Same-sex marriage bill fails to protect religious freedom, warns Australian archbishop

07 August 2017 | by Mark Brolly

'A law which does not protect religious freedom for all people does not protect religious freedom at all'

Sydney's Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher and his Anglican counterpart, Archbishop Glenn Davies, have criticised a proposed Bill to permit same-sex marriage in Australia as failing to protect religious freedom.

On the eve of a 7 August vote by the governing Liberal Party about whether to dump its policy of putting the issue to a compulsory national plebiscite and adopt legislation proposed by several Liberal MPs who wanted the matter settled, Archbishop Fisher said the limited protections offered to ministers of religion and those already registered as civil celebrants "evidences an incorrect assumption that freedom of religion is simply a matter for those engaged in religious ministry".

"The free exercise of religion is a right afforded to every Australian, and a law which does not protect religious freedom for all people does not protect religious freedom at all," he said.

"Most, by far of the members of Australia’s faith and religious organisations are not ministers of religion. This bill provides little comfort for them."

Archbishop Fisher said the report of the Senate Select Committee on marriage redefinition and religious freedom earlier this year called for broad protections for religious freedom.

"I find it extraordinary that those members of parliament putting forward this bill, who claim that religious freedom is central to it, have ignored the report preferring to have only a narrow number of exemptions for a small number of people," he said.

"If passed, a bill like this would have grave consequences for all people of faith. I urge all Members of Parliament to take seriously their responsibility to protect the religious freedoms of all Australians equally and not just clerics like me."

Archbishop Davies said the Bill failed the religious protection test.

“The Bill not only circumvents the government pledge for a plebiscite on the issue, it is manifestly deficient in its attempt to protect civil and religious freedoms for all Australians,” he said.

“The far-reaching consequences for society, families and children have barely begun to be raised in public discussion. This Bill fails to protect either individual conscience or religious freedom and I urge MPs to reject it.”

The meeting of Liberal MPs voted overwhelmingly to retain their plebiscite policy and reject the proposed Bill, with only seven MPs voting for the change. Same-sex marriage has become an issue of leadership between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and predecessor, Tony Abbott, whom he replaced in a party room ballot almost two years ago.

The Government is expected to again put the plebiscite proposal, which was rejected in the Senate last November, to Federal Parliament soon.

PICTURE: Supporters at a same sex marriage rally in Perth's Russell Square. Sunday, 5 July, 2015

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