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Opinion: Appeasing the Church on same-sex marriage? 27.10.15

Opinion:  Appeasing the Church on same-sex marriage?

Since marriage equality became a public issue Church leaders have been campaigning on why Christians need new exemptions from anti-discrimination laws. News of America and Ireland legalising same-sex marriage came like a bolt from the blue. It flagged that Australia was among the Western World’s laggards who’d still to move into the 21st century on this basic human right — to recognise for the LGBTI community in the Marriage Act.

But does Australia need more legal exemptions from anti-discrimination? And especially to allow the devoutly religious in the wedding industry to refuse service to gay couples — simply on the basis that such unions offend their Christian or Islamic faith?

While a majority of moderate Christians support gay marriage there was hope among religious conservatives that the new Human Rights Commissioner, Tim Wilson, might live up to his image as the “Freedom Commissioner”, following his appointment to the job in 2014.

Following a National Consultative process on “Rights and Responsibilities” in 2014, Commission Wilson pioneered the introduction of a first “Religious Freedom” Roundtable. Invitations to submit ideas for the Forum were sent to 200 “faith-based” organisations but included, too, were four non-religious groups — for balance.

On 5th November the Human Rights Commission (HRC) will host 17 religious organisations and 4 secular groups to discuss policy on “Religious Freedom” — a central issue being the impending legalisation of gay marriage.

Churches have made it clear they want a ‘right‘ of conscience, based on two recent cases in America.

An Oregon bakery faced court for harassing a gay couple, well after refusing to bake their wedding cake. And a Kentucky country clerk spent a couple of 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.”

In reality, while the Religious Roundtable may frame policy to protect such Christians here, it is highly unlikely that exemption would pass through parliament. But in that improbable event, the public and LGBTI community backlash would create mayhem for the government.

It seems a dramatic oversight that no LGBTI group has been invited to this HRC Religious Roundtable. And it is also disturbing to note that the Human Rights Commissioner, Tim Wilson, has stated an option to split the Marriage Act into ‘Civil’ and ‘Religious’ Unions.

His article in the Weekend Australian in August, and re-published on his own website, claims 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 rather strange.

Religious exemptions already exist in education, health and aged care. Do we really need to again pander to the Biblically devout and further undermine the principles of our secular democracy?

Brian Morris
Director, Plain Reason and author of ‘Sacred to Secular’

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