Australia mulls protections for gay marriage opponents

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

Australian lawmakers are moving to wind back anti-discrimination laws to reduce barriers for people who would boycott gay weddings.

Almost 80% of Australia’s registered voters have responded to a government-commissioned two-month postal survey on whether Parliament should lift the country’s prohibition on same-sex marriage.

Opinions polls show most Australians support gay marriage.

The survey results will be announced on Wednesday.

However, debate is intensifying on whether Australians who would refuse to provide gay weddings with a celebrant, venue, flowers, or a cake should have added protection against anti-discrimination laws.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a gay marriage advocate, on Tuesday ruled out downgrading anti-discrimination laws.

He has also endorsed a bill that would allow churches to refuse to officiate same-sex marriages.

However, same-sex marriage opponents within his government have proposed an alternative bill that would extend that exemption from churches to businesses and individuals with a “religious or conscientious belief”.

While businesses would be able to boycott gay marriages, they would otherwise have to comply with existing anti-discrimination laws.

Proponent Senator James Paterson said businesses could not advertise: “No gays allowed.”

Attorney General George Brandis has rejected exempting gay marriage from anti-discrimination laws.