Last week’s report that transgender, transsexual, transitioned (me neither, but that is what she calls herself), lesbian Greens activist Martine Delaney has dropped her complaint against Tasmanian Archbishop Julian Porteous is good news, at least for the prelate himself. His crime, as a prince of the Catholic Church, was to have published a booklet on Catholic doctrine to distribute to Catholic parishioners, specifically parishioners with children at Catholic schools. Heinous, I know!
The show trial had been playing at the state’s Anti-Discrimination Commission for mediation since November, and while the Pope’s man in Hobart participated in good faith, proposing various remedies which both parties might consent to, the deeply offended Ms Delaney would have none of it. She demanded nothing less than for the church to publish a heavily redacted version of the document which presented Catholic teaching as mere opinion – a view that is itself contrary Catholic teaching, and indeed to the very notion of religious truth. Of course, that may be well be her opinion, and she’s entitled to it, but the idea that any religious institution should only disseminate its beliefs with caveats and qualifications strikes at the heart of freedom of religion, expression, and association.
Ms Delaney’s official line is that the process was too slow. “The tribunal process is a very long and drawn out process and during that time the message of this booklet is going to continue to be spread,” she said. But this is where she’s let the side down. Part of the same-sex marriage lobby’s strategy is litigation – a notoriously “long and drawn out process.” That’s the whole point! It’s meant to tangle up bishops and denominations and other accused homophobes in countless rounds of pointless mediation. Ms Delaney clearly didn’t have the endurance. The Catholic Church, however, fighting for what is arguably an important and foundational doctrine, had a ready army of lawyers only too happy to bill for their involvement in this legal pantomine.
In hindsight, it’s clear that Delaney was set up to fail. Even many in favour of same-sex marriage believed this complaint wouldn’t be upheld, and that on the off-chance that it was, it would never result in a formal judgment against the Archbishop. Furthermore, the complainant was just too preposterous a “victim” and the facts of the case, simply too absurd. She was making the movement look bad, as she sought to unashamedly bully those with opposing views, and to do so using the weaponised, coercive power of the state.
No doubt Archbishop Porteous is happy with the outcome of this particular case - at least personally - and I share his relief. But make no mistake: this issue is far from settled. The silver lining has an ominous gray cloud attached to it.
The Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission should have rejected Ms Delaney’s complaint from the outset. But the fact that they didn’t should make Australians anxious about how any plebiscite campaign is conducted. The same-sex marriage lobby enjoys working itself into a frenzy of outrage about the most lunatic utterances from their most pathetic opponents. Many such comments are absurd, some are truly obscene, and they deserve to be shouted down. But criminalizing them not only makes martyrs out of some detestable people that even a Christian like me finds repugnant, but it absolutely stifles free speech which, in the lead up to a plebiscite, means it stops honest debate. The Attorney-General must ensure that the plebiscite legislation includes a proviso that all communication related to the important question of the definition of marriage not be subject to state hate speech laws.
Delaney’s complaint, and the Anti-Discrimination Commission’s acceptance of it, are also harbingers of things to come, should same-sex marriage be legalized. Here in Australia we think it incredulous that wedding cake makers or the like could be hauled before the courts for refusing to participate in a same-sex wedding, as is happening in some parts of America. But if offended transgender, transsexual, lesbian Greens will come after a Catholic bishop for simply teaching what the Catholic Church believes, they will come after anyone!
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