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SSM Bill passes first hurdle

A BILL to legalise same-sex marriage has been introduced in the Senate and will be debated tomorrow.

Liberal senator Dean Smith’s Bill to change the definition of marriage was successfully introduced in the Senate today, marking an important first step.

The Bill was co-sponsored by eight other senators from Labor, Greens, NXT and Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party.

In supporting the Bill, Attorney-General George Brandis said it would give effect to the wishes of the Australian people and delivered on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s promise.

Debate on the Bill and possible amendments will now go ahead and Senator Brandis said he expected this to continue until the end of the next sitting week starting November 27th.

After that it will also have to pass the House of Representatives before being made law.

However, Greens leader Richard di Natale said the party had already made significant concessions to ensure the Bill would have cross-party support. He said the Greens would not be entering into discussion about amendments that further extended discrimination in law.

The vote came after Liberal senator James Paterson announced he would work together with his colleagues on amendments to Smith’s Bill rather than continuing to push his own version.

Mr Paterson wanted to introduce extra protections for people to refuse services for same-sex couples if they had a “conscientious belief”.

His Bill went further than a version proposed by Senator Smith, which is backed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Mr Paterson released his draft legislation on Monday that was supported by the No campaign. He argued his Bill would preserve the freedoms of all Australians.

But in a statement released on Facebook this afternoon Mr Paterson said he would focus on Smith’s Bill instead.

“The parliament must now quickly pass a bill to legalise same sex marriage,” the senator wrote.

“It is clear the majority of senators believe my colleague Senator Dean Smith’s Bill is where we should start.

“I will now work constructively with my parliamentary colleagues over the coming weeks on amendments to ensure that the strongest possible protections for the freedoms of all Australians are enshrined in the final legislation.”

Both Bills included exemptions for religious organisations to refuse to conduct same-sex marriages. Religious organisations could also continue to refuse to make facilities available or to provide goods and services for a marriage ceremony.

Brandis said today’s postal vote results are an “outsanding outcome”. He added that he envisages all amendments on the bill will be dealt with “by the end of the next sitting week.”

“This, on any view, was an outstanding outcome. And I once again want to congratulate Senator Mathias Cormann, who was responsible for the conduct of the postal survey, on an outstanding response,” Brandis said. “The result … gladdens me greatly.

“This is an important day in Australian history, it is an important day in the history of human rights in Australia, it is an important day on which we acknowledge and, finally – finally – strike down this barrier of discrimination on the grounds of sexuality.”

The Greens leader, Richard Di Natale said the party has already made concessions to support the Smith bill.

“Think very, very clearly about entrenching discrimination in order to appease your colleagues, rather than listening to the Australian people, who spoke very, very clearly today.

The Bills will allow ministers of religion and Australian Defence Force chaplains to refuse to solemnise a marriage. Marriage celebrants may also refuse to conduct a marriage ceremony if it is contrary to their religious beliefs.

Mr Paterson’s version also sought to establish protections for people with a “conscientious belief”. It wanted to protect freedom of speech and guarantee the right of parents to opt their children out of school classes that conflicted with their values.

Senator Paterson had hoped to put his Bill to a coalition party room meeting, the next of which is not scheduled until November 28.

“I think that’s an important discussion for us to have as Liberals,” he told reporters in Canberra.

Mr Turnbull, who is in favour of the law change, earlier told reporters in Manila it would be up to senators to work out which Bill they wanted to deal with first but he favoured the Smith Bill.

“It’s clearly a good Bill to start with,” he said.

“There will no doubt be plenty of amendments and … at the end of it they will come to a conclusion on an amended Bill.”

Today the Coalition for Marriage spokesman Lyle Shelton said he thought Senator Paterson’s Bill was “very good”.

“I think it does cover the protections as a bare minimum,” Mr Shelton said.

“I think anything less than that will see basic freedoms eroded,” he said.

But Law Council said the Paterson Bill represented an “extraordinary and perilous” winding back of anti-discrimination laws under the cover of marriage equality.

“You could potentially see a situation where a hire car company could leave their customers stranded on the way to a marriage ceremony simply because the driver held a thought or belief against it. This is even if the belief had nothing to do with religion,” Law Council chief Fiona McLeod said.

In contrast, Education Minister Simon Birmingham, who is also in favour of same-sex marriage, said the Smith Bill had been scrutinised by a committee and based on an exposure draft produced by the Attorney-General.

Any Senator could seek to amend the Smith Bill on the Senate floor, he said.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, who is opposed to same-sex marriage, said the Smith Bill was “probably a good starting position”.

“But I suspect it will need improvement in terms of strengthening religious protections,” he said.

The Labor caucus resolved in October the Smith Bill struck an “acceptable compromise” between marriage equality and religious freedoms. It would push for the Bill to be passed as quickly as possible.

Labor leader Bill Shorten said he was disturbed by Coalition MPs “peeling off again and saying there needs to be a delay and new conditions” put on the marriage law changes.

“I believe the nation expects us to move on with the legislation for marriage equality and be done with it this year,” he said.

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