Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has slapped down conservative Coalition MPs clamouring for the right to discriminate against gay people, arguing such moves would be neither welcome nor successful.
He was responding to demands from some Liberals, led by Victorian senator James Paterson, that business owners should be able to refuse service for gay weddings based on religious or “conscientious” beliefs.
Senator Paterson on Monday published a bill that would legalise same-sex marriage but roll back discrimination laws to ensure nobody is forced to help facilitate a same-sex ceremony or reception.
It involved overriding existing discrimination laws and creating special dispensation for the “relevant belief” that homosexual relationships are unholy or immoral.
But Mr Turnbull on Tuesday warned ns would not welcome moves to wind back anti-discrimination protections.
“Certainly the government would not countenance making legal discrimination that is illegal, that is unlawful, today,” he said.
In a further rebuke, he said while parliamentarians would be entitled to put forward and debate amendments, he believed ideas such as Senator Paterson’s “would have virtually no prospect of getting through the Parliament”.
That is because they will be subject to a series of conscience votes on both sides, requiring a majority from the collective pool of Coalition, Labor and Greens MPs.
If the “yes” vote prevails in the postal survey – to be announced Wednesday – the government has indicated it will facilitate debate on Liberal senator Dean Smith’s private member’s bill.
There will be no cabinet or party room position on any matter related to the bill, allowing each MP to vote as they wish on any proposed amendments.
“People will be free to move whatever amendments they want and they will be debated and voted on,” Mr Turnbull said. “They won’t be … constrained by any party policy.”
A handful of ministers backed the sentiments expressed in Senator Paterson’s rival bill, including Resources Minister Matthew Canavan and Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar, who have supported the “no” side.
But they have been roundly rejected by other ministers, including the country’s chief law officer, Attorney-General George Brandis.
“We are certainly not going to remove one form of discrimination and at the same time instate another form of discrimination,” he said on Tuesday.
“If you’re a gay man or gay woman and you go into a florist and say, ‘I’d like to buy a bunch of flowers’, it’s just wrong and illegal for the florist to say, ‘I don’t serve gay people’ – just as it would be wrong or illegal for the florist to say to an Indigenous person, ‘I don’t serve Indigenous people’.
“If it’s legally and morally wrong to discriminate against one gay person, I don’t know how it becomes right to discriminate against two.”
Senator Paterson told Fairfax Media his bill was “not about the person, it’s about the event”. A business owner could not decline to supply a person “based on their own characteristics”, but they could decline to participate in the wedding, he said. Senator Paterson told the ABC in his view it would be wrong for a shop to erect a sign saying “no gays”, but it would be okay if the sign said “no gay weddings”.