Labor’s legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus has foreshadowed that a future Labor government would consolidate all anti-discrimination laws in a way which would extend the laws allowing people to complain that they have been offended or insulted because of their sexual orientation. Mr Dreyfus has confirmed that if Labor is elected to government he will be considering imposing a general standard for speech that infringes anti-discrimination law. Under Labor’s proposal, advocates of same-sex marriage would be empowered, for example, to take legal action under 18C-style laws if they felt offended or insulted by those who publicly defended the traditional definition of marriage. Those at risk would include priests, rabbis, imams and other religious leaders who publicly oppose same-sex marriage.
Mr Dreyfus did not deny the comments when asked about them, but claimed they were hypothetical. The effect of such a proposal should not be underestimated however. Currently in Australia, various state laws make it an offence to incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of a person or group of persons on the basis of a protected attribute, including sexual orientation. The exception is found in Tasmania, which (in a similar fashion to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act) further prohibits, among other things, offending or insulting another person on the basis of one of these attributes. Australians have already seen how professional activists and others within the LGBTI community have used the Tasmanian anti-discrimination laws to try to shut down even reasonable debate on the redefinition of marriage.
Not long ago Archbishop Julian Porteous, along with every Catholic Bishop in Australia, was told they had a case to answer before the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission for printing and distributing a booklet to Catholic parishes and parents of children in Catholic schools outlining the Church’s teaching on marriage? The complaint to Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, Robin Banks, was made at the urging of then national director of Australian Marriage Equality, Rodney Croome. Labor has already made several promises that remove any protections for those who support man-woman marriage. Thus far, Labor has promised: to redefine marriage within its first 100 days of office, to remove any existing protections for service providers who do not want to participate in same-sex weddings, and to employ a full-time LGBTI anti-discrimination commissioner.
If Labor also legislates to prohibit causing offence or insult to a person on the basis of their sexual orientation in a way similar to the existing Tasmanian laws, then we will see cases like Archbishop Porteous’ writ large. In the recent Senate hearings into the impact of the proposed redefinition of marriage on individual freedoms, Senator James Paterson noted that the experience in other countries where same-sex marriage has been legalised has shown that there will be activists who will use these laws to seek to punish ‘dissenting’ individuals. He said. There is a very good chance that there will be people who take an activist role and try to test the limits of this law. His concerns seemed to be validated by those appearing before the Senate inquiry.
Of the 24 groups which appeared in public hearings and expressed support for the redefinition of marriage, 22 argued that the only protections available for freedom of religion or conscience in a post same-sex marriage world should be to allow ministers of religion to not solemnise marriages. Importantly, Rodney Croome, who encouraged the complaint against Archbishop Porteous, told the Committee that the LGBTI community would prefer to wait than to see religious freedom protected. The statements made by Labor spokesman Mark Dreyfus demonstrate that one of the many consequences of marriage redefinition is an increased threat to the freedom of speech of ordinary Australians. We cannot let this happen. More than ever, we must stand strong to defend the man-woman definition of marriage, and the rights and freedoms of all Australians.
RELIGIOUS LEADERS RESERVE THE RIGHT TO CALL HOMOSEXUALITY A SIN
Religious leaders have expressed concern over Labor’s plans to extend the reach of litigation based on section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, with key Islamic leaders saying it could stifle religious expression and a leading Jewish body warning that the changes had yet to be justified. Labor recently announced it was considering a plan to extend 18C to include people claiming they had been offended or insulted because of their sexual orientation, disabilities or age. Religious leaders are concerned that extending the reach of 18C to sexual orientation could impact on opinion expressed during sermons or gatherings. Islamic Council of Queensland spokesman Ali Kadri said while he supported extensions of section 18C to protect people from “hatred, vilification and bigotry”, Labor’s proposal would smother the right of faith leaders to express their opinions on issues such as same-sex marriage.
“We share the concern of other religious groups that misinterpretation of such laws can trample upon religious freedom to criticise sexual preferences,” he said. “Homosexuality is considered a sin in Islam, however, it is also a sin to humiliate and insult people who belong to the LGBTQI community.” Mr Kadri said all religions in a free democratic society should have the right to practise their faith without fear of litigation. “To say homosexuality is a sin within Islam, or any religion, is expressing an opinion, and that should not be considered illegal,” he said. “These proposed changes should be clarified.” Amin Hady, an imam at the Zetland mosque, in Sydney’s inner east, said many different religions were on the same page about issues surrounding same-sex marriage and should not be targeted for expressing opinions.
“In our religious texts, whether it is Christian, Muslim or Jewish, homosexuality is not part of our religious teachings,” Dr Hady said. “We won’t be accepting the proposal by the Labor Party if it includes homosexuals in the Racial Discrimination Act.” Dr Hady said he had discussions with other faith leaders and while “there are some religious leaders who support same-sex marriage”, the majority did not. “How can we make such a decision when the issue of same-sex marriage is still being debated in the political arena?” he said. “Until all political differences are resolved on this matter, then we can talk about this subject.” Executive Council of Australian Jewry executive director Peter Wertheim said while the Jewish community had a longstanding policy of condemning hate speech against people based on their sexual orientation, Labor’s proposal had not been justified by appropriate evidence.
There was already a law in NSW against vilification of people on the grounds of sexual orientation: “We support that law. A new federal law prohibiting such behaviour could only be justified if it was based on solid empirical evidence that such a law is needed.” He said the existing state and federal laws against racist hate speech were introduced only after a succession of national inquiries.
ANGLICAN PRIMATE OF AUSTRALIA RESPONDS TO ROYAL COMMISSION REPORT
Anglicans have been truly shocked and dismayed at the unfolding in the Royal Commission of the scope of our failure to tackle child sexual abuse within the Church and the depth of survivors’ pain and suffering. We are deeply ashamed of the many ways in which we have let down survivors, both in the way we have acted and the way we have failed to act. I endorse what the general secretary of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia, Anne Hywood, said in her opening statement to the Royal Commission. I wish to express my personal sense of shame and sorrow at the way survivors’ voices were often silenced and the apparent interests of the Church put first. We are grateful to the Royal Commission for bringing survivors’ voices to the forefront, for helping drive us to refine our policies and procedures, and for guiding us towards national solutions. The facts contained in the Royal Commission’s analysis of the data today are shocking.
We are grateful too to the survivors and their families who have told their stories with courage and dignity. The Anglican Church of Australia apologised for its failures in 2004. Since then, the Church has invested a great deal of energy in seeking to understand the nature and cause of our failings. We have improved in many areas, but we are striving still, and welcome guidance and assistance. We are not trying to make any excuses for failures past or present. We believe that the rigorous and independent scrutiny the commission has provided is greatly to our benefit. There is a pronounced appetite for change inside the Anglican Church. We are determined to apply best practice so that the Church is a truly safe place for children.
Source: Press Release from the Anglican Church in Australia