ON MONDAY, a group of religious leaders came out against not only gay marriage but also the idea that gay people should be protected from discrimination under the law. While these leaders are free to delineate the permutations of their faith among their flock, we are of the view they have gone too far by suggesting the State should reject amendment of the Equal Opportunity Act.
All people in this country have a right to practise their religion. Members of the Roman Catholic, Hindu, Muslim and various other faiths subscribe to their beliefs freely based on conscience. The leaders of these churches — as controversial and divisive as they may sometimes be — have a right to set doctrine within their congregations. And what people chose to believe is their business.
But a similar principle applies to the freedoms of the individual in the State as a whole. While it is acceptable for religions to preach what they want, it is not acceptable for them to impose their beliefs on non-believers. Nor should the State be expected to operate on the basis of faith. The State must operate in a manner that ensures the protection of all. It must be impartial and it must operate on reason and uphold our universal rights.
Contrary to what the religious leaders would have us believe, members of the LGBTQ community have not been calling for the right to marry. Rather, their ambition has been set far lower. They seek the most basic right: the right to be free from discrimination.
It is true the principle of equality would suggest, inexorably, an extension to all reaches of life. But calling for the Equal Opportunity Act’s definition section – which contains a repugnant provision specifically baring protection of gay people — is not the same as calling for an amendment to the Marriage Act. Protecting someone from being fired for being gay does not automatically mean such a person will then be free to marry their same-sex partner.
Even the religious leaders would admit there is need for members of the LGBTQ community to be protected. They did as much when they cited unspecified industrial relations laws, which, they said, provide protection enough in cases when workers are fired for being gay. If the idea of freedom from discrimination is good enough for the Industrial Court, then why is not good enough for the High Court too?
And some of the assertions at Monday’s press conference were out of touch with modern realities. There is no gay gene, said the religious leaders, ignoring the fact that there are undoubtedly gay people. Equality is something being imposed by America, they said, ignoring the fact that it was Britain that imposed our homophobic laws and that gay marriage is a fact of life in dozens of countries besides the US. The question of minority rights should not be determined by mob rule. It should be determined by the moral need to protect our sons and daughters who face anti-gay hate daily. If the fabric of society is at risk, it is because of homophobia. What have these religious people done lately to combat that?