SYDNEY: One of Australia’s top Catholics has warned the church’s thousands of employees it will only tolerate traditional views on marriage, as the country prepares for a vote on whether gay couples can wed.
After years of fierce political debate, Australia will hold a non-binding, nation-wide postal vote on marriage equality next month, with the issue proving politically strenuous for the Malcolm Turnbull government.
The ‘Yes’ campaign has received support from both sides of politics and polls indicate it is favoured by most Australians.
But right-wing factions of government and senior members of the church have been outspoken in their opposition.
Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart warned Saturday that employees of the Catholic Church in Australia would be putting their jobs at risk if they diverted from the definition of marriage between a man and women.
“I would be very emphatic that our schools, our parishes exist to teach a Catholic view of marriage,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“Any words or actions which work contrary to that would be viewed very seriously.”
His remarks have been widely interpreted as a threat to sack church employees who marry same-sex partners.
The church has more than 180,000 employees in Australia, including teachers, doctors and nurses, and community service providers, according to the Australian Catholic Council of Employment Relations.
“Our teachers, our parish employees are expected totally to uphold the Catholic faith and what we believe about marriage,” Hart added.
“People have to see in words and in example that our teaching of marriage is underlined.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who openly supports marriage equality, is battling with opposed factions in his own Liberal Party, and has refrained from outwardly joining the ‘Yes’ campaign.
Former conservative prime minister Tony Abbott, who leads those Liberals who are against same-sex marriages, has come under criticism from his own party for broadening the debate as an attack on “religious freedom”.
The opposition Labor party, who support gay marriage and wanted a free parliamentary vote, accuse the government of sparking division and hate speech with a postal vote but have nonetheless rallied behind the ‘Yes’ campaign.
“We should have just had a vote in parliament but if we have got to have this vote don’t muddy the waters, don’t cloud the issues by trying to throw every issue in including the kitchen sink,” Labor leader Bill Shorten told reporters Monday when asked about religious freedom.
“It is not fair and I think it demeans the argument.”
Same-sex marriage advocates have launched legal action in Australia’s highest court to prevent the postal vote from going ahead, alleging the government has abused its executive powers.