Archbishop Stylianos and other church heads pen open letter over same-sex marriage bill fears to Malcolm Turnbull

The heads of Australia’s churches have written an open letter to both Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten sounding the alarm on the lack of religious freedoms included in a bill to legalise same sex marriage.

The letter, sent today, was signed by 14 of the most senior Church leaders in the country and appealed to both leaders to make good on their undertakings during the postal survey to uphold religious freedoms.

The religious leaders warn that the Senate had “voted against amendments that aim to reasonably accommodate these matters” and argue the marriage bill due to debated in the House of Representatives next week does not adequately address freedoms of conscience, belief and religion.

“It is our view that the amendments to the bill proposed by Senators Paterson and Fawcett in the Senate on November 28 2017 provide balanced and reasonable measures that respond to such concerns,” they say.

South Australian Liberal Senator David Fawcett and his Victorian Senate colleague, James Paterson, unsuccessfully moved five amendments in the Senate this week to better protect faith-based charities, preserve parental rights and shield individuals from being targeted for continuing to uphold traditional marriage.

The amendments were defeated on the floor of the Senate, with the 14 religious leaders today warning the legalisation of same sex marriage will force an immediate question as to “whether a charity that holds a traditional view of marriage will retain its charity status at law.”

“A change in a social institution that is as fundamental as that of marriage has wideranging implications for our community,” they say.

“The amendments of Fawcett and Paterson offer a reasonable means to unify our nation by effecting the will of the majority who voted in favour of same sex marriage, while also incorporating the legitimate beliefs of those who are concerned for the protection of freedoms in our community.”

A growing number of government frontbenchers in the lower house have indicated their intention to support some or all of the amendments by Senator Fawcett and Paterson including Treasurer Scott Morrison, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation, Angus Taylor.

Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies is among the signatories.
Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies is among the signatories.

During the postal survey on same sex marriage, Mr Turnbull said he believed in religious freedoms “even more strongly” than he did in same-sex marriage and promised to ensure it was adequately protected in the event of a Yes vote.

Many of his own Coalition MPs believe he has betrayed them by not living up to his word, with some deriding the same sex marriage bill proposed by West Australian Senator Dean Smith — and which passed the upper-house on Wednesday — as resembling a Greens/Labor initiative.

The letter from religious leaders urges the government to consider six key points, with the first priority being the right of parents to “ensure the education of their children in accordance with their religious and moral convictions.”

It lists five more points including the right of religious institutions to ensure that their facilities are “used in accordance with their beliefs” and the right of charities to continue to express a view in favour of traditional marriage without losing their charitable status.

On both these points, the religious leaders warn there are no protections in the Smith bill. It also says the “internationally recognised rights of religious institutions to establish and maintain faith-based charities in accordance with their convictions is not assured.”

It also canvasses two more priority areas for further consideration including the rights of religious institutions to continue to “express their beliefs” in a way that respectfully engages with the wider community.

Lastly, it warns the Smith bill only provides “transitional rights for existing celebrants, who are not ministers of religion, to act in accordance with their genuinely held religious or conscientious convictions.”

“We believe new celebrants should also be able to apply to be a traditional marriage celebrant into the future.”

The open letter from religious leaders was signed by the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies; the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher; the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart, Julian Porteous; the Maronite Bishop of Australia, Antoine-Charbel Tarabay; the President of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church of Australia, Jorge Munoz and the Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, John P Wilson.

Other signatories included the National President of Australian Christian Churches, Wayne Alcorn; the National Ministries Director of Australian Baptist Ministers, Keith Jobberns; the National Leader of the Apostolic Church Australia, Wayne Swift; the Senior Minister of the Life Ministry Centre, Graham Nelson and the National Chair of the Assembly of Confessing Congregations within the Uniting Church in Australia, Hedley Fihaki.

The Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, Archbishop Stylianos also lent his name to the letter along with the Senior Priest for the Coptic Orthodox Church in NSW, Tadros El-Bakhoumi and the Executive Assistant to Bishop Suriel of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Melbourne.

The Australian,

Joe Kelly: Political reporter Canberra
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