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Want to Know What Scares Conservatives? Read the New Marriage Bill

A guide to James Paterson's bill to legalise same-sex marriage, homophobia, and transphobia.

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13 November 2017, 3:39am

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Victorian Liberal Party Senator James Paterson has just released his own draft bill to amend the Marriage Act, should Wednesday's postal vote results show Australia is in favour of legalising same-sex marriage.

It is, in a word, veryconservative.

Paterson says the protections laid out in his bill are vital for ensuring Australians aren't discriminated against for their religious beliefs in a country that supports marriage equality.

Early reviews from Paterson's Liberal peers suggest a more progressive bill from WA Senator Dean Smith—set to be released Thursday—is the one that's likely to get the party's backing. But Paterson's bill is still worth a close read, particularly if you were deeply confused every time you saw another Coalition for Marriage ad about radical gender education, the "gay agenda," or Safe Schools.

Here, we have a fascinating insight into what conservatives have really been so scared about during this marriage equality debate.

In 16,000-odd words, Paterson's Marriage Amendment (Definition and Protection of Freedoms) Bill 2017 rarely mentions marriage at all. Instead, the bulk of the bill is about protecting the rights of those with a "relevant marriage belief." This is someone who holds a genuine belief, religious or conscientious, that marriage is between a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others.

And this isn't all that surprising—it's something that conservatives have been pushing for throughout the whole debate. You've most likely heard it in reference to bakers, who are apparently terrified of the prospect of being legally required to make weddings cakes for same-sex couples.

After this though, the language of the bill gets interesting. According to Paterson's bill, those with a "relevant marriage belief" may also think that:

"The family structure of a man and a woman united in marriage with their children is a fundamental building block of human society, and this family structure has significant advantages for the nurture and raising children"

"Sexual relations should only occur within a marriage"

"Gender difference and complementarity of men and women is an inherent and fundamental feature of human society and is reflected in the gender difference and complementarity of a man and a woman united in marriage"

Things get even more explicit. According to Paterson's bill, it's also relevant if people believe "the normative state of gender is binary and can, in the overwhelming majority of cases, be identified at birth."

Essentially, those who believe trans and intersex people do not exist.

But do we need an entirely new bill protecting people's religious freedoms, with a single sentence tacked on to expand the right to marriage to any "2 people, to the exclusion of all others"? And is the biggest threat to religious freedom in Australia really people not being able to say, or do, homophobic and transphobic things?

Well, as many conservatives correctly point out, Australia doesn't have a Bill of Rights explicitly laying out these protections, as the US does. But there are other laws protecting religious freedom here.

And, with those laws in mind, this bill reads like a knee jerk reaction from conservatives who feel, very acutely, that as social norms change their power is slipping away. Who increasingly find themselves butting up against “political correctness.” And who think, just as much as YES campaigners do, that this vote will be a watershed moment for Australia.

Where once snide comments about trans issues went unchecked in the comments section of The Australian, they now draw a barrage of angry replies. Where once someone could say they don’t want their son's school letting their child wear a dress, now Twitter will come for you.

And Paterson’s bill gives us an peek into what conservatives fear is next—that this rising “PC culture” will be enshrined into law. That their non-PC views will go from unpalatable to illegal, and the law will be used as a weapon to police their behaviour.

Just as it has been used against LGBTQI Australians for decades.

Like the laws that made it illegal to be gay in Australia until 1997, when Tasmania finally repealed its sodomy laws. Or in Victoria, where the death penalty remained the punishment for "buggery" until 1949.

Or the “gay panic law,” which gave people the right to claim self-defence if they killed a gay person who they thought was making a move on them. In Queensland, the law was only repealed this year.

Or the laws that blocked gay couples from owning property together, and getting into the hospital rooms of their dying partners.

Or the laws that still make married trans Australians get divorced if they want to undergo gender realignment surgery, in every state except South Australia in the ACT. Or those that still bar gay couples from adopting kids in the Northern Territory.

What Paterson's bill shows is that conservatives are completely aware of how much the law has been a powerful, and effective, tool of discrimination against LGBTQI Australians.

Now, they are scared it will be turned back on them.

They are afraid of retribution.

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