In less than 2 weeks time, CCL will host its final evening event for 2016 titled Can we talk about same-sex marriage? Tony Payne (Director of CCL) and Michael Kellahan (Executive Director of Freedom for Faith) will be speaking. Freedom for Faith is a Christian legal think tank that advocates for freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and freedom of association, with the hope that people from all religions, and none, will have a voice at the table in the important debates of our time. In order to hear some thoughts from Michael before the event we asked him to answer a few short questions …
What sort of indications have you seen that it’s getting harder for Christians to express their views on same-same marriage openly in our society?
The clearest legal warning comes from Tasmania where the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart, Julian Porteous was held to have a case to answer before the Human Rights Commissioner. The complaint arose from the publication of a very gentle pamphlet that set out a Catholic understanding of marriage. In NSW complaints have been made to the Education Department about churches from the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC), who sometimes have spoken about homosexuality, meeting in public high schools. These kind of actions have a chilling effect – making everyone tread carefully around these issues. Talk of potential for harm in a plebiscite campaign obviously has raised public awareness of these concerns.
Why do you think Christians often find it hard to speak up on these issues in the workplace or among their friends?
Because their beliefs are seen as loveless, evil and harmful for a vulnerable minority. Christians are seen as being on the wrong side of history and against the great justice issue of our time. In this cultural framework who would speak and be seen as a bigoted homophobe?
Do you think it’s important for Christians to have a voice in the same-sex marriage debate? If so, why?
Yes. Because answering ‘no’ would be to buy into a secular framework that excluded religious people from the public square. Clearly we all have different beliefs when it comes to marriage. But it’s important not to exclude some beliefs – instead we need to find ways to live well together and listen to those competing beliefs with respect. The alternative is an identity politic that leads to division. The parliament will need to make a decision on same sex marriage (again!). As citizens we should take an interest in laws like this that have such significant consequences. As Christians we should be concerned to love our neighbour in the laws we have.
If legislation to permit same-sex marriage becomes law in Australia, what sort of implications do you think will follow for Christians and the gospel?
The state will be asked to enforce this new understanding of marriage against a significant number of Australians who, in good conscience, will never change their views on what constitutes a marriage. The consequences of this would be real and significant for free speech, employment, discrimination laws, the freedom of faith based schools and organisations to associate on the basis of their beliefs, the linking of tax and charity status or government tenders and funding to a denomination’s position on marriage – and much more!