Freedom on TRIAL

A view held by the majority until recently may be illegal in Tasmania.

-Campbell Markham-

First published in AP Magazine Autumn 2016 Edition. 

Momentous events are underway in Hobart, “the activist capital of Australia” Tasmanian Anti-discrimination Commissioner Robin Banks has decided that Roman Catholic Archbishop Julian Porteous has a case to answer. The stakes are high, and there is international attention. What is going on?

Earlier in 2015 the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference published a 15- page booklet called Don’t Mess with Marriage. It was produced to help Catholics and the broader community understand why proposed redefinition of the federal Marriage Act is bad for families and children, and Australian society in general. The booklet is (for now) freely available in hard copies, and on the internet

Take 15 minutes to read it. It proclaims the value and dignity of every human being, and urges that all people be treated with corresponding respect. It affirms the true nature of marriage with remarkable gentleness.

Julian Porteous distributed the booklet to church members, and families enrolled in Catholic schools. Thus a Catholic pastor distributed Catholic teaching on marriage to Catholics. Would it not be negligent for him to do anything less?

However, Rodney Croome, the national convener of Australian Marriage Equality and 2015 Tasmanian of the Year, was upset by the booklet’s teaching, and its wide distribution, and went to the media urging that someone bring an anti-discrimination action against the Archbishop.

The Tasmanian Anti-discrimination Act (1998) says this:

Section 16. Discrimination on ground of attribute

A person must not discriminate against another person on the ground of any of the following attributes: race; age; sexual orientation; lawful sexual activity; gender; gender identity; intersex; marital status; relationship status; pregnancy; breastfeeding; parental status; family responsibilities; disability; industrial activity; political belief or affiliation; political activity; religious belief or affiliation; religious activity; irrelevant criminal record; irrelevant medical record; association with a person who has, or is believed to have, any of these attributes.

Section 17. Prohibition of certain conduct and sexual harassment

(1) A person must not engage in any conduct which offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules another person on the basis of an attribute referred to in section 16… in circumstances in which a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would have anticipated that the other person would be offended, humiliated, intimidated, insulted or ridiculed.

In September, Martine Delaney, a transgender activist and Hobart Greens candidate, heeded the call of Croome and lodged a lengthy complaint of over 2000 words. These excerpts contain the substance:

I believe statements in the booklet Don’t Mess With Marriage are in clear breach of section 17 of the Anti-Discrimination Act. They offend, humiliate and insult same-sex attracted people and the children of same-sex partners.

1. Same-sex relationships are friendships

On page 9, the booklet refers to “same-sex friendships” as distinct to the relationship between a man and a woman. The reference to “friends” is repeated on page 10.

This is deeply offensive, humiliating and insulting to same-sex attracted people, because it says our relationships are devoid and incapable of the depth of love, intimacy, commitment and personal fulfilment to be found in a conjugal union.

2. Same-sex attracted people are not whole

On page 9, the booklet says the “complementarity” of men and women means the union of a man and a woman in marriage “makes them whole”. This obviously implies samesex attracted people can never be whole people, especially when viewed in the light of the booklet’s main message – that they should not be able to marry.

This is deeply offensive, humiliating and insulting to same-sex attracted people because it says we, and our relationships, are inherently and irredeemably defective and second rate. It effectively says we are less human and less entitled to the respect every human being deserves.

3. The children of same-sex couples are not healthy or virtuous

The booklet states marriage is “the nursery of healthy, well-rounded virtuous citizens” (p10). It also says allowing same-sex couples to marry (which in the view of the booklet is synonymous with us having children) will “mess with kids” and “hurt” young people (p13).

4. The cumulative effect of the above statements

On page 5 the booklet says every person “has great dignity and worth” and that same-sex attracted people “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity”.

Yet, the statements I outline above do exactly the opposite. Taken together, they say same-sex attracted people are not fully human, our relationships are defective, our children are unhealthy, and the moment we step outside the straightjacket of Catholic dogma we are a threat to humanity.

Complainants can seek remedy, and Delaney has asked for two: First, she wants the Catholic Church in Tasmania to implement a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) awareness program for all staff and students within the Catholic Education system.

Second, she wants the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference to issue a public apology for their actions distributing the booklet.

There is even more that makes this case interesting. The complaint has been brought against two parties: the Archbishop for distributing the booklet, and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference for writing it in the first place. And Commissioner Robin Banks has indicated that the normal process of conciliation will be bypassed, and the case will go straight to a hearing before a tribunal of magistrates, perhaps as early as March 2016.

Catholic leaders and lawyers have been diligently preparing in order to argue their case. A defeat will see an appeal in the Tasmanian Supreme Court, or even the High Court.

Why should we care about this action against Julian Porteous? If the impending marriage plebiscite is going to be fairly debated, then both sides will need to be able to state their arguments freely. Earlier this year Dr David Van Gend, president of the Australian Marriage Forum, had pro-marriage television ads refused by some stations. Other television ads produced by The Marriage Alliance met the same fate. In Tasmania a northwest newspaper refused to run a paid ad supporting marriage, citing concerns about breaching anti-discrimination laws. A chill wind is already blowing, and this anti-discrimination action will further freeze our ability to put our case.

Even more momentous is this: an Australian pastor may be convicted and forced to provide remedies for writing and distributing Bible teaching about marriage. So will Christians in future be forbidden to distribute and teach the Bible? For in its outright denunciation of homosexual acts as an “abomination” (Lev. 18:22) and “unnatural” (Rom 1:26-27), the Bible addresses marriage and sexuality far more strongly than the Bishops’ mild booklet. An eventual ban on the Bible itself would only be the logical extension of an adverse finding.

I am glad for what is happening. For years marriage revisionists have ridiculed the slippery slope and “Chicken Little alarmists”, but now a pastor faces prosecution for teaching what the Bible teaches about marriage, even while our nation’s marriage laws are consistent with Christian teaching. This is a glimpse of the future, and perhaps our lawmakers will take note.

Then again, who am I kidding? This case shows that Christians need to prepare now to face what our Lord promised we would face: “Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles” (Matthew 10:17-18).

Click here for a report by Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson in regards to this issue.

Campbell Markham is pastor at Cornerstone church, Tasmania.



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