Peter Dutton says religious freedom could be protected after marriage equality
Key conservative speaks out against discrimination and says bill to protect beliefs could be debated in the future
Peter Dutton has ruled out allowing commercial service providers to reject same-sex weddings and said religious freedom could “potentially” be protected after marriage equality passes.
On Thursday the Liberal senator Dean Smith introduced the cross-party bill into the Senate, while Dutton and several Coalition and Labor MPs committed to voting yes after the resounding postal survey result, and conservatives refined their demands for amendments to the bill.
Dutton told Sky News that “sensible changes” could be passed with bipartisan support using the Smith bill as a starting point.
He said he wanted to see “sensible religious protections” to allow people to “express their view, rightly or wrongly” about what they believe a marriage is and “proper parental protections” to allow them to opt out of programs such as the anti-bullying program Safe Schools.
Asked about discrimination by commercial service providers like florists and bakers, Dutton said he would consider the amendment but “I would find it hard to discriminate against a particular person on any basis, really”.
“If you’re involved in baking cakes, if you’re involved in the provision of commercial services otherwise, you don’t discriminate as to who comes through the door of your shop,” he said.
Asked if religious freedom could be dealt with after marriage equality, Dutton said that although he didn’t support a bill of rights a “religious protections bill” to protect people’s fundamental religious beliefs could be a matter for a “future debate”.
He conceded this could “potentially” could happen after marriage law changes, and that timeline had the virtue that marriage equality advocates could not say it was an attempt to stymie the reform.
On Wednesday Smith suggested a way through the debate could be for an existing parliamentary inquiry into freedom of religion to report after same-sex marriage was legalised, because conservatives are raising issues of parenting laws and free speech that are not relevant to a marriage bill.
The Liberal senator David Fawcett, who chaired the cross-party Senate committee inquiry from which Smith’s bill was drafted, has rejected the idea and believes religious protections must be enshrined at the same time.
Asked about a report that conservatives are disappointed he and Mathias Cormann have not taken up the religious freedom issue more vigorously and that the treasurer, Scott Morrison, is now organising proposed amendments, Dutton said it was “not right” but acknowledged that “some people want you to go further”.
“There are some people who weren’t happy that I wasn’t out there speaking more forcefully in the run-up to the plebiscite vote,” he said.
Dutton said there were some amendments he could not support, warning: “I don’t support discrimination in any form against any person.”
In the Senate, second reading speeches on the cross-party bill continued through the day, from a string of marriage equality supporters including Smith, Penny Wong, Janet Rice, Simon Birmingham and Louise Pratt.
Senator David Leyonhjelm circulated amendments proposing that celebrants and commercial service providers be able to refuse to serve weddings without breaching the Sex Discrimination Act.
The Resources and northern Australia minister, Matt Canavan, was the first same-sex marriage opponent to speak. He promised to respect the result but reiterated he would not vote for a bill that did not protect religious freedoms.
Nevertheless, the 61.6% yes vote in the postal survey has already led a number of parliamentarians to move from a no vote or uncommitted into the yes column.
The minister for aged care and indigenous health, Ken Wyatt, the assistant minister for cities, Angus Taylor, and the Liberal MPs Lucy Wicks and Anne Sudmalis were among those indicating they will now vote yes in parliament.
On the Labor side, Maria Vamvakinou and Chris Hayes have indicated they will both vote for a same-sex marriage bill despite their electorates recording majority no votes.
The Labor MP Tony Zappia said in a statement that the “parliament should now respect their wishes and change the Marriage Act” which a spokesman claimed “makes it clear that Tony will support a change to the act”.
But not everybody has changed their mind or indicated they will respect the yes result.
Analysis Australians voted in massive numbers for marriage equality and a fair go
All age and gender groups voted in large numbers, with every state voting yes and a wide variety of electorates reporting a yes majority
The Nationals senator John Williams told Guardian Australia he would still vote no because he believed in the “Christian sacrament of marriage as between a man and a woman”.
“I’m a no – I don’t want to make a hypocrite of myself,” he said.
Williams said he wanted the bill to be amended to protect churches and school halls from having to conduct same-sex weddings, although Smith’s bill allows religious organisations to reject them already.
He said civil celebrants should not have to conduct same-sex weddings, but taxi drivers and bakers and commercial providers should not be able to refuse service.
He backed an amendment to allow parents to withdraw from the Safe Schools program.
The Labor senator Don Farrell will vote no despite the postal survey result, and Jacinta Collins and Deborah O’Neil have reserved their position.
Guardian Australia has contacted Chris Ketter, Alex Gallacher, Helen Polley and Anthony Byrne, the remaining Labor MPs and senators who have not said how they will vote.