A group of religious figures in Australia have formed a 'Coalition for Marriage' in an attempt to prevent the legalisation of equal marriage in an upcoming ballot.
Politicians in Australia's Senate have repeatedly shot down attempts to hold a referendum on equal marriage. In 2016, the Liberal Party was re-elected with a promise that they would let voters decide on same-sex marriage through a popular vote. However, the vote was blocked, and the result could have technically been ignored by lawmakers anyway. The government is now planning to hold a plebiscite to gauge public opinion on the issue.
The results of the plebiscite, which asks citizens to mail in their responses to a particular issue, will not be legally-binding. It will merely act as a survey of attitudes towards same-sex marriage in the county.
In response to a possible plebiscite, a group called the 'Coalition for Marriage' has emerged to defend "marriage as it currently stands", protesting the introduction of equal marriage and encouraging voters to vote No. The group is made up of the Australian Christian Lobby, the Marriage Alliance, the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney and the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, reports ABC
"Without fear of being labelled as a bigot or homophobe," said Michael Stead, Anglican Bishop of South Sydney. "We want to provide a way of having a respectful debate." Stead says that he wants Australian voters to "hear both sides of the story", suggesting that pro-equal marriage voices are in the majority in the country.
"They've only heard one side of the story, which is very strongly pushing a line that says marriage equality is necessary and that there's no negative consequences," Stead said. "And we want to put a contrary view that there are actually consequences to changing marriage.
"So we're certainly confident that a plebiscite will get to the real view of what Australians think about this, a considered view."
Gregory O'Kelly, Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Port Pirie in South Australia, repeated the often-heard argument that opposite sex marriage should be the only kind of marriage because it's all about raising children and "geared toward fostering of human life and demands a stable and permanent relationship,"
"We do not work to silence those who disagree with us, but we do not go silent about out our own beliefs."
However, not all religious leaders support the Coalition. Bill Crews, reverend of the Uniting Church in Ashfield in Sydney, said that the group only represents "one segment" of Christians.
"[Often] the marriages are going to be civil ceremonies, so in many ways what does it have to do with the church," Crews said.
He also urged certain faith leaders to take a less literal approach to religious scripture. "If you take the Bible as literally as some of these people do, we'd be keeping slaves and stoning people."
The planned plebiscite has received criticism from LGBT+ groups. Last week
, LGBT+ activist Anna Brown said she had legal advice that the government could not conduct a postal plebiscite without Senate approval. She said her advocacy group The Equality Campaign would seek a High Court injunction to prevent any postal plebiscite over fears it would create a climate of anti-LGBT rhetoric in the country.
"The government needs to think very carefully before it expends up to AU$100 million of taxpayer dollars when it could resolve this issue in Parliament as soon as this week," she said.
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