A leading campaigner against same-sex marriage says his case cannot be made without potentially falling foul of Australian anti-discrimination law.
The Australian Christian Lobby is pushing the federal government to suspend anti-discrimination laws during a proposed national vote on same-sex marriage, Fairfax Media reported yesterday.
Managing director Lyle Shelton told BuzzFeed News that unless state and territory anti-discrimination laws are suspended, there is a "real threat" the case against same-sex marriage could not be made.
“It’s so important that at the end of this plebiscite, whoever wins or loses, that both sides know it’s been a fair process," he said.
“If one side can’t talk freely during the debate, it’s going to be very hard for this to be seen as a fair result if it doesn’t go our way.”
Asked if he thought the proposal could encourage vilification and hate speech, Shelton said that possibility is "the risk you take" when it comes to free speech.
"I think we should always err on the side of free speech," he said.
"If some people step over the line, I think we can handle that with an appropriate government response. I would be the first to condemn anything that was hateful or bigoted.”
Shelton referred to Archbishop Julian Porteous and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, who had a complaint lodged against them with the Tasmanian anti-discrimination commissioner.
The commissioner found they had a case to answer over a booklet titled "Don't Mess With Marriage" distributed to Catholic school students.
Shelton rejected the idea that using the example of that case to suspend laws across the country was overreach.
“If you think about the effect that has on people on our side of the debate who want to participate in good faith, they’d rather not take the risk," Shelton said.
“The logical option is to shut up and be quiet, and that’s what people are doing. They are genuinely afraid to speak.”
The ACL has been slammed for the controversial proposal, with many LGBTI people expressing fear that a suspension of such laws would lead to violence and vilification.
Rodney Croome of Australian Marriage Equality described the proposal as "concerning", saying it is "impractical and unnecessary" to suspend anti-discrimination laws.
Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus rejected the proposal on Twitter.
Greens senator Robert Simms said the ACL had "exposed its intention to run an ugly and discriminatory campaign" in the national vote.
"The ACL has a history of scraping the bottom of barrel and fanning the flames of hatred and division against LGBTI people," he said.
Anti-discrimination law in Australia varies between jurisdictions, with all states and territories prohibiting discrimination of the grounds of sexuality to some degree.
Shelton declined to offer details of how his proposed override of anti-discrimination laws might work, saying “I’m not a lawyer”.
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.