23 October 2017, The Tablet

Same-sex marriage vote puts religious freedom on the line in Australia

Same-sex marriage vote puts religious freedom on the line in Australia


Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard says broad protections for religious freedoms are unlikely to pass Australia's Senate if the Yes vote wins in the national postal survey on same-sex marriage next month.

His comments follow Labor’s decision to support a same-sex marriage bill proposed by West Australian Liberal Senator Dean Smith.

Mr Howard, who led Australia's conservative Liberal-National coalition government from 1996-2007, told The Australian newspaper that the protections offered in Senator Smith’s bill provided only the “bare minimum” in terms of religious protections, saying a Yes outcome could force faith-based schools, charities and social-service providers to close or change the way they operate.

He expressed concern that if the law on marriage was changed, there would be a “renewed push to remove or qualify some of the exemptions that are now available for religious-based organisations, including schools”.

“If there is a Yes vote, there will be enormous pressure to get behind the Smith bill (in the Australian Parliament) because it’s come from a Liberal backbencher and the Labor Party and the Greens will back it.”

Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart said the same-sex marriage debate "has revealed a depth of rejection and anger towards Christianity".

"Our belief about the nature of marriage as being between a man and a woman has become a defining moment. It has been attacked with surprising vehemence," Archbishop Porteous said in a homily for the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, which was posted on the archdiocesan website last week. "Our efforts to proclaim this truth have become the subject of ridicule and even violence."

Referring to the Scripture readings of the day, Tasmania's Catholic leader continued: "Our society is like a vineyard which has been cultivated by Christian faith and truth, yet now it seems only sour grapes are being produced and there are tenants who deny the rights of the owner.

"As Christians we cannot avoid speaking of what we know is right, we cannot deny the evident truth, and we cannot simply go silent in the face of ridicule and persecution."

Mrs Lara Kirk, the Marriage, Family and Relationships coordinator for the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn, said the media narrative around same-sex marriage gave the impression that Catholics had only two options: to stick doggedly to Church teaching while heartlessly ignoring the justice claims of same-sex couples or to massage the claims of the Catholic faith into a new expression that would allow them to be more compassionate.

"This, of course, is misleading oversimplification," Mrs Kirk wrote on the archdiocesan website on 19 October.

"Many people who care deeply about justice also believe that redefining marriage will push the balance of rights too far in one direction with devastating consequences for the rights of many to freedom of conscience, freedom of speech and freedom of religion. They believe it will not create the more open and tolerant society we are all hoping for. It may, in fact, produce the opposite.

"It is OK for a compassionate person to say No to same-sex marriage. But it isn’t OK to leave it at that. We must continue working together to create the best possible balance of rights which maximises the freedoms of all without unreasonably harming the rights of some."

Pic: Same Sex marriage demonstrators are seen outside of the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne on Sunday, October, 1, 2017. (AAP Image/James Ross)

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