For release: Friday, 20 February 2015

The Australian Christian Lobby has expressed concern for the future of freedom of conscience in Australia in light of a court ruling in Washington State yesterday.

Baronelle Stutzman, a 70-year-old florist, was found guilty of discrimination after she declined to provide services for a same-sex wedding. 1

Her successful prosecution was made possible by Washington State’s redefinition of marriage in law in 2011.

ACL Managing Director Lyle Shelton said, “The court’s failure to recognise Mrs Stutzman’s right to freedom of conscience is chilling. This decision highlights the very real threat to freedom of conscience posed by the same-sex political agenda.

“Barronelle now faces the real possibility of losing everything. Her crime? She followed her conscience on marriage,” Mr Shelton said.

ACL has been warning that changing the definition of marriage here would result in similar litigation and there is evidence to suggest it would.

Before the High Court struck down the Australian Capital Territory’s law redefining marriage, Attorney-General Simon Corbel said there would be no tolerance for wedding service providers following their conscience.

“It would be unlawful for those who provide goods, services and facilities in the wedding industry to discriminate against another person on the basis of their sexuality or their relationship status,” Mr Corbell said in a letter to ACL in November 2013.

In contrast however, Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson told the National Press Club this week that freedom of conscience should be upheld in a secular society.

“Preserving religious freedom is part of our charter, but so too is the preservation of equality before the law.

“There is concern that if the law (on marriage) changes civil celebrants, venues and photographers will face fines if they don’t participate in weddings they disagree with, as has occurred in the United States.

“I do not think that is constructive way forward.”

While welcoming Mr Wilson’s sentiment and best intentions, ACL does not believe marriage can be redefined without human rights consequences, especially for children who must forfeit a biological parent when taken into a same-sex family.

“Many advocates for changing the definition of marriage in both Australia and the US do not support freedom of conscience for those who will always believe in the traditional definition of marriage and the rights of children.

“Yesterday’s ruling is further reason why Australia’s marriage laws should not be touched,” Mr Shelton said.