Freedoms are vital

The people’s verdict on redefining marriage is not a licence for the Parliament to jettison long established freedoms and rights. There has rightly been much discussion about the freedoms that require protecting. While many have sought to take a simplistic approach to have very limited religious protections for those who have a religious belief, not enough attention has been paid to the broader protections that are required because there are literally millions of decent men and women who respectfully don’t support same-sex marriage and hold their view in good faith and not born from religion.

The simple reality is that with the very limited protections included in the Bill before the Senate, the definitional change of marriage will reverse the onus under many discrimination laws and see them weaponised by activists (let’s be clear here – the vast majority of Australians take a common-sense approach to these things and wouldn’t drag people to a tribunal just for holding a particular view).

Nevertheless, it’s vital that where people have a good-faith point of view on the definition of marriage – be it religious or conscience based – that activists can’t drag people before tribunals and into costly legal proceedings.

In addition to these freedoms, it’s also important that parents are able to have and exercise rights over what their children learn at school. It is unremarkable for religious schools to want to continue teaching the biblical view of marriage which they should be entitled to do. Similarly, if parents of students – particularly in public schools – do not want their children to be involved in programmes like the so-called ‘Safe Schools’ programme, they should be able to pull their children out of class for that part of the curriculum.

Sadly, we have seen overseas that without such legislative protections, activists have created a lawyers’ picnic by dragging all sorts of people to court for simply opposing same-sex marriage, expressing their view or seeking to exercise their parental rights.

This is a common-sense principle that goes to the heart of the Australian spirit – that people can speak their mind without threats from extreme activists. Thankfully, these issues can easily be overcome by some amendments to the Bill before the Senate – something that a number of colleagues are working on at present.

The Prime Minister’s announcement today of a Review of Religious Freedoms in Australia is welcome and it is worthwhile to have a broader look at this issue but, as Scott Morrison has said, this should be a separate issue to the Bill currently before the Parliament.

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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