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"It's Bullshit": Woman Behind Tasmanian Archbishop Case Slams Religious Freedom Claims

"There's an incredible insistence on 'We can't say what we believe'. Yes you can! But own up to it, and don't make things up."

Robyn Grace / AAPIMAGE

Martine Delaney.

The woman behind the 2015 anti-discrimination case against Tasmanian Archbishop Julian Porteous has spoken out against "no" campaigners wielding her complaint in the same-sex marriage debate, saying their argument is "bullshit".

The complaint was lodged by former Greens candidate Martine Delaney, who claimed she had been discriminated against by Porteous and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference over a booklet titled Don't Mess With Marriage.

The booklet, which was distributed to schoolchildren and churchgoers, argued against same-sex marriage and said same-sex parenting is harmful to, and "messes with", kids. The complaint was dropped and never made it to the tribunal after two conciliation meetings.

But it has featured heavily in the "no" campaign's argument, and is brought up frequently as an example of how same-sex marriage would endanger free speech and religion.

Delaney told BuzzFeed News the way her complaint was being characterised was completely incorrect.

"Basically it's bullshit," she said. "[The 'no' campaigners] seem to be determined to stick to the line where they're not allowed to say what they believe. They're allowed to say what they believe, but they have to own up to the fact it is a belief, and not a statement of fact.

"That seems to be the big thing. There's an incredible insistence on 'We can't say what we believe'. Yes you can! But own up to it, and don't make things up."

Much of the criticism from "no" campaigners suggests Delaney brought the complaint because she objected to the opposition to same-sex marriage.

"The Archbishop, at considerable financial and emotional cost, was tied up for several months by the Anti-Discrimination Commission simply for putting the Catholic position on marriage to those in Catholic churches and schools,” a Coalition for Marriage spokesperson said in a statement last month.

"Catholic Archbishop of Hobart Julian Porteous once was hauled before the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission for defending traditional marriage and families," The Australian editorialised on Tuesday.

But Delaney told BuzzFeed News she did not take issue with the church distributing its teachings on marriage. Rather, she objected to the "offensive" way the booklet referred to and treated same-sex relationships.

Archdiocese Of Hobart / PR IMAGE

Catholic Archbishop of Hobart, Julian Porteous.

Long-time LGBTI rights advocate Rodney Croome has also been the target of "no" campaigners for suggesting in June 2015 that anyone who finds Don't Mess With Marriage offensive should complain to the commission.

Lyle Shelton from the Australia Christian Lobby hit out at Croome last week at the National Press Club: "[Croome] is the one who said, when Archbishop Julian Porteous issued a very gentle pastoral letter outlining Christian teachings on marriage, he said this was hateful, this was prejudice, and he urged people to report Porteous to the Anti-Discrimination Commission.

Croome told BuzzFeed News it was "misleading and just plain wrong" for the "no" campaign to suggest the complaint against Porteous was merely on the basis of Catholic opposition to same-sex marriage.

"The complaints have very clearly been against the offensive way they have expressed their position," he said. "For example, the Don't Mess With Marriage booklet suggested that same-sex partners aren't whole people and that we 'mess with kids'."

Delaney brought the complaint in September 2015 under Tasmania's anti-discrimination laws, saying she had been discriminated against on the basis of her sexual orientation and that the document offended, humiliated and insulted same-sex attracted people and their children.

In a copy of the original complaint seen by BuzzFeed News, Delaney identified four specific parts of the document, and their cumulative effect, as offensive:

  • the description of same-sex relationships as "friendships"
  • the suggestion that same-sex attracted people are not whole
  • the suggestion that same-sex marriage will hurt children
  • the statements that allowing same-sex couples to marry will “destabilise marriage” and “undermine the common good"

Delaney took particular offence at a line in the booklet reading: "Messing with marriage is, therefore, also messing with kids". She said it was "incredibly offensive" and suggestive of sexual abuse.

"Right across Australian society, this phrase, 'messing with kids', is commonly used to discuss and imply the sexual abuse of children," Delaney wrote. "Its use here appears to be an insidious attempt to offend, humiliate and insult the standing of all same-sex couples raising children."

The complaint went to conciliation, but over the course of two hearings, Delaney and Porteous could not find common ground.

During the conciliation, Delaney presented Porteous with a revised copy of the booklet, which removed the line "messing with marriage is messing with kids" and made minor changes throughout the document to make it clear the Church was talking about beliefs and teachings, not facts.

It did not remove any teachings on marriage, nor did it ask that the church support same-sex marriage. But the offer was rejected — much to Delaney's chagrin.

"I made every attempt I could to assist the Catholic Church to be able to say what they believed, but do it in a respectful manner, and not say things like my partner and I raising a child is messing with kids," Delaney told BuzzFeed News.

In turn, Delaney rejected a counter-offer from the church in which it suggested both parties sign an agreement that they had misunderstood each other's intentions.

She dropped the complaint in May 2016, telling BuzzFeed News she had done so because the Catholic Church was not prepared to work with her on amending the document, and because she foresaw the process dragging on for up to two years.

Despite the way it is now being used against same-sex marriage, Delaney said she would bring the complaint again if she believed the anti-discrimination law had been violated.

"I have a stupid belief in people, that people don't always have ulterior motives. I'd do it again if it presented an opportunity to change what was happening."

Porteous did not respond to questions from BuzzFeed News by deadline.