Senate debates

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Bills

Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017; In Committee

11:48 am

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I will make a brief contribution to this debate. I acknowledge that it is a vexed question, and I think that this issue may well be one of those issues that could be provided to the Ruddock committee—for want of a better term or description—to consider in detail. If I may, I might take issue with what the Attorney said when he referred to a homophobic florist. The celebrated case in the United States was of a florist that had continuously served a homosexual individual without any difficulties whatsoever. It was only once the florist was asked, 'Would you provide flowers for our wedding?' that the florist said, 'I cannot be engaged in that particular activity.' So, with great respect to the Attorney, what we have there is a very clear delineation between nonservices because of an attribute as opposed to nonservice because of an activity. Saying to somebody, 'I'm not going to serve you because of your particular attribute,' is something to which a tolerant, diverse society would hopefully respond, 'Well, that's not up to muster.' But to say to somebody, 'Because you are engaged in the provision of flowers to the community at large, you will then have to assist in the celebration of an activity that you conscientiously disagree with,' is a matter that, I confess, I grapple with. If we do allow the civil celebrant—or, indeed, it should be an 'authorised celebrant', but we've been there and done that—or a marriage celebrant to say, and I believe this is a right that they should have, 'Yes, I am a marriage celebrant but, because of my conscientious belief as to what marriage is, I cannot assist you on this occasion,' then why not also extend that to, if I might say, very respectfully, the non-homophobic florist or any other service provider?

However, I do accept and understand that there are some vexed issues here. I think most people know that, when it comes to these matters, I usually seek to make a determination one way or the other. But, on this very rare occasion, I and, I suspect, some of my colleagues will actually be abstaining on this because we understand both sides of the argument. But I did want to get to my feet just to make the, I think, very valid and important distinction between saying to somebody, 'I'm not going to serve you because of your attribute,' as opposed to saying, 'Sorry, I cannot be of assistance because of the activity that I will, in fact, be assisting with on this particular occasion.'

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