Same-sex marriage and religious freedom.

In an article published on the Moore College website Tony Payne argues that this election is different from any other in that the legalisation of same-sex marriage will threaten the freedom of Christians to proclaim the gospel. He does so with some humility, recognising that he may well be overstating the threat.

I think he most surely is. As I understand it, there are two sets of laws under which constraints could be placed upon Christian gospel proclamation: anti-discrimination laws (from which churches and other religious Organisations currently have exemptions) and laws on vilification. Neither of these will be affected by the legalising of same-sex marriage. It is already illegal to discriminate against people on the grounds of sexual orientation and likewise it is illegal to incite hated or violence against others.

The push to recognise SSM reflects a changing societal attitude towards gay, lesbian and bisexual people. Where just two generations back same-sex relationships were criminalised and same-sex orientation was seen as a pathology, today same-sex orientation is considered a morally neutral variety of human sexuality and same-sex partnerships are celebrated as a way in which same-sex oriented people may find fulfilment.

In this context it is not surprising that Christians with a conservative view of sexuality will experience opposition and even hostility. The arguments against same-sex partnerships and for the freedom to discriminate against those in such relationships are increasingly seen as on a par with arguments for discrimination based on race and gender. We should not be surprised at pressure to remove or modify the current exemptions to the anti-discrimination act that are enjoyed by churches and other religious organisations.

As a society we will need to negotiate once more how to balance freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom from discrimination. How do we preserve freedom of the religious conscience when it holds to things that are offensive to the conscience of most people in the community? How do we protect people from unfair discrimination when religious conscience demands what to many appears entirely unreasonable? This will be a difficult discussion and the more-so for churches as in the past we have been in a dominant position in society during such dialogues. In the argy-bargy of sorting this through there will inevitably be overreach on all sides. We will need grace, wisdom, generosity and a willingness to apply Jesus’s instruction that we remove the logs in our own eyes.

But none of this will be happening because of same-sex marriage. It will be happening because we live in a society that has rejected the notion that same-sex orientation is pathological and that same-sex partnerships are perverted.

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