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What about the cake makers?

Silly arguments about the religious rights of pious cake makers undermine a sensible discussion that could be had about civil liberties and religious freedoms in Australia.

In a historic move, the Australian parliament recently voted to legalise same-sex marriages in Australia following the release of results from a government-sponsored voluntary survey. Whilst such a significant social change was always going to be controversial, it is the absurdity of the ‘extension’ arguments that have really made me shake my head.

There has been quite some discussion of late about religious freedoms. Fair enough. After all, who wouldn’t support religious freedom in a modern democratic society?

Whilst the majority of religious Australians are Christian, there are many faiths in Australia and their freedoms should be protected. It would have been completely unacceptable for the government to attempt to coherse churches to marry two people of the same sex if it was in contravention of their traditions or teachings. Naturally, the amendments that will be made to the Marriage Act 1961 will maintain the freedoms that already exist in the legislation:

Nothing in this Part… imposes an obligation on an authorised celebrant, being a minister of religion, to solemnise any marriage

Marriage Act 1961, Section 47, Part a

This important protection of religious freedom is longstanding and I’d have thought that its preservation would have allayed any concerns that objectors to same-sex marriage would have. But it doesn’t.

Civil celebrants

Some have argued that it would be unreasonable to force civil celebrants to solemnise marriages if they have a moral objection to same-sex relationships. At first glance, there could be some merit in this argument because the celebrants are participating in the wedding ceremony The problem with this argument is that they are civil celebrants and the ceremony is secular.

How are the personal religious or moral views of a civil celebrant any more relevant to the provision of this service than any other?

The truth is that the personal feelings of the civil celebrant is morally irrelevant, although if the celebrant felt so strongly they ought to consider another career. By their very nature, secular weddings are not religious and should be subject to the same anti-discrimination legislation as other services.

What about the cake makers?

More troubling than arguments about the religious rights of secular wedding celebrants are arguments in defence of the religious rights of cake-makers.

The logic of this absurd argument is that the local pious baker may be forced by law to make a wedding cake for a LGBTI couple against his moral objections and religious convictions. This argument would be laughable if not repeated so many times.

I’d have thought that it was abundantly clear that making a wedding cake (or any cake for that matter) is not a religious act in any tradition. The making of a cake is secular work, not an expression of faith or an act of worship.

Is the positioning of two identical plastic figurines atop a gateau really so objectionable?

Real religious freedoms

Real religious freedoms relate to the free practice of religion, freedom to be protected from discrimination as a result of belonging to a religious group and not having the state impose a religion. Thankfully these rights are protected in the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia no less!

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

Australian Constitution, Section 116

These are important rights that many Australians don’t even realise that they have.

I have often felt that Australians show little regard for their civil liberties and have a poor understanding of human and legal rights. Whilst I support a sensible debate about religious freedoms and civil liberties in Australia, making absurd arguments about cake makers, secular wedding celebrants or even garden owners trivialises an important discussion that could be had about these matters.

As far as I am concerned, the Australian public has made a decision about same-sex marriage. The outcome allows greater freedom in marriage whilst protecting religious rights too. That is a good balance, I believe.



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