Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Australia: same-sex marriage debate heats up

By Elizabeth Kendal

Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd has shifted his position on same-sex marriage. As reported by The Australian (21 May 2013): "Kevin Rudd has thrown his support behind gay marriage as an important social reform for the nation, in a dramatic reversal of his long-held public position.

"After what he calls a difficult personal journey, the former Labor prime minister says he has concluded the secular Australian state should recognise same-sex marriage, while religious institutions should be legally allowed an exemption maintaining their historic position that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman."

What MP Rudd is not talking about is that the legalisation of same-sex marriage requires a change to the definition of "marriage" in the Marriage Act -- and that would have enormous, wide-reaching implications.

In the United Kingdom, in March 2012, a Home Office official asked the Department for Education (DfE) whether schools have a legal responsibility to teach about marriage, and how the introduction of same-sex unions would affect this.

According to the Daily Mail (2 July 2012): "Officials at the Home Office and the Department for Education concede that teachers may be under a legal obligation to inform children about same-sex marriage once it has passed into law.

"Under the Education Act 1996, pupils must learn about the nature of marriage and its importance for family life in sex education classes. . .

"Tory MP David Burrowes questioned whether schools will be able to exercise discretion on the subject. 'The issue of same-sex marriage is not just one about equality, but what happens in our school classrooms as well,' he said. 'Teachers should be able to exercise their consciences according to their own views on marriage, but that could well be constrained by these proposals. As much as I am sceptical about the Government being able to exempt churches from conducting same-sex marriages, I also doubt whether it will be possible to construct exemptions for teachers. They would be open to legal challenges.'

"Colin Hart, campaign director at the Coalition for Marriage, said: 'Marriage appears more than 3,000 times in law, affecting every aspect of our lives. It is simply impossible to redefine it without many serious unintended consequences, not least forcing schools to teach children about gay marriage, even if this goes against the wishes of the parents, children and teachers.'"

According to a senior lawyer, QC Aidan O'Neill, if British law is extended to include same-sex unions, then schools will be forced to promote same-sex marriage to their pupils, and parents with traditional and religious views who oppose same-sex unions, will be "hard-pressed" to remove their children from the classes.

It should also be noted that  the UK's Equalities and Human Rights Commission has deemed religious liberty a "qualified right" which "the state can interfere with" in some circumstances.  The equality regulator has ruled that whilst employees working in the public sector -- specifically marriage registrars, teachers and chaplains -- should be free to express their views on marriage without being disciplined they are not free to "opt out" of duties because of religious beliefs. In other words, religious beliefs will not be accommodated.

A survey has revealed that whilst 74,000 British teachers (17 percent of all teachers) said they would teach "the importance" of same-sex marriage (as required) but would not be happy about it, a further 40,000 teachers said they will refuse to teach on "the importance" of same-sex marriage despite knowing they may face disciplinary action or dismissal.

Meanwhile, France has drafted laws to ban the use of the words "mother" and "father" in the civil code, replacing them simply with "parent"; while the U.S. Department of Education is replacing the terms "Mother" and "Father" on student loan forms with the less gender-specific "Parent 1" and "Parent 2".

Redefining marriage would have a huge impact on society. This debate has not even started in Australia yet. Consequently, most people have no idea just how drastic the consequences could be.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)