Already, there are dramatic consequences for the free speech of those wanting to participate in the marriage debate. Reportedly, Labor is contemplating even further restrictions on the right of Australians to express their views.
The Australian this week reported that during a panel discussion on the potential repeal of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, Labor’s legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus foreshadowed that a future Labor government would consolidate all anti-discrimination laws in a way which would extend the laws allowing people to complain that they have been offended or insulted because of their sexual orientation:
Mr Dreyfus has confirmed that if Labor is elected to government he will be considering imposing a general standard for speech that infringes anti-discrimination law.
Under Labor’s proposal, advocates of same-sex marriage would be empowered, for example, to take legal action under 18C-style laws if they felt offended or insulted by those who publicly defended the traditional definition of marriage. Those at risk would include priests, rabbis, imams and other religious leaders who publicly oppose same-sex marriage.
Mr Dreyfus did not deny the comments when asked about them, but claimed they were hypothetical:
“My discussion of this issue last week was clearly hypothetical, and is not relevant to the current proposed changes to section 18C which will do nothing but weaken protections against racial hate speech in this country.”
The effect of such a proposal should not be underestimated. Currently in Australia, various state laws make it an offence to incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of a person or group of persons on the basis of a protected attribute, including sexual orientation.
The exception is found in Tasmania, which (in a similar fashion to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act) further prohibits – among other things – offending or insulting another person on the basis of one of these attributes.
Australians have already seen how professional activists and others within the LGBTI community have used the Tasmanian anti-discrimination laws to try to shut down even reasonable debate on the redefinition of marriage. Who could forget the case of Archbishop Julian Porteous who – along with every Catholic Bishop in Australia – was told they had was a case to answer before the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission for printing and distributing a booklet to Catholic parishes and parents of children in Catholic schools outlining the Church’s teaching on marriage?
The complaint to Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, Robin Banks, was made at the urging of then- national director of Australian Marriage Equality, Rodney Croome, who urged supporters to make complaints under the Tasmanian law.
Labor has already made several promises that remove any protections for those who support man-woman marriage. Thus far, Labor has promised: to redefine marriage within its first 100 days of office, to remove any existing protections for service providers who do not want to participate in same-sex weddings, and to employ a full-time LGBTI anti-discrimination commissioner, who would be given a $1.4 million annual budget to look for cases of dissent to prosecute.
If Labor also legislates to prohibit causing offence or insult to a person on the basis of their sexual orientation in a way similar to the existing Tasmanian laws, then we will see cases like Archbishop Porteous’ writ large.
In the recent Senate hearings into the impact of the proposed redefinition of marriage on individual freedoms, Senator James Paterson noted that the experience in other countries where same-sex marriage has been legalised has shown that there will be activists who will use these laws to seek to punish ‘dissenting’ individuals. He said:
There is a very good chance that there will be people who take an activist role and try to test the limits of this law.
His concerns seemed to be validated by those appearing before the Senate inquiry. Of the 24 groups which appeared in public hearings and expressed support for the redefinition of marriage, 22 argued that the only protections available for freedom of religion or conscience in a post- same-sex marriage would should be to allow ministers of religion to not solemnise marriages. Importantly, Rodney Croome – who encouraged the complaint against Archbishop Porteous – told the Committee that the LGBTI community would prefer to wait than to see religious freedom protected.
In the recent proposal outlined by Mr Dreyfus, it seems that not only would current freedoms not be protected, they would be further tightened, granting Mr Croome’s wish (and more!). The statements made by Mr Dreyfus demonstrate that one of the many consequences of marriage redefinition is an increased threat to the freedom of speech of ordinary Australians. We cannot let this happen. More than ever, we must stand strong to defend the man-woman definition of marriage, and the rights and freedoms of all Australians.