Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson): Some would suggest that opposition to same-sex marriage revolved around morality. But I’ve got to say that, for many people around this country who voted no, that wasn’t the issue. The issue for them was freedom. The issue for me was about freedom and the protection of freedoms in this country if we have a change to the law such as this. It’s not about morality for me or for most other people.
I’ve never pretended to be a paragon of virtue. I’m a Christian, I’ve fallen short of the mark, like so many other Christians. In my past, I lived, unmarried, with a girl for many years. So I’m not going to get up on my high horse and moralise to other people. I’ve been to wild bucks parties; I’ve been out on nights with uni mates, to places where good Christians shouldn’t go—I’ve done all of that. So I’m not going to get up and lecture other people. I haven’t lived a saintly life. The saint I come closest to is Augustine, who had a great prayer: ‘O Lord, grant me chastity—but not yet.’ So I am not here to moralise. I’ll save that for the pulpit.
I am a conservative politician, and I care about freedoms. And that’s what I want to talk about tonight, because, while I accept that there is broad support in the Australian populace for changing the definition of marriage, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 does pose a challenge for freedom, and particularly for freedom of religion, freedom of faith, freedom of worship, freedom of speech and freedom of conscience—all of these key freedoms. And I’ve got to say that millions of people cast their vote against same-sex marriage because they were concerned about these freedoms potentially being lost.
I’m talking about the right of churches, synagogues, mosques and temples to stand up for, stand by and articulate their religion’s articles of faith without fear of penalty and without fear of censorship. I’m talking about the same right for pastors, for priests and for ministers of religion to do likewise; for the businesses and services that those religions run; and for the right of faith-based charities and organisations also to articulate their faith’s values and to ensure that their employees, their services, their goods and whom they provide those to conform with those values. It is the right of any person of faith, I’ve got to say, to express their values and to live by them authentically. I include in that those who do run businesses, and also employees, without fear of being shut down, or being sacked or dismissed, or being hauled before some government tribunal. It is the right of parents to actually have a say in what is taught in the classroom regarding sexuality, marriage and relationships.
As a supporter of the plebiscite itself, I said from the get-go that I would not vote against the wishes of my electorate. It was a very specific statement. My electorate voted 55 per cent in favour of changing the definition of marriage to enable people of the same sex to be married under law. But that does mean that nine out of 20 people in my electorate had those concerns about freedom, concerns that I stated before: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of faith and freedom for parents to determine what happens with their child’s education regarding matters of gender, sexuality and marriage. I’m sure that most of those nine out of 20 individuals in my electorate would, like me, accept the fact that the majority have spoken: the majority want a change to the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act to enable people of same sex to marry. However, I think that they would also be likely to say that protections for key freedoms need to be built into the bill that is before us today.
I am more than willing to support this bill if key protections are put in place in this bill. Key protections must be put in place in this bill. I heard the speaker before, and I’ve heard many other speakers who have stood up and have ridiculed those protections. They’ve ridiculed them as going back to some era of ultradiscrimination where we can refuse service to people simply because they’re same-sex attracted. No-one is talking about that. In fact, none of the amendments that are before us today are talking about that. I actually think that businesses should be able to refuse service for same-sex marriages, but that’s not an amendment before us today. I’ve got to say that refusing service for a same-sex marriage is very, very different to refusing service to someone because they’re gay. Refusing service to an individual because of who they are is very different to refusing service for a particular event which you might not be able to be part of because of your faith.
As I said, I am more than willing to support this bill if key protections are put in place. I am actually stunned that there are those in this parliament who support redefining marriage and who are opposed to putting these safeguards in this bill. That actually says something. I know that we have had an announcement by the government that there is going to be a former member of this place heading a review on this issue, the issue of religious liberty, when it comes to this matter and other matters. But that is a promise on the never-never that I cannot be certain of when I am asked to vote on this bill. This bill, I know, is going to have grave issues for freedom of speech, for freedom of faith, for freedom of conscience and for parents’ rights to actually determine what goes on with their child’s education on this matter.
We were told by those running the ‘yes’ campaign that these concerns for freedom were a furphy. They said that they were side issues, that they were issues that would not eventuate should same-sex marriage become law. If that were the case, I would have to ask why there is any concern for putting these protections for key freedoms into this bill. I do happen to have a quote here from the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, about the so-called freedoms that are in the bill before us, not the amendment. He says:
Lame proposals to protect ministers of religion and places of worship offer no protection to the 99.9% of religious believers who are not clergy.
He goes on to say:
It is imperative that our political leaders enact laws that protect the rights of all, religious believers included.
There is great truth to that. It’s great that we are actually protecting the freedom of churches and pastors to do what they want to do within their own worship spaces.
But I have got to tell you about other countries where same-sex marriage has been legalised—I look at Denmark and I look at Sweden as examples. In Denmark, for example, the government of the day back in 2012 changed the law to say that pastors and ministers of the Church of Denmark must actually perform same-sex marriages. They must perform same-sex marriages or, if they want to object, they need to refer to a pastor who will perform the marriage within that church. I have to say that the law there has clamped down to erode that last right and now, basically, they have to perform it. It is the same in the Church of Sweden. This year the Prime Minister in Sweden said that all pastors in the Church of Sweden must perform same-sex marriages. So, when you have an example of two countries overseas where these protections for churches and pastors have not lasted, you have to say, ‘What hope is there for anyone else?’ That is why these protections that we are talking about are needed today.
We have had many cases overseas. The UK Charity Commission removed the charitable status of 19 Catholic adoption and foster agencies because they did not want to adopt or foster to same-sex couples. In New Zealand, a charity by the name of Family First has been deregistered because it was committed to traditional marriage, which was no longer considered a public benefit. In Johns v Derby City Council in 2011, the English High Court supported a council decision that a Christian couple with traditional views on marriage who had successfully fostered many, many children would not make suitable foster carers anymore because they were not open to promoting or accepting a same-sex-attracted lifestyle. I have got to say that the list could go on and on and on.
We have our own examples in this country. The Catholic Archbishop of Hobart, Julian Porteous, was dragged before the Tasmanian antidiscrimination commission because he dared to tell Catholic Church teaching on marriage to Catholic school students. Why was he put before that tribunal for that? Could it happen again? Will it happen again? Probably even more under these laws. We need these protections in place to stop that from happening. It is clear that it already can happen in this country. It will happen more if we pass this bill without these key protections in place. We had that 18-year-old girl, Madeline, here in Canberra, who posted something on social media in support of the ‘no’ campaign and, as a result, her contract with her employer, Capital Kids Parties, was cancelled.
We need protections in place for people of faith who want to express an opinion on this not to be sacked or have their contracts cancelled, which is a fundamental breach of an international human right. Look it up in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Your ability to express your faith and to live out your faith is a core human right in that document. Today or this week, if we do not put these protections for freedom in here, we will see that whittled away in this country.
I will end with a letter that I received from a grandmother in my electorate of Dawson. She comes from Andergrove. She said to me, ‘Unless there are adequate safeguards in place, you are legislating towards the inevitability of heavy fines and even imprisonment for Australians, as has been shown to be the case in other nations who have gone down this track.’ I couldn’t say it any more succinctly. Please, please, I beg the other members of this chamber: I am willing and there are many others here who are willing to vote for this bill to enable the majority decision to be ratified in this place, but we are asking for protections. We are asking for protections around key freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of faith, freedom of conscience, and the right of parents to determine how their children are educated in these matters. It is not a very big ask. I would say to members that we can do this. We can tick off what the majority have asked for in this country while accommodating, recognising and respecting the views of the minority. It is before this parliament to do it, and I would encourage every member to vote for the amendments that are going to be put up to this bill.
Chamber House of Representatives on 5/12/2017 Item BILLS – Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 – Second Reading Speaker: Christensen, George, MP