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Aussie Lawmakers Debate Laws for Boycotters of Gay Weddings

If same-sex marriage is legalized in Australia, some opponents of marriage equality want to make it easier for businesses to refuse services to gay couples.
Malcolm Turnbull
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaks to members of the media on Nov. 13, 2017.Andrew Harnik / AP
/ Source: Associated Press

CANBERRA, Australia — Australian lawmakers who fear a national survey will reveal that most voters want marriage equality are moving to wind back anti-discrimination laws to reduce barriers for people who would boycott gay weddings.

Almost 80 percent of Australia's registered voters have responded to a government-commissioned two-month postal survey on whether Parliament should lift the country's prohibition on same-sex marriage. Opinions polls show that most Australians support gay marriage.

The survey results will be announced on Wednesday, but debate is intensifying on whether Australians who would refuse to provide gay weddings with a celebrant, venue, flowers or a cake should have added protection against anti-discrimination laws.

Several government lawmakers on Monday released a draft gay marriage bill that critics argue would diminish current protections for gays against discrimination on the grounds of sexuality.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a gay marriage advocate, on Tuesday ruled out downgrading anti-discrimination laws.

"The government does not, would not countenance making legal discrimination that is illegal," Turnbull told reporters.

Turnbull has endorsed a bill that would allow churches to refuse to officiate same-sex marriages.

But same-sex marriage opponents within his government have proposed an alternative bill that would extend that exemption from churches to businesses and individuals with a "religious or conscientious belief."

While businesses would be able to boycott gay marriages, they would otherwise have to comply with existing anti-discrimination laws. Proponent Sen. James Paterson said businesses could not advertise: "No gays allowed."

Attorney General George Brandis, a marriage equality advocate, rejected exempting gay marriage from anti-discrimination laws.

"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," Brandis said.