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Free speech and the plebiscite on same sex marriage


Chris Puplick, a former senator and former president of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board, is one of a rising chorus expressing strong objections to the Australian Catholic bishops daring to evangelise and speak publicly about their views on same sex marriage.

Screenshot of Chris Publick opinion pieceWriting in The Australian on 5 December 2015, Puplick asserts: 'When a person or group of people is described in official publications as being seriously depraved, intrinsically disordered, less than whole and messing with kids, they are entitled to take offence, and to the extent they feel they have been vilified and subjected to hate speech they should of course seek to avail themselves of the protection against such calumnies as have been provided for by the various legislatures around Australia.

'It is simply wrong to say that such proceedings are an attempt to deny the Catholic Church the right to ventilate its views about traditional marriage.'

I too would be very upset if my bishops were saying that homosexuals are 'seriously depraved, intrinsically disordered, less than whole and messing with kids'. But they're not. Think only of Pope Francis' remark during the press conference on the plane on the way back from World Youth Day: 'If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge him?'

Gone are the days of rainbow sashes outside cathedrals and threats of communion bans. The fact that Puplick can seriously caricature episcopal utterances in this way shows what a contested and emotive space we are in. All because Tony Abbott convinced his party room that it was a good idea to have a plebiscite on same sex marriage.

Many same sex couples and their supporters claim discrimination because their relationships cannot be recognised as marriage under the Commonwealth Marriage Act.

I have long claimed that our federal politicians should have a conscience vote on same sex marriage. The Labor Party muddied the waters at their national conference in July 2015 by cobbling together a compromise motion allowing a conscience vote only until 2019, with members then being bound to support same sex marriage after the election after next.

Given Labor's abandonment of a conscience vote until the matter is finally resolved on the floor of the Parliament, the Coalition found itself more free to make its own political calculations about the utility of a conscience vote on its side of the chamber.

Given developments in countries like Ireland, the UK, Canada, New Zealand and the USA, I have accepted the inevitability that civil marriage in Australia will ultimately be redefined to include committed same sex relationships.

Given the increasing number of children being brought up by same sex couples, it is desirable that the state take away any social stigma against same sex parents.

Given the ageing population, the state has an interest in recognising and protecting long term relationships of same sex couples who care for each other.

Given the harmful effects of homophobia, the state has an interest in encouraging broad community acceptance of those members who are homosexual. Laws and policies can help in this regard.

It is one thing for Commonwealth law to recognise same sex unions as marriages. It is another thing to require all persons, regardless of their religious beliefs, to treat same sex couples even in the life and activities of a church as if they were married in the eyes of their church.

The religious freedom issues involved in the same sex marriage debate are about more than making space for religious celebrants determining who they will or will not marry. Though the issues would not necessarily be covered by amendments to the Commonwealth Marriage Act, the passage of those amendments will be the trigger for revisiting and redefining these issues.

A plebiscite on this issue is a waste of time and risks turning very nasty, especially now that both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition support same sex marriage. The plebiscite advocates were opponents of same sex marriage who thought it would give them more airplay back in the days when the prime minister was a strong opponent of same sex marriage. With Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten on the same page, the opponents will get little airplay.

While the debate rages, it is only appropriate that religious groups like the Catholic bishops be able to evangelise their position, especially their concern that children in future be assured a known biological mother and a known biological father.

To date, the bishops have spoken cautiously and respectfully, with perhaps the occasional lapse into loose language. They know their views are not in fashion.

It is ridiculous to have national debate on a plebiscite stifled by assertions that church teaching on marriage is offensive to some individuals, and likely to cause offence to the so-called 'reasonable person'. National debate should not be put on hold while an anti-discrimination commissioner, egged on by her predecessor in another jurisdiction, decides whether it is arguable that a reasonable person might be offended. The commissioner and her tribunal are not the thought police. Or at least, they shouldn't be. 

The Commissioner's processes should not be used to shut down national debate about the desirability of profound social change, silencing one side of the plebiscite debate while the other side is free to be as offensive to religious folk as they will, given that there is no state enforcer of religious niceness — and neither am I campaigning for one.

Commentators like Mr Puplick should admit that the anti-religious sentiments expressed in the present debate far exceed any traces of homophobic utterance by religious leaders.

Many of those who take offence at remarks by the bishops are those who think churches should butt out of all moral debate in the public square. On this one, we should all let a thousand flowers bloom. When the plebiscite vote is carried in favour of same sex marriage, as I am confident it will be, there will still be a need for our Parliament to legislate complex provisions protecting religious freedom and expanding the freedom to marry.

It's only a parliament, not a plebiscite, which can legislate the complex details of equality and the protection of all rights, including the right to religious freedom.


Frank BrennanFrank Brennan SJ is professor of law at Australian Catholic University. This is an excerpt from his Human Rights Day tribute to the Northern Territory's Tony Fitzgerald.

Topic tags: Frank Brennan, same sex marriage



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Existing comments

It seemed to me that all the egs after the Bishop's statement was the problem. There were examples from other jurisdictions without this being explained. Churches keep putting energy into being anti SSM when they should be putting energy into legislation that would protect people when the change is made.

Rose | 10 December 2015  

But didn't the booklet circulated in Hobart contain phrases like "intrinsically disordered", and haven't bishops taught in the recent past that homosexual conduct is depraved. The public square should work both ways, but when it comes to child abuse, we are hearing from a long line of witnesses that the bishops tended to avoid it when it came to scrutiny of their own actions. Read Christina Keneally's recent comments in The Guardian Australia about the church and its behaviour over a long time. Now it cries foul because it is being brought to acccount. The old boundary used to be that the church was effectively immune to criticism. Now, the boundary is unclear, and naturally enough there needs to be debate about just where the lines should be drawn. I would like to hear Fr. Brennan's views on that, rather than a rehash of the current party line about 'neo-persecution' of christians etc. The current cries of 'ware persecutors!' are a bit of theatre, and there are plenty of people imbued with liberal-democratic philosophy who would step in to defend small business owners who wish to choose who their customers might be - providing they do not stigmatise people when they exercise their prerogative.

Inigo Rey | 10 December 2015  

Thank you Frank for another interesting article. Unfortunately I don't think you could have taken much notice of what was happening during the Pell/Hart era in Melbourne concerning their treatment of the Rainbow Sash movement. We were not 'outside' the cathedral and were not 'threatened' with communion bans. We were right inside and at the altar and banned from receiving communion right then and there. Church authority above individual conscience, way to go! At our first appearance there, Pell further rubbed salt into our wounds by reading a long statement about homosexuals, using some of those very phrases that Puplick quotes. Those condemnatory words may have softened a little but they are still there in the rigid mindset of so many in authority. The Pope has opened a window of hope to LGBTI people but it's a long road back to the inclusivity that Jesus demonstrated throughout his life

Jan Coleman | 10 December 2015  

"should admit that the anti-religious sentiments expressed in the present debate far exceed any traces of homophobic utterance by religious leaders". I had to laugh when I read that. It's not quite enough to push Pope Francis forward and say "Look we now have a leader who doesn't hate gays" - have a look at the rest of the Church, and it's so recent history. Commenter Jan Coleman puts its perfectly. As for what the Church can say? .... all I want to hear from the Church, for the rest of my life, is "Sorry, sorry, sorry".

Russell | 10 December 2015  

The comment by Jan Coleman reveals a gross misunderstanding of the moral obligation of the Catholic priest in the involvement of any person in the sacrament of the Eucharist or any acknowledgement of what the consecrated host is. The Rainbow Sash public demonstration was precisely as described, taking place in the Cathedral at the time of distribution of the consecrated host, the embodiment of the Christian God on this planet, the true occasion of communion with God the creator on whom all human life depends. The Rainbow Sash demonstration deliberately used the sanctity of the personage of the God they professed to follow and love as a political protest driven by their own demands and ignoring the requirement that self-sanctity was required for reception of the consecrated host. The demonstrators proudly displayed their active immoral practices by wearing their sashes which scream out to the world, ' I am actively having homosexual sex". Just as heterosexual immorality disqualifies a heterosexual person from reception of the Eucharist until restored by the sacrament of Reconciliation) so too does homosexual immorality. For that reason the archbishop was forced into the position of himself partaking in a sacrilegious, grossly immoral act if he had distributed the Eucharist to the protesters. Catholicism is about sanctity and goodness in the living of life while recognising that that is difficult to achieve over the seduction of self indulgence. even sadly for some of the Church's ordained human priests. There is no place for trying to force the Church to change its highly informed and authorised position (from Christ himself at his last supper on Earth) in the name of the personal pursuit of immoral human indulgence whether heterosexual or homosexual. We are all supposed to aspire to something beyond human existence if we adhere to a Christian belief rather than the reverse. which is what the Rainbow Sash protest was trying to force on the archbishops. The arrested psycho-sexual development that homosexuality sadly represents does not automatically excuse and permit immorality anymore so than does profligate psycho-sexual activity in a disordered heterosexual. What were the wounds that Archbishop Pell "rubbed the salt into", I wonder? I thoughT the homosexual community considered itself perfectly normal, not sick or wounded.

john frawley | 10 December 2015  

The author needs to examine the compatibility of same-sex union novelties with enduring universal principles for child protection recognized in international human rights covenants: • that the child has “as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents” and the right “to preserve his or her identity, including… family relations”; • that “the role of both parents in the family and in the upbringing of children requires a sharing of responsibility between men and women” and “recognition of the common responsibility of men and women in the upbringing and development of their children; • that in regard to the “pre-existing legal relationship between the child and his or her mother and father” , it is recognized that “each State should take, as a matter of priority, appropriate measures to enable the child to remain in the care of his or her family of origin”. To endorse for growing numbers of children deliberate exposure to a new experimental order of artificial procreation and/or family reconstruction within same-sex unions that remove and exclude a child’s mother or a child’s father without most serious cause may be in itself a violation of children’s rights.

Rita Joseph | 10 December 2015  

I would suggest that it is disingenuous to suggest that a casual remark by the current Pope negates what has been said in official Vatican documents. Chris Puplick did not pull the phrase 'intrinsically disordered' out of the air. "Depraved" is a reasonable summary of "a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil." What concerns me more about the bishops' statement is the adolescent understanding of marriage as 'an emotional union'. This is offensive to anyone who has been in a relationship where committed love has been required to hold it together 'for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health'.

Malcolm McPherson | 11 December 2015  

Unfortunately, Frank's link to Puplick's article leads only to a NewsCorp paywall, making it inaccessible to non-subscribers. Nor does Frank mention the previous article by Paul Kelly, to which Puplick was replying, which is also buried behind the same paywall. In the absence of these two documents, it is difficult to assess the value of Frank's critique of Puplick's article. In the absence of these articles, and in the interest of balance, ES readers might like to read a view, which is contrary to Frank's view, at < www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/dec/11/gods-warriors-are-locked-in-a-barbaric-futile-battle-against-marriage-equality >. As to the document that is at the heart of the debate, it can be found at < www.catholic.org.au/acbc-media/media-centre/media-releases-new/1691-same-sex-marriage-pastoral-letter-a5-booklet/file > although I imagine that most Catholics already have a hard copy of that document. I offer these comments in the hope that it will steer the discussion toward the way this 'debate', if one could dignify it with that descriptor, is proceeding, and away from the pros and cons of 'marriage equality' or the meaning and significance of 'marriage' itself.

Ginger Meggs | 11 December 2015  

A papal off the cuff comment in-flight on homosexuality must be nuanced and contextualised in the light of 2000 year magisterium and recent decades of Vatican statements against legalising Same-Sex Marriage[SSM]. One notes 33 levels of papal authority from infallible definitions down to allocutions to Roman garbo collectors. Overstating in flight comments is deplorable hermeneutic.

Father John George | 11 December 2015  

Jan Coleman: Were you really at the altar to receive Communion or to make a political statement? Your group's choice of method, time and place would indicate disregard for or ignorance of the very unity the Eucharist signifies and disrespect for others receiving the body and blood of Christ.

John | 11 December 2015  

It is not surprising that the Bishops' document has been attacked. I would suggest many people now see the Catholic Church as being on shaky ground when it comes to moral issues relating to the family, given the shocking evidence that has emerged from The Royal Commission into Sexual Abuse. In addition, public statements in recent years by senior Church officials about homosexuality have been such that they have alienated people from the Church. Not to take all this into account as important background to any debate about same sex marriage seems to me to be ignoring the obvious. At the same time I believe the Bishops have every right to debate the issue, however having read the document I would suggest it has left the Bishops wide open to criticism because its critique is so poorly argued. This is a document that will most likely appeal only to those who don't need convincing. For others, it is replete with arguments that are based on "straw men" and dubious claims, and as such it is most unconvincing. I disagree that the issue here is about shutting down one side of the debate. Rather it is about the poor arguments being promoted by one side.

Terry O'Brien | 11 December 2015  

'What's in a name?' When it comes to the name 'marriage', it seems 'quite a lot.'. For centuries before there were any Churches or States, sexual unions, some long lasting, and some short lived, were being enacted. Until recently every person on earth resulted from such unions between a man and a woman. In an age when children were seen as insurance against future needs, the such unions were encouraged and applauded to off-set the duty and responsibility of rearing the children. When Church and State bought into the matter they each introduced rulings to promote their respective aims. But in fact, neither 'marries' the couple. The couple marry each other. Church or State are merely witnesses to ensure their aims are complied with. This needs to be recognised before any further discussion takes pace.

Robert Liddy | 11 December 2015  

One of the problems with the debate on same sex marriage is that it is getting increasingly rancorous so that it is difficult for a sane voice to be heard above the racket. The state of political discourse on controversial subjects in this country is deplorable. Many intelligent people have given up attempting to say anything. That is not good. The silent majority will be 'heard' at the referendum. Not everyone will be pleased with the result. What then? Will the sniping and divisiveness continue?

Edward Fido | 11 December 2015  

Jesus' 'inclusivity' is "go and sin no more" plus (forgive) "seven by seven." The BBC (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-23489702) depicts Francis similarly. "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?" is followed by "The problem is not having this orientation....We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem." It seems lobbying by orientation is neither seeking God nor good will. Economics teaches humans have more wants than needs. Mainstream Christians believe homosexuals need grace for the self-sacrifice necessary to a 'straight' life, homosexual sexuality being a want. Nonbelieving homosexuals lobby for needs as seen differently. The question for Christian homosexuals such as 'Rainbow Sash' is whether God sees homosexual activity as a need or a want. Luck is important in life. Heterosexuals are lucky to escape the emotional predicament of the homosexual just as the middle class are lucky not to be poor. Poverty can be seen as exclusion from the social enjoyments considered to be normative. If the homosexual orientation is poverty, is God calling less for magnanimity in advantage as graciousness in disadvantage?

Roy Chen Yee | 11 December 2015  

With respect to Father Brennan - the term "messing with kids" is taken direct from the Australian Bishops Pastoral Letter "Don't mess with Marriage"(June 2015); "intrinsically disordered" from Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith "Persona humana" (December 1975) and "seriously depraved" from Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith "Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons" (June 2003). They are, as I understand it, unrefuted statements of the teaching of the Church by its highest doctrinal authority.

Chris Puplick | 11 December 2015  

Frank Brennan, you are quite wrong regarding such statements as "intrinsically disordered" etc., and I suggest you check the current Catechism of the Catholic Church. Whether used by bishops or not, it is there in paragraph #2357 which is unacceptable: “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered”. Pope Francis’ remark to which you refer, is a step in the right direction, but it simply echoes what is already in the Catechism in the following paragraph to the one stated above: #2538, which speaks of respect, compassion and sensitivity towards men and women of same sex attraction. This is heartening, of course. But it is no longer enough to speak of respect, compassion, and sensitivity, but then go on to make such statements as at #2357. This does nothing to remove homophobia from the Churches and secular society. I suggest that a complete revision of the Church’s teaching of human sexuality is way overdue in light of contemporary anthropological scholarship etc., and that statements such as this be expunged from Catechisms and elsewhere in Church teaching to acknowledge all persons of whatever sexuality as children of God with a legitimate ability to love before God. Arbp. Desmond Tutu puts it this way: “. I could not have fought against the discrimination of apartheid and not also fight against the discrimination that homosexuals endure, even in our churches and faith groups…Every human being is precious. We are all -- all of us -- part of God's family. We all must be allowed to love each other with honour. Yet all over the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are persecuted. We treat them as pariahs and push them outside our communities. We make them doubt that they too are children of God. This must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy”.

Christopher McElhinney | 11 December 2015  

How can the Church continue to describe homosexual activity (and,let's be honest and realistic, homosexuals also) as intrinsically disordered and depraved when there is no statement or express teaching in the Bible that uses such harsh condemnatory language and, importantly, psychiatrists, doctors et al have long abandoned such a description? Secularisation is not the answer to that question. Only an ideologue would suggest otherwise. The Church's teaching is not biblical or inspired by the words and deeds of Christ; it is a man made piece of theology. The longer the Church clings to this hateful piece of theology the more intrinsically disordered it will be considered to be by thoughtful Catholics and Non Catholics. It would be interesting to hear what changes, if any, Father Frank would make to the Church's doctrine on homosexuals and homosexual behaviour.

Ted | 12 December 2015  

The Bishops exercise their free speech by publishing their opinions on marriage equality. The Anti-Discrimination Commission will rule on whether they “crossed the line”. Both sides can test their arguments in a transparent public process. I have mixed feelings. On one hand the action feeds oxygen into the Bishops’ opinion piece and even lets the church claim to be the persecuted victim here, denied a basic freedom of speech. The Bishops’ poorly written opinion is unenlightening in its reaction and part of me thinks it would be better to leave it there for people to read. It will probably only reinforce the views of marriage equality opponents and others will see it for what it is and disregard it. On the other hand I have not been hurt by the church as many gay and lesbian and other people have been over many years, so I cannot walk in their shoes. If this action is necessary for them, then I have to respect that. It isn’t anti-religious to challenge the Bishops on their opinion in the lead-up to an unnecessary plebiscite.

Brett | 13 December 2015  

Ted, "intrinsically disordered" is not unintelligible: it means simply that homosexual acts are not in accord with the purposes of human sexuality as created by God. There is a strong scriptural foundation for the Church's teachings on human sexuality. ]References are readily available in most official documents of the Catholic Church on marriage and human sexuality. Natural law morality, developed over centuries of human experience, still provides to day a clear conceptual framework for biblical insights and Church teaching (which, it is worth noting, distinguishes between homosexual acts and persons).

John | 13 December 2015  

I’ve read and re-read Frank’s article and I’m still struggling to understand exactly what he is trying to say, why he is speaking out, and why now? The original complaint against the bishops’ booklet was laid in September. The text of the complaint is calm, reasoned, and respectful [ see http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php/article/Complaint-against-Catholic-anti-equality-bookle ] There was, so far as I can find, no outcry from the likes of Frank and Paul Kelly at that point. it was only, it seems, when the Commissioner decided that there was a case to answer, that the big guns responded. Kelly’s response (you will find it in The Australian behind a paywall) was nothing if not OTT. It was headlined ‘Same-sex marriage debate goes to the heart of our democracy’ (as if the plethora of security laws being thrust upon us are no sufficient threat) and reminiscent of one of Abbott’s attempts to destroy individuals and institutions. For Kelly, the action, presumably of the Commissioner, is nothing less than ‘an aggressive secularism dressed in the moral cause of anti-discrimination justice’. He describes the complainant, Martine Delaney, as ‘the trans-gender Greens political candidate’, as if any of the descriptor was relevant unless it was to destroy her credibility. This is the article to which Chris Puplick responded, the response to which Frank now takes exception in highly emotive terms such as ‘While the debate rages…’ , ‘It is ridiculous to have national debate stifled…’ , and ‘National debate should not be put on hold while a… commissioner, egged on by her predecessor in another jurisdiction, decides…’. Heavens above, the sky has not fallen in, the Commissioner has not decided anything other that that there is a case to answer, and the whole process of conciliating or adjudicating the outcome is still in front of us. In any case, the plebiscite, if it ever happens, is years away, so why are usually reasonable people like Paul Kelly and Frank Brennan getting their knickers in knots about this matter?

Ginger Meggs | 13 December 2015  

John, this constant reference to "natural law" is meaningless and completely fallible, given that there is now a consensus that the homosexual orientation is not simply chosen at whim, and the lived experience of most LGBTI people is that their orientation and same sex attraction is natural to them. Your misguided belief in the infallibility of natural law denies gay people a say in interpreting what it means to do good and avoid evil in the context of their sexual lives. Your interpretation of natural law condemns masturbation just as much as it condemns same sex activity, and yet it's quite accepted now that masturbation is inevitable and natural in certain contexts. Natural law however says nothing about slavery, genocide and torture - which could all arguably be seen as "natural", although condemned by the biblical ethics found in scriptures.

AURELIUS | 13 December 2015  

Ginger Meggs: With religious freedom at stake in a secular democracy, it would be unusual, to say the least, for Fr Frank Brennan not to defend the Church's right to a voice in a matter of consequence for all society. What's the mystery?

John | 14 December 2015  

Since when, John, was 'religious freedom' at stake in this matter? Go back and read the complaint - I've given you the link - and tell me where it seeks to challenge 'religious freedom'. The reactions by Paul Kelly and Frank Brennan are completely OTT and, frankly, objectionable. What, for example, was the point in describing the complainant as a 'trans-gender Greens political candidate’? What has the descriptor 'trans-gender' got to do with his case? It sounds like a dog-whistle that might have come out of Abbott rather than an argument worthy of a professor of law. Yet it is consistent with the other derogatory remarks in the bishops' booklet.

Ginger Meggs | 14 December 2015  

Aurelius: I make no claim for "infallibility" of natural law morality but do affirm the necessity and validity of reason in moral decision-making that natural law morality upholds when it articulates what conduces to human flourishing. If scripture and natural law reasoning are inadmissible in determining what is moral, what alternative do you suggest? Besides, since Catholic moral teaching employs natural law thinking, I think you'll find it has condemned the wrongs you identify in suggesting that its scope is restricted to matters of human sexuality only.

john | 14 December 2015  

It seems to me that a point has been reached in the history of the Church where there is very strong evidence that the Church's teaching on sex and sexuality, in some important respects, is contradicted by medicine, sociology and authentic human experience. Regrettably the Church appears to such a rigid, unmovable entity that it is unable to abandon or modify man made theology and doctrine that is now understood by a growing number of Catholics and Non Catholics to be simply wrong. Consequently the conclusion that the Church is an "intrinsically disordered" organisation is inescapable. Other Churches appreciate the need to change and grow but the Catholic Church stubbornly refuses to do so. Perhaps, sadly for it and those of us raised as Catholics, it is inherently incapable of substantial change. My concern is that it is going to end up as a type of cult for an increasingly small group of people in the first world who have an unhealthy or distant relationship with reality and real truth. It may continue to flourish in the third world but that will change if more people in the third world become educated and capable of independent thought.

Ted | 14 December 2015  

I find it strange that you assert the Church's teaching is contradicted by today's medicine and sociology,Ted. For instance, in the former domain, medical science and technology has confirmed the status of the embryo as human life from conception; while in the latter the importance of the traditional family for social stability has never been more evident. Moreover, many scientists acknowledge the importance of dialogue between faith and religion,and the Church's historical encouragement of learning.The scenario of disillusion you present is patronising and unfair to those in poor countries who must endure forced sterilisation and abortion at the hands of misguided progress. Against this, the Church's defence of the true dignity of human life will never be irrelevant.

John | 14 December 2015  

My apologies to Frank. I incorrectly ascribed the phrase 'transgender Greens political candidate' to him whereas it should have been Paul Kelly. My point about its relevance remains.

Ginger Meggs | 14 December 2015  

Ginger Meggs: I find the complainant's charge to which you refer less than reliable as a representation of the Australian Bishops' Pastoral Letter. To cite but one example, the colloquial,phrase "messing with kids" occurs within the context of the Letter's point of adopted children in same-sex unions being deprived of their right to a mother and a father, a context ignored by the complainant.whose reaction seems more intent on asserting offence at an allegedly demeaning inference. David Marr, to whom you also refer, plays down the issue of religious freedom of concern to Fr Brennan and Mr Kelly, calling growing incidences of it "small town". I regard this diminuendo as naive or disingenuous since such plainly oppressive actions taken against those who conscientiously object (as listed in the Bishops' statement) are irreconcilable with due respect for liberty, personal and social..

John | 14 December 2015  

"With religious freedom at stake in a secular democracy...". Sorry but I don't know what justifies that particular comment. Have a look at Section 116 of our secular Constitution. Religion is the only specific "freedom" in the Constitution. The Marriage Equality Bills already tabled in Parliament (Shorten and Entsch) provide an exemption for religious institutions. That is a very strong "out" for the churches, mosques etc and shows more consideration than the institutions have shown to gay and lesbian people over the centuries. Religions should take some comfort from that.

Brett | 15 December 2015  

John, medicine, sociology, and many Catholics, whether practising or not, are rationally and thoughtfully opposed to the Church's doctrine and teaching (which is ideological and not evidence based) on contraception, the use of condoms, especially in the third world to control the transmission of HIV, on practising homosexuals being intrinsically disordered and morally depraved and, finally, on children of homosexual parents being (let's forget the sophistry and double speak) inferior or living in inferior family relationships. On those important issues the Church has dug itself into an awful hole from which it seems to be "intrinsically" incapable of being removed. As a consequence many who may want to remain inside the Church feel that they have to leave the Church, as a matter of conscience and in respect for the truth about being an ethical, rational and spiritual human being. Despite all the current defensive talk by the Church hierarchy about abject secularism,gone are the days when the majority of Catholics accept uncritically the prescriptions and proscriptions of clerics.

Ted | 15 December 2015  

Ted: The Church's teaching is not merely theoretical as you assert, but is grounded in direct experience throughout history, including first-hand living with the poor whose future is arrogantly prescribed and proscribed by very wealthy nations, the specious "reproductive health" policies of which contribute largely to their poverty and deprive them of posterity in the form of children.

John | 15 December 2015  

Brett: What is the point of the complaint against the Australian Bishops' Pastoral Letter if the constitutional right to freedom of religion is as bedrock as you suggest? Is prosecution for alleged vilification unrelated to freedom? And what of precedents set in other places when change to legal definition of marriage has international support, albeit in a minority of countries?

John | 15 December 2015  

John, How do the "specious 'reproductive health' policies" of third world governments "contribute largely" (with focus being on your use of the word largely) to the poverty problem in the third world? Those countries have a history of poverty which far exceeds the implementation of the policies that you call specious reproductive policies and it is implicit in your argument that such policies exist in every third world country.

Ted | 15 December 2015  

Ted, Let's be clear: I reject the paranoid, greedy and racist mythology and policies of "First World" latter day Malthusians such as Bertrand Russell, Paul Ehrlich,The World Bank, the IMF, the United Nations Population Division, the Rockefeller and Gates Foundations and others of their ideological persuasion that the world is overpopulated. I also denounce the exploitative policies and rhetoric of institutions that use vague terminology (e.g., "policy dialogue" - World Bank) that vaporize the violation of basic human rights and freedoms and attempt to disguise post-colonial economic and cultural imperialism. For the sake of brevity, I refer you to three works (other than Catholic teaching and direct testimonies of people who live in "Third World" countries) that can answer your question quite specifically with the evidence you require: Bette Hartmann's The Global Politics of Population Control; Mohan Rao's From Population Control to Reproductive Health and Steven Mosher's Population Control, Illusory Benefits.

John | 16 December 2015  

John: We should distinguish between the Constitutional Section 166 “freedom of religion” and the exemptions to the churches in the Marriage Equality Bills currently in Parliament on one hand and the ability of Bishops to use their standing in the church and the community to publish their opinions on marriage equality on the other. I responded to your comment about “religious freedom at stake in a secular democracy”. Marriage equality is not an attack on religious freedom, which is guaranteed. The action before the Anti-Discrimination Commission in response to the Bishops’ letter is by people who feel aggrieved and vilified by the publication of that opinion. Whether they should take action is up to them, but they have and the Commission will make its determination. This is not denying the right to a religion, it is about accountability and observing the law. I’m unsure of the point of your final question. My focus is on what is happening in Australia.

Brett | 16 December 2015  

Thank you, Brett. I await the proceedings and their outcome with interest.

john | 16 December 2015  

I feel wearied by this topic. So much intellect and not enough life or humanity. I was heartened to read the public statements made by the recently announced elect Archbishop of Bussels, Monsignor De Kesels. Father Frank could you please re enter the debate and answer the question: If Jesus was alive today what would he say about gay people ( of committed conviction to each other) and genuine divorced and re married people receiving communion? And for a cheap distracting point (which Father Frank you may ignore!) would Jesus ever wear have worn a Magna Cappa?!!!

Ted | 18 December 2015  

He may have gay friends and say “Who am I to judge?” but Pope Francis is unwavering in his opposition to same-sex marriage, this week urging Slovenians to repeal a marriage equality law

Father John George | 19 December 2015  

yes I like the idea of a conscience vote by federal politicians. Currently i am doing a law degree and have to submit a policy brief for legislation for Same Sex marriage, using normaltive analysis.. I am not really sure about same sex marriage, but one thing that had bothered me was that a couple could be together for 30 years and still not given the title of next of kin. under the theories of law, in particular natural law and positivism. Positivism looks at the law and that morals are not a factor. However, I dispute that as a matter is raised that should be legislated, there is a reason given for that which is often values related. So therefore, morals are a factor in making laws. In the case of a legal marriage (not the sacrament of matrimony) there is a type of contract drawn up. A contract is an agreement and a list of provisions are itemised in the contract that makes it legally binding. There has to be consideration, therefore some sort of bargain made, intention known, clarity and capacity elements satisfied. Legal marriage should be like that. It has no religious connotation and the word marriage should be distinguished from matrimony which is a religious sacrament.

Patricia Elizabeth Mamo | 13 March 2016  

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