Turnbull to vote for religious protections

Malcolm Turnbull says he supports adding extra protections to the samesex marriage bill, even though he does not believe they are needed and are likely to be defeated.

In an overture to conservatives who will try this week in the House of Representatives to achieve what they could not in the Senate – amend the same-sex marriage legislation – Mr Turnbull said a handful of extra protections for religious freedom would address anxieties that some held.

Although the numbers are tight, sources in the same-sex marriage camp believe the bill will pass the lower house unamended, as it did the Senate, and same-sex marriage will soon be law.

As the final week of Parliament resumed yesterday, the atmosphere in the Coalition was less hostile, due to Saturday’s strong byelection win for Barnaby Joyce and a finding in the Fairfax-Ipsos poll, which found overwhelming public opposition to a leadership change.

Nonetheless, feelings inside the Coalition are still tender over same-sex marriage, with conservatives angry at Mr Turnbulland Liberal moderates who have sided with Labor and the Greens to support a bill by Liberal senator Dean Smith, which has basic protections for religious freedoms, such as exempting churches from marrying gay coupes if it contravenes its doctrine.

The same-sex marriage debate began in the lower house yesterday, with government heavy hitters Mr Turnbull, former prime minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Scott Morrison, who gave a rare insight into his strong personal faith, among the speakers.

Mr Abbott said the Yes vote in the postal survey was ‘‘a sign of the warm acceptance Australians have for gay people’’. ‘‘There may indeed be a few homophobic individuals lurking amongst us but no one should ever again claim that Australia is a bigoted or intolerant country.’’

But MrAbbott said the wayto make thepassageofthebillaunifyingmoment for the country ‘‘would be to acknowledge the continuing concerns that many decent Australians have about freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and parental rights’’.

Mr Turnbull does not support all the amendmentsbeingputupbytheconservatives but does back exempting civil celebrants from having to marry gay couples and to protect religious charities from losing their tax-exempt status if they express a view against same-sex marriage. If only to provide reassurance.

‘‘I do not believe that the [Dean Smith] bill threatens our cherished religious freedoms. There is nothing in the bill which prevents anyone from maintaining or adhering to the teaching of their church on marriage or morality. But we must not fail to recognise that there is sincere heartfelt anxiety about the bill’s impact on religious freedom.’’

Mr Morrison backs the full suite of amendments and said church and state were not easily separable for many.

‘‘We may be a secular state, but we are not a godless people to whom faith, belief and religion are not important,’’ he said. ‘‘It is deeply central to the lives of millions of Australians. In my own church, like many others, we refer to Australia as the great south land of the Holy Spirit.

‘‘Whether you raise your hands, bow to your knees, face the holy city, light incense, a candle or the menorah, faith matters in this country, and we cannot allow its grace and peace to be diminished, muffled or driven from the public square. Separation of church and state, does not mean the inoculation of the influence of faith on the state.’’

Key points

Same-sex marriage sources believe the bill will pass the lower house unamended.

Turnbull backs exempting civil celebrants from having to marry gay couples.