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Media Release: HRC Appeasing Churches on Marriage Equality – 27.10.15

Media Release:   A policy of ‘selective apartheid’ for marrying gay couples?

“A predictable outcome of the Human Rights forum — which has 80% Church input — will likely favour a policy to change federal law, allowing “selective discrimination” against marrying gay couples,” say Brian Morris, Director of Plain Reason.

“This issue will come to a head at a ‘Religious Freedom‘ Roundtable called for 5th November — and while only the first of a planned series, the contentious “marriage industry exemptions” for Christians will most certainly top the agenda.”

“Based on recent events we fully expect policy advice to emerge that will prejudice gay couples in some way.”

Staged by the Human Rights Commission (HRC), 17 religious organisations have been asked to attend (at this point), with just 4 secular groups invited. 200 invitations were sent to faith-based entities to submit ideas for the Forum.

“Central to long-standing Church demands is the perceived ‘right‘ of Christian businesses in the lucrative wedding industry to refuse service to gay couples, once marriage equality is finally legalised in Australia.”

Morris said, “Religious lobbyists have run fear campaigns — distraught that no protection exists for ‘people of faith‘ in wedding trades to reject gay couples; they want new exemptions to anti-discrimination laws to protect their beliefs.”

He said religious paranoia centres on two recent cases in the USA.

An Oregon bakery faced court for harassing a gay couple, well after refusing to bake their wedding cake, and a Kentucky country clerk spent six days in jail rather than issue a marriage licence to another same-sex couple.

“Both made it clear they wanted media attention, and courted public notoriety as ‘Christian martyrs‘ to their faith.”

“But it’s a futile Christian crusade. Even if this forum frames restrictive gay policy it won’t pass through parliament; but in the unlikely event that it does, the public and LGBTI community backlash will create mayhem for the government.”

Morris said he was not aware of any LGBTI group who had been invited to this HRC Religious Roundtable.

“Most disturbing in this whole process is the stance of Human Rights Commissioner, Tim Wilson, who’s reported in The Australian as saying a simple option is to split the Marriage Act into ‘Civil’ and ‘Religious’ Unions — a blatant act of discrimination.”

“The Commissioner seems more concerned with new Christian rights than equality for gays in a uniform Marriage Act.”

“His article for the Weekend Australian in August, and re-published on his own website, makes it clear that new laws are needed to protect the ‘religious liberty’ of Christians in sectors of the wedding industry.”

“The public accepts that priests shouldn’t be made to marry same-sex couples against their will; or that doctors not be required to perform abortions, if it offends their faith — but extending this to bakers and caterers is sheer lunacy.”

Two secular groups seem set to float a “compromise” at the Forum, aimed to hasten gay marriage laws. It’s known as “Option 3” — “service providers could refuse services (to gay couples) as long as they disclose their policy in advance, apply it consistently, and offer information about alternative service providers.” It’s rank discrimination, says Morris.

“Where does such appeasement end? Do we next accede to Christian anxiety and bend laws to further marginalise Muslims, or Jews, or atheists? With all existing exemptions, we might already be described as a “Soft Theocracy“.***

“Incredibly, Commissioner Wilson acknowledges there will be few Christian businesses in the wedding industry which might wish to martyr themselves before the courts, by deliberately discriminating against gay couples.”

“So why does the Commissioner pursue a policy that only benefits an influential Christian lobby?”

“Religious privilege and exemptions from anti-discrimination laws are already excessive — in education, health and aged care; pandering still further to the Biblically devout completely repudiates the very basis of our secular democracy.”

Brian Morris
Director, Plain Reason

***  Soft Theocracy:  “A state where church and government purposes coincide to garnishee taxpayers’ money and resources,    structurally through tax exemptions and functionally through grants and privileges.”

Plain Reason: promoting science, reason, and critical thinking.