31 July 2015

Senator Penny Wong’s recognition during her Press Club debate that rights are at risk because of same-sex marriage is welcome according to the Australian Christian Lobby.

On Wednesday Senator Wong debated fellow South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi on whether or not the Marriage Act should be changed to redefine marriage.

During the debate, Senator Wong acknowledged that freedom of conscience for providers of services to same-sex weddings would be affected under same-sex marriage legislation.

She said that existing exemptions under State-based anti-discrimination legislation would protect this.

However, ACL Managing Director Lyle Shelton said today that this was not the case.

“We very much welcome Senator Wong’s recognition that freedom of conscience for wedding service providers should be respected and her desire to see this protected.wee

“However her understanding that this could be achieved through State based anti-discrimination law is incorrect.

“Other mechanisms will need to be pursued by advocates for same-sex marriage if they want to protect the freedoms of those affected by a change in the law,” Mr Shelton said.

One of Senator Wong’s Labor colleagues has promised prosecution of wedding service providers who exercise their freedom of conscience to decline to participate in a same-sex wedding.

In 2013, before the High Court struck down the ACT’s law redefining marriage Simweedon Corbell wrote to ACL to say 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 Shelton questioned why it was unlawful for wedding industry providers to act within their conscience yet lawfully deny children the right to know their biological heritage.

“Mr Corbell and Ms Wong have both failed to address the ultimate losers if marriage were redefined; children. The nurturing bond between one or both biological parents would be lost through the ethically fraught process of surrogacy or assisted reproductive technology.

“Vague promises of a possible discussion ‘if this were to happen’ are no substitute for calling for a real debate on anti-discrimination laws and ending the silence on this issue.

“The ink is not yet dry on Labor’s new policy which crushes freedom to dissent on same-sex marriage within her own party after 2019, a change for which Ms Wong was a primary proponent.”

“Ms Wong’s statements are also inconsistent with the reality of the situation right now.

“We’re already seeing what happens to individuals and organisations who fail to meet the demands of the marriage redefinition lobby. Last month, AME Convenor Rodney Croome encouraged supporters to report Archbishop Julian Porteous to the Human Rights Commission for distributing a pamphlet entitled Don’t Mess With Marriage to Catholic Schools.”

Background – victims of discrimination overseas

  • Washington State, US: Barronelle Stutzmann politely declined a request from long term friends and clients to provide flowers for their gay wedding.  She explained her desire not to be forced to participate in a same-sex wedding because of her conscientious convictions. The Washington State Attorney-General sued her along with the couple and won.

  • Colorado US: Baker Jack Philips declined to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding and was ordered to “cease and desist” from discriminating against same-sex couples and provide anti-discrimination re-education for his staff.

  • Boston MA, US: Catholic Charities were forced to shut down after the state’s redefinition of marriage meant they would have been forced to provide adoption services to same-sex parents.

  • Vermont US: Catholic innkeepers were sued after declining to host a wedding reception for two lesbians.

  • New Mexico: Photographer found guilty of unlawful discrimination by Human Rights Commission for declining to photograph a lesbian ‘commitment ceremony’. The photographer was ordered to pay $6,000

  • Illinois: Bed and breakfast owners facing lawsuit for refusing to host a civil union ceremony.