not want to officiate or process gay marriages because of their religious beliefs. The NSW Anti-Discrimination Board has pushed for changes to be made to the draft bill to remove these loopholes.

NSW Warns Loopholes in Marriage Equality Bill.[/tweetthis]

The draft was released before a November 2016 Senate vote that blocked the plebiscite backed bill by a coalition comprising of mainly Labor senators. The NSW noted that the bill contained many exemptions from the discrimination law of Australia that allowed civil celebrants, ministers of religion and religious bodies or organizations to refuse to provide their goods or services to gay people.

The bone of contention lies in the fact that the draft bill does not define what a religious organization or religious body is. This leaves open the window for any florist or baker to label their business as a religious organization or body and therefore refuse to help a gay couple in their wedding preparations.

The board stated in its submissions noting the loopholes, “Accordingly an organization with no recognized religious connection could claim to be a religious organization based on the beliefs of its owners or members” and “refuse goods or services incidental to gay weddings.” The board is calling for this exemption to be clarified “so that only recognized religious bodies and organizations can rely on it.” This would prevent wedding service providers from discriminating against gay couples, and “In this way a church hall could seek to rely on the exemption to refuse a venue booking but a civic function centre could not, regardless of the religious beliefs of its owners.”

Following the NSW submissions, Rodney Croome, a veteran LGBTI activist expressed his views that the Anti Discrimination board had “confirmed our worst fears about the government’s provisions allowing refusal of service to same-sex couples. They go beyond what most people would understand a religious body to be and could include any business – a baker, a florist, and a reception centre – where the owner or manager has a religious or conscientious objection to serving same-sex couples.”

He went on to state that, “Australians would abhor businesses putting up shop front signs declaring ‘No Blacks’ or ‘No Asians’, and in the same way we shouldn’t allow businesses to stop serving LGBTIQ people.”

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government also opposed the exemptions, saying that there was no rational basis for civil celebrants to discriminate against gay couples, since they were performing that duty on behalf of the state.

The Australian Christian Lobby argued for wedding services providers to be exempt from serving gay couples if their religious beliefs prohibited it. It argued that the freedom of religion is a fundamental right that protects an individual’s religious beliefs and practices. The Christian Lobby also rejected the idea of marriage equality, stating, “If marriage is a child-centered institution it reasonably follows that [it] is not a category of relationship that can reasonably apply to same-sex relationships, which do not bear even the possibility of producing children.” 


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