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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 1056

Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (20:03): The sentiments behind the push to exempt churches from having to perform same-sex marriages, if indeed they are legalised, may be welcomed by some, but it is clear from the global experience that any such sentiments legislated, codified or otherwise will not withstand the ongoing march of Christophobia that is occurring throughout the western world. Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is supposed to codify religious liberty. It states:

1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom …

Yet in Great Britain the situation is so intolerable for Christians that in recent years the Archbishop of York of the Church of England, the Right Reverend John Sentamu, was moved to say that there are those who argue that 'they operate in pursuit of policies based on the twin aims of diversity and equality', yet diversity apparently means 'every colour and creed except Christianity' and equality excludes anyone 'with a Christian belief in God'. It is no wonder he says that, when we see recent headlines such as 'Tory MP calls for churches to be banned from holding marriages if they refuse gay couples'. That came from the gay media outlet PinkNews in September last year. It is about a Conservative MP who in August last year lobbied British Prime Minister David Cameron to compel churches to register civil partnerships, pointing to a precedent where Catholic adoption agencies were compelled to provide adoption services for same-sex couples.

In Canada, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal declared unconstitutional a proposed legislative amendment allowing Saskatchewan's marriage commissioners to refuse to perform same-sex marriages on religious grounds. In the US just last week a New Jersey judge ruled against a Christian retreat house that refused to allow a same-sex civil union ceremony to be conducted on its premises, saying the Constitution allows some intrusion into religious freedom.

Outside of the marriage issue, we have seen Christian pastors locked up for speaking on the Bible's teaching on homosexuality. In Sweden, Pastor Ake Green was sentenced to a month in prison for having offended homosexuals in a sermon. In Canada, the Liberal state government of Ontario has attacked the Catholic Church for failing to allow clubs for homosexual students in its schools. The courts are now ruling against the church and ordering that they provide them.

It may be news to the secularists, but church buildings are not where Christians check in and check out the practice of their beliefs. Christianity is a lived experience and Christians are called to remain true to their faith in all aspects of their lives. Despite the covenant on civil and political rights, nations throughout the West have effectively outlawed public observance of Christian belief in these respects. In November last year Dutch MPs voted to prevent Christian civil servants from refusing to conduct gay marriages. In 2004 Mitt Romney, then Governor of Massachusetts, ordered Christian justices of the peace to perform homosexual marriages when requested or they would be fired.

In November last year it was reported that a Christian baker in Iowa who politely declined to provide a wedding cake for two lesbians will now face legal action. Last week the British Court of Appeal ruled that a Christian couple who owned a B&B in Cornwall and refused to allow a gay couple to share a bed in their establishment pay $5,700 in damages to the gay couple. Another Christian, a cafe owner in England, in September last year was warned by police to stop showing DVDs of the New Testament in his cafe, after a customer complained about its passages against homosexuality.

This 'Christophobia', this systemic denial of Christians' right to follow their conscience, is happening all around the world. It will happen here in Australia, too, unless laws remained steadfast on the issue of marriage. To some extent, it has already begun. The Australian Education Union, in their policy paper on GLBTI people, state that they will develop strategies to encounter homophobia at an institutional level, including in religious institutions, which they say are to be condemned for their discriminative attitudes and approaches. Presumably, these strategies will take place in classrooms and they will have Christian children being told that their church is to be condemned.

At the government level, the Attorney-General has released a discussion paper on the proposed federal anti-discrimination changes. That paper suggests that some exemptions be offered to religious organisations—except, I note, those connected with sexual orientation. Despite cleverly concocted exemptions that seek to dull Christian voters' concerns over same-sex marriage, if we redefine marriage nothing will stop the advance of the Christophobes. It is a march which in Australia is done to the beat of the Greens drum—and now many in the Labor Party.

Debate adjourned.