September 9th 2017

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Our unsafe schools are putting students at risk

EDITORIAL Turnbull needs a circuit breaker or he's a goner

CANBERRA OBSERVED 'What's the question?' is the crucial question

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Beijing applauds jailing of Hong Kong activists

NATIONAL AFFAIRS The economic agenda Australia needs won't come from Mal or Bill

MARRIAGE AND FAMILY Child-support payments and parental alienation

MARRIAGE AND LAW NSW Law Society spruiks for same-sex marriage

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Germany's energy plan: a disaster in the making

MUSIC Monetising the muse: 'Frugal comfort' would be welcome

CINEMA Logan Lucky: Southern fried robbery

BOOK REVIEW Serious Bioethics salted with humour




CANBERRA OBSERVED Love may be love, but certainly consequences are consequences

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'What's the question?' is the crucial question

by NW Contributor

News Weekly, September 9, 2017

From September 12 every Australian on the electoral roll will start receiving their voting slips for the same-sex marriage postal survey being conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, without actually knowing what they will be voting for.

While the question will be simple and the headline issue will be well canvassed, it is the actual outcome that will be in doubt because the politicians are yet to debate how a new law would work in practice and what will happen to conscientious objectors if the “Yes” vote is successful.

From the outset Tony Abbott enraged the same-sex marriage proponents by urging people to vote against same-sex marriage suggesting it should be a catalyst for discontent on other issues: “If you’re worried about religious freedom and freedom of speech, vote ‘No’. If you don’t like political correctness, vote ‘No’.”

"Shut up and eat your gruel!"

His Liberal colleague Christopher Pyne rejected this proposition, arguing that Mr Abbott was trying to “muddy the waters” and make the vote about something other than what it is.

“It’s a pretty straight-forward question: ‘Do you or don’t you agree that same-sex couples should have chance to marry?’”

Well, that may be true on the surface, but there are so many questions that remain unanswered if the vote is successful.

What happens to conscientious objectors? What happens to teachers in religious schools or universities? What happens to someone, who despite the new law, is unable to participate, promote or facilitate a same-sex marriage on religious or cultural grounds?

Fr Frank Brennan recently outlined some of these issues in an article for The Guardian, declaring adequate protection for religious freedoms will require painstaking respectful dialogue given the lack of a statutory bill of rights in Australia.

Fr Brennan said there were going to be numerous examples of where religious freedoms could be challenged.

“Should a church aged-care facility be able to decline to offer married quarters to a couple who had contracted a same-sex marriage?” he asked. “I would answer ‘yes’, though I would hope a church facility would be open to providing such accommodation in Christian charity if it could be done in a way not to cause upset to other residents.

“After all, same-sex marriage is a very modern phenomenon and I would favour ongoing tolerance of the residents in aged-care facilities run by a church, wanting to live out their last days with individuals and couples in relationships such as they have long known them.”

But what happens to other conscientious objectors? How much tolerance will be given? Proponents of same-sex marriage have been reluctant to be too specific on this point.

Senator Penny Wong told the National Press Club last year that the issue of conscientious objectors would be “sorted out by the market”.

In other words, if a Christian pastry chef declined to make a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding, the couple would go elsewhere.

But more recently the scope for such permissions has begun to narrow.

David Marr told the ABC’s Insiders that there should be no concessions on Australia’s anti-discrimination laws for same-sex marriage. Marr said religious freedoms would still be observed. The question then is, to what extent?

If the overseas experience is replicated there will be test cases where service providers such as florists will be identified and threatened with jail or business-breaking fines if they declined to participate in a same-sex wedding celebration.

Of course proponents of change say a law change will be barely noticeable.

Former NSW Liberal premier Nick Greiner argues that a Coalition Government is the best government to change the Marriage Act because it would ensure that religious protections for ministers of religion, marriage celebrants, and concerning the use of church grounds and services, would be assured.

“Today, more than a billion people live in countries that have embraced the freedom to marry for all their citizens. Britain, the U.S., New Zealand and Canada are often compared to Australia,” said the patron of the Liberal and Nationals for “Yes”.

“Each of these nations in the Anglosphere now permits same-sex marriage. In these countries, as well as Catholic Spain, Ireland and Argentina, the religious celebration of marriage has also been protected.

“The experience in these countries has been that no one has become more gay, or less married, and the achievement of the reform has been a unifying moment for people across the political spectrum.”

This is at best a doubtful assertion. See our story on page 4, for comment on the Irish experience, which has been of utterly eroded concessions to religious organisations.

Without knowing what the laws will be, the fear is that, eventually, proponents of same-sex marriage will likely seek their blessing from the churches that currently oppose the concept based on their religious teachings. Proponents will want total acceptance, and if past revolutions are any guide, that will surely be the ultimate goal.

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Last Modified:
April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm