Address to the National Press Club

Address to the National Press Club

Abridged version of an address by ACL’s Lyle Shelton to the National Press Club in September 2017.

The same-sex marriage debate is charged with emotion for many people. At the height of the AIDS crisis in 1980s America, when gay men were dying like flies, people representing Christian organisations said some very hateful and hurtful things. It was a generation ago but wounds remain for our friends in the LGBTIQ community.

I want to offer an apology for those wounds. I don't have a black armband view of Christian history. We have a mixed record as people of faith in our dealings with our friends in the same-sex community. Here in Australia, the nuns at St Vincent's hospital pioneered the treatment of AIDs from the first outbreak, lifting water to the lips of victims, in what was a moment of great compassion.

This debate is not about who loves or who hates most. This is a debate about public policy that has real, enduring consequences for all Australians. There are three reasons we should vote no in this postal plebiscite:

The first is the issue of freedoms. When Archbishop Porteous in Tasmania issued a pastoral letter outlining Catholic teaching on marriage, he did not expect this to land him in court. Rodney Croome, a prominent leader of the same-sex marriage movement, called for him to be reported to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission. The case lasted six months and sent shockwaves through the Christian community. It was only dropped when it started hurting the cause of same-sex marriage.

In the US, a 71-year-old florist and a cake-maker are now before the US Supreme Court on bigotry charges for declining to supply services to same-sex weddings. Here in Australia, an executive at IBM and PricewaterhouseCoopers has been tapped on the shoulder by the diversity officer and told to resign from the board of a Christian charity that supports traditional marriage. We have seen Coopers beer attacked. Both here and abroad, the list of such cases continues to grow.

Dean Smith’s marriage bill proposes protections for religious clergy only. Even if that is improved, activists propose that exemptions should be reviewed regularly. The Swedish Prime Minister has told priests and pastors to solemnise gay weddings or “get another job”. The speaker of the UK House of Commons says marriage equality is not complete until the church is compelled to perform same-sex marriages. Even the narrow freedoms currently proposed are not worth the paper they are written on.

The second reason to vote no is to halt the propagation of radical LGBTIQ sex education programs in schools. The yes campaign will complain that this is conflating separate issues but their own advocates contradict them. Benjamin Law - a prominent supporter on the yes campaign - has explicitly stated that same-sex marriage and Safe Schools are top priorities of the LGBTIQ agenda. He wants Safe Schools rolled out nationally and says same-sex marriage is “far from the last frontier in the battle against homophobia”.

The third reason to vote no concerns the rights of children. Former Prime Minister, John Howard, said recently that children wherever possible should have the right to their mother and father. It’s true that tragedy or desertion mean that this is not always possible. But a government policy that requires a child to miss out on their mother or father is another matter.

The circumstances in which same-sex couples can raise children are currently limited and cannot be expanded without compromising the rights of children. Some same-sex couples may have kids through previous relationships, sperm donation or adoption. Donor-conceived children have instigated three parliamentary inquiries into the concerns surrounding anonymous sperm donation. The current prohibition on commercial surrogacy recognises that hiring a woman's womb, buying and selling eggs, and a commercial trade in human babies is ethically insupportable. Nevertheless, the idea of commercial surrogacy has already been canvassed as a means to enable two gay men to benefit from so-called marriage equality. This is the way the same-sex marriage debate is trashing the human rights of children.

When the Rudd Government proposed to remove legislation that disadvantaged same-sex couples, ACL supported those changes. But changing the definition of marriage compromises the freedoms of every Australian; Australians who will fall foul of weaponised anti-discrimination laws; parents who want their children to be free of radical LGBTIQ sex education in schools. These concerns are valid and reasonable. They don’t stem from bigotry or homophobia. Anyone concerned for freedoms, anyone who doesn't know where the final frontier in the same-sex marriage agenda is, should vote no.