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Australia’s Parliament has begun the process of legalising same-sex marriage after a resounding “yes” to the proposal in a plebiscite. Just under 80 per cent of eligible voters participated in the voluntary postal vote, with 61.6 per cent voting in favour. Within hours of the result being declared, legislators began the process of considering a Private Members Bill tabled by Senator Dean Smith. The Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said that he wants the Bill to become law by Christmas.
The Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies, was an outspoken supporter of the “No” campaign; and his diocese contributed $1 million AUD (approximately £577.000 GBP) to the Coalition for Marriage group which was leading the “No” campaign. Defending this decision in a letter to his diocese last month, Archbishop Davies said: “Since 2011 the Synod, by resolutions on five separate occasions, has asked Sydney Anglicans to engage in respectful advocacy in the public square for the legal definition of marriage to remain unchanged. The decision to be a lead partner in the Coalition for Marriage, and the Standing Committee’s support for this, is an outworking of those resolutions.”
Today, Dr Davies said that he accepts the result of the plebiscite, but called for legal support for the freedom of speech, conscience and belief for Christians and others who disagree.
“As I said to the Prime Minister 18 months ago on behalf of other religious leaders, that if that’s what the Australian people want then we live in a democracy and I recognise and acknowledge that outcome. Therefore it is quite proper for the parliament to legislate for same-sex marriage in accordance with the will of the people – notwithstanding that it wasn’t a referendum which was compulsory voting, but almost 80 per cent of people voting is a very high threshold and I accept that.
“That doesn't mean I will change my views. I will still continue to teach that marriage is, in God’s plan, between a man and a woman. But I acknowledge that once the parliament passes those laws, that will no longer be the law of the land.
"The consequences then are – what happens to people who want to hold to that truth. It is one thing to say, for example, we don't have laws against adultery in this country, but I still want to say adultery is wrong – it is immoral. I want to be able to uphold that teaching without the law saying to me – no, it is not illegal, so you can’t say that.
“At the moment that's not the case, but the way in which we have seen in other western democracies, the coercive effect of changing the definition of marriage has been to restrict people’s ability to hold a different point of view. And one of the outstanding points of democracy and human dignity is the freedom of speech, the freedom of faith and the freedom of conscience.
“Therefore what the parliament needs to do now, in legislating for same-sex marriage, is to do so in a way which protects people's liberties.”
In a press conference after the result was announced, the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that Australians had voted for “fairness, commitment and love.”
He added: “I know that many people – a minority obviously – voted no. But we are a fair nation. . . There is nothing more Australian than equality and mutual respect. And everyone has had their say. . . We must respect the voice of the people. We asked them for their opinion, and they have given it to us.”
He said that the Smith Bill “does provide protections for religious bodies and ministers of religion,” and said that, under it, “you can’t be obliged to marry people that they don’t want to marry. That’s all right and proper, and broadly accepted. . .
“Protecting religious freedom and freedom of speech is very important. But equally we are a nation of a fair go and mutual respect and we treat people equally. We don’t discriminate against people because of their gender or their sexual orientation, their religion or race or the colour of their skin. . . But clearly, freedom of speech, freedom of religion are also . . . core Australia values as well.”
The country’s finance minister, Senator Mathias Cormann, standing next to the Prime Minister, said: “The Parliament over the next few weeks will need to determine the right balance in terms of the appropriate religious protections. We are very confident that that debate will be able to take place constructively through the Senate and through the House of Representatives and for this to be resolved by the end of the year. . .
“I have noted that in recent weeks senior Members of Parliament from across the political divide have expressed their support for appropriate levels of religious protections as part of this marriage law reform.”