The Australian | November 19, 2015
As Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson, a strong supporter of same-sex marriage, said recently, reform of the Marriage Act should not be “a Trojan horse for legally enforced anti-religious secularism”. That danger is evident in the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission’s finding that Australia’s Catholic bishops have a case to answer for “humiliating” gay, lesbian and transgender Australians by distributing a booklet on marriage.
The complainant, transgender Greens candidate Martine Delaney, has asked for the matter be conciliated rather than sent to an immediate hearing. The row is not about homosexuality or same-sex marriage. A finding against Hobart’s Archbishop Julian Porteous and his colleagues would be a blow against free speech.
The booklet, Don’t Mess With Marriage, has been disseminated to Catholics in all states. It is moderate and respectful in tone. In opposing same-sex marriage — which church leaders and others are entitled to do in a free democracy — it raises broader issues about religious freedom and conscience. The booklet cites examples from around the world of clergy, tertiary colleges, schools and businesses that have been prosecuted, fined or threatened with closure for not accommodating same-sex couples.
As a supporter of individual choice, The Australian does not oppose same-sex marriage in principle. But major issues have to be resolved if it is to create a more inclusive society while maintaining freedom of religion. These, as Paul Kelly wrote in July, are: Must churches employ spouses in same-sex marriages? Must religious agencies place children for adoption with same-sex couples? Will church schools be penalised for teaching their beliefs, contradicting the state view? Could church bodies lose tax breaks and other support for not complying?
Such questions have been largely overlooked. But the Tasmanian case has shown potential pitfalls. Balancing the rights of same-sex couples to marry with freedom of religion and freedom of speech is a challenge legislators need to address before Australians vote in a plebiscite.
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