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13 Nov, 2015 11:22

‘Attack on free speech’: Australian Catholic Church probed over anti-same-sex marriage leaflet

‘Attack on free speech’: Australian Catholic Church probed over anti-same-sex marriage leaflet

Tasmania’s anti-discrimination commissioner has begun a probe into the Catholic Church over an anti-same-sex-marriage leaflet that was published in mid-2015. Some human rights campaigners criticize the move as an attack on free speech.

The leaflet, titled ‘Don’t mess with marriage’ and published by the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference, authorized by Hobart’s Catholic Archbishop Julian Porteous, was sent to thousands of families through Church schools.

The leaflet pointed out the church’s opposition to changing the Tasmanian Marriage Act to include same-sex couples into it.

“Same-sex friendships” differ a lot from “real marriages,” the leaflet distributed across Australian schools said.

“Marriage includes an emotional union, but it goes further than that. It involves a substantial bodily and spiritual union of a man and a woman <…> grounded on heterosexual union,” the leaflet also said.

The leaflet asserts the importance of motherhood and fatherhood, too, stating that “only a woman can be a mother; only a man can be a father,” and goes on to saying that “messing with marriage” by having a homosexual union is also about “messing with kids,” as the absence of a father or mother impedes their development.

Following the publication, local human rights campaigner and Greens’ lower house candidate for 2016 Martine Delaney sent to the anti-discrimination commissioner a formal complaint saying that the leaflet was offensive and insulting.

Her complaint, which hasn’t been dismissed, can now lead to either a move to conciliation or referral to a tribunal.

“I’m more than happy for it to go to conciliation. I’ve sought an apology and for the Catholic education system to involve itself in LGBTI awareness for students,” Delaney said, as quoted by AAP.

However, not everyone agreed with the human rights campaigner: the launch of the probe came under fire from legal rights division of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA).

“If the Catholic church cannot distribute a booklet on Catholic teaching to Catholics, who can it distribute them to?” the body’s director Simon Breheny said, as quoted by AAP.

“This case highlights the attack on free speech represented by anti-discrimination law. It should never be a crime to offend a person,” Breheny added.

Catholic Archbishop of Hobart Julian Porteous said the leaflet wasn’t published to offend anyone, but wouldn’t be withdrawn.

READ MORE: West in war on sexual norms

"The first thing I want to say to Martine is look, I regret if you've felt that, it was not my intention and not the intention of the Catholic Bishops to cause that offence," he said.

"It's just simply us presenting what we believe to be right and true and good," Archbishop added.

The conflict comes ahead of the next year’s plebiscite on same-sex marriage, with the Australian population set to vote on whether the notion of marriage should be changed to include same-sex couples.

Many voice concerns about the popular vote, with some politicians saying this is a matter for legislative authorities, and not one that should be decided by the public. 

“Whether the definition of marriage should be changed to encompass the union of two people, regardless of sex, is a matter which is squarely within the parliament’s power to legislate,” Queensland Senator Glenn Lazarus said in September. 

Some 67 percent of Australians were willing to resolve the issue by a plebiscite in September, but a month later the figures fell to 43 percent in favor of a popular vote as people were informed the vote would cost about $150 million, according to two Essential Media Communications’ polls.