- The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney has warned of a future in which bishops are jailed, political dissent is all but silenced, scripture lessons are banned, and religious tax exemptions are eroded, should same-sex marriage be legalised.
In an address to the Centre for Independent Studies on Wednesday night, Anthony Fisher suggested “religious freedom” in Australia’s democracy is at a turning point, and hinges on the upcoming plebiscite on gay nuptials.
In the next decade, Australia could potentially become a bleak place for people of faith, Archbishop Fisher said.
“Many clergy and teachers in faith-based schools have been cowed with threats of prosecution for ‘hate speech’ if they teach that divine law limits marriage to people of opposite sex,” he said in a prepared speech.
“There are also actions pending against evangelical Christian and Maronite Catholic business owners for failing to provide photography, stretch limousine and hospitality services for ‘gay weddings’.”
Archbishop Fisher started his speech by transporting the audience to a hypothetical 2025. But said this imagined future that he feared need not come to pass. Australians could instead opt for a future where terms such as “man and wife” and “mother and father” remained the norm.
“A robust but courteous debate continues, but most agree the decade-long exercise of patience and respect in pursuit of a moral consensus in this area has demonstrated democratic maturity and strengthened, not diminished, common life,” he said.
In the 2015 Acton Lecture, titled “Should Bakers Be Required to Bake Gay Wedding Cakes?”, Archbishop Fisher said proponents of same-sex marriage had failed to listen to detractors.
“Closed-mindedness is, of course, no monopoly of people engaging on same-sex marriage.
“But I think the refusal to listen is presently mostly on one side,” he said.
“Advocates of gay marriage seem to think no reasonable person could think other than as they do; that not only are they right on this issue, but that their opponents are irrational and operating out of blind traditionalism or, more likely, hatred.”
He warned that “ordinary believers and their businesses are given no leeway, and even religious institutions such as schools, hospitals and welfare agencies are expected to toe the PC line” on gay marriage.
Earlier this year, the owners of a bakery in the US state of Oregon were ordered to pay almost $200,000 in damages after they refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple.
“The baker couple faced vilification, boycotts of their business, violent protests and even death threats, and were forced to close their shop and work from home,” Archbishop Fisher said.
He said this was a test of democracy itself.
“Even if it would not have been unethical for bakers to assist a same-sex wedding in so remote a way, democracy degenerates into despotism when it licenses such vilification of people’s conscientious beliefs.”