Malcolm Turnbull

Rebel Anglican bishops urge support for Smith bill as same-sex marriage debate reaches House of Reps


A group of Anglican bishops has written to MPs urging the Lower House to pass the Smith bill without amendments, breaking ranks with church leaders who want stronger religious exemptions.

A group of Anglican bishops has written to members of the Lower House, urging them to pass the Smith bill without any further edits to legalise same-sex marriage.

The bill has reached the House of Representatives after passing the Senate last week, where none of the amendments raised by backbench Coalition MPs and minor parties were successful.

Conservatives in the Coalition have been pushing for more religious protections, including the right for civil celebrants to refuse to marry same-sex couples on the grounds of “conscientious objection”.

Sydney Archbishop Glenn Davies voted ‘No’ in the national postal survey and has described the religious protections in the Smith bill, which does already allow churches and religious ministers to refuse to marry same-sex couples, as “wholly inadequate”.

But a group of seven Anglican bishops have written to MPs, organised by the Bishop of Wangaratta, John Parkes.

They said the Smith bill “preserves the fabric of our anti-discrimination laws, which have been developed over half a century.”

“These give expression to democratic values of equality and fairness. It also accords fulsome recognition of the religious rights and freedoms that underpin a democratic, plural and multicultural society.”

While a suite of amendments were defeated in the Senate, MPs in the Lower House will now have their own chance to raise amendments.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has suggested he may vote in favour of extending the right to refuse to civil celebrants, as well as an amendment to make it clear charities could not lose their charitable status for defending the ‘traditional’ view of marriage.

Similar amendments were previously defeated in the Senate, thanks to a majority vote from Labor, the Greens and moderate Liberals.

Labor’s Tony Burke said he would prefer the Lower House to pass the bill in its current form as the amendments had already been dealt with in the Senate.

He warned of a back-and-forth process between the two houses of parliament.

“We could very easily get to a situation where the Senate has approved marriage equality in one form, the House of Representatives has approved marriage equality in a different form, and we get to the end of the year and we still don't have the change,” Mr Burke told reporters at Parliament House on Monday morning. 

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