A Senate inquiry examining the consequences to religious freedom of same-sex marriage has exposed deep divisions in the same-sex marriage movement.
Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director Lyle Shelton said it was significant that a cross-party group of Senators came to the consensus that non-clergy Australian’s rights and freedoms would be lost and needed to be protected should marriage law ever change.
“This is the first time this has been acknowledged by politicians who support redefining marriage,” Mr Shelton said.
“But the committee’s consensus view was vehemently opposed by same-sex marriage movement leaders in their testimony before the inquiry who believe non-clergy dissenters to same-sex marriage should be fined,” Mr Shelton said.
The Senate Select Committee report into the consequences for religious freedom of a draft same-sex marriage bill was tabled in the Senate this afternoon.
“For years we have been told that same-sex marriage is just a simple change that only affects the couple involved and that all that is needed is a minor tweak to the Marriage Act.
“A Senate committee now agrees that there are far-reaching and complicated impacts that run through anti-discrimination laws which must be addressed, should the Parliament ever decide to redefine marriage,” Mr Shelton said.
The committee recognised that it was not bigotry for ministers of religion, civil marriage celebrants and even business owners who supply the wedding industry to wish to be free to live out their beliefs about marriage.
The Senators’ views were in stark contrast to the leaders of the same-sex marriage movement who gave evidence at the hearings.
Just.equal spokesperson and long-time campaigner for redefining marriage, Rodney Croome, told the committee hearings he was opposed to protections for religious freedom for civil celebrants.
“To us it (providing protections) would sound like a way to legitimise prejudice,” Mr Croome told the Senators.
Chris Pycroft of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby told the committee: “I think that any amendment that would be introduced to the bill which would introduce exemptions (for religious freedom) in some form or another would need a review put in place, I would say two to three years after the specific exemptions were put in place, to evaluate their effectiveness and whether it is appropriate to keep those exemptions in place”.
“Clearly any protections for freedom of belief that Parliament might seek to include to secure the passage of a same-sex marriage bill would not stand the test of time before activists started lobbying again for change,” Mr Shelton said.
The Co-Chair of Australian Marriage Equality and member of the NSW Parliament, Alex Greenwich, is constantly chipping away at the legal protections for religious schools in NSW anti-discrimination law which allows them freedom to hire staff who share their ethos.
Mr Shelton said while progress was being made with Parliamentarians, clearly the leaders of the same-sex marriage movement had a long way to go before they would accept pluralism and diversity for other Australians.
“While consequences for freedom are now being acknowledged in the Parliament, the next step is for politicians to understand the ethical consequences of assisted reproductive technology and removing gender from the classroom which flow from removing the gender requirement from marriage law,” Mr Shelton said.