Religious protections call hides real agenda
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