20 April 2016, The Tablet

Archdiocese of Sydney denies boycotting companies that are pro same-sex marriage

The coalition Government plans a plebiscite on same-sex marriage if it wins the General Election expected on 2 July

The Archdiocese of Sydney has denied threatening to boycott companies involved in a public campaign advocating same-sex marriage in Australia, after Australia's biggest communications company, Telstra, rejected claims that pressure from the Church forced it to step back from an active role in the campaign.

The Archdiocese's Business Manager, Mr Michael Digges, wrote last year to business organisations with which the Archdiocese has had or currently has partnerships to remind them of the Church's position on the issue.

A statement issued by the archdiocese on 13 April said: "Mr Digges pointed out that support of same-sex marriage is incompatible with the business practices of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, as outlined in the Archdiocese Guide for Business Practice. In turn he also said in agreeing to do business with the Archdiocese, our business partners and suppliers agree to be comfortable with the association of their name and brand with the Archdiocese.

"It is misleading to say the Archdiocese threatened in any way a boycott of companies included in the campaign.

“Mr Digges offered to meet and discuss the issue further with the people to whom he had written in the spirit of genuine dialogue."

The statement said Archbishop Anthony Fisher had also discussed same-sex marriage and other important issues with many business, civic and political representatives "as would be expected of a senior religious leader in Australia".

Telstra issued a statement the same day saying it had long supported diversity and inclusion and that its position supporting marriage equality had not changed.

"What has changed is that the Government has indicated it will call a plebiscite on the issue and, ultimately, Parliament will decide the matter,” it said.

"Our people and stakeholders can contribute to this process and out of respect, it is important we allow them to voice their own views. Given this we have no further plans to be active in the debate."

But both Telstra and the Church in Sydney continued the debate on 18 April, with Telstra CEO Mr Andrew Penn saying: "Last week we advised that out of respect for the individual our view had been that we would not add further to the debate on marriage equality ahead of a plebiscite or parliamentary debate. It is clear that rather than Telstra stepping back we should in fact step forward and support our view for marriage equality and so that is what we will do.

"By renewing our active position, we acknowledge that we are at equal risk of inflaming a new debate but it is the right thing to do. It also remains very important that we continue to recognise and respect the right of the individual to hold their own view on this issue."

The Archdiocese, in response, said: "It is pleasing to know that Telstra recognises the right of all individuals to hold their own view on the issue of same-sex marriage, as expressed in yet another news release.

"The original question was whether it is fair and reasonable for a company to support a particular view on behalf of all their stakeholders.

"The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney has not and would not identify individuals in this debate. While we are made up of a very large, wide and diverse group of people, there are many different views and opinions.

"However, Church leaders have every right to participate in respectful and open discussion on all important social issues and public policy and in this case we renew our position on marriage."

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's conservative coalition Government plans a plebiscite on the issue if it wins the Federal (General) Election, expected on 2 July, although advocates of same-sex marriage want the matter decided by Parliament.



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