[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The Primate of Australia, Archbishop Philip Freier, has welcomed a proposed referendum on whether the country should allow same-sex marriages; but expressed concern about the “tenor of the debate.” The Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, promised a referendum on the issue during his campaign in the country’s general election in July. As Mr Turnbull leads the new coalition government, a referendum is expected; but the details have not been announced. There remains opposition in parliament to a plebiscite – even from supporters of same sex marriage.
“The proposed plebiscite on same-sex marriage has been one of the more contentious topics in 2016,” Archbishop Freier said. “Individual Anglicans have adopted a variety of positions taken in good conscience based on their Christian understanding of the principles and issues, and this is right and proper.
“Personally, I welcome the plebiscite, though with strong reservations that we must guard the tenor of the debate, and keep it positive. The Government promised a plebiscite in campaigning for the July election and, having been elected, they have the reasonable expectation of honouring this commitment.
“Further, those who oppose same-sex marriage will surely find it easier to accept it becoming approved in law if they have been given a vote.”
The Archbishop said that “it will be important that Christians – and others – vote according to their conscience and their view of what is best for society” and said that it is “proper to expect that the Parliament should honour the results” of the poll.
“Should the vote be in favour of same-sex marriage as suggested by the opinion polls, the Church must accept that this is now part of the landscape. We can still stand for and offer holy matrimony between a man and a woman as a sacred ordinance given by God, while accepting that the state has endorsed a wider view of marriage. . .
“The doctrine of the Book of Common Prayer remains unchanged, that marriage is between a man and a woman, under God, forsaking all others until death parts them. I do not believe that the Anglican Church in Australia is likely to revise its doctrine of marriage.
“But that said, the Church also understands the desire of two people to express their commitment of love and self-sacrifice to each other, and that Christians have not always shown the respect or perspective they should. I am very concerned that the discussion does not become harsh or vilifying – on either side, for it is not only Christians who have sometimes failed on this score.”
He said that this was not “a theoretical issue” for those people where it “directly impinges on their lives”; and added: “We understand that sometimes gays, lesbians and others have felt judged and rejected, even ostracised, inside the Church and that we have to be much more pastorally sensitive in future.”
He called on Christians to approach the question “with prayer, confidence in the Church’s teaching as well as kindness in our speech towards those with whom we disagree.”
There have been numerous attempts to change the Marriage Act in Australia to allow same-sex marriage. In 2013, the Australian Capital Territory passed legislation permitting same-sex marriages in the state; but this was struck down by the High Court following a challenge by the Federal Government.