By Terence Mills
It’s started: the religious communities are letting us know that if we do approve same-sex marriage in the government’s postal survey, there will be repercussions and penalties to be paid and they will not hold back.
Over the weekend Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne fired the first salvo and let it be known in no uncertain terms that the Catholic church will dismiss from church-owned institutions teachers, nurses and other employees who marry their same-sex partner.
Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart, warned the church’s 180,000 employees they were expected to uphold its teachings “totally”, and defiance would be treated “very seriously”.
Archbishop Hart, who also chairs the powerful Australian Catholic Bishops Conference was backed up by Archbishop Timothy Costelloe (not to be confused with Tim Costello AO is an Australian Baptist minister and the current Chief Advocate of World Vision Australia), chair of the Bishops Commission for Catholic Education, who cautioned teachers against “undermining” their schools’ values if same-sex marriage became law.
So here we have a situation where Catholic institutions, particularly schools who are funded largely by taxpayers, are calling the shots and not only will they not support marriage equality, they will actively discriminate in their employment practices against same-sex couples who marry.
Taking the state of Victoria where Archbishop Hart holds sway, the bulk of funding for the Catholic system comes from the public purse. For example, the Catholic Education Commission Victoria (CECV) reported that in 2015 it received:
- $440 million recurrent and $9.2 million targeted state government funding
- $1.6 billion recurrent and $7.5 million targeted federal government funding
- $96 million in school levies and almost $11 million from bank deposit interest and other income streams.
The pattern is similar in other states. So, were it not for taxpayer funding, many of these institutions would probably not exist and yet they see themselves as having a role in not only influencing but dictating policy over a matter that has no direct religious implications: neither churches nor ministers or religious celebrants will be required to conduct wedding ceremonies or to sanctify same-sex marriages under the changes to the Marriage Act likely to be introduced. But that introduces yet another problem with this postal opinion poll – we have not yet seen the proposed legislative changes that will, should the in principle argument get up, form the amended legislation – but we are asking the people of Australia to vote on something that will be constituted in legislation but we cannot see the foreshadowed legislation, because it doesn’t exist!
The churches already enjoy considerable freedom to discriminate in a range of ways. This includes discrimination against a person on the basis of their sexuality in relation to the employment of teaching staff, and the provision of education and training. The main religious exemptions to anti-discrimination law are set out in Sections 37 and 38 of the Sex Discrimination Act. This is provided that the discrimination is in:
… good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion.
Religious organisations, the Catholic church in particular adhere to these legislative exemptions and cherish the ability to discriminate. They see the possibility of changes to the Marriage Act as being the thin edge of the wedge which may ultimately diminish their ability to discriminate.
This Abbott inspired plebiscite, which has now morphed into an expensive, non-binding, voluntary postal ballot, is being engineered to create division and promote misinformation within our society and if the High Court gives it the go-ahead you can expect that to be considered as an official sanction to what will become an ugly and hate filled campaign from the religious extreme right.
Let’s just hope that our High Court sees through this sham plebiscite and its funding manipulations and calls upon the parliament to do the job that it is paid to do.