When pastor Carolyn Francis from the Collins Street Baptist Church in Melbourne introduces herself as an evangelical Christian, she always follows it up with a “lengthy list of disclaimers”, starting with “but not that kind …”.
“It’s not the kind of thing you confess to polite society much these days.”
If you believed every press release from groups like the Australian Christian Lobby, the march of LGBTI rights in society will trample on all religious freedoms, and the issue is a stark divide between LGBTI Australians and almost every religion in the world.
But it isn’t black and white, and religious groups are now speaking out in favour of marriage equality.
Francis told an audience in Parliament on Thursday it would have been easy for her to give up her ties to the evangelicals.
“But perhaps due to some inbuilt inclination towards stubbornness, I refuse to do so. I refuse to have my faith defined by those who are obsessed with exclusion and the maintenance of the boundaries of their faith.”
Francis and other members of religious groups gathered in the main committee room in Parliament House on an otherwise quiet day in a non-sitting week for an event organised by Australian Marriage Equality that aimed to change the perception that religion and marriage equality were incompatible.
Dr Gavriel Ansara from the Orthodox Jewish Network said that those from his faith who had written to parliamentary committees against marriage equality had not consulted widely before making their statements and were working against religious freedom.
“There has not been any community-wide consultation whatsoever in these representations … These rabbis have never spoken to me or to my husband. If they had, they might begin to listen and to learn and to understand the very freedom they are trying to take away from me and my family.”
Australia’s first openly gay imam Nur Warsame described the now-failed plebiscite as a “nonsense” and said that those — like Liberal MP Tim Wilson and Liberal Democratic Senator David Leyonhjelm who had argued the LGBTI community was more resilient than given credit for — underestimated how the debate would harm young people.
“I really want to emphasise the trauma to LGBTI Muslim youth. Marriage equality is something that will give hope to a lot of Muslim youth. I come from a community where self-harm is common, where people live double lives, or people who reject Islam.”
“At least [with marriage equality], we stop some of the trauma that is being done by family members.”
Francis believes the key to getting religions on side is to appeal to their basic instinct of survival: stand on the right side of history or fade into irrelevance.
“Young evangelical leaders are not at all keen to be relegated to a cultural ghetto. They don’t want to be irrelevant and they want bums on seats in their churches.”
But at the same time, she says they will need to be educated that if marriage equality is made law in Australia, there won’t be a line of gay couples wanting to get married outside churches that remain opposed to it.
AME’s Tiernan Brady — spearheading AME’s campaign after winning the Irish referendum last year — says people often expressed surprise that Ireland voted for marriage equality given its strong Catholic faith.
“I think people in Ireland voted because of their faith, not in spite of it,” he said. “Ireland didn’t cease to be a religious country after marriage equality.”