At this stage, we do not know what, if any, protections for religious freedom will be available if a ‘yes’ vote gets up in the postal plebiscite.
The two bills we have seen so far provide very little protection. Essentially, ministers of religion and civil celebrants who do not want to solemnise same-sex weddings will be okay.
The religious freedom of ordinary Australians of faith is not factored in, nor is any aspect of anyone’s religious freedom outside of the wedding ceremony itself.
Broader implications for trade and commerce, for education and the operations of business have not been taken into consideration. There are no proposed protections for wedding service providers like photographers, bakers and florists who do not want to participate in same-sex weddings.
There are no proposed protections for charities that wish to continue operating in accordance with their ethos, whether by continuing to proclaim the truth of marriage between a man and a woman, or by being able to hire staff who publicly support this teaching.
And there are no proposed protections for schools that would want to continue to teach traditional marriage.
We are being told by politicians that we should just trust them to get it right. “Vote ‘yes’,” they say, “and we will sort out the religious freedom issues in the Parliament.”
Tim Wilson, a gay, Liberal MP who is a vocal supporter of same-sex marriage advises us that we should vote “yes” in this plebiscite because we are more likely to be given religious freedom protections under a Coalition government than a Labor one.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust our politicians to get the religious freedom protections right. I am not willing to write them a blank cheque when it comes to protecting my freedom not only to believe, but to live in accordance with our faith.
Plus, those suggesting that we get out of the way of same-sex marriage and instead focus on protecting our own religious freedoms miss a couple of key points.
First, there is more at stake in the marriage debate than just the preservation of our own position. There are concerns not only about freedom of religion, but freedom of speech, the impacts on education and more.
Secondly, any initial protections for religious freedom provided as part of same-sex marriage legislation are liable to be wound back by a future, “progressive” government.
Take a look at what is happening in Sweden. Just two months ago, Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven said:
“We Social Democrats are working to ensure all priests will consecrate everyone, including same-sex couples… I see parallels to the midwife who refuses to perform abortions. If you work as a midwife you must be able to perform abortions, otherwise you have to do something else… It is the same for priests.”
Same-sex marriage became legal in Sweden in 2009. Eight years later, the country’s newest leader is on a mission to ensure that even clergy are required to toe the SSM line. This demonstrates clearly that all you need is an ideologue in power, and any protections you thought you had would be short-lived.
We don’t need Prime Minister Lofven to tell us this, though. In a submission to the Senate Select Committee looking at religious freedom and same-sex marriage earlier this year, the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby quoted one of its supporters, who suggested that same-sex marriage advocates agree for protections for religious freedom now, and then work to remove them once same-sex marriage becomes law.
Additionally, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has already indicated that, if same-sex marriage legislation passed by a Coalition Government included broader legal protections for people like bakers, florists, photographers and other wedding service providers who do not want to participate in a same-sex wedding, a future Labor government would repeal them.
In making this promise, Mr Shorten has already told us that any religious freedom protections passed in law would eventually not be worth the paper they are written on.
Mr Shorten has also said that Labor would establish an LGBTIQ Anti-Discrimination Commissioner; a full-time staff member whose sole role would be to seek out and prosecute cases of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
People like Baronelle Stutzman, the 71 year old grandmother now before the US Supreme Court for declining to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding would be in their sights.
The only way that we can protect our religious freedoms is to vote ‘no.’