By now nearly all Australians will know the result of the Marriage Law Postal Survey published by the Bureau of Statistics this morning, ‘Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?’ The participation rate in the voluntary survey was quite high. 79.5% of eligible Australians voted. 61.6% of those said ‘yes’, and 38.4% said ‘no’. With the exception of New South Wales (57.8%) all states recorded more than 60% in favour. The Australian Capital Territory was the most affirmative at 74%.
These results make a change of the Australian marriage law inevitable. The media report the Prime Minister as saying, ‘It is up to us here in the Parliament of Australia to get on with it, get on with the job the Australian people have tasked us to do and get this done. This year, before Christmas – that must be our commitment.’
Australians completed the survey, however, without knowing the details of the proposed law. Two private members bills have recently been floated, Smith and Paterson. The Smith bill is being introduced to Parliament today. If you are interested, you can read an analysis of the impact of these bills on the religious freedom at https://freedomforfaith.org.au/library/religious-freedom-for-churches-after-a-possible-yes-vote
At the same time leading politicians are saying that they want to protect religious freedom. Unlike New Zealand, Australia has no Bill of Rights to guarantee such freedom. Malcolm Turnbull recently said that he believes in religious freedom ‘even more strongly’ than in same sex marriage.
This is an important issue as many claim that overseas experience shows that such freedom cannot necessarily be taken for granted. Our spiritual forebears settled here in search of the freedom to worship and practice their faith without external pressure (Formula of Concord X Antitheses 2). We must strive to preserve that freedom for all Australians.
What should we do now? Not knowing what legislation will finally be passed, and what new provisions will be needed to protect religious freedom, we should pray for our elected representatives as they draft and vote on the new law. As Anthony Fisher, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, says today in his media release, “As we create a legal ‘right’ to marry a person of the same sex, we must not trade off existing rights to religious belief and expression, and other freedoms.”
Therefore, please pray for
- Our parliamentarians as they debate and vote on new laws about marriage
- The freedom to practice our faith, including our belief about marriage
- The freedom to teach about marriage in our schools
- The freedom to conduct community care and other agencies in ways consistent with our faith.
In addition, we should love, care, and pray
- That Australians resist all forms of bigotry, vilification and discrimination, and show a generosity of spirit to all, irrespective of differences such as sexual orientation, gender identity, or belief
- That the Church be a place where people, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity, experience a safe, welcoming environment
- That all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, may hear the gospel and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ
- That no one is prevented from attending services in God’s house on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity
- That baptised members of the body of Christ continue to meet together in love to hear God’s Word and receive the body and blood of Christ, and be reassured of the forgiveness of sins and healing and wholeness through the work of the Spirit
- That we continue to proclaim God’s free gift of grace in the forgiveness of sin to all people who repent and believe.
(Note: The New Zealand Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act, legalising same sex marriage, came into effect on 19 August 2013.)
For today’s commentary from some other church leaders see:
For more on the LCA’s view on marriage and sexuality, see:
http://www.lca.org.au/dsto – scroll down to Doctrinal Statements and Theological Opinions Volume 3 h. Ethical and Social Issues
2017 – http://www.lca.org.au/8264-2/
2015 – http://www.lca.org.au/statement-on-marriage/
Pastor John Henderson
Bishop, Lutheran Church of Australia
15 November 2017