Australians have spoken, giving a resounding ‘yes’ to marriage equality. Despite the extensive resources of the Catholic and Sydney Anglican churches, as well as the rest of the so-called Coalition for Marriage (which claimed to speak for the silent majority) being put into the ‘no’ campaign, many Christians have supported the ‘yes’ vote and will be rejoicing today with the LGBTI community. Liberal MP Dean Smith is among them.

There seems to be broad support for exemptions to allow churches, if they so choose, to refuse to conduct gay marriages. The legislative ‘protections’ which the Patterson proposal demands go much further, including to “allow people to discuss their traditional view of marriage without fear of legal penalties”.

There are difficult areas here, to be sure, regarding free speech versus common decency. We don’t, however, allow open public expression concerning ‘traditional’ views on race: that kind of damaging, bigoted discourse is justifiably outlawed. The damage done historically by churches to LGBTI people is real and, at least in some quarters, acknowledged (e.g. by Pope Francis and others). The question is, will that harm continue as we turn to the issue of legislating for gay marriage.

One sensible proposal for distinguishing between acceptable and unacceptable ‘protections’ suggests restricting exemptions to acts and institutions that are actually religious. Baking a wedding cake, for example, is not an inherently religious act.