ALL members of religious groups deserve the right to not participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies if they hold a traditional view of marriage, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said in a submission to a Senate inquiry.
The Australian Senate has established a select committee to examine draft exemptions in proposed same-sex legislation for ministers of religion, civil celebrants and service providers run by religious groups so they do not have to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies, should the law be changed.
This could include providing wedding services such as venue hire, catering or photography to gay couples.
The Select Committee on Same-Sex Marriage is expected to report on February 13, following inquiry hearings across Australia.
“Changing the definition of marriage would have an impact on all the members of the Catholic Church, but perhaps the most significant impact would be on ordinary parishioners trying to live their Catholic faith in their daily lives,” ACBC’s Commission for Family, Youth and Life chair Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher said.
“So while the ACBC appreciates the basic protections offered, it must acknowledge that there are no protections offered for the vast majority of the faithful who wish to continue to practise their beliefs.”
An exposure draft of same-sex legislation shows the Government proposal would allow religious ministers and civil celebrants to refuse to officiate same-sex marriages, and would grant religious bodies permission to decline wedding services.
But with intense lobbying and political pressure over the same-sex marriage issue, there is no guarantee this is how a final law proposal would look.
In its submission to the Senate inquiry, the Law Council of Australia supports “the protection of religious freedom and considers it reasonable to allow ministers of religion to conduct religious marriage ceremonies in accord and with the tenets and doctrines of their religion”.
However, on the grounds of “discrimination” the law body, including particular reference to the Queensland Law Society, recommends that the Government drop the provisions allowing exemptions for civil celebrants and service providers.
The ACBC submission defends the rights of people with a conscientious objection to be free to decline to be involved in a same-sex marriage, including where their business is approached to provide services.
“The point at issue when services are declined is not the sexual orientation of the person involved: Christians and their businesses serve people of all backgrounds without question every day,” the submission said.
“The issue is whether they wish to endorse someone else’s activity or belief by providing marriage counselling and preparation, a wedding reception venue, or some other support for a ‘same-sex wedding’ ceremony or celebration.
“If religious liberty is not given greater support than the minimal exemptions allowed, any redefinition of marriage in law is very likely to infringe upon the right of faith-based schools to choose staff that accord with their beliefs and mission, and upon the right of parents and families to choose a school that accords with their beliefs and best suits their child.”
Labor Shadow Cabinet member Senator Kim Carr told ABC radio in May last year: “The Catholic Church has a right to its view. I personally support the legalising of same-sex marriage.
“We have a conscience vote in the Labor Party, but no doubt there will be a change to marriage laws, as we’ve seen throughout the world.”
LNP Queensland MP George Christensen, speaking at a recent book launch, cited the pitfalls of the overseas experience.
“In Denmark, the Church of Denmark priests are required to conduct same-sex marriages or (if they conscientiously object) they must take part in bringing those people to a priest who will (officiate),” Mr Christensen said.
“Either way, they are forced to become a part of the process.
“Unlike churches in Australia, the Church of Denmark is an established church, or a state-backed institution, so the Danish government may exercise its wishes.
“But every church in Australia is issued with state-sanctioned licences for marriages and has state-sanctioned tax benefits so they would soon be pressured to ‘comply or else’.”
In October last year, Mr Christensen challenged Queenslander and Federal Labor MP Terri Butler to consider how a same-sex marriage law could operate in practice in Australia.
“The Member for Griffith might want to explain to the Catholic parishioners at Our Lady of Mt Carmel in Coorparoo why their church hall should be rented out for same-sex marriage receptions,” Mr Christensen said in Parliament.
“Because that is what the Labor Party wants – churches, mosques, and synagogues with no right to refuse their (non-worship services) from being utilised for the purposes of validating same-sex marriages.
“To do so is to deny churches and other religions institutions their right to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.”