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Free speech and the plebiscite on same sex marriage

  • 11 December 2015

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.

Writing 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