New conservative Bill a Trojan horse to allow unprecedented discrimination

New conservative Bill a Trojan horse to allow unprecedented discrimination

Today Liberal Senator James Paterson released a conservative marriage equality Bill which seeks to introduce new and unprecedented forms of discrimination.

Anna Brown, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said the Paterson Bill was a bizarre attempt to entrench unprecedented forms of discrimination against LGBTI Australians.

“If there is a Yes result on Wednesday, Australians will have voted for true equality for all Australians – not an unfettered right to discriminate for people who voted No,” said Ms Brown.

“Australians are voting to make our country a fairer and more equal place, not to take us back to a time where people can be denied service at a shop. We call on Australian politicians to reject the Paterson Bill and pass marriage equality without allowing new forms of discrimination,” said Ms Brown.

The Paterson Bill appears to propose the following new forms of discrimination:

  • All marriage celebrants could turn away same-sex couples and transgender and intersex people regardless of whether the discrimination is founded in religion or not.
  •  Individuals could refuse to provide goods and services to same-sex couples in relation to their marriage.
  • Immunity from legal claims including criminal offences for people who believe that marriage is between a man and a woman.

The Bill extends protections to those who oppose marriage equality for both religious and moral reasons, enshrining the concept of ‘conscientious objection’, which was criticised in the cross-party senate inquiry report that Senator Paterson signed up to earlier this year.  

“Allowing anyone to ‘conscientiously object’ to someone else because of their sexuality, race or disability is unacceptable in modern Australian society – it goes against the foundation of equal treatment enshrined in Australian law for decades. The entire purpose of anti-discrimination protections is to ensure that we are all treated fairly and equally in public regardless of who we are or who we love,” said Ms Brown.

Exemption for all individuals and businesses in marriage related services

The Bill gives the green light to discriminate in the provision of goods, services and facilities related to marriage by any entity or individual, including commercial businesses.

“This Bill will cause chaos and entrench deeply unacceptable discrimination that Australians rejected decades ago. A taxi driver could turn away a same-sex couple travelling to their wedding. A bank teller could refuse to authorise a personal loan for a same-sex couple for their wedding or possibly even their honeymoon. A hotel could refuse to take reservations of guests in town for their friend or family member’s same-sex wedding. These laws would provide no certainty for LGBTI Australians, their families and supporters or marriage equality to be treated fairly and equally in Australia,” said Ms Brown.

“This Bill would also be completely unworkable and impractical. An employee at a florist could refuse to sell flowers for a same-sex wedding and the owner could not take any action against their employee if they wanted their small business to serve all customers equally and without discrimination,” added Ms Brown.

Anti-detriment clause provides immunity to ‘traditional’ views on marriage & family

The Paterson Bill also introduces a special immunity and privileges for individuals and organisations with traditional views on marriage and the family, including the idea that the traditional family is the fundamental building block of human society and that sexual relations should only occur within marriage. The Bill allows individuals and organisations who suffer detriment to bring legal action and claims for damages.

“This is not a Bill about equality – it is a blatant attempt to punch holes in discrimination law and introduce special privileges for religious conservatives, who want to be able to say and do whatever they want with impunity,” said Ms Brown.

“Do we really want to return to the days where children born out of wedlock were seen as second class by society? Where those who have sex before marriage are shunned from society in the public square? This is an opportunistic attempt by conservatives to undo the social progress of the last 50 years,” said Ms Brown.

Discrimination against transgender, gender diverse and intersex Australians

Under the Paterson Bill people who believe that gender is binary and fixed at birth are granted special protections and celebrants may disregard a person’s legal status based on their belief about what the person’s sex or gender is.

“The Paterson Bill creates a legal carte blanche to attack transgender and intersex Australians. The idea that one person has the right to decide what sex or gender someone else is goes against the right to self-determination and provides no certainty for vulnerable transgender and intersex Australians to protect themselves from mistreatment and discrimination,” said Ms Brown.

The Bill is inconsistent with the Select Committee Report that Paterson signed onto 

The Paterson Bill is also inconsistent with the Senate Select Committee’s report released earlier this year, which Senator Paterson signed up to, reflecting an historic cross-party consensus on legislating for marriage equality.

The report recommended that same-sex couples should not be unnecessarily singled out under any marriage equality Bill and noted that “conscientious belief … lacked definition and could potentially have an unlimited scope.” The ability to refuse a good or service based on “conscientious belief” was recognised as “controversial” and lacking precedent under Australian law”. As the report states: “The committee is not inclined to disturb established anti-discrimination law and practice.”

“The Dean Smith Bill follows the consensus outcome from the senate inquiry earlier this year. The Paterson Bill goes directly against the cross-party agreement which was formed in its attempt to sneak in new forms of discrimination under the guise of a marriage equality Bill,” said Ms Brown.

The Paterson Bill misapplies international human rights law

Senator Paterson has suggested that his Bill protects freedom of thought, conscience and religion in line with international human rights principles.

“The Paterson Bill gives an unfettered right to act on religious or other beliefs, which fails to recognise that the international human rights law he relies upon very clearly contains limitations on freedom of religion to protect other rights. As the saying goes, my right to swing a fist ends where your face begins. In 2017, religion should not be used to give a free pass for discrimination,” said Ms Brown.

For media inquiries and interviews:

Michelle Bennett, HRLC’s Director of Communications: 0419 100 519