Originally published in Financial Review
Conservatives have backed down over demands to introduce sweeping protections for religious freedom and winding back anti-discrimination laws in the wake of the overwhelming Yes vote for same-sex marriage.
However, it has been suggested as many as 88 amendments may be attempted to the so-called Smith bill introduced into parliament this week, though most, if not all are expected to fail, because the numbers are in already in place in both Houses for the Smith bill.
With senior figures in the government – even those who supported the ‘no’ case – keen to have the issue of same-sex marriage dealt with once and for all, the pressure will be on for rapid progress through both chambers.
Eighteen speakers spoke in what is known as the second reading stage of the debate on the bill in the Senate on Thursday, and there remains about the same number to speak when the Senate returns on November 27.
The second reading stage allows parliamentarians to set out their general philosophical arguments about a piece of legislation before it goes to a third reading, during which the legislation is debated in detail clause by clause and proposed amendments put forward.
It is generally expected this will occur by the end of November – particularly as the government has signalled it will extend Senate sitting hours if necessary to get the legislation passed – leaving the House of Representatives to consider the legislation in the last sitting week of the year, which begins on December 4.
One unknown is whether individual MPs opposed to same-sex marriage will attempt to move amendments in the House, a move which could slow down the process.
While various issues have been raised as possible areas of amendment, the most contentious appears to be around so-called parental protections that would allow parents to withdraw their children from sex education.
The marriage bill is likely to be limited to minimal protections, such as allowing clergy and celebrants to refuse to officiate gay weddings if it clashes with their religious beliefs,
Senior conservative and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said: “I think if you’re involved in baking cakes or you’re involved in the commercial provision of services otherwise, then you don’t discriminate as to who comes through the door of your shop”.
However, Mr Dutton also said: “I want to make sure that proper parental protections are in place as well, because I do think this Safe Schools movement will use this debate as a launching pad for their next wave”.