Catholic voices remain influential in Australia’s ongoing struggle to pass marriage equality, the latest step of which has been the government’s announcement of a “postal plebiscite.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a Catholic, announced the non-binding vote last week. Elected in 2015, Turnbull is a pro-marriage equality candidate who agreed to adhere to a planned plebiscite drafted under former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who opposes marriage equality. In keeping with this agreement, Turnbull has not allowed a vote on marriage equality in Parliament despite there being overwhelming support for passage.
Turnbull has said the “postal plebiscite,” a voluntary survey mailed to all Australians, will inform him on how to proceed. The plebiscite’s question is “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” If the “yes” votes win, it would mean that Turnbull will hold a Parliamentary vote and allow legislators to vote their consciences on a marriage equality bill. If the “no” votes win, there would be no parliamentary vote held, and the stalemate now in place would continue. To learn more about the vote, click here and here.
Beyond Turnbull, there are several other Catholic voices in the debate. First, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has affiliations with Opus Dei, is advocating a “no” vote. He said LGBT advocates are engaging in “moral bullying,” reported PinkNews, and that voting no would stop political correctness.
He also expressed bewilderment about why same-gender couples wanted marriage rights when in his eyes they are perfectly equal without either marriage or adoption rights. Abbott has links to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a U.S. organization that, among other agendas, promotes the criminalization of lesbian and gay people.
Abbott’s sister, Christine Forster, is a partnered lesbian woman who has for years sharply criticized him for not supporting her legal right to marry.
Less hostile, but still opposed to marriage equality is Bishop Les Tomlinson of Sandhurst. Reiterating the need for all people to be respected, he said in a statement reported on by the Bendingo Advertiser:
“‘As the secular society seeks to answer the question as to whether it redefines marriage, I pray that we treat each other with respect and not resort to emotive or insulting language or behaviour.
“‘By restricting ourselves to emotional arguments, we ignore exploring the deeper effects of changing the definition and restrict ourselves to a superficial level of debate.'”
Paul Hegerty, a former Catholic priest, pushed back against Australian Catholics opposed to equal marriage rights. He claimed they had “hijacked” his religion, and pointed out that a majority of Christians support marriage equality. Hegerty wrote in the Courier Mail:
“I want religious freedom in this country and for my convictions to be heard in the public debate. Like many others I don’t want people opposed to marriage equality to hijack my spirituality and misrepresent it as some basis for denying other people their rights. People like me don’t want to impose our faith on others, including co-religionists who disagree with us. We get that Christianity seems ridiculous to many. We’ve known since the beginning that we Christians can look stupid. As one of our founders put it, we are fools. But we still want our voice to be heard as citizens of this country.”
Hegerty explained some of the reasons why Australian Catholics endorse LGBT equality, adding:
“And at the end of the day, we act on how we understand the fundamentals that Jesus gave us. . .It’s about how we treat others. Being kind to people is not an optional extra, it’s how we relate to God. As he taught, if we can’t love those we do see, how can we love God we can’t see? A famous parable of his summed it up — it has phrases that have a core place in the hearts of Christians: ‘When I was hungry, you fed me.’ ‘When I was sick, you visited me.’ So we hear Jesus today saying, ‘When I was LGBTQI, you got out of the way and let me get married.'”
There are many reasons why the nation’s citizens are outraged about the postal plebiscite, not the least of which is its $122 million price tag, but most of all because Australians are long past ready to take this step towards greater LGBT equality. For too long, Catholic politicians like Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott have joined church leaders in stymieing the rights of LGBT Australians. It is time for them to join their fellow Catholics in supporting marriage equality not in spite of their faith, but because of it.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 16, 2017