John Howard slams Turnbull over SSM poll

Former prime minister John Howard has accused the Turnbull government of “washing its hands of any responsibility” to protect religious freedom if the Yes vote prevails in the same-sex marriage survey.

Mr Howard turned up the heat on Malcolm Turnbull today, declaring it was urgent for the government to outline religious protections in a potential same-sex marriage bill and tell Australians what they were voting for in the November poll.

“This issue must be addressed before the survey is completed; leaving it as something to be taken up only in the event of a Yes vote prevailing is the equivalent of saying that it does not matter,” Mr Howard said in a statement today.

“If a Yes vote is recorded there will be overwhelming pressure to move on, legislate as quickly as possible, and then put the issue behind parliament. There will be scant opportunity for serious consideration of protections.

“Very likely, those raising such matters will be met with a chorus of put-downs, and accused of attempting to frustrate the verdict of the people.”

Mr Howard slammed suggestions the survey was only about the marriage of gay people, arguing freedom of religion and freedom of speech were at risk.

“Thus far, the government’s response has been to wash its hands of any responsibility, merely stating that it will facilitate a private member’s bill,” Mr Howard said.

“On the evidence to date, it would seem that the only protections in that bill will not go much beyond stipulations that no minister, priest, rabbi or imam will be compelled to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony.

“The Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, has already said Labor will examine the exemptions from certain provisions of anti-discrimination legislation now enjoyed by religious bodies. It is already Greens policy to remove them.

“This is a complex area, due in part to our federal structure. There is a heavy involvement of state law. This complexity is a powerful reason why the issue must be addressed.”

Mr Howard also criticised the Yes campaign for promising to continue to try and legalise gay marriage despite the outcome of the poll, saying the wishes of the people should be respected.

“This contrast highlights just how important it is for the government to spell out, in advance of the vote, what steps it will take to protect parental rights, freedom of speech, and religious freedom in the event of same sex marriage becoming law,” he said.

“The case for these protections is compelling, given the experience of other countries, such as the UK, US and Canada, in the wake of those countries changing their marriage laws.”

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