25 Aug Yes-vote Lib fears law suits to hit religious
Andrew Burrell & Greg Brown — The Australian — 25 August, 2017
A Liberal senator who supports same-sex marriage says he is worried that activists will deliberately seek out advocates of traditional marriage to sue them under federal and state anti-discrimination law.
Victorian senator James Paterson, an agnostic, told a Christian function in Perth last night he feared the likely legalisation of same-sex marriage would provide avenues for anti-discrimination laws to be applied in ways that conflicted with people’s religious beliefs.
“There are a substantial number of Australians with a sincere and genuine belief in the current definition of marriage, who may be forced to choose between their beliefs and complying with anti-discrimination law,” Senator Paterson said.
“Many are private citizens, and some of them operate businesses in the wedding industry.
“The international evidence, particularly from the US, indicates that some activists will deliberately seek out potential opponents to same-sex marriage to sue them and create a legal precedent against such behaviour.”
His views were echoed by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who told a Sydney radio station yesterday religious freedoms needed to be protected as part of the same-sex marriage debate.
“People need to be able to speak their mind,” Mr Dutton said. “If they’re employed in an Anglican school or a Catholic school and they want to preach in accordance with their beliefs, that is a right in our country and needs to be protected. You don’t have to be a person of religious belief to support that.”
The Australian reported yesterday that state-based laws would need to be strengthened — or overridden by the commonwealth — if legal protections for religious beliefs were to be effective. Advocates say it is most urgent in Tasmania, where several Christians have already fallen foul of the state’s Anti-Discrimination Act.
Senator Paterson said parliament should address protections for religious freedom before the votes in the postal ballot were returned. He said West Australian senator Dean Smith’s private member’s bill “does the absolute bare minimum” for religious freedom by protecting ministers of religion from being forced to solemnise same-sex marriages.
The Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, urged followers to vote No, warning that same-sex marriage could infringe on freedom of conscience. He wrote a letter to Melbourne’s Catholics this week saying it was “vital” that people of faith voted.
“We sincerely believe that there is a core and fundamental wisdom and truth in the traditional definition and understanding of marriage that should not be ignored and is worth keeping for the health and future of our society,” he wrote.
“It is entirely possible future legislation about same-sex marriage could infringe fundamental human rights of freedom of religion and conscience. It could result in restrictions on the right of ministers of religion and religious bodies and organisations having the freedom to teach, preach and speak about marriage between persons of the same sex being contrary to their religious or conscientious beliefs.”
Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten yesterday delivered final pitches urging people to enrol or update their voting details so they could have their say in the same-sex marriage survey. More than 600,000 people contacted the Australian Electoral Commission to update their details, with more than 50,000 added to the electoral roll before last night’s deadline.
This article originally appeared in The Australian.