Re­li­gious pro­tec­tions call hides real agenda

The West Australian - - OPINION - Brian Greig

Imag­ine if we had spe­cial laws in Aus­tralia for re­li­gious free­dom which meant that any­one with re­li­gious con­vic­tions could dis­crim­i­nate against others in ev­ery­day life based purely on per­sonal be­liefs.

Un­der this sce­nario, a Catholic shop as­sis­tant could refuse to sell you con­doms, a Hindu waiter could refuse to serve you beef, a Mus­lim pub­lic ser­vant could refuse to work un­der a fe­male man­ager, a Jewish bus driver could refuse to let you on board if you’re car­ry­ing pork sausages, a Bap­tist den­tist could refuse to mend your teeth if you work on Sun­days, a Methodist mo­tor me­chanic could refuse to fix cars for un­mar­ried moth­ers, and a Chris­tian baker could refuse to sell a cake to a gay cou­ple.

Yet this is the road that op­po­nents of same-sex mar­riage are tak­ing us down.

They are de­mand­ing what they call “re­li­gious pro­tec­tions” so they don’t have to en­gage with the out­come of mar­riage equal­ity, but their push goes far be­yond sim­ply al­low­ing church groups to refuse same-sex mar­riages.

Their de­mands would see cur­rent re­li­gious free­doms that ex­ist within church or­gan­i­sa­tions spill out into the pub­lic square, over­rid­ing civil law and breach­ing anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion leg­is­la­tion with­out re­course.

Let’s be very clear about this. The tem­plate pri­vate mem­ber’s Bill on same-sex mar­riage put for­ward by WA Lib­eral Se­na­tor Dean Smith, con­tains all the pro­tec­tions for re­li­gious free­dom that can be ex­pected.

It al­lows any re­li­gious group and or­dained min­is­ter to refuse to con­duct any mar­riage for any rea­son.

It ex­tends this pro­tec­tion to mil­i­tary chap­lains, and for the first time also cov­ers civil cel­e­brants closely as­so­ci­ated with re­li­gious or­gan­i­sa­tions. All these peo­ple could legally refuse a same-sex mar­riage.

The Bill also en­sures that any busi­ness or fa­cil­ity di­rectly re­lated to a re­li­gious group is also ex­empt from hav­ing to par­tic­i­pate in a gay mar­riage. For ex­am­ple, a church hall or pho­tog­ra­phy stu­dio used for re­li­gious pur­poses.

De­spite all this, some op­po­nents of same-sex mar­riage want to go much fur­ther. They want any re­li­gious per­son who, for ex­am­ple, runs a bak­ery, florist shop or cater­ing com­pany to refuse wed­ding cakes, flow­ers and food to a same-sex wed­ding. This is a rad­i­cal de­par­ture from Aus­tralian anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion laws and opens a huge can of worms.

The minute you grant spe­cial re­li­gious ex­emp­tions tar­geted only at LGBTI peo­ple, not only is the real agenda here be­ing ex­posed, but it opens the door to every other re­li­gious group in­sist­ing on their spe­cial ex­emp­tions.

Op­po­nents of same-sex mar­riage are alarmist in their calls to stop it be­cause they claim it will have many un­in­tended con­se­quences. Apart from be­ing un­able to prove this, they seem very ig­no­rant as to the con­se­quences of their own pol­icy push.

If it’s good enough to refuse a wed­ding cake to a gay per­son on re­li­gious grounds, then the same rule must ap­ply to Jews, Mus­lims, in­ter­ra­cial cou­ples, sin­gle moth­ers, peo­ple who work on Sun­days, athe­ists, the list goes on.

Un­der Aus­tralian law, re­li­gious free­dom only re­lates to free­dom of be­lief and wor­ship. It does not mean that re­li­gious peo­ple can ex­tend that be­lief into the pub­lic sphere or con­sumer mar­ket­place. The mo­ment you es­tab­lish a busi­ness open to the pub­lic, then you must treat all cus­tomers equally. As a shop owner, your per­sonal re­li­gious be­liefs stay be­hind the counter.

It is up to op­po­nents of same-sex mar­riage to spell out pre­cisely what re­li­gious pro­tec­tions they be­lieve are not cov­ered in the leg­is­la­tion and to show their hand. To date they have re­fused to do this.

I don’t be­lieve any suite of re­li­gious pro­tec­tions will sat­isfy them, be­cause their agenda is not to reach con­sen­sus, but to con­stantly shift their un­de­fined goal posts to cause fear and doubt in the minds of un­de­cided vot­ers. They also want to tor­pedo any gay mar­riage Bill with un­ac­cept­able amend­ments if the Yes vote pre­vails.

Let’s hope this tac­tic fails, or con­sumer af­fairs will be turned into chaos.

Per­sonal re­li­gious be­liefs stay be­hind the counter.

Brian Greig is a for­mer Democrats se­na­tor and LGBTI ad­vo­cate

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