Despite majority support for marriage equality, an Australian Catholic bishop is claiming the results of the nation’s recent postal survey are not correct and that Australians actually oppose marriage equality. But rather than re-hashing the vote, many Australians are looking to move forward as the nation’s legislators advance a potential law.
Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney said that because 20% of Australians did not vote, “it’s still not clear [the majority “yes” vote] is overwhelming.” Rather, he said, “[T]he consensus in Australia is somewhat fractured.” He made the further claim, reported by Out in Perth:
“‘From the outset it has often seemed a David and Goliath struggle with politicians, corporates, celebrities, journalists, professional and sporting organisations drowning out the voices of ordinary Australians and pressuring everyone to vote Yes.'”
Fisher is among the country’s bishops who actively supported the “No” campaign, and he is now seeking wide religious exemptions in any potential marriage equality law. After the survey results were announced, Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, who is also president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said that “strong conscience and religious freedom protections” were needed if equal marriage is legalized.
But Fr. Frank Brennan, SJ, a former law professor, disagreed. Writing in Eureka Street, he said the near 80% return rate made the survey “very credible, and called the vote’s results “a resounding win for the ‘Yes’ campaign” that should be a “clear mandate” for Parliament to legalize marriage equality. Brennan, who heads Catholic Social Services Australia, stated his own desire for adequate religious liberty protections in Australia, but he said that larger conversation should largely happen outside amendments to the Marriage Act that would legalize equal marriage rights. He concluded with words Archbishop Fisher would do well to listen to:
“After Wednesday’s announcement, let’s hope we hear from some of our Catholic bishops repeating the sentiments of Archbishop Dermot Martin after the 2015 Irish vote: ‘The Church needs a reality check right across the board, to look at the things we are doing well and look at the areas where we need to say, have we drifted away completely from young people? … We have to stop and have a reality check, not move into denial of the realities. We won’t begin again with a sense of renewal, with a sense of denial. I appreciate how gay and lesbian men and women feel on this day. That they feel this is something that is enriching the way they live. I think it is a social revolution.’ He also said that if the Irish vote was ‘an affirmation of the views of young people then the Church has a huge task in front of it to find the language to get its message across’ to them.
“Wednesday will be a day of celebration for those wanting a ‘Yes’ vote. It should also be a day when we Australians recommit ourselves to respect for all citizens, especially those whose beliefs differ significantly from our own. Our politicians led us into this divisive campaign. Now they need to lead us out of it with considered and timely legislation and a commitment to better protection of human rights for all.”
Another writer at Eureka Street, Neve Mahoney, was especially strong about this need to move forward. Criticizing the postal survey, Mahoney said she was “angry that LGBT+ people were forced into the position of defending their own worth.” She added:
“In the ensuing debate and talk about how love wins, we shouldn’t let ourselves forget that this postal vote never should have happened in the first place, and nothing like this should happen again to any minority group. The public voting yes or no on human rights is not what democracy looks like. If we’re the country that we say we are, we need to recognise that the postal vote was wrong and damaging to some of the most vulnerable people in our community.”
Thankfully, even if Archbishop Fisher claims the results are not correct, they are being respected by Australian legislators. The Senate passed a marriage equality bill earlier this week, reported The Independent, and the House of Representatives is expected to pass a bill next week. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a Catholic, has said he wants a law in place by December 7th.
This progress is good news for a country where unnecessary harm was caused to LGBT people and their families, including comments like those of Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge who said same-gender couples share love that is “like the love of friends.” If there is any silver lining, it might be the positive responses from Catholics at all levels: bishops who respected voters’ consciences, priests who supported marriage equality; lay Catholics with the Rainbow Catholics InterAgency for Ministry who released a pro-LGBT voting guide, and all Catholics who voted “Yes” not in spite of their faith, but because of it.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 2, 2017