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Religious freedoms becoming crucial issues in the same-sex marriage debate

Concern: “It’s not just Church people like me who are concerned, there’s a broad concern in the community on this issue which goes to the heart of things in a country like Australia.”

BRISBANE Archbishop Mark Coleridge has identified the rights of religious freedom and conscience as the crucial issues in the same-sex marriage debate.

“It’s not just Church people like me who are concerned, there’s a broad concern in the community on this issue which goes to the heart of things in a country like Australia,” Archbishop Coleridge said, inviting Catholics to consider religious freedom during the national same-sex marriage postal survey.

“… The rights of religious freedom and the rights of conscience are really the cornerstone of human rights – which is of great concern to people in Australia.

“If you pull the pin on religious freedom and the rights of conscience the whole edifice of human rights begins to totter.”

A recent Newspoll showed a 57 per cent majority wanted the law changed to allow same-sex marriage, but a 62 per cent majority wanted religious beliefs protected.

Former Prime Minister John Howard and former senator Nick Minchin are among prominent Australians to back calls for more detail about religious protections in any bill on redefining marriage.

Archbishop Coleridge said the Federal Government and the Opposition had both given assurances about protecting religious freedoms and beliefs, but “we haven’t seen the legislation and the kind of protections” they would provide.

“When you talk about religious freedom it is not just about whom you will chose to marry … there’s also the question of the use of facilities, the provision of services and certainly, in terms of my own Church, … our schools – the freedom to teach what we believe, the freedom to employ as we see fit,” he said.

“Also in our hospitals and other healthcare services, also in our social welfare agencies. These are massive services of the entire community.

“How will religious freedom be affected in those services?

“Will the rights of conscience be vindicated and protected?

“Very often you hear the language of exemptions. The language of exemptions is deeply questionable, because what we are talking about is not exemptions given perhaps grudgingly by a government which can at any time later simply withdraw the exemptions; we are talking about long-recognised human rights – religious freedom and the right of conscience – and these are not the gift of government – and therefore no government has the right to withdraw them.

“That’s the importance of this legislation.”

Archbishop Coleridge invited Catholics to think about this underlying issue in the context of the postal survey on same-sex marriage.

“To draw attention to it is not to indulge in alarmist speech or scaremongering of any kind,” he said.

“It is one way of saying this vote about same-sex marriage is not in fact simple, and there are deep issues caught up in it which go to the very heart of the Church and the very heart of Australia.”

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