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Religious freedom law sought for gay marriage opponents

Religious freedom law sought for gay marriage opponents
From Al Jazeera - November 13, 2017

With Australia's same-sex marriage poll results due this week, conservatives are asking for protections for parents, school teachers and businesses which continue to defend a "traditional understanding of marriage".

The government has pledged to hold a parliamentary vote to legalise gay marriage before the end of the year should the nationwide survey, held after more than a decade of political wrangling, return a "yes" when results are announced on Wednesday.

But divisions within the conservative governing coalition over how to protect the rights of people who oppose same-sex marriage threatens to derail that timeline.

A draft bill drawn up by Liberal Senator Dean Smith to legalise gay marriage contained exemptions that allow religious organisations to refuse to conduct same-sex marriages. That bill received bipartisan support.

But on Monday another Liberal party senator, James Paterson, unveiled a rival bill that would protect not only religious entities but also parents, school teachers, charities and businesses who oppose gay unions.

"If it is wrong to force a priest to participate in a same-sex wedding against their beliefs, it should be wrong to force a florist or a photographer too," he wrote in The Australian newspaper.

Paterson supports same-sex marriage and describes himself as a religious "agnostic", but insisted the values of gay marriage opponents need to be respected.

He said his bill would also allow parents to have their children "opt out of classes that conflict with their values".

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