Turnbull ministers divided over religious protections in same-sex marriage bill


The Coalition is divided over the urgency of protections for religious objectors to same-sex marriage.

Senior figures in the Turnbull Government are seemingly divided over whether to incorporate religious protection laws into the bill to legalise same-sex marriage, or to pass the reform swiftly and then move on a separate religious freedoms bill in 2018. 

Parliament will meet again next week for the final sitting fortnight, in which the prime minister has promised to pass the same-sex marriage law - before Christmas. 

Immigration minister Peter Dutton and finance minister Mathias Cormann, both considered conservatives, have suggested many religious protection issues could be dealt with in a separate bill next year. 

But treasurer Scott Morrison says he wants protections embedded in the Marriage Act. 

"I don’t think it should be delayed … we should seek to maximise those protections now," Mr Morrison told News Corporation. 

"Whether someone is a member of an organisation that has a traditional view on marriage should be irrelevant to whether they can sit on a board, work as a doctor, work in the public sector,” he said.

Resources minister Matt Canavan also wants religious protections passed this year.

He supports an idea reportedly favoured by Attorney-General George Brandis to amend the Dean Smith bill - which will legalise same-sex marriage - to include Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The section gives all people the right to "freedom of thought, conscience and religion".

"I think the proposal to enshrine Article 18, or aspects of Article 18, into these changes should be a relatively uncontroversial way to provide that unity," Senator Canavan told Sky News on Sunday. 

Some of the other religious protections on the table are provisions that allow parents to pull children out of schools and specific rules to prevent those with a 'traditional' view facing discrimination. 

Liberal MP Tim Wilson, who supports same-sex marriage, has warned some of the changes being floated by his coalition colleagues may not be constitutional, including the amendments relating to schools.

"In the end, the federal parliament is given the power around marriage, not actually to then use as a vehicle to licence other behaviour or over other states," he said. 

He also voiced opposition to the idea of religious freedoms being included in a stand-alone Bill of Rights, saying it was inconsistent with socially conservative values. 

"It's an oddity to see many people who identify as conservative or socially conservative, who have traditionally opposed a Bill of Rights or Charter of Rights, now prosecuting this cause," Mr Wilson told the ABC's Insiders. 

Conservatives should favour a system that assumes people have rights and freedoms unless a specific law takes them away, he said.

Gay rights campaigner Rodney Croome has cautioned parliament against entrenching these freedoms in the Marriage Act, saying it could override state and federal discrimination laws.

Opposition frontbencher Andrew Leigh says Labor is open to debate on religious freedoms, but the issue ought be considered separately to same-sex marriage.

- with AAP

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