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Penny Wong gives a stirring speech on marriage equality

The Senator said religious freedom does not mean banning same-sex marriage.

The concept of religious freedom seems to have morphed somewhat recently.

We see it used more as a reason to protect bakers who don’t want to make wedding cakes for gay couples than we do for a society where everyone is free to worship whatever they want without fear of persecution.

Labor Senator Penny Wong highlighted the difference while she slammed the sway of religious beliefs over laws in our secular society.

“Religious freedom means being free to worship and to follow your faith without suffering persecution or discrimination for your beliefs. It does not mean imposing your beliefs on everyone else.”

She argued that civil marriage in the common law has always been more like a contract than a religious sacrament.

“I, for one, am perfectly happy to accept the sacramentality of marriage. A marriage blessed by a member of the clergy is a wonderful thing for those who believe in the sacrament,” she said.

“It is no less a wonderful thing for those whose marriage is celebrated by a civil celebrant, accepting the contractual nature of the affirmation ‘I do’.”

Wong didn’t agree with using religious beliefs to decide on laws because “in societies where church and state are constitutionally separate, as they are in Australia and the US, this leads not only to confusion but also to inequity”.

Marriage equality in Australia obviously still hasn’t happened after the proposed plebiscite was shut down.

There were whisperings last month that Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who is personally opposed to marriage equality, was pushing to pass the laws while the Liberal party was in power.

Not for equality, but to ensure maximum protections for “religious freedom” in subsequent legislation.

Wong said Labor was fundamentally opposed to oppressing anyone on the grounds of sexual orientation, despite the party not passing laws for marriage equality during the six years they were in power in recent memory.

She wants to prevent “those on the right” restricting programs that encourage a more inclusive society.

“The campaign by the Australian Christian Lobby against the Safe Schools program is a case in point: knowing about and understanding difference is an essential pre-condition for an inclusive and harmonious society,” she said.

Safe Schools was overhauled by the Turnbull government and replaced with a more “politically palatable” (read: worse for LGBTI students) program, which left Wong questioning why they should merely be “tolerated when the heterosexual community takes for granted ‘acceptance’ and recognition of their sexual preference as the norm”.

“Why, one might ask, should gay people be expected to show ‘gratitude’ that their sexual relationships have been decriminalised?”

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