Editor’s note: This story broke a few weeks ago so sufficient time has elapsed for these rings to have begun to be seen in public. To date I have not seen any being worn so am wondering whether any of our readers have noticed anyone wearing one. Also perhaps there are readers who work for some of the supporting companies that could tell us whether they have been pressured to wear them against their wishes, or in fact whether the campaign has even gone ahead. Let me know if you have any first-hand experience of the campaign or have noticed people wearing the rings in public.
Some of the country’s biggest businesses have upped the ante in the crusade for marriage equality by asking Australians to wear a specially designed “acceptance ring” until same-sex marriage is legalised. Led by accommodation provider Airbnb and supported by Qantas, ANZ, Fairfax Media and Foxtel, the “Until We Belong” campaign has been billed as the “most public declaration for marriage equality” so far. The initiative calls on Australians to signal their support for same-sex couples by committing to wearing the ring, created by designer Marc Newson. Airbnb Australia country manager Sam McDonagh said the campaign would involve the distribution of “hundreds of thousands” of the distinctive black metal rings to its hosts and guests, business partners and “key influencers”.
Qantas staff and cabin crew would wear them, he said, while Google Australia has also provided rings for its 1300 staff to wear. “Our goal is to build momentum around the issue of marriage equality and spark those conversations about acceptance,” Mr McDonagh said. The move is likely to fire up the debate about the role of corporations as lobbyists for contentious social causes, which has attracted criticism from some conservative politicians and religious leaders in light of the recent public hounding of brewer Coopers into pledging support for Australian Marriage Equality. Marriage Alliance spokeswoman Sophie York, who is opposed to same-sex marriage, questioned whether people who opted not to wear their acceptance ring would be called upon to explain their decision.
She pointed to the recent harassment of a PriceWaterhouseCoopers executive and a Macquarie University academic by gay activists over their links with a Christian institution as a sign of what could happen when individuals failed to comply with the “same-sex marriage agenda”. “Almost every day, Marriage Alliance hears from an employee who has come under pressure at work to participate in an activity or donate funds to support the push to redefine marriage,” Ms York said. “Now we see big corporates giving away free jewellery to those who take the pledge, while providing an easy way to identify those who disagree with the company agenda. We know activists will stop at nothing, even accessories, to target people for demise.”
Mr McDonagh defended the role of corporations, such as Airbnb, which he said had a long history of championing equality and supporting the LGBTI community. “Openness and belonging is a core part of Airbnb; we strongly believe everyone has a right to marry the person they love,” he said. According to the campaign announcement, Airbnb would make it easy for Australians to get involved by making their support pledge online. The rings, which fall short of forming a full circle to symbolise the “gap in marriage equality”, would be made available free of charge other than postage. Qantas and Google have confirmed their support for the campaign, but both said staff would not be under any obligation to wear the rings. “We usually let our people know when we’re involved with a campaign like this, but there’s certainly no expectation that they will be part of it themselves,” a Qantas spokesman said.
The airline’s intensifying support for marriage equality comes after its chief executive, Alan Joyce, was recently singled out by conservative Liberal frontbencher Peter Dutton in his criticism of CEOs over their involvement in the debate, suggesting that they “stick to their knitting”. Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford also joined the fray, having taken issue with the accusation of Sydney Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher that companies were misusing their authority as well as shareholders’ funds in the pursuit of private social or moral ends. “It’s hard not to be cynical about such a stance,” Mr Clifford said. “By this logic, should companies scrap all of their corporate social responsibility programs? Should we not worry about ethical supply chains? Are we overstepping the mark when we raise money for charity? Of course not. And nor should we be expected to be silent on what is a basic civil rights issue.”
The latest census figures showing a rise in the number of people reporting no religious affiliation do not show Australia is losing faith, according to the Dean of Sydney, Kanishka Raffel. 2016 Census figures show the proportion of people reporting no religion increased to 30% in 2016, up eight percent in five years, and nearly double the 16% recorded in the 2001 census. The Dean says Australia is still a predominantly religious country. “Over 60% of people said they had some affiliation with religion but for those who say they have no religion, it doesn’t really tell us much about them. Some of those people are Atheists perhaps, many are just not committed, whilst others would certainly say they have a spirituality, some kind of connection with God but they just don’t identify with institutional religion. So I think that number is a bit opaque, we don’t get the whole picture from the figures,” Dean Raffel said.
The census form also changed last year, putting ‘no religion’ as the top choice. Over half of the population, claim Christianity. That figure is 51% of the population, compared to 74% in 1991 and 88% who identified as Christian 50 years ago. The number of Catholics dropped from 25.3% to 22.6% and Anglicans from 17.1% in 2011 to 13% last year. Islam at 2.6% and Buddhism at 2.4% were the next most common religions, with Islam up half a percent in five years and Buddhism down point one of one percent. Hinduism is the fastest growing religion. New South Wales is the most religious state with 66% of the population claiming to be religious. “60% of people say they identify with some religion and for more than 50% that’s Christianity. This means that religion is important to a lot of people,” the Dean said.
The Dean says the figures tell us something important about our culture. “I think we can get very distorted impressions. Most people don’t necessarily say a lot about their religion and that might make you think people aren’t religious. But if you ask them, you find something that is personally important to them and is no doubt shaping their whole engagement with the community, even if they are not wearing it on their sleeve. So, I think it is worth knowing (the figures) so we get a clearer picture of the things that are most important to a large number of people.” The Dean says the fact that one in five migrants are from Asia or the subcontinent, is being reflected in churches. “The census tells us that there are now more migrants from India and China than there are from England and Europe and we are certainly seeing that at the Cathedral.”
“People who might not necessarily have had much contact with Christianity in the past in their home countries are eager to find out about Jesus and so we have a large number of people from other lands coming with questions about who Jesus is. We are delighted with that and seeing that change being reflected in many churches around Sydney.” Dean Raffel also believes there has been an increase in commitment among those who do claim adherence to Christianity. “I think it’s true that in the 1960’s there would have been a higher proportion of people saying that they identified as Christians and that number is certainly smaller now but those people are more deliberate and intentional. It is not just a matter of habit or social expectation, but there’s something personal and important going on for people when they take the trouble to identify with a local church or a local faith community.”
ANOTHER ATTEMPT TO TAKE PRAYER OUT OF OUR FEDERAL PARLIAMENT
Embattled Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon has revealed she will fight to stop the federal parliament from opening every day with prayer. Her push to ditch the 114-year-old tradition comes after the census showed nearly a third of Australians identify with no religion. Rhiannon, who raised the issue in the NSW parliament in 2003, instead wants a moment’s silence for MPs to reflect on their responsibilities, and will pursue the change when parliament resumes from the winter break. “It is actually insulting the way parliament is opened,” she told ABC Insiders. “Considering there’s many people who aren’t religious, there’s many people of different faiths, it is time we started having an institution that is relevant to the 21st century.”
“It is regrettable that the Greens cannot tolerate the words of Jesus,” Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) managing director Lyle Shelton said. “Jesus is recognised as one of the most important, if not the most important, moral and spiritual teachers of all time and his teachings are what Australia and its institutions are based on. “It is values based on the teachings of Jesus that have made Australia such an attractive place in which to live. Since 1901, the prayer has been recited at the start of each sitting day in the senate and house of representatives by the president and speaker respectively,” ACL managing director Lyle Shelton said. “We daily recognise indigenous heritage in parliament and prayer in parliament recognises western cultural heritage,” Mr Shelton said.
“The Christian ethos underpins Australia’s democracy. The Lord’s Prayer has a legitimate place in parliament and should continue to be a part of the daily ceremonial opening,” Mr Shelton said. “The ideas emanating from the Christian faith, including those of what it means to promote human flourishing, are an important contribution in debating how best to govern society.”