James Paterson drops plans to introduce alternative same-sex marriage bill

Liberal senator James Paterson Source: AAP

The Paterson bill was favoured by conservative Liberals who wanted stronger religious protections.

Senator James Paterson has dropped a plan to introduce a competing bill to legalise same-sex marriage.

The senator will instead attempt to negotiate amendments to the bill favoured by both Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Labor leader Bill Shorten, which has already been introduced to the Senate.

Until now, it looked like the parliament would have to choose between two competing bills from two Liberal senators: the moderate-backed Dean Smith bill and the James Paterson bill, favoured by conservatives who wanted stronger protections for religious objectors in the bill to legalise same-sex marriage.

“It is clear the majority of senators believe my colleague Senator Dean Smith's Bill is where we should start,” Senator Paterson wrote on his Facebook page.

“I will now work constructively with my parliamentary colleagues over the coming weeks on amendments to ensure that the strongest possible protections for the freedoms of all Australians are enshrined in the final legislation.”

While Smith bill allows churches to refuse to wed same-sex couples, the Paterson bill would have allowed anyone with a religious or moral objection to refuse to participate in the process – including florists, bakers and musicians.

It would also mean anyone voicing or acting on a belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman would be protected from discrimination and vilification laws.

While Senator Paterson publically supports same-sex marriage, his bill had the support or a number of vocal No campaigners within the Coalition.

Liberal MP Kevin Andrews, who supported the No campaign, said bakers should be given the right to refuse to service same-sex weddings. He said a gay baker or a Jewish baker should be allowed to refuse to service an Islamic wedding too, and vice versa. “It has to be consistent,” he said.

Liberal Senator Zed Seselja said Senator Paterson’s proposed religious exemptions were “very reasonable suggestions”.

But moderates in the Coalition were critical of the bill. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said it could lead to legalised discrimination.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham also voiced concerns.

“As we move … to remove one form of discrimination we want to make sure we don’t put in place other forms of discrimination instead,” Senator Birmingham said earlier in the week.

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