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Freedom of speech on same-sex marriage

HONG KONG (SE): In multi-cultural Sydney, Australia’s attorney general, George Brandis, told a Religious Roundtable on November 5 that there are inconsistent attitudes towards religious tolerance and freedom in the Land Down Under.

Speaking to a mixed interfaith group, the attorney general said, “Religious freedom is every bit as important as political freedom.”

Brandis added, “In Australia today, we have somewhat inconsistent attitudes to religious tolerance… Members of Christian faiths—in particular the Catholic faith—are routinely the subject of mockery and insult by prominent writers and commentators.”

The roundtable was organised to promote religious freedom by the Human Rights Commissioner, Tim Watson, who said, “Increasingly non-faith groups are calling for freedom from religion. And religious communities have raised concerns about the declining respect for religious freedom as part of the human rights discussion.”

Meanwhile, on November 13, at the most southerly tip of the off-shore island state of Tasmania, Martine Delany, a Green Party politician who was born a man and now lives as a woman, charged that a pamphlet released by the Australian Bishops’ Conference defending the traditional concept of marriage as being between a man and woman only pays lip-service to the rights of homosexuals.

Delany adds that the pamphlet, Don’t Mess with Marriage, actually harms the well-being of same-sex couples and their families across Tasmania.

The booklet states that marriage should be a heterosexual union between a man and a woman and changing the law would endanger a child’s upbringing.

Archbishop Julian Porteous, from the state capital of Hobart, is being targeted as the butt of an anti-discrimination suit.

Archbishop Porteous has countered that Delany is using a ploy to manipulate anti-discrimination legislation to achieve an end and prevent Christians from expressing their views in the public square.

He was quoted by The Australian as saying, “I am aware that there are some in our society who would seek to silence the Church on this issue.”

In Tasmania, the pamphlet was only distributed through parish churches and sent home in sealed envelopes to parents with children in Catholic schools.

Delany is objecting particularly to one passage that says, “Messing with marriage is messing with kids,” language she says is code for paedophilia.

“To quietly sort of add that to a booklet to me suggests that there is an attempt to lay some insinuations to make some statements without being honest about what you’re saying,” Delany was quoted by The Australian as saying.

The bishops deny that there is any attempt to be disrespectful to the same-sex attracted.

At the Religious Roundtable, Watson said that the debate in Australia over the reform of the Marriage Act will act as a litmus test for how religious freedom will be treated. It may also be a litmus test of how academic freedom and freedom of speech will fare as well.

In an address on July 5, Archbishop Anthony Fisher, from Sydney, cited an example of the Deputy Chief Psychiatrist of Victoria, who was forced to resign from his position on the state Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in 2012, because he told a Senate Inquiry that children do better on average with a mother and father rather than being in a single or same-sex parent family.

He also said organisers and speakers at an Australian Christian Lobby forum on marriage last year were subjected to intimidation and vilification, being labelled as Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi.

Democracy is built on the pillars of freedom of religion, freedom of speech and academe, and there is an integral connection linking the three.

It is difficult to hold a public debate when mud-slinging passes for discussion, and personal vilification replaces reflection and insight, deeming contrary opinion anathema.

There are also huge gaps in language and conceptualisation, as well as opinion on same-sex marriage, and it is talked about in vastly differing contexts.

Randy Berry, the United States State Department special envoy for Human Rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Persons, told Robert Cardinal Sarah in a respectful conversation at the Vatican that he did not know what he means by gender ideology.

Berry said that he sees it as being a matter of identity.


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