A small group gathered at Brunswick Uniting Church in Melbourne’s inner north on Friday last week for an Australian Christians for Marriage Equality campaign launch, which followed the group’s launch events in Sydney, Perth and Brisbane the day before.
Brunswick minister Rev Ian Ferguson defended hosting the event, despite the Uniting Church Assembly not recommending any position to members on the upcoming vote.
“We are an affirming congregation that supports marriage equality,” Mr Ferguson said.
“My congregation are fully behind me and this cause. Although the Church does not have a united front, the beauty of the Uniting Church is everyone is entitled to their opinion.”
Other campaign spokespeople attending the launch were Catherine Heywood from the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), Rev Sue Townsend from the Metropolitan Community Church Melbourne, Father Stuart Soley from St Mark’s Anglican Church Fitzroy and Nathan Despott, who founded Christian LGBTI support group the Brave Network.
“We’re here from our different traditions to encourage Christians and all people of good will to vote yes to fairness, yes to dignity, yes to equality,” Mr Ferguson said.
All rejected appeals to biblical authority as a reason to oppose marriage equality and said that their stance came as a consequence of holding Christian beliefs.
“The heart of Christianity is justice and fairness and equality and inclusion,” Mr Ferguson said.
“The love of Jesus crosses boundaries and embraces people in their difference. That’s very much what motivates my faith and will motivate my vote if it comes to that.
“It’s because of faith, not in spite of our faith. It’s because of who we are as Christians, it’s because of what the church is, it’s because of who Jesus is.”
Mr Despott said many Brave Network members have experienced conversion therapy, which in the name of Christianity attempted to ‘cure’ them of their sexuality.
“They spent a great deal of their life believing they were broken or sick and needed to be healed,” he said.
“It’s taken a great deal of support for those people to come to a place of acceptance.
“So in many ways, the members of Brave stand as living proof that wholeness comes from accepting your sexuality rather than trying to deny it.
“And they are all very passionate in their faith still and want voting yes to draw a line under that discrimination in the past and move forward.
“For many of the people I am connected with coming out and accepting their sexuality has rejuvenated their faith.”
The group said that their position was echoed by most Christians.
“We know the majority of Christians want marriage equality, we know that,” Ms Townsend said.
Fr Solely said people in his congregation could distinguish that the postal vote was about civil law rather than religious views on marriage but were not opposed on either grounds.
“It’s not an issue,” he said.
“They actually want to honour relationships because they see the fruitfulness of God’s spirit in those relationships”
Ms Heywood pointed out that the Quakers already embrace marriage equality.
“Since 2010 have been able to celebrate marriages of the same gender without being able to sign the legal paper,” she said.
“We would actually see it as limiting our religious freedom.”
The group said their campaign was important to counter the perception that Christians were largely opposed to marriage equality.
“That’s the problem, the negative side gets the press and that’s why we’re here to give a positive voice,” Ms Townsend said.
“The majority of Christians see that we are all equal and should be treated equally under the law.”
Fr Solely said that if marriage equality was legalised the likelihood is he wouldn’t be able to conduct such a service in the Anglican Church, but that was a fight for another day.
Mr Despott said the postal vote had revealed that even if those opposing marriage equality were in the minority they were a very noisy minority.
“Our country is only waking up now to just how strong and well-resourced the voices in the no campaign are compared to some of the other European non-English speaking countries that have been through this,” he said.
“We’re having a particularly interesting debate with a lot of outside influences coming and affecting the debate.
“What I am more concerned about is the amount of harm that’s still going to be wrought upon LGBTI people of faith in particular, like some of the members of BRAVE who are really suffering even in the last three weeks.”
Mr Ferguson agreed.
“That’s why it so important today for it to be heard that as Christians there is a positive affirmation and that the vilification and the terrible abuse that’s been done and some of the things that are being said is just the opposite of what we’re about today,” he said.
“We’re giving voice to the majority of Christians, the silent majority, who actually want to see this justice done.
“It’s about real people, that’s the thing. As a pastor in the church, it’s not about an abstract problem. This is about real people’s lives and families and children and their freedom to be themselves, plus their freedom from discrimination.
“I’m here very much because of the people that I know, the people that I’m part of the church with, the people who are members of my congregation and the people who I serve with and care for, that they would have the dignity of their humanity fully realised by our government.
“God says ‘yes’ – we’re just joining in.”