On Thursday, the Australia House of Representatives passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, but it struck down multiple amendments to protect religious liberty and other forms of dissent in the process. As the U.S. Supreme Court debates a free speech refusal to take part in a same-sex wedding, this rejection of dissent bodes ill for religious freedom and free association down under.
“The amendments … go very much, again, to the heart of religious liberty that we’ve seen voted down again and again today in this house,” George Christensen, a coalition MP for Dawson, declared on the floor of the House. “And we’ve seen cheers from the gallery … cheering for the erosion of religious liberty … cheering for the erosion of religious liberty.”
As he spoke, onlookers applauded, leading Christensen to add, “There they go, cheering again, cheering again. When I’m specifically saying eroding religious liberty, they support that. This is the voice of tolerance today, and I am disgusted.”
The House struck down multiple amendments from former prime minister Tony Abbott, Treasurer Scott Morrison, junior members Michael Sukkar and Alex Hawke, Andrew Hastie, Andrew Broad, and Sarah Henderson, Sky News reported.
On Facebook, Chrisetnsen lamented that the House “voted to not allow civil celebrants — even those who are pastors — to exempt themselves from having to perform marriages for same sex couples. They’ve effectively ensured a lot of people who would otherwise vote for legislation to allow same sex marriage can no longer vote that way, myself included.”
“It also looks like they are going to vote down the right of churches to refuse to hold same sex marriages and marriage celebrations in church halls and the like,” he added. The amendment to protect church spaces also failed.
“If churches and pastors can’t even have freedom to not be party to something that is against their fundamental beliefs then neither can anyone else,” Christensen concluded.
Observers of public opinion in Australia may not be entirely surprised by the House’s vote, however. A survey early this year found that the vast majority of LGBTI Australians opposed any sort of exemptions — even for pastors and churches — from being forced to participate in same-sex marriages.
During the nation-wide vote on same-sex marriage this past fall, the “no” campaign warned that legalizing same-sex marriage would have far-reaching consequences. They pointed to the “Safe Schools” program, which encourages students to role-play same-sex relationships and endorses transgenderism.
“In countries with gay marriage, parents have lost their right to choose” how to teach their kids about sexuality, the campaign warned.
In September, while Australians were voting on the issue in a nationwide mail-in referendum, an LGBT activist threatened to burn down a church that posted a billboard supporting traditional marriage.
The religious freedom issue is contentious across the English-speaking world. In September, the speaker of the British House of Commons declared that same-sex marriage won’t be “proper” until churches are unable to refuse to host same-sex weddings. In February, an LGBT group in Ohio announced plans to invade church spaces and try to force church buildings to host same-sex weddings, against their sincerely-held convictions.
As Australia legalized same-sex marriage, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which centers around whether or not the state of Colorado can force a baker, Jack Phillips, to bake a same-sex wedding cake against his beliefs on marriage. When a gay couple asked Phillips to make the cake, he did not turn them away, but offered to sell them anything else — just not a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding.
The Bible clearly speaks against homosexual activity, and many brave Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction have embraced lives of celibacy to stay faithful to God. Some traditional Christians have even criticized Christians who embrace same-sex marriage as endorsing a separate religion.
“I completely understand – in an altogether different way – those liberal, progressive Christians who have no interest in protecting their traditional brothers and sisters who hold different convictions than they do,” wrote Stephen McAlpine, an Australian essayist and lead pastor of Providence Church Midland.
“I completely understand that underneath that Christian exterior, there’s pretty much a secular heart beating in time with whatever the culture decides,” McAlpine charged. “None will bat an eyelid or raise a voice for the sake of their brothers and sisters.”
Then the Australian pastor presented the chasm between Christians on this issue: “I completely understand that orthodox Christianity and its progressive iteration are basically different religions. They hold diametrically opposite viewpoints on human origins and endings, sexual ethics, biblical authority, the centrality of the cross, the means of grace and how one is justified before a holy God, if God even is holy, or even is God. Who even knows?”
Sadly, his claims are partially true, especially when it comes to same-sex marriage.
Even the nation’s attorney general, George Brandis, also a leader in Australia’s Senate, suggested the law on same-sex marriage is less about extending marriage benefits to gay couples and more about normalizing homosexuality.
Brandis declared that the Senate bill would “‘demolish the last significant bastion of legal discrimination’ over sexuality in Australia.” He added, “By passing this bill, we are saying to those vulnerable young people there is nothing wrong with you. You are not unusual. You are not abnormal. You are just you.”
Biblical Christians do not agree with this statement. While the Bible urges Christians not to judge others, and to love everyone, it also expressly declares that homosexual activity is a sin. Christians are called to love LGBT people, but are also forbidden to condone their sexual behavior. Disagreement with LGBT morality does not entail a hatred for LGBT people.
If the legalization of same-sex marriage requires the normalizing of homosexuality, it will necessarily clash with the religious views of traditional believers: Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike. To some degree, it amounts to enshrining in law deep-seated views about human sexuality that conflict with many religions. It should not be surprising to hear that enshrining these views in law might lead to discrimination against people who disagree.
The push for religious freedom in this context is about fighting not for the “right to discriminate” against LGBT people, but for the right to abide by deeply held religious beliefs in the public square. Jack Phillips’ case illustrates this well: LGBT activists claim he was discriminating against gay people, while he really was refusing to endorse an LGBT message. He gladly served gay people.
LGBT people have a right to be treated equally, and true discrimination against them is indeed a problem. But fighting this discrimination need not necessitate removing free speech, free association, and religious liberty rights from traditional religious believers. Defenses of these rights are just as important as protections against LGBT discrimination.
In the very ruling making same-sex marriage legal in the United States, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy admitted, “Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here.”
The English-speaking world is struggling with how to balance same-sex marriage and the constellation of rights protecting dissent against it. Those who disagree are not all bigots attempting to damage and marginalize LGBT people, and no one — neither Australians, nor British politicians, nor American activists — should attack their freedom to disagree.
Watch Christensen’s remarks — and Australians applauding the erosion of religious liberty — below.