Friday, October 09, 2015

The shape of things to come

More than 10,000 Tasmanian families recently received a 10-page pastoral letter Don’t Mess With Marriage. The booklet, published by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, provided a thorough explanation for the church’s opposition to marriage equality and was distributed in Tasmania by the Hobart Archdiocese. Transgender rights activist Martine Delaney, who has been endorsed as the federal Greens candidate for Franklin, has lodged a complaint against the document with the Anti-Discrimination Commission. She said the letter was in breach of Section 17 of the Anti-Discrimination Act which stated it was an offence to offend or humiliate on the grounds of sexual orientation. Ms Delaney said implying same-sex attracted people were not ‘‘whole people’’ and writing that ‘‘messing with marriage’’ was ‘‘messing with children’’ was incredibly hurtful.

Archbishop Julian Porteous said the pastoral letter clearly condemned any form of unjust discrimination and affirmed the dignity of all human beings. “‘In order to assist the Catholic community in Tasmania to better understand  why the Church has sought to defend the current legal definition of marriage, I asked Catholic Schools in Tasmania to distribute this booklet to parents with children in our schools,’’ he said. ‘‘I am aware that there are some in society who would seek to silence the Church on this issue, and indeed prevent Christians expressing their beliefs in the public square on important social issues. ‘‘Increasingly they are trying to manipulate anti-discrimination legislation to achieve this end.’’ Ms Delaney argued Australian society was secular and that in some instances religious freedom must give way to law.

Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director Lyle Shelton said the reporting of Archbishop Porteous to government authorities for speaking up for marriage between one man and one woman should be of concern to all freedom loving Australians. Mr Shelton said regardless of where people stood on the marriage debate, no one should be reported to an anti-discrimination commission for their views. He said Archbishop Porteous would now have to go through a mandatory process to respond to the allegations against him. “This is particularly chilling considering all he did was distribute Catholic teaching on marriage to parents of children enrolled in Catholic schools. The booklet in question is respectful in tone and explains why changing the definition of marriage takes away rights of children” Mr Shelton said.

Archbishop Porteous is right to point out that the action taken against him is a threat to free speech in Australia. “Across the few countries which have redefined marriage, this is what we see. People who will always believe that marriage is the gender-diverse institution that binds the love of mother and father to their children are attacked and run out of polite society”, Mr Shelton said. “A view cannot be bigoted if it is based on defensible reasoning. It might be a different view, one some people don’t agree with, but it is not bigoted and those who hold such a view should not be punished by the law.” “Archbishop Julian Porteous’ booklet was reasonable, based on careful arguments, and respectful. Not only that, but it actually defends the law of the land.

“If the marriage law is to change, then in combination with anti-discrimination laws, it will be a very powerful weapon to silence dissenters and punish good citizens for being  ‘bigots’ and ‘haters’.” Mr Shelton said it was particularly concerning that the leader of the political lobby to change the definition of marriage, Australian Marriage Equality’s Rodney Croome, had urged people to report Archbishop Porteous to Tasmania’s anti-discrimination commission. FamilyVoice Tasmania State Director Jim Collins called on Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Robin Banks to reject the complaint. "The booklet doesn't malign anyone,” Jim Collins said.  “It simply and respectfully reiterates the orthodox Christian view on marriage and family – and reinforces our current laws on marriage."

Mr Collins said that while some may not agree with the Church's view, attempts to stamp out freedom of speech on key social issues like this are a worrying trend. “Like any democracy, Australia works best when we allow a wide range of voices to co-exist,” he said.  “That is true tolerance. Why Martine felt compelled to do this, I'm not sure.  Some might say it is a cynical publicity stunt to boost her local political aspirations.  I hope not. But if we cannot allow a Catholic Archbishop to promote church teachings among those who've chosen to be part of the Catholic school system, where on earth will it lead us as a society?  Using the anti-discrimination process as a big stick to quash an important debate like this goes against Australian values and our democratic process.  The Anti-Discrimination Commissioner needs to send a clear pro-freedom message to Tasmania, and the nation, by rejecting this complaint," Mr Collins said.

Archbishop Porteous admits he has copped flak but defended the move to distribute the booklet. In a video message Archbishop Porteous said reaction to the booklet has been mixed. "I have received many emails and personal words of thanks from parents," he says in the recording. "I've also received some criticisms for my action." But the archbishop stood firm. "I understand that some parents have disagreed with what I've done. I am simply fulfilling one of my roles as bishop, and that is to be the official teacher of the Catholic faith." He described the booklet as a "positive contribution" to the marriage debate. "It outlines why the church stands by the official definition of marriage as found in our laws." The archbishop said "The church does seek to serve people and the society by presenting its understanding of what marriage and family are intended to be, and this is based on what the sacred scriptures teach."

Source: Australian Prayer Network

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