The bill unveiled yesterday by Liberal Senator James Patterson to include comprehensive religious protections in the legalisation legalising same-sex marriage – in the event of a ‘Yes’ victory in the postal plebiscite — is a welcome attempt to forestall the lawfare activism that the coming of ‘marriage equality’ will otherwise unleash.
Claims that the bill – to establish new exemptions from anti-discrimination legislation — will license so-called bigots to discriminate by allowing Christian (and other religious) businesses with sincere conscientious objections to refuse to provide wedding-related services to homosexual and lesbian couples are overstated. And the reaction to the ‘Dastyari incident’ last week suggests why.
When two members of the far-right ‘Patriot Blue’ group harassed Senator Sam Dastyari in a Melbourne pub, the response from across the political spectrum was to condemn this kind of bullying as ‘un-Australian.’
What was correctly identified as un-Australian was the way two fringe activists sought to draw attention to themselves and their political agenda by singling out Dastyari based on his religious and ethnic background.
Highlighting differences and making people feel bad about those differences is not the Australian way. The open, friendly, and accommodating ‘fair go’ Australian-style instead encourages us to overlook what divides us and focus on what we have in common and has allowed modern Australia to become one of the most diverse and yet harmonious nations in the world.
I suspect that the same set of social manners that allow us to live and let live together regardless of our differences will largely apply if same-sex marriage is legalised. Many Christian businesses — especially as same-sex weddings will be rare, statistically speaking — are likely to be as reluctant to deny service as many gay couples will be equally reluctant to force the issue.
Nevertheless, religious protections are still needed because rainbow activists do want to force the issue and single out Christian business.
Any marriage equality law that does not include comprehensives protections for religious freedom will pave the way for anti-discrimination lawsuits that will single out and force Christians to act against their beliefs, as part of the broader campaign to delegitimise the place of religion in Australian life.
Bitter legal disputes over same-sex marriage would be socially divisive, and could potentially transform ‘marriage equality’ into the kind of polarising issue and touch stone for the culture wars that abortion is the United States. It would also be ironic if, in the name of ‘gay liberation’, the legalisation of same-sex marriage bullied Christians into closeting their beliefs.