Same-sex marriage and religious freedom—two forces whose potentially brutal clash is all too familiar in the United States—are quickly becoming embroiled in a fierce battle of lifestyle, liberty, and legislation in Australia.
While marriage is currently defined as a union between one man and one woman, the land of kangaroos and koalas is in the midst of a non-binding vote over a redefinition to include same-sex couplings.
Apropos to an increasingly tense national conversation thereof, many in religious circles fear for their safety. Bellbowrie Community Church, for example, has recently found itself the victim of hostility and terroristic threats over its sign declaring “God Designed Marriage Between a Man & a Woman.” John Gill, senior pastor of the 150-member congregation located in the Queensland capital of Brisbane, told the Daily Mail Australia:
"On Facebook, a lot of the stuff has been quite vicious at times…I mean quite physically threatening. That's been scary for some in the church. One of the comments, for example, was a suggestion that people bring petrol down and set the church on fire.”
One critic of the sign, Patrick Wood, posted opposite sides of the billboard online, the other reading, "All people are respected and welcome here,” adding the comment, "Their house, their hypocritical rules.”
In response to the accusation that the marquee’s messages are mutually exclusive, a teacher in New South Wales Central Coast told Daily Mail Australia, ”This is not a contradiction. It is perfectly in order and reflects our Christian ethos: acceptance of individuals regardless while upholding the sanctity of marriage and simultaneously rejecting same-sex marriage with its implications.”
However, it is this perceived contradiction on the part of critics of loving the sinner but not the sin that serves as great concern for those who embrace it. Bolstered by the slow but steady erosion of religious liberty in the United States since the Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, many Australians fear that the passage of any law redefining marriage will be the first step in the eradication of religious freedom.
Those fears are certainly not unfounded: a recent survey of LGBT Australians revealed that fifty-nine percent believe a pastor should be forced by law to marry a same-sex couple. Furthermore, a staggering ninety-four percent said religious organizations should not have the right to deny use of their property for same-sex weddings.
"At the moment, we know we have that freedom,” Gill said. “But certainly down the track, we have serious concerns about whether we'd continue to have that freedom or not.”