Australia: Talk of same-sex marriage impinging on religious freedom is misconceived: here’s why

Conservative religious organisations and politicians have played a major role in preventing the introduction of same-sex marriage in Australia and hope to do so again.

John Howard cited conservative religious views when he banned same-sex marriage. Labor’s fear of losing religious voters to the Liberals contributed to concessions to the religious right, and saw it oppose same-sex marriage until 2011. Even then, Labor MPs opposed to same-sex marriage were granted an initial moral conscience vote that contributed to a parliamentary vote being lost under the Gillard government.

Now, Malcolm Turnbull’s fear of alienating the religious right in the Coalition has seen him agree to a plebiscite he previously opposed.

Conservative religious organisations are mobilising again. However, given increasing public support for same-sex marriage, including among religious adherents, they often argue that same-sex marriage is really about broader issues, such as gender roles and parenting.

A key argument – espoused recently by Tony Abbott – is that same-sex marriage will threaten “religious freedom”. Such arguments, often based on a small number of yet-to-be-finalised overseas cases, or a Tasmanian complaint that was later withdrawn, effectively reframe the debate away from discrimination against those in same-sex relationships.

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