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Marriage plebiscite planned before end of year

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Federal Attorney General George Brandis has told SKY News that the marriage plebiscite will be held before the end of 2016.

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Senator Brandis said he would expect legislation allowing marriage equality to be passed before the end of the year if the public voted ‘yes’ at the plebiscite.

“The bill to constitute the plebiscite will be introduced early in the life of the parliament… in the event that there would be a yes vote the government would legislate to give effect to the wishes of the people,” Senator Brandis told Sky News on Sunday morning.

Ensuring protections for religious institution was an important element of the legislation that will be put forward by the government. Senator Brandis stressed that the laws would only change for the civil aspect of marriages.

“The protection of the rights of churches and religious people to conduct ceremonies of marriage in accordance with the teachings and liturgies of their faith is very important.” the Attorney General told SKY News.

Senator Brandis would not commit to making the wording of the question public prior to the federal election.

The Coalition government has proposed to deal with the country’s long running debate over marriage equality by putting the issue to the people via a plebiscite. The Australian Electoral Commission has estimated the exercise will cost at least $158 million dollars. The Labor party have vowed to legislate the changes via a parliamentary vote if they are returned to government.

Senator Brandis said he was personally in favour of changing the nation’s marriage laws to allow same sex and transgender people to marry.

“I believe that marriage is one of the fundamental institutions of society and I think it’s important the fundamental institutions of society reflect the fundamental values of society.

“Treating gay people equally is, I think, one of the fundamental values of modern, Australian society.” Senator Brandis said.

Senator Brandis said that some politicians might still vote against the legislation when it was presented to parliament and that action was understandable.

“I think it would be perfectly understandable why a member of Parliament representing a conserve electorate and having conservative views themselves might choose to vote no. And I don’t have a problem with that.” Senator Brandis said.

Australian Marriage Equality (AME) have reacted to the news voicing their preference for a parliamentary vote.

Rodney Croome, national director of AME said the government could make marriage equality in a week via a parliamentary process.

“If the government allowed a free vote in parliament we could have marriage equality next week rather than delaying until the end of the year by putting the issue to an expensive and unnecessary plebiscite .” Mr Croome said.

Mr Croome said there was some concern over the proposed model which would still allow politicians to debate the issue and vote against it, regardless of the plebiscite’s outcome.

“But if there is to be a plebiscite the result should automatically change the law and not return to parliament for further debate and delays.”

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has also welcomed the news of an earlier date for the marriage plebiscite and have said Senator Brandis comments relating to religious institutions is a sign that he’s seriously considering their request to suspend anti-discrimination and vilification laws in the lead up to the vote.

Lyle Shelton, Executive Director of the ACL said the laws needed to be structured so that any person is Australian society could deny providing services to same sex weddings citing their own religious beliefs.

“While we welcome Senator Brandis’ recognition that protection is needed for religious wedding celebrants, freedom of conscience rights must also be extended to people of faith or no faith who supply services to the wedding industry.” Mr Shelton said.

Mr Shelton said cases in other countries showed that people who worked in many industries needed to be able to turn down same sex couples business without fear of prosecution.

“In the United States and Europe bakers, florists, photographers and wedding chapel owners have all fallen foul of the law, and in some cases have incurred big fines, for exercising their conscientiously held views about the truth of marriage.” Mr Shelton said.

Image: Mélanie Villeneuve via Upsplash

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