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Frank Brennan: Same sex marriage and freedom of religion

Frank Brennan SJ AO writes in the ‘Pearls & Irritations’ blog (14.11.17) about how the ABS will soon announce the results of the survey on same sex marriage. As the author notes, the return rate on the survey is a very credible 78.5 per cent, while in Ireland only 60.5 per cent of eligible voters turned out.

‘Sixty-two per cent of those who voted in Ireland supported a change to the Irish Constitution recognising same sex marriage. The Australian vote in support of parliament legislating for same sex marriage is likely to be even higher. If so, it will be a resounding win for the ‘Yes’ campaign. Support among Catholics will be much the same as among the community generally.

‘Our Parliament will have a clear mandate from the people to legislate for same sex marriage. The present mess of Australian politics will not help as our politicians work out how and when to legislate the change. Already, there are different proponents for different private members’ bills which could be presented first in either House of Parliament.

‘Those who have campaigned loudest and longest for a ‘No’ vote have emphasised threats to other human rights, most especially the right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief. But they are not the only ones highlighting the need to consider freedom of religion. The issue of religious freedom must be addressed.

‘… After Wednesday’s announcement, let’s hope we hear from some of our Catholic bishops repeating the sentiments of Archbishop Dermot Martin after the 2015 Irish vote: ‘The Church needs a reality check right across the board, to look at the things we are doing well and look at the areas where we need to say, have we drifted away completely from young people? … We have to stop and have a reality check, not move into denial of the realities. We won’t begin again with a sense of renewal, with a sense of denial. I appreciate how gay and lesbian men and women feel on this day. That they feel this is something that is enriching the way they live. I think it is a social revolution.’ He also said that if the Irish vote was ‘an affirmation of the views of young people then the Church has a huge task in front of it to find the language to get its message across’ to them.

‘Wednesday will be a day of celebration for those wanting a ‘Yes’ vote. It should also be a day when we Australians recommit ourselves to respect for all citizens, especially those whose beliefs differ significantly from our own. Our politicians led us into this divisive campaign. Now they need to lead us out of it with considered and timely legislation and a commitment to better protection of human rights for all.’

The marriage equality survey is won, but the battle against discrimination continues

In the wake of the winning ‘Yes’ vote in the same-sex marriage survey, Timothy Jones writes in The Conversation (15.11.17) about how churches have been exempt from sex discrimination laws for years – and now those opposed to same-sex marriage want that exemption to be extended to individuals.

‘The polls are in and Australians have signalled their strong support for same-sex marriage. The only stumbling block to marriage legislation passing into law is disagreement about what extensions to protections of religious freedom are needed.

‘It is becoming increasing clear, however, that the “protections” conservatives are arguing for are not protections of religious belief or practice. Rather, they want to significantly extend the capacity of religious organisations and individuals to discriminate against others on the basis of sex.

‘Freedom of thought, belief and practice (religious or not) is a human right. It is recognised in Australia and enforced through legislation at state and federal levels.

‘But no conceivable marriage equality legislation in Australia threatens anyone’s freedom of thought, belief or religious practice. Amendments to the Marriage Act cannot change people’s thoughts or beliefs. And consent is a necessary part of a valid marriage, so no one opposed to same-sex marriage could be forced to marry someone of the same sex.’

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