An open letter has been sent to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten from Christian, Jewish and Islamic faith leaders across Australia, asking them to keep the promise each of them made to the Australian people during the postal survey that religious freedoms would be protected.

The text of the letter is below, as is the list of current signatories.  Additional names will be added as more faith leaders add their names.

Dear Prime Minister and Mr Shorten

Re: Open Letter Concerning the Need for Adequate Protection of Freedoms in the Context of Same-Sex Marriage.

The recent postal survey result has indicated that the will of a majority of Australians is to support a change in the law to allow same-sex couples to marry. 

Polling has shown, however, that regardless of voting intention, even more Australians support the

Parliament's guaranteeing in law freedoms of conscience, belief and religion when it legislates for same-sex marriage.

We welcomed your respective independent undertakings, given during the postal survey, that such freedoms would be protected in the event of a Yes vote. Much turns, however, on what is enfolded within the content of those freedoms. 

The Senate has now voted against amendments that aim to reasonably accommodate these matters.

We therefore write to voice our concern that the Bill now due for consideration by the House of Representatives does not address adequate consideration of these fundamental freedoms.

While our view is held in relation to a range of matters, the following are worthy of particular note.

1. The right of parents to ensure the education of their children in accordance with their religious and moral convictions.
 
2. The right of religious institutions to ensure that their facilities are used in accordance with their beliefs is not assured. Examples include the use of reception halls operated by churches, and associated services (such as catering or relationship counselling} and the use of chapels, halls or similar facilities within religious schools.
3. The internationally recognised rights of religious institutions to establish and maintain faith-based charities in accordance with their convictions is not assured.
 
4. The concern that charities that express a traditional view of marriage will lose their charitable status at law, as has occurred in other common law jurisdictions, is not addressed.
 
5. The rights of religious institutions to express their beliefs, provided that they do so in a way that respectfully engages with the wider community, is not protected.
 
6. The Bill before the House only provides transitional rights for existing celebrants, who are not ministers of religion, to act in accordance with their genuinely held religious or conscientious convictions. We believe new celebrants should be able to apply to be a traditional marriage celebrant into the future. 

In particular, it is our view that the amendments to the Bill proposed by Senators Paterson and Fawcett in the Senate on 28 November 2017 provide balanced and reasonable measures that respond to such concerns, and many others, while also acquitting Australia's international obligations.

A change in the definition of marriage to permit same-sex couples to marry inevitably requires consideration of how that change will interact with existing rights held in the community. That consideration must be undertaken at the time of the change. To delay consideration of how the right of same-sex couples to marry will interact with the religious and conscientious freedoms of individuals and institutions in our community is to accept that it is permissible that those rights could be breached in the interim period until further legislation is progressed, if at all.

In addition, once the definition of marriage alters, the question immediately arises as to whether a charity that holds a traditional view of marriage will retain its charity status at law. In particular we note that the Acting Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commissioner has indicated in his 24 November 2017 letter to Senator Smith that one way to address the concerns that have been raised may be to provide in the amending legislation that nothing in the legislation adversely affects an entity's charitable status by reason only that the entity holds or expresses a position on marriage.'  The amendments proposed by Senators Fawcett and Paterson address this concern.

The majority decision of the United States Supreme Court in 2015 which recognised a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in that country, also acknowledged the view that ‘[m]arriage ... is by its nature a gender-differentiated union of man and woman ... long has been held-and continues to be held-in good faith by reasonable and sincere people here and throughout the world.' 

A change in a social institution that is as fundamental as that of marriage has wide-ranging implications for our community. The amendments of Senators Fawcett and Paterson offer a reasonable means to unify our nation by effecting the will of the majority who voted in favour of same-sex marriage, while also incorporating the legitimate beliefs of those who are concerned for the protection of freedoms in our community.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Signatories so far:

 

Most Rev. Dr Glenn Davies

Anglican Archbishop of Sydney

 

Most Rev. Anthony Fisher OP

Catholic Archbishop of Sydney

 

Most Rev. Antoine-Charbel Tarabay

Maronite Bishop of Australia

 

Pastor Jorge Munoz

President, Seventh-Day Adventist Church

 

Wayne Alcorn

National President, Australian Christian Churches

 

Rev. Keith Jobberns

National Ministries Director, Australian Baptist Ministries

 

Pastor Wayne Swift

National Leader, Apostolic Church Australia

 

Graham Nelson

Senior Minister, Life Ministry Centre

 

Executive Assistant to Bishop Suriel

Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Melbourne and Affiliated Regions

 

Rev. Dr John P Wilson

Moderator-General, Presbyterian Church of Australia

 

Most Rev. Julian Porteous DD

Catholic Archbishop of Hobart

 

Rev. Dr Hedley Fihaki

National Chair, Assembly of Confessing Congregations within the Uniting Church in Australia

 

Very Rev. Father Tadros El-Bakhoumi OAM

Senior Priest, Coptic Orthodox Church NSW

 

Archbishop Stylianos

Primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese

 

Metropolitan Basilios

Antiochian Orthodox Church of Australia

 

Sheikh Yahya Safi

Imam, Lakemba Mosque

 

Sheikh Youssef Nabha

Imam, Arrahman Mosque

 

Rabbi Dr. Shimon Cowen

Director, Institute for Judaism and Civilization

 

Basilios Georges Casmoussa

Apostolic Visitor in Australia, Syriac Catholic Church

 

Mor Malatious Malki

Metropolitan Archbishop, Syrian Orthodox Church

 

His Grace Bishop Daniel

Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Church - Diocese of Sydney and Affiliated Regions

 

Most Rev. Michael Kennedy

Catholic Bishop of Armidale

 

Bishop Amel Nona

Eparch of Chaldean Diocese in Sydney

 

Tim O’Neill

President, Acts 2 Alliance Churches

 

Most Rev. Columba Macbeth-Green OSPP

Catholic Bishop of Wilcannia-Forbes

 

Most Rev. Robert Rabbat

Bishop, Melkite Eparchy of Australia

 

Monsignor Basil Sousanian

Parish Priest, Armenian Catholic Church

 

Father Youssef Youssef

Rector, Coptic Catholic Church

 

Rev Dr Leo Douma

Chairman, Synodical Interim Committee, Christian Reformed Churches of Australia