The Catholic option for 'yes' or 'no'

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Australian voters are deciding which box to tick when asked, 'Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?' Unlike some bishops, I argue that a committed Catholic could vote 'yes' or 'no'.

Marriage equality postal vote formFor many Catholic voters, this has been a difficult issue because for the first time in their lives they have found themselves in the same position which our politicians find themselves every time they have to vote on contested moral and political questions in parliament. They don't find themselves getting all that much help from official church declarations. This is no criticism of our bishops. They are the custodians of a tradition which has been somewhat skewed on this issue for a long time.

In 1975, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) declared that 'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered and can in no case be approved of'. Then in 1986, under the leadership of Cardinal Ratzinger (as he then was), the CDF declared that 'special concern and pastoral attention should be directed toward those who have this condition, lest they be led to believe that the living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is a morally acceptable option. It is not.'

In 1992, the CDF identified 'some principles and distinctions of a general nature which should be taken into consideration by the conscientious legislator, voter, or Church authority who is confronted with such issues'. The CDF claimed that there was 'a danger that legislation which would make homosexuality a basis for entitlements could actually encourage a person with a homosexual orientation to declare his homosexuality or even to seek a partner in order to exploit the provisions of the law'.

Many Catholics nowadays find such declarations unhelpful and insensitive, perhaps even downright wrong. Even those Catholics who find such teaching helpful in determining their own moral stance might question the application of such teaching when deciding whether to tick the box 'yes' or 'no'. For most contemporary Catholics, Pope Francis has been a breath of fresh air with his observation, 'Who am I to judge?'

Some voters are voting 'yes' boldly and assuredly, hoping that our politicians will just get on with it and legislate for same sex marriage as quickly as possible. Some are voting 'no' just as boldly and assuredly, hoping that the matter will then be put off the legislative agenda for another generation, much like the outcome of the republic referendum in 1999.

I am one of those voters who believes that same sex marriage will be legislated either by this present parliament or by the next parliament. It would be in everyone's interests if it could be done right, and done now during the life of this parliament. Further delay will simply occasion ongoing hurt and angst in the Australian community.

For it to be done right, our politicians will need to ensure that they have accorded due protection to religious freedom. Some have been pointing to New Zealand which legislated same sex marriage four years ago. Fran Kelly, a strong advocate for the 'yes' vote, told ABC Insiders on Sunday: 'Some reassurance really for those who are worried about religious protections, religious freedoms, if the 'yes' vote gets up. We had a look at New Zealand — a country, society very like ours. Four years ago, they passed legalised same sex marriage. Basically, no incidents. No concerns of religious freedoms being contested or challenged. The Churches seem to have no issue.'

 

"There's no way the Turnbull government would legislate a human rights act. Perhaps they might consider a religious freedom act. But even that I doubt."

 

Earlier in the week, Kelly had interviewed New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English on ABC RN Breakfast. When asked about same sex marriage, he stressed that freedom of religion is important. She observed: 'You voted 'No' in 2013 but you've said if the vote was held now, you would vote 'yes'. Does that mean that the New Zealand experience of marriage equality has been a positive one for your country?' English replied: 'It's been implemented. There are a number of people taking advantage of it. We haven't had quite the same challenges around free speech and religious freedom as here but I think it's really important that that's maintained. But it's a pretty pragmatic approach really. It's in law. I accept that that is the case: we have same sex marriage in New Zealand and we're not setting out planning to change it.'

When elected prime minister, English described himself as 'an active Catholic and proud of it'. His predecessor Jim Bolger, who had been prime minister in the 1990s, told David Speers on Skynews during the week that there have been no problems with the protection of religious freedom, 'and I say that as a conservative Catholic'. He has found much of the Australian debate 'unnecessarily provocative and wrong'. Pointing to Catholic Ireland, he suggested that we should be able to 'put that to history'. He said that New Zealand had been a positive experience and that there were no grounds for victimising people.

I think English and Bolger are right. And I have no reason to question their Catholicity. They are experienced politicians well used to weighing the prudential considerations which come to play when contemplating legislation in a pluralistic democratic society.

But there is one point of distinction between Australia and New Zealand which has not been considered by Bolger and English and those Australians invoking them to assure us that all will be well. There is a clear legal reason why New Zealand has not had the same controversy around free speech and religious freedom. That's because they already had in place the legal architecture recognising and protecting these rights. For example, the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 provides: 'Every person has the right to manifest that person's religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching, either individually or in community with others, and either in public or in private.' We have no such provision in our Commonwealth laws. And that's the thorny issue. That's the issue being aired so constantly now by John Howard and Tony Abbott. In the past, they have been strong opponents of any statutory bill of rights.

 

"I've voted 'yes' and I hope the 'yes' vote gets up. But there's plenty of work then to be done to protect religious freedom, just as it is protected in New Zealand. Like Bolger and English, I won't be expecting much guidance from the CDF on how best to legislate in this domain."

 

There's no way the Turnbull government would legislate a human rights act. Perhaps they might consider a religious freedom act. But even that I doubt. Last November, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop asked the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade to conduct an inquiry on freedom of religion. Human Rights Sub-Committee Chair, Kevin Andrews, said the public hearings of the committee would focus on the legal framework of religious freedom in Australia. Prior to the public hearings in June 2017, he said, 'Australia has certain obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other international human rights instruments. We have an opportunity to examine how effectively Australia is meeting its obligations, with highly qualified legal scholars and religious freedom advocates offering a diverse range of legal opinions. The effectiveness, or otherwise, of these protections, and whether Australia needs a more comprehensive legislative framework, will be discussed in detail.'

One of those qualified legal scholars is Professor George Williams who has told the committee: 'Without stronger protection, freedom of religion, along with other basic rights, are vulnerable to abrogation by Parliament. In addition, public debates and policy discussions are not informed by legal structures and standards that ensure freedom of religion and belief is given the status in Australian society that it deserves.'

The findings of the Joint Standing Committee will hopefully assist our parliamentarians to design the right legislative framework for the protection of religious freedom when considering how best to legislate for same sex marriage should the ABS survey result in a 'yes' vote. I've voted 'yes' and I hope the 'yes' vote gets up. But there's plenty of work then to be done to protect religious freedom, just as it is protected in New Zealand. Like Bolger and English, I won't be expecting much guidance from the CDF on how best to legislate in this domain.

 


 

Frank BrennanFrank Brennan SJ is the CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia.

Topic tags: Frank Brennan, marriage equality


 

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Existing comments

Thank you, Frank, for one of the most insightful comments on the legal implications of Same Sex Marriage in this country. Previously I had never thought we needed a well drafted and sensible Bill of Rights. These days I do.
Edward Fido | 25 September 2017


The dilemma for those Christians, of any denomination, who vote 'yes' to same-sex marriage is separating their civil and religious beliefs. For those Christians who are homosexual and living in a committed relationship, perhaps the next logical step after being granted civil entitlement to marry is recognition of their partnership by their church. If the 'yes' vote prevails, would it be too fanciful to think that homosexual couples not currently churchgoers may at some stage want to commit to being Christians? What happens in that case? What is religious freedom all about? Big questions that ultimately will require an answer.
Pam | 25 September 2017


Perhaps the time has come, Frank, for Pope Francis to make a judgement particularly in matters of faith and morals. He is not slow on making judgements on his curia, his predecessors and world politics.
john frawley | 25 September 2017


I too voted Yes. I had some internal unease about it, but wanted to have the same sex couples I know to have chance to have their relationship validated in law. It is difficult to know how religious freedom will be protected in Australia at a time when religion seems to be a convenient scapegoat for people's discontent. There have been some brazen anti-religion statements by Yes proponents. The tenor of the campaign on both sides has at times been questionable. When NZ and Aus are compared on this issue the difference in legal protection is not mentioned. Thank you Fr. Brennan for bringing this anomaly in to the public domain.
Vivienne | 25 September 2017


I will be voting YES.I am a Catholic and proud to be. I believe I should not sit in judgement,I will leave that to the Lord. I will support Love.Something this world desperately needs!
Helen Jackson | 25 September 2017


As a Catholic, I have voted 'Yes' as a matter of conscience. I also strongly support the need for a Bill of Rights and for the protection of religious freedom, but in my view this is a quite separate matter to the justice of marriage equality. I would not support religious freedom 'protections' that legitimised discrimination against people of different sexuality. Religious celebrants can already refuse to conduct joint civil/sacramental marriages for couples not meeting their religious criteria. So what's the issue? Do people really want to be able to refuse a retail service to people of different sexuality? That would be sexist prejudice.
Peter Johnstone | 25 September 2017


It's ironic isn't it that Abbott, and others in the Coalition, who have been such strenuous opponents of a Bill of Rights, are now crying wolf about freedom of religion. I'd encourage ES readers to look at the NZ legislation to which Frank refers. You'll find it at < www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1990/0109/latest/whole.html >. It's difficult to see why Turnbull would not introduce similar legislation. It wouldn't, of course, satisfy the extremists on the 'no' side who are really not seeking freedom of religion but rather privilege to discriminate on religious grounds. And if it remained simply an Act of Parliament its provisions could be abrogated in the same way that those of the Racial Discrimination Act have been set aside, but without an amendment to the Constitution, it's the best that we can do.
Ginger Meggs | 25 September 2017


If I understand the issue correctly, no priest, minister of religion or civil celebrant in Australia, is obliged to marry anyone if they so choose (at the moment this is a man and a woman). If the law is changed to allow same sex marriage, nothing will change for these people. What will change is that civil (public) servants whose job it is to marry people (straight or gay) will be required to do so as part of their job. Therefore, just as, for example, in Roman Catholicism, the Church is not obliged to marry divorcees within the Church, and is covered by freedom of religious practice, so too with same sex persons. Many keep missing the point that this is about civil, secular marriage in Australia, and nothing to do with the Christian Churches or other faith groups. Civil marriages outside the Churches and other Faith traditions has been happening for eons, and does not belong exclusively to these groups. From a theological point of view, God is above all of this, and love, which comes from God is too.
Thomas Amory | 25 September 2017


A splendid piece, Frank! I noted in my doctoral research the existence of a Religious Freedom Act which guaranteed NZ Catholic Schools the freedom to teach religion/s that Australian legilsation would need to enact if ever our Catholic schools here were to be integrated into the public sector, as all NZ's Catholic schools indeed are, in order to protect the rights of those who founded and suuport their provision. Thank you!
Dr Michael Furtado | 25 September 2017


Freedom of choice. But what is it really? If all is for our choosing. Why make distinctions at all on any matter? I like to consider Jesus' view on marriage. He spoke of adultery, and having more than one spouse as not being the 'original plan'. He was very clear about gender being in the mix of marriage.  Saying when a 'man' marries a 'women', etc. When questioned by the Jews,  he 'again' mentioned the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To no doubt help make his questioners pay closer attention to what he was really saying.
AO | 25 September 2017


Pam, you raise some very good points here. If I understand things correctly, just as the Catholic Church at the moment does not accept the remarriage of Catholic divorced persons within the Church, these people are nevertheless still considered part of the faithful, and are able to participate in the life of the Church, with the exception of the receiption of Communion etc. It would be the same for same sex persons who are married. The Church would not recognise their marriage as sacramental (within the Church) only civil, but they would be able to enter into the life of the Church as above. Any children they have would have a right to Baptism and full Communion within the Church.
Thomas Amory | 25 September 2017


I think there is little doubt that the Catholic Church's teachings on sexuality will remain intact. Pope Francis' 'Who am I to judge?' comment should best be seen in the same context as Jesus with the Woman Caught in Adultery and those lines 'Let him who is without sin cast the first stone' (John 8:7). A priest in Melbourne who publicly championed the ordination of women was removed from office recently. A priest attempting to celebrate SSM would suffer a similar fate. Rome is not going the way of the official Anglican Church in the USA or Canada.
Edward Fido | 26 September 2017


I'm a card carrying Catholic, have been for 75 years, go to daily Mass and have Jesus as my alpha and omega. I voted YES.
Patricia Taylor | 26 September 2017


Wow a Catholic priest publicly supporting a change in the law that directly contradicts Church teaching and Catholic values. What would Jesus have done?
Georgie | 26 September 2017


"There's no way the Turnbull government would legislate a human rights act." I find this position incomprehensible.
Janet | 26 September 2017


Very good.
Jim Jones | 26 September 2017


1. Catholics refusing to accept magisterial teaching is an ancient phenomenon. But it has never altered realities. When many disciples walked away from Our Lord because his teaching on the Eucharist was too hard for them, He didn’t soften it to their tastes. So we can scoff all we like at the CDF’s presentation of doctrine, but in the end the Church is not a democracy. 2. Despite the hosannas to religious freedom and conscience accompanying the ssm regime in New Zealand, 22 applicants for an independent marriage celebrant license have so far been refused because they will not, on grounds of religion or conscience, conduct ssm services. Celebrants who belong to recognized church organizations and religions are not so effected. Get that? If, say, you’re an atheist who just thinks on common sense grounds (as many do) that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, you can’t get a jersey as a marriage celebrant in NZ. Moreover, function centres are bound to host ssm services, or risk litigation under the Human Rights Act. Sound familiar? 3. So contrary to Fr F’s assertion, the New Zealand Bill of Rights has done little or nothing to safeguard freedom of religion and conscience with respect to ssm. This is hardly surprising: the right to life is solemnly enshrined in the NZ Bill of Rights. Big help that - the NZ unborn in are slaughtered with as much indifference as they are here. All the lofty words in the world, engraved in solid gold, will mean nothing if one can interpret them at will. In these Pythonesque times, Catholics should thank God we have a CDF to remind us and all mankind that hens are hens, eggs are eggs, Stan can’t become Loretta, and that marriage is only between a man and a woman, ordered to the procreation and raising of their children. Oh, and that there is only Catholic "option" here. It’s a serious sin to vote “Yes”.
HH | 26 September 2017


Much appreciated Frank. I was talking with a friend yesterday and wondered out loud at why we had not hear from any church people in New Zealand. This is a telling point.
Vic O'Callaghan | 26 September 2017


I appreciated seeing the Catholic Church's stance on homosexuality in the past 50 years so clearly documented in your article. With such a dogmatic position on a issue of human complexity and the drive for human intimacy, it is no wonder that our faith community is so polarized in this important conversation at this time. However your article provides clarity around the issue and insight which could help us move forward together. Thank you!
Patty Andrew | 26 September 2017


Australia does not have the same safegaurds for religious freedom as NZ as Fr. Brennan points out. In this plebiscite we are voting in the dark. The only provision we have see in draft legislation was for religious practitioners. The celibated like Fr. Brennan will not be forced to conduct same-sex weddings. We have seen no safegaurdas at all for individuals of faith. We have already seen the push in Aus for radical gay sex education in schools (Safe Schools). As has happened overseas, the rights of mums and dads to protect their children from such harmful education will be taken away. We've seen the aggression of the gay lobby groups already in the yes campaign.The only sensible option for a Catholic parent like me is to vote no. I'm not confident at all that my rights to raise my kids Catholic in a Catholic school that will be allowed to continue to teach God's plan for human sexuality intact will be protected in a SSM Australia.
Chris G | 26 September 2017


Australian Catholics looking for guidance on how to respond to the non-compulsory non-binding postal survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on behalf of the Australian Government on the question: "Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?" will be out of luck. ABS is not asking for my vote. It is asking for my opinion. Not for any specific ABS purpose but because the government is too spineless to change the Marriage Act so that homosexual couples can have the same legal recognition as heterosexual couples. This survey is an Australia-wide Opinion Poll. Yes or No?. Unlike most Public Opinion Polls there is no gradation like: On a scale of 1 t0 10 do you think Same Sex Marriage would make Australia a more inclusive society? Despite the limited Yes or No quesiton proponents of the No case write tosh like this. "While the debate about the redefinition of marriage is occurring it is possible that your commentary about marriage will be protected as political speech. Come 15 November, particularly if a 'yes' vote occurs, you will be out of luck." (Catholic Weekly, 24 Sept 17 p 23) Good luck, Australia! Your opinion counts.
Uncle Pat | 26 September 2017


Australian politics are complicated and fraught enough without any need or benefit in dragging in questions of whether we're be better off with a (politically alterable) Bill of Rights. I'm not a lawyer but the existing Constitution seems to me pretty clear in its two relevant questions on the matters being canvassed in the current "Campaign" about the "Same-sex marriage" survey. Thus I simply do not see why a change in the civil and legal definition of “marriage” has the slightest bearing on religious freedom. Section 51 of the Constitution clearly gives the Commonwealth Parliament the power to make laws concerning “Marriage” and “Matrimonial causes”. This is bald and clearly stated; there are no caveats or qualifications about this power. Furthermore, Section 116 strictly prevents the Commonwealth from passing any act which precludes “the free exercise of any religion”. Taken together these seem to me to allay Dr Brennan’s concerns. I don’t see, at all, that any further legislation is necessary. Were “marriage equality” to be legislated, this would be a purely civil matter, without any influence on the prerogatives of the churches.
John CARMODY | 26 September 2017


Thank you Frank for an informative commentary. The recent decision by a Presbyterian Church in Victoria not to allow the marriage of a couple in that church because the couple supported Marriage Equality shows the freedom of religion already in place for religious institutions. Given this Government will never legislate a Bill of Rights (would not really guarantee much anyway unless it was in the Constitution), questions of religious freedom may end up being decided by the High Court in its interpretation of Section 116 of the Constitution. It will be legalistic and expensive but at least would give a clear legal guidance. I voted “yes” simply because Marriage Equality is a matter of rights and equality and I have not yet seen a good reason to vote “no”.
Brett | 26 September 2017


A person's sexual orientation is not a choice, it is not a mental retardation. It is an integral ingredient of such person's nature. And is it not religious belief that God created all equal? And, yes, I believe in the right for religious freedom. But should there not also have the right for non-religious freedom? Thank you Fr. Frank.
Beth | 26 September 2017


Considering Pope Francis has said that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman, that this is a Truth, and that Truth should be defended, shouldn't his fellow Catholics say, 'No' to the survey?
Chris Howard | 26 September 2017


In 2015, the Australian Law Reform Commission concluded a detailed assessment of traditional rights and freedoms— encroachments by commonwealth laws. Though the commission found “no obvious evidence that Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws significantly encroach on freedom of religion in Australia”, it did recommend that “further consideration should be given to whether freedom of religion should be protected through a general limitations clause rather than exemptions”. In February this year, the parliament’s select committee on the exposure draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill unanimously reported: “Overall the evidence supports the need for current protections for religious freedom to be enhanced. This would most appropriately be achieved through the inclusion of ‘religious belief’ in federal anti-discrimination law.” Dean Smith who has drafted his own Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 was a member of that committee. His bill does not deal with many of the contested religious freedom issues. Professor Carolyn Evans , Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Melbourne has told the parliamentary committee investigating freedom of religion: “We need a more comprehensive human rights act. I have been saying that for a long time. I do not have any naive assumptions that that will change quickly. It is part of the problem. We have cherrypicked a couple of rights which have been given a very strong status, and others have been given a lesser status in various ways. The danger at the moment is that various religious groups say, 'We need a religious freedom act,' then the media say, 'We need a media protection act,' and you could end up multiplying the problem rather than resolving it. To me it makes sense to incorporate it all into a single act. That would not make the need for discrimination law simply disappear, because that is a very specific set of issues, particularly around employment and some core services. Ensuring all Australians have access to those fundamentals is still important. That is why I argue for a human rights act that includes not only religious freedom but other rights as well.”
Frank Brennan SJ | 26 September 2017


With all due respect for you high position, No, Fr Brennan, it is a moral choice which most Catholics thankfully are clear about as they no not deal with the legal stratosphere as you do, and can simply listen to what was taught in the Bible. You can't twist this issue into a pretzel, and into a 'yes' vote. No parliament, no Joint Standing Committee can alter the reality that marriage is between a man and a woman. Other unions are possible, but they do not have the uniqueness of marriage.
Alice | 26 September 2017


Professor George Williams has told the parliamentary committee: ‘We are also dealing with a series of policy debates, including on same-sex marriage, which are also raising questions about the proper balance between religion and other interests. It is particularly important in these debates that we are informed by a strong standard that does provide for protection of freedom of religion.’
Frank Brennan SJ | 26 September 2017


I am old and Catholic and voted 'no' I don't want to have to call myself 'married' if the definition of 'marriage' is going to have no reference to children. I toyed with the idea of all Catholic married people divorcing, but the requirement for a twelve month separation seems to make that impractical. i think my objection to the definition that we seem to expect will be the lack of reference to children rather than the inclusion of homosexuals.
Gavan | 26 September 2017


With all due respect to you, John Carmody, I think Frank, as both a lawyer and a priest, is probably ideally placed to see where religious liberty and amending the Marriage Act may cause serious conflict. We tend to think that religion is protected by Common Law, but if SSM comes in, this may prove not to be the case. I suspect, if the government chooses to introduce a Bill of Rights to protect religious freedom and to prevent the state from interfering with churches, people on the 'No' side in parliament like Scott Morrison and Mathias Cormann will be a lot more involved. They won't leave it to the likes of Dean Smith and Warren Entsch. There are marriage conservatives who support the 'Yes' case on civil liberties grounds but don't want to see their Church forced to conduct SSM or get out of the marriage game altogether.
Edward Fido | 26 September 2017


In response to Thomas Amory's second comment of 25 Sept, firstly, thank you for your reply. I acknowledge and respect the Catholic Church's doctrine on marriage. The point I was attempting to make, probably clumsily, was 'how would it feel to be a homosexual couple as part of a Christian community'. To be accepted and loved, I would hope. Their civil marriage would enable them to feel an equality in society, but they would need to accept some provisions of inequality in the church. While understanding the church's position, I feel for them, I certainly do.
Pam | 26 September 2017


I've posed this question before and would like someone to answer it: Why is SSM the only moral issue the church chooses to seek legal protection from through religious freedom laws? Does the church also uphold the integrity of its tradition by claiming the right to discriminate against people living in de facto relationships, re-coupled divorcees or people living promiscuous lifestyles? (And is this obsession with sexuality the only thing left to fight for since the death of Christ 2000 years ago?) And, secondly, if the church is granted exemptions, does that religious freedom extend to people like the childcare centre manager who sacked a Christian employee for opposing SSM?
AURELIUS | 26 September 2017


There is an anthropological consideration which I think is prior to whether one is religious or not, and other than whether we have a bill of rights that might protect freedom of religion. The phenomenon is that as human we wager on what is worthwhile in life, what in the end is life's 'ought to be' as we see it, what in the end will be seen to have been properly humanising. An examination of the symbolic structure of sexual expression in sexual relations between a man and a woman on the one hand, and on the other between two of the same sex, will reveal some overlap of commitment, but a radical difference in humanising potential when it comes to mutual procreation and parenting. I will be voting no, to maintain marriage as between a man and a woman, while agreeing same sex couples are entitled to pursue rights, and rites, as they see fit, or worthwhile.
Noel McMaster | 26 September 2017


Interesting to see, via the comments section, how many people have quite a negative perception of the churches' concerns about religious freedom. The issues here are are very serious, and they're not primarily about 'freedom from' obligations under anti- discrimination legislation. They're about 'freedom to' - especially freedom to practise our beliefs, and to teach them to our children. In teaching the church's marriage laws, for example, may we still tell our children that sacramental marriage is between a man and a woman? That families with good opposite-sex parents have advantages for the children? These freedoms will not be lost immediately upon passing of SSM marriage legislation, but without inbuilt protection, challenges will be mounted (not necessarily by LGBTI people per se). This is not a reason to vote No - I will be voting yes to civil registration of gay unions because heterosexual couples have this right and so should gay couples. It's just something we should be aware of, and not let the issue be dismissed as irrelevant or perverse.
Joan Seymour | 26 September 2017


Georgie, Can you please tell me how you would arrive at 'What Jesus Would Have Done' on this issue? Unlike proponents of the tautological slogan 'Love is Love', I don't find the nature or requirements of "love" to be self evident.
john | 26 September 2017


We've participated in wars and sent our own citizens to die in foreign lands, and yet only now that people of the same gender want to marry, we decide we need protection with a bill of rights?
AURELIUS | 26 September 2017


In response to Joan Seymour, you’ve raised something of a tangential issue because we already have same sex parents raising families. But if Marriage Equality becomes law, parents could tell their children that in Australia there are different types of families. Some families have two parents of different sexes, some families have only one parent, some families have parents who have chosen not to marry and some families have two same sex parents. The important message is that all parents love their children, want what is best for them and, if you want to go down this path, that no one family structure is better than or superior to the others. Parents could also tell their children that some churches do not recognise same sex marriages and do not celebrate them while other churches do recognise and celebrate same sex marriages. Drawing on your example, parents could explain the differences between sacramental marriage in some churches and civil marriage in the wider community. This kind of open, honest discussion should be able to answer any questions the children may have.
Brett | 26 September 2017


John, "Love is Love" is paraphrasing of Jesus' attitude to purity laws and an obsession with the mechanics and outward appearance rather than the person's intentions. Certain foods or groups of people were considered unclean - but Jesus turned this on its head and taught that "It is not what goes into your mouth that makes you ritually unclean; rather, what comes out of it makes you unclean.” And, ‘These people, says God, honor me with their words, but their heart is really far away from me. It is no use for them to worship me, because they teach human rules as though they were my laws!’”
AURELIUS | 26 September 2017


Finally the untangling, the unraveling of the pretzel! Via the very wisely chosen words spoken by Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane. http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/like-parents-with-kids-samesex-couples-dont-qualify-for-marriage-archbishop-mark-coleridge-20170926-gyovm2.html Same-sex couples do not "qualify" for marriage just as parent and child, or brother and sister, cannot marry each other.
AO | 26 September 2017


Gavin - marriage is not primarily about children - it is about cementing relationship. Children may come from marriage, they may not. when two people marry, they are not asked to commit - even in the Catholic Faith - to have children. What they asked is, that if they have children they will be raised in manner that supports justice and love. But - again - marriage is about two people publicly announcing their intended support to each other. Why do we not allow any 'two' people to publicly celebrate this.
Beth | 26 September 2017


I think, with respect, that Frank Brennan has probably answered John Carmody's interesting challenge, Edward Fido, in two lengthy explanatory posts. The point however remains that in a quality journal it should not matter that Professor Brennan's status is that of a lawyer and a priest, which is clearly announced in his authorial note. It also happens that, despite his modesty, John Carmody is a considerable scholar and biographer with an enviable reputation for contributing to the discourses of Catholicism and social justice. I would hope that Eureka Street especially values the interrogative posts of those who step out of the bounds of clerical admiration society membership and engage in healthy as well as informed discursive argument.
Dr Michael Furtado | 26 September 2017


I have wrestled with what my answer would be and eventually voted NO, not as a Pavlovian response because I am a Catholic but because of the many articles I have read about what could be described as "unintended consequences", some of them as described in the comments above and some describing examples elsewhere and even in Canberra. The NT government intends to challenge the rights of Churches to choose to whom they would allow their properties to be used and there were many more examples. I read and saw on TV news that parliament was drawing up rules to govern the behaviour of people commenting on the views of those with whom they disagree. These would be only for the length of time of the plebiscite. Why?????? I am not saying that I agree with these laws of the parliament, but it seems inconsistent to me that the behaviour of people will change after the result is known. Niether do we know now as we are voting what these laws will be. Secondly, George Brandis has said, as have other MPs, that nothing will change if the yes vote wins out and is subsequently made law. The authorities in the N.T. disagree. They are quoted in their local newspaper as saying that the freedoms that religions currently enjoy will be curtailed in a number of ways, one example of which is that Church properties, including church buildings, will have to be available to anyone who wants to use them.
Joan Winter OP | 26 September 2017


Can anyone think of another situation where Catholics are advised to vote/decide either way - yes/no - whatever - and yet the church still demands legal protection to exclude the people affected/benefited by the affirmative vote? If the issue is so grave that the church needs protection, shouldn't Catholics be clearly advised to vote no? There are many grey moral issues where it's possible to argue either way, but none I'm aware that would merit such an extreme response. Do any LGBTI people feel like invisible pawns in this tussle between politics and religion? Are our souls being used as bargaining chips?
Sebastian | 26 September 2017


My parents have been married for 52 years, my 7 siblings are all married (one now divorced). As a society we understand what "married" means. I don't know what is meant to be "civil unionised". I hope that the 15 years in my same sex relationship will grow to be many more. "Till death do us part" is a commitment I am willing to make. I certainly hope I can make it soon. Thank you to all the people who are voting "yes".
PaulH | 26 September 2017


This is a well reasoned article. I agree with the position that Fr. Frank Brennan has defended here. I have been teaching moral theology and Catholic social teaching here in New Zealand since February this year and working in a parish. I have discussed the New Zealand experience after the legalization of same-sex marriage with my students and with parishioners. As Catholics they accept the teaching of the Church. They report no conflicts regarding freedom of religion. The legislation has not led to notable social conflicts. The Catholic doctrine of sacramental marriage has, of course, been upheld and lived within the Catholic community.
Brian Johnstone | 27 September 2017


I appreciated Noel Macmaster's comment as he introduced an anthropological perspective to our consideration on the place of same sex marriage in our current society. For me he has clarified the distinction surrounding one of the major tension points in this decision; that is "'equal but not the same" As Noel said there is an overlap in commitment between heterosexual and homosexual marriage but a radical difference when it comes to procreation and parenting. Our challenge is how do we acknowledge and honour both the overlap and the radical difference so that both unions and different ways of expressing human maintain their integrity
Patty Andrew | 27 September 2017


Thank you, Aurelius, but I wonder how many who subscribe to the tautology "Love is Love" are aware of your exegetical rationalization that relies on scripture alone and ignores two thousand years of the Catholic Church's teaching tradition on marriage? Moreover, I'd have thought that both intention and action were relevant to the integrity of personal and social morality.
John | 27 September 2017


With all due respect to Father Frank and all the learned commentariat, I agree with you Alice. Didn’t G.K. Chesterton, in Twelve Ordinary Men, say something along the lines, ‘That if we want to do something unimportant like send a rocket to the moon, we gather a group of experts but, our civilization has decided that determining the guilt or innocence of men is a thing too important to be trusted to trained men. When it wishes anything done which is really serious, it collects twelve of the ordinary people standing around. The same thing was done, if I remember right, by the Founder of Christianity’. I have been voting in Australian elections, plebicites, referenda since 1960. I consider this the most important matter to have come before the Australian people in my voting lifetime. Ordinary common sense; what I understand to be Catholic teaching; the precious, unique, biological nature of marriage between a man and a woman (and the upstream and downstream lineage connections, however imperfect); the experience in other countries where SSM has been enacted, all these things tell me that voting No is a vital gift to all Australians.
bb | 27 September 2017


I must tell you, Michael Furtado, I had no idea who John Carmody is, probably because these days scholarship has split itself into so many subbranches that it is impossible for the average educated literate person to keep up with all of them. Unless you used your academic title and told us of your studies and expertise, you would also be a blank to me and many other educated readers of Eureka Street. Frank Brennan is pretty widely known in Australia, not just for his academic qualifications, but for the quite considerable practical efforts he has made in the real world on matters such as Aboriginal justice. I think it was perfectly in order to remind the unknown to me John Carmody of Frank's particular expertise. Perhaps for yourself that might be redundant, but ES is not an academic journal, although an extremely intelligent one. From experience at four different universities I am not sure that academics per se are all that practically intelligent. Some are actually pretty hopeless coping with real life.
Edward Fido | 27 September 2017


Thank you Brian Johnstone for bringing this conversation back to the question at hand, this plebiscite has absolutely nothing to do with the Catholic doctrine of sacramental marriage which will go on whatever the result. It has everything to do with civil marriage for which religious arguments, either for or against, are irrelevant inappropriate.
Ginger Meggs | 28 September 2017


I was heartened to read the comment by Brian Johnstone. Where social change is proposed it is almost impossible to conduct a laboratory-like experiment that would show the benefits and the dangers of the change. Even when a simple change like adding fluoride to a town's water supply is mooted all the evidence produced by dental experts is ignored or challenged on all sorts of spurious scientific, emotional, and even spiritual grounds. Human society is like that. So when a person of the standing of Brian Johnstone gives a real life example of the consequences of SSM legislation in New Zealand I am disappointed that there has been little reference to this successful social experiment by our Kiwi cousins. Perhaps there is no way to change the "We'll all be rooned, said Hanrahan" attitude that prevails in Australian politics and in conservative religious communities. Make no mistake. This Postal Survey may masquerade as an Opinion Poll but it is a bare-knuckled pugilistic fight initiated by John Howard and advanced by Tony Abbott to mobilise conservatives against progressives. The happiness and the human rights of Same Sex Attracted couples are becoming more & more irrelevant.
Uncle Pat | 28 September 2017


I was interviewed by Kieran Gilbert on SkyNews this morning re: same sex marriage and the Catholic Church. There is no one Catholic position on how a citizen should vote in this ABS Survey. See https://twitter.com/SkyNewsAust/status/913173631303217152 Once the ABS survey is done and dusted, there will be a need for our politicians to do the hard work, considering how best to protect religious freedom in Australia. This is an issue not just in relation to same sex marriage. See https://twitter.com/SkyNewsAust/status/913171490756902912
Frank Brennan SJ | 28 September 2017


Thank you, John - it seems we agree - that 'love is love' reflects the universality of morality (the intentions/actions involved are not the concern of LGBTI people alone)
AURELIUS | 28 September 2017


Once you change the marriage law, there are legitimate questions about freedom of religion. Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides: 1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. 2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice. 3. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. 4. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions. See https://twitter.com/SkyNewsAust/status/913172349696053248
Frank Brennan SJ | 28 September 2017


There are comments which will never be written and consequently not read on this issue, by people who may be uneducated, though not necessarily. Whose opinion is just as valid. There is a great movie: MR NOBODY about making' life choices', and 'end of life choices'. Voting yes or no or not voting is a choice we all are entitled to, including ALL belonging to religious denominations, Ginger. Have you seen the movie? Nemo's ( latin for: no man- no one) 'choice' towards the end of his life 'is not to choose'. Although, surrounded by a society that demands him to make a choice.I am very interested in knowing your opinion about this movie Dr Michael Furtado and that of John CARMODY. If you care to watch it and express one in regards. We cannot deny, in many life situations this is at times our only move as many chess players also know. And as many who are not voting either 'yes' or 'no' may also know, and wish to explain why, if they made the choice to do so, but don't.
annoying orange (AO) | 28 September 2017


Fr Frank, I am astounded and now more concerned than ever to read your statement that 'Once you change the marriage law, there are legitimate questions about freedom of religion.' You have endorsed, precisely, the primary argument of the No campaign that it will be too late once the Yes vote is in to argue for all the safety nets you have enumerated. Brian Johnstone tells us, based on the NZ experience, that there is nothing to worry about, that everything will be better than fine. Forgive me for being dubious. Is it seriously contended that once the Parliament gets its SSM it will give half a hoot about the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or ''legitimate questions about freedom of religion'? I have voted NO, in part, precisely because of the very issues that FR Frank has raised and because I don’t share this faith in our politicians on these issues. It will be all too late after everyone has let the horse bolt. The YES campaign has been dogmatic that any talk about 'freedom of religion' and other 'unforeseen consequences' are red herrings. They argue that it’s only about ‘Love is Love’.
bb | 28 September 2017


Bb, I can understand your being dubious. These are matters of political and prudential assessment. You might be interested to know that Fr Brian Johnstone C.SS.R is one of Australia’s pre-eminent, most experienced moral theologians. He is now emeritus professor of moral theology/ethics at the Catholic University of America. His CV is available at http://trs.cua.edu/res/docs/faculty-pages/johnstone/johnstone%20CV%2008.pdf
Frank Brennan SJ | 28 September 2017


I voted YES. I think the world has been far to cruel for far too long to same sex people. More love and respect.
John Brannan | 28 September 2017


Ginger Meggs, Legalizing same-sex marriage could, in fact, have very much to do with the ability of Catholic institutions - for instance, schools - to exercise freedom of religion in relation to what is taught. Brian Johnstone's relatively recent experience in New Zealand is not typical of other overseas experience in this matter
John | 28 September 2017


On Brian Johnstone to Frank Brennan and Frank Brennan to Brian Johnstone: I would prefer a larger sample than the one Brian presents; it seems to be a few seminarians/students and parishioners. There are enough comments here to suggest we need further discussion more than an argument from authority.
Noel McMaster | 28 September 2017


'Once you change the marriage law, there are legitimate questions about freedom of religion'. Why the 'if, then, else?' relationship Frank? Why would changing the civil marriage law suddenly require a revisiting of religious freedoms? The civil marriage law has been changed many times before and yet there has been no question of it undermining the freedom to practice or teach one's religion. No priests have been prosecuted or sued for refusing to marry divorced parties. No priests have been prosecuted or sued for teaching that divorce is wrong in the eyes of the Church. What makes you think that priests will be prosecuted or sued for refusing to marry same-sex couples or teaching that such marriages are wrong in the eyes of the Church? You seem to make a big deal of NZ's Bill or rights, but what protection does it give? 'Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief, including the right to adopt and to hold opinions without interference'. Do you really think that is significant in terms of the ready acceptance of marriage equality in NZ? Do you really think those freedoms will be at risk here 'once you change the marriage law'?
Ginger Meggs | 28 September 2017


In responding to the survey, we need to discern, in the context of the Scriptures, the meaning of our prayer: 'Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven'.
Mary | 28 September 2017


First just to remind 'no' voters, SSM is not being made compulsory! That might sound trite, but it is worth keeping in mind in this debate. Second, yes there are religious freedoms and other human rights issues to consider, as they must be - if need be - after the SSM issue is legislated - as it must be - if human rights are to be recognised for non heterosexual people. Religious freedoms can be dealt with afterwards, and separately, but should not be allowed to contaminate the SSM debate before us today. Third. We are asked to consider the civil rights of all here in Australian civil society, not just those of the heterosexual community. We are not asked to revise the Catholic sacrament of marriage within the Church - neither its application nor its integrity, nor its sacramental status. As I said: SSM is not being made compulsory at law, just available ... for those who seek it. We're not asked to approve their marriage sacramentally, just to recognise it as their right legally.
Dr Frank Donovan OAM | 28 September 2017


I was very pleased to hear Archbishop Coleridge telling David Speers this evening: 'Of course, it's possible to vote "yes". It depends why you vote "yes".....As a Catholic, you can vote "yes" or you can vote "no".' He's voting "no", and I'm voting "yes".
Frank Brennan SJ | 28 September 2017


this is one hell of an article and I agree with fr frank that they should do it right now and get it over with and not hurt too many people
maryellen flynn | 28 September 2017


Pam, I share both your hopes and concerns as to the how readily the welcome mat would be extended to same-sex married couples turning up to St. Wherever's Catholic Church of a Sunday morning. Thomas A replies that such couples could be included "except" that they would be ineligible to receive the Eucharist. With all respect, Thomas, you say that as if it is a minor thing, though I'm sure that is due the limits of Internet communication rather than to actual sentiment. To be denied access to the Eucharist is to be denied the very life and heart of the Church. Little else matters does it? Not in comparison to such a loss surely? It would be a little like being invited to a wedding and asked to sit outside looking in while the important guests were being served. I voted "Yes" and I hope that one day my sacramentally married same-sex family members will be able to join me at the table of the Lord in our Catholic Church. Yet, in reality, I know that I will not see that day in my lifetime. So, my family is looking elsewhere for where we might worship, since some Christian churches have already laid out the welcome mat to those who are gay.
BPLF | 29 September 2017


So glad that you exercised your democratic right to vote Yes in this postal survey Fr Frank. What I don't understand is why you go further and publicly advocate for the Yes vote? As Chris Howard commented, the Pope's directive on this is clear http://catholicherald.co.uk/news/2017/09/03/pope-says-marriage-can-only-be-between-a-man-and-a-woman-and-we-cannot-change-it/ What about Papal Authority? A Catholic's duty to evangelise? Yes I live in a pluralistic society but I did not vote for or condone some of this society's laws. And I certainly do not acquiesce to these (or any future) laws which are in direct conflict to the teachings of the Catholic church.
Cathy | 29 September 2017


BPLF and Pam, BPLF, I was not meaning to suggest that same-sex couples, married or otherwise should be excluded from Communion. On the contrary, as a Catholic who is gay with a partner of over 30 years I do not accept the Church's teaching on witholding Communion from anyone, including divorcees. In my view after studying theology at masters level, I have come to the conclusion that no human being, Pope or otherwise has the right to withold communion from anyone if they come to the table seeking a deeper relationship with Christ and God. Period. The sooner the Church gets its head around this the better, and the more it will be acting as Christ in the world. I understand your considering finding another denomination to embrace. I too want inclusivity not exclusivity. The Baptists and Uniting Church in some places in Australia are already making changes to this effect. To paraphrase Archbishop Desmond Tutu: 'We are all God's children - black, white, gay, straight, Christian, Jew, Hindu, Muslim... and athiest. In God's family there are no outsiders: all belong.' Best wishes to you both and yours.
Thomas Amory | 29 September 2017


The debate on same sex marriage is becoming increasingly ill tempered with all sorts of accusations flying fast and free. I don't always support Gerard Henderson, who, neither being an academic nor the possessor of a PhD, having bypassed those and formal politics to speak his own mind without fear or favour, has the street smarts to know how politics and government work. His article in today's Weekend Australian 'Commentary' section 'Yes vote a plunge into the great unknown' endorses the views in this article. There are many people, myself included, who will vote 'Yes' purely and simply on the grounds of civil liberties and bringing the law up to date with modern realities. This 'Yes' vote does not necessarily connote an endorsement from a religious point of view of SSM. Indeed I should be very keen for the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches to continue their teaching on sexuality and marriage without bigotry. The bigotry I fear is that of the neo-Trotskyite political Left who wish to impose highly contentious teachings and practices on all schoolchildren through such vehicles as the misnamed Safe Schools Program. I think when people with the legal smarts like Frank and George Williams talk about a Bill of Rights being necessary to protect religious freedom they are on target.
Edward Fido | 30 September 2017


For Catholics considering whether and how to ‘vote’ in the ABS survey, there are four distinct preliminary questions which need to be sifted: 1. what constitutes a sacramental marriage? 2. what constitutes a marriage recognised by the Catholic church? 3. what constitutes a marriage in the natural order? 4. what constitutes a marriage in civil law? I see the ABS survey as relating only to question 4, and that's why I am voting 'yes'.   I had previously favoured civil unions but both sides , including our bishops, ruled that option out back in 2012. From there, it was ‘all or nothing’. We have reached the stage when it is inevitable that Australian law within the next five years will recognise same sex marriage.   The issue for consideration is about how that is best to be achieved, while maintaining the discussion and clarity about preliminary questions 1-3, while enhancing the protection of religious freedom, while enhancing the standing of the Church, and while enhancing the respect and dignity of all, including those couples who are wanting to live faithful, perpetual same sex unions - and their children.
Frank Brennan SJ | 02 October 2017


Forgive me Frank if your article and, especially, your 2 October post reminds me of Mark Antony's 'I come to bury Cæsar not to praise him' speech. You seem to say clearly that it's OK to vote YES for 'what constitutes a marriage in civil law' but then you go on in a way that could raise doubts in the minds of the faithful by saying that 'the issue for consideration is about how that is best to be achieved, while maintaining the discussion and clarity... , while enhancing the protection of religious freedom, while enhancing the standing of the Church, and while enhancing the respect and dignity of all... etc' Clearly that 'issue' ('how' rather than 'whether') has by your own reasoning nothing whatsoever to do with the question being asked in this accursed survey.
Ginger Meggs | 02 October 2017


Fr Brennan said in 2010: “The State has an interest in privileging group units in society which are likely to enhance the prospects that future children will continue to be born with a known biological father and a known biological mother who in the best of circumstances will be able to nurture and educate them.” But by voting “Yes” to same-sex marriage, it seems to me Fr Brennan is now implying one of two things: 1. The State no longer has this interest. 2. Same-sex “marriages”, which, adoption aside, can only create families by breaking biological bonds between children and parents, are in accord with this interest of the State. How does Fr Brennan defend whichever of these propositions he assents to?
HH | 05 October 2017


‘Same sex couples’ are already creating families HH, voting ‘no’ won’t change that, marriage equality will only strengthen them.
Ginger Meggs | 06 October 2017


Is it not the case that following the legalisation of SSM in the UK, 12 small but respected Catholic adoption agencies were required either to close or secularise because their choice for children to have a mother and father (I think the same preference most of us would have expressed had we ever been given that choice) became discriminatory? I can't reconcile Frank's apparent acquiescence to an Australian bishops' 2012 ruling regarding 'civil union' with his argument regarding freedom of conscience. That is, why not continue arguing for civil union if this is the better option? Wouldn't this provide equal State rights and social rites & affirmations to same-sex couples, but provide the potential to differentiate the two institutions, and so absolutely preserve the church’s right to continue its teachings regarding the nature of ‘marriage’, and actions regarding what it believes are the best interests of children? Most of us are sceptical of politicians even regarding specific promises, so to believe a blanket ‘trust us’ in relation to religious freedom seems to me like a suspension of disbelief.
David Moloney | 06 October 2017


I went back and read the 2010 article HH. Interesting and I don’t know if Frank Brennan would have exactly the same views seven years later; he can speak for himself. Who of us has not changed in that time? Also interesting to read the comments, including a lengthy exchange between correspondents Alex Lewis and Hugh Henry, but I digress. If you must continue to talk about children (and this is after all only relevant to couples who want to raise children), it seems to me the State has an interest in ensuring the best interests of the child are protected, regardless of the sexual orientation of the parents. There is no evidence GLBTQI parents are less capable than other parents of providing a safe and loving family for their children and there should be no distinction in how they are treated by the State. A “no” vote in the informal postal survey won’t stop GLBTQI people raising children. That’s already happening. All it will do is deny those children the right to have married parents. Is that what you really want?
Brett | 06 October 2017


In 2003, the CDF (headed by then Cardinal Ratzinger) issued a restatement of its implacable opposition to civil unions and same sex marriage insisting: ‘When legislation in favour of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic law-maker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favour of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral. When legislation in favour of the recognition of homosexual unions is already in force, the Catholic politician must oppose it in the ways that are possible for him and make his opposition known; it is his duty to witness to the truth. If it is not possible to repeal such a law completely, the Catholic politician, recalling the indications contained in the Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, “could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality”, on condition that his “absolute personal opposition” to such laws was clear and well known and that the danger of scandal was avoided. This does not mean that a more restrictive law in this area could be considered just or even acceptable; rather, it is a question of the legitimate and dutiful attempt to obtain at least the partial repeal of an unjust law when its total abrogation is not possible at the moment.’ I think it’s time that our bishops abandoned this approach. I doubt that the CDF would make such a restatement in 2017. See http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20030731_homosexual-unions_en.html
Frank Brennan SJ | 12 October 2017


Oh dear, Edward Fido; apologies for the delay in replying, but you miss my point, which is that well-known and esteemed clerics, whether Jesuit or not, are not necessarily the enlightened arbiters of God's revelation that some take them to be. Last year, when the Irish plebiscite result on marriage equality constitutional change was announced, the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Diarmuid Martin, publicly expressed his frustration that, despite 87% of the Irish having had the benefit of a Catholic education, such a large majority of youth had voted in favour of same-sex marriage. This is but one of many instances in which the clerical wing of our Church has misread the intention of the faithful, and among whom has been Frank himself, who on television once stated his opposition to marriage equality but support for civil unions. In a post-Vatican II era, when the People of God are expected to have a say, such a comment as Archbishop Martin's leaves us wondering if clerical Catholics have made much progress since the time of the Counter-Reformation Jesuit Saint and Cardinal, Robert Bellarmine, who was instrumental in sending Giordano Bruno to the stake for stating that the Earth moved around the Sun.
Dr Michael Furtado | 15 October 2017


In view of the submission of the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) to the Inquiry into the Status of the Human Right to Freedom of Religion or Belief being conducted by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade that the right to freedom of religion or belief ‘has only limited protection in Australia’s domestic law’, there is a need to consider freedom of religion issues in the wake of a ‘Yes’ vote for same sex marriage. In 1998, the Commission had recommended the enactment of a Religious Freedom Act which would have basically enacted Article 18 of the ICCPR into Australian domestic law. In 2000, the Parliament saw no need for such legislation. In February 2017, the Commission restated its position: ‘For many years, the Commission has advocated for freedom of religion or belief to be a protected attribute under federal anti-discrimination law’. The Commission ‘remains of the view that the Australian Government should consider expanding the circumstances in which anti-discrimination law protects against discrimination and vilification on the basis of religion’. The Commission readily acknowledges that there would be tensions in resolving the conflict of rights were the right to freedom of religion to be more appropriately recognised in Australian law and it has sought to ‘highlight the complexity of balancing competing rights and report the concerns stakeholders have raised through the Commission’s work in this area’. Given the concerns that have been raised, especially by many of the advocates for the ‘No’ case during the postal survey, it would be prudent for government (and the parliament) to require the AHRC to conduct an inquiry on these matters, and if need be, report back again to the parliament on the desirability of a Religious Freedom Act or of amendments to discrimination legislation so that religious belief is not just an exemption from other grounds of discrimination or from general equality, ensuring that religious freedom is enjoyed appropriately by religious persons.
Frank Brennan SJ | 17 October 2017


The Select Committee on the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill when reporting in February 2017 stated that ‘there was consensus in the evidence received that the right to religious freedom should be positively protected. The nature of possible protections will continue to be debated. The committee heard of various potential remedies to this issue, such as an anti-detriment provision or a distinct legislative instrument to protect religious freedom. Many witnesses submitted that the introduction into the Australian legal context of a protection for freedom of religion was regarded as being most appropriately placed within anti-discrimination legislation. Necessarily, this would require consideration of any future anti-discrimination laws interactions with existing state and territory provisions. It is however clear that should legislation be enacted to change the definition of marriage, careful attention is required to understand and deliver a balanced outcome that respects the human rights of all Australians if the nation is to continue to be a tolerant and plural society where a diversity of views is not only legal but valued.’ That’s the task that needs to be performed once a ‘yes’ vote is carried, as it will be on 15 November 2017.
Frank Brennan SJ | 19 October 2017


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