POLITICS

Religion Still Standing In The Way Of Marriage Equality: Penny Wong

"Are we there yet? Sadly, the answer is still 'no'".

17/05/2017 7:21 PM AEST | Updated 18/05/2017 7:37 AM AEST
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Senator Wong's calls came in the 2017 Frank Walker Memorial Lecture.

Labor frontbencher Penny Wong has hit out at the influence of religious groups in renewing calls for marriage equality in the 2017 Frank Walker Memorial Lecture on Wednesday.

Speaking on the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia, Wong said "the journey towards equality" in Australia is not yet over and highlighted the need for freedom of choice and action in a nation that considers itself secular.

"Many Australians are still asking, 'are we there yet?' And, sadly, the answer is still 'no'," the leader of the Opposition in the Senate said.

"A policy issue that is one of the easiest to resolve politically languishes in the 'too hard basket' because of the intransigence of those who see it as their right to impose their personal views on the community as a whole.

"The journey towards equality has been long and arduous, and it is not yet over."

Wong used her speech on Wednesday night to address the concept of tradition in the eyes of lawmakers, saying the forces of religion continue to impact on the secular political debate around marriage equality in Australia.

"At the centre of the opposition to equality of marriage rights for gay and lesbian members of the community is the conflation of religious concepts of marriage with secular concepts of marriage," she said.

"Religious attitudes to marriage continue to impact on much of the political debate that has delayed the recognition of the marriage equality rights of the gay and lesbian community.

"The problem in all of this, of course, is the application of religious belief to the framing of law in a secular society. And in societies where church and state are constitutionally separate."

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The Opposition Senate frontbencher also used her address to look at the historical and academic influences on the current political debate, saying that Labor "is fundamentally opposed to the oppression of anyone on the grounds of their sexual orientation or their religious beliefs."

"We, as supporters of equal marriage rights, need to be both vigilant and active when there is any regression to criminalisation or re-criminalisation of gay relationships," she said.

"One of Australia's great protections against all forms of extremism is the fact that we are a secular society... Religion-based moral codes continue to limit the freedoms and the rights of those who, in the view of religious groups, do not 'conform' to their views.

"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.

"A secular society recognises the basic worth, dignity and value of each of its citizens precisely because of their humanity and their citizenship... And that freedom and equality in Australia's secular society extends to equal rights, including the right to marry, for all gay and lesbian Australians."

The address comes after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declared there is no change to the government's policy on the same sex marriage plebiscite in December, 2016.

In October, Labor combined with the Senate crossbench to scuttle the government's plans for a February 17 people's vote to change the Marriage Act by refusing to support enabling legislation.

The Opposition said the plebiscite was too expensive, non-binding and more than likely to cause harm to LGBTQ people, possibly to the point of suicide.

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