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Same sex marriage and freedom of religion

  • 10 November 2017


On Wednesday, the ABS will announce the results of the survey on same sex marriage. The return rate on the survey is a very credible 78.5 per cent. In Ireland only 60.5 per cent of eligible voters turned out.

Sixty-two per cent of those who voted in Ireland supported a change to the Irish Constitution recognising same sex marriage. The Australian vote in support of parliament legislating for same sex marriage is likely to be even higher. If so, it will be a resounding win for the 'Yes' campaign. Support among Catholics will be much the same as among the community generally.

Our Parliament will have a clear mandate from the people to legislate for same sex marriage. The present mess of Australian politics will not help as our politicians work out how and when to legislate the change. Already, there are different proponents for different private members' bills which could be presented first in either House of Parliament.

Those who have campaigned loudest and longest for a 'No' vote have emphasised threats to other human rights, most especially the right to freedom of conscience, religion and belief. But they are not the only ones highlighting the need to consider freedom of religion. The issue of religious freedom must be addressed.

The Senate Select Committee on the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill noted in its final report published in February 2017: 'There was common ground between many groups on the need for positive protection for religious freedom. The Human Rights Law Centre and other organisations in support of same sex marriage recognised the need for Australian law to positively protect religious freedom.'

Anna Brown, Director of the Human Rights Law Centre and more recently the Spokeswoman for the Equality Campaign, told the committee: 'Religious freedom should be protected in law. Indeed, we are on record in a number of inquiries supporting the addition of religious belief to protections under federal anti-discrimination law.'

The UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva has just published its concluding observations on its periodic review of Australia's human rights performance. This committee, which has a reputation for a high degree of political correctness in human rights discourse, has expressed its concern 'about the lack of direct protection against discrimination on the basis of religion at the federal level, though it notes that a parliamentary inquiry on the status of the human right to freedom of religion or belief