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Decision not to feature same-sex weddings costs White Magazine couple their livelihoods

Forced to close: White Magazine co-founders Luke and Carla Burrell delivering a final goodbye message on their company website.

A GLOSSY Australian wedding magazine has shut down after standing by a decision not to feature same-sex couples.

That decision sparked a consumer boycott of White Magazine and led to its closure.

It is one of two religious freedom cases that has come to light, as the Federal Government is under pressure to release a long-awaited review of religious freedoms led by former ­attorney-general Philip Ruddock.

The founders of White Magazine claim they received “a flood of judgement” and lost advertisers after making a decision during last year’s same-sex marriage debate not to feature same-sex weddings.

“White Magazine has always been a secular publication but, as its publishers, we are Christian,” co-founders Luke and Carla Burrell wrote in a final note on the magazine’s website.

The Newcastle-based couple started the publication 12 years ago to celebrate relationships.

“We have no agenda but to love. We have no desire to create a social, political or legal war, which only divides people further and does more damage than good,” they wrote.

“To us, our faith is anchored in love without judgement.”

White Magazine made headlines in August after text messages between editor Carla Burrell and a photographer revealed the publication wasn’t including gay weddings.

Advertisers and clients including photographers then turned to social media to share stories about their interactions with White Magazine.

Many said they had been ignored after submitting same-sex content.

Photographer Lara Hotz, a previous contributor to the magazine, told media in August that it wasn’t including gay couples – though it hadn’t said so publicly.

Ms Hotz said the magazine’s decision made her feel “extremely hurt” and while she did not want to force the magazine to include same-sex weddings, felt its stance should be made transparent.

“It appears they are happy to take money, content and photographs from LGBTQI advertisers and contributors, but are yet to support and represent us in the same way as heterosexual couples are represented in the magazine,” ABC radio program Hack quoted her as saying.

For the Burrells, the row turned into a campaign “targeting the magazine, our team and our advertisers”.

“Couples who have featured in our magazine have also been the subject of online abuse despite their individual beliefs. We’re really saddened by this,” the Burrells said.

“The result has been that a number of advertisers withdrew their sponsorship out of fear of being judged, or in protest.

“We have had to recognise the reality that White Magazine is no longer economically viable.”

In another case, Christian wedding photographer Jason Tey was taken to the Western Australian Equal Opportunity Commission after he agreed to photograph the children of a same-sex couple, but disclosed a conflict of belief in case the couple felt more comfortable hiring someone else.

He did not refuse service. He offered to do the job despite his conflict.  The conciliation conference failed, and he is now before Western Australia’s State Administrative Tribunal.

Australian Christian Lobby managing director Martyn Iles said the two cases “cross a concerning threshold”.

“They are not for overt actions which may be considered discriminatory,” he said.

“They are for two things previously deemed part of our inherent freedoms – in the case of White (Magazine), for doing nothing, for their silence.

“In the case of Tey, for merely stating his beliefs. Nothing more than that.”

The White case raises important questions for adherents of traditional marriage, according to Mark Fowler, adjunct associate Professor at Notre Dame Law School in Sydney, and a specialist in discrimination law with the firm Prolegis.

“When a religious believer steps into the commercial world do they lose their religious character in doing that?” he said, speaking to the ABC’s Religion and Ethics report.

“… Should we… protect individuals and corporations on the basis of expression of religious beliefs?

“This is much beyond the question of marriage. What we are dealing with here is almost holistic reconception of what we will permit within the public domain.”

Mr Burrell said he and wife understood why their decision to close White Magazine was contentious.

“The accusations that it’s unfair that at this time we’re not featuring same-sex marriage, I get that that can be hurtful. People feel that’s unfair,” he said in a video statement on the magazine’s website.

“Why are values becoming more important than relationships? Why can’t we have diversity in our thoughts and feelings? I think without those things, we’re not progressing.”

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