Former PM John Howard wants protection for those opposed to gay marriage

By @chelean on
John Howard
Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard attends a commemoration service on the 20th anniversary of the Port Arthur mass shootings in Tasmania, Australia, April 28, 2016. AAP/Rob Blakers/via Reuters

John Howard has called for the protection for those who are opposed to same-sex marriage. The former Australian prime minister said there needs to be legal protection to conscientious objectors to gay marriages should marriage equality become legal in the country.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed on Friday that Coalition MPs would get free vote on marriage equality following a plebiscite on same-sex marriage. This would allow the MPs to ignore the plebiscite’s result and cast their own vote.

Nevertheless, Howard didn’t think Liberal MPs would vote based on what they genuinely want. He said an “overwhelming majority” of them would vote in favour of marriage equality if it was the result of the referendum even if they were personally against it. And if same-sex marriage is passed into law, Howard said those who do not want it should be given legal protection.

“I do think one thing that has to be addressed is the question of proper protection of religious freedom and freedom of conscience in relation to people who might in a tangential way be affected by this,” he was quoted by the Guardian as saying.

He added that opponents to marriage equality should not be “frightened or bullied into silence” by accusations of bigotry.

Earlier this year, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Labor would oppose attempts to extend discrimination law exceptions to people who object to same-sex marriage. A spokeswoman for Attorney General George Brandis also told Guardian Australia last week that the Turnbull government has “no plans to remove exemptions from the Sex Discrimination Act.”

Should the Coalition win in the upcoming election, the Turnbull government will hold a plebiscite on marriage laws. However, the result of the plebiscite would not be the final outcome. It would not be a binding position on the Coalition benches, and the MPs still had to cast conscience vote based on what they think would be best, and not be compelled to follow the plebiscite’s outcome.

“If that outcome were rejected by an MP who had demanded the national ballot, it would be a $160 million act of fraud,” news.com.au noted.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann was confident that the result of the plebiscite would be carried through the Parliament.

“This is now being put to the Australian people. Should we be successful at this election, I am very confident that whatever the result of the plebiscite, it will be carried through and respected by the Australian Parliament,” he told ABC News Radio.

Read more:
Scott Morrison says he faces bigotry and discrimination for opposing same-sex marriage
Australian Christian Lobby head explains how same-sex marriage affects heterosexual men: ‘People would think I’m gay’