The Catholic Church has fired its latest shot in a renewed battle against marriage equality in Australia. And it means business. It has written letters to businesses that joined the campaign launched by Australian Marriage Equality and expressed public support for marriage equality law reform.
One such letter addressed to the law firm Maurice Blackburn has been made public. In the letter, Michael Digges, the Business Manager for the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, warns:
… the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney is a significant user of goods and services from many corporations …
You are publicly supporting a strategic, political and well-funded campaign designed to pressure the Federal Government into changing the Marriage Act.
I wonder whether you have questioned whether it is the role of a corporation such as yours to be participating in such an important matter that impacts all of Australian society now and into the future.
For corporations to speak on such issues on behalf of shareholders, employees, clients/customers, suppliers and other stakeholders is indeed over stepping their purpose and is to be strongly resisted.
In short, how dare a law firm involve itself in a law reform and social justice issue?!
It remains to be seen what responses these letters will elicit from corporate Australia, or Australian Catholics generally.
Maurice Blackburn Principal Liberty Sanger has been reported saying she was unclear of the thinking behind the letter:
Now it may well be that their intention was to try and frighten us into not participating in the debate.
If that was the objective, well it’s had … obviously had the opposite effect.
If it was his intention to make us think that he was going to be able to keep Catholics away from Maurice Blackburn because of our support for marriage equality, then I think he will be sadly mistaken.
Whether or not it was intended as a threat, I’ll leave for him to comment upon.
I think the important thing is that we continue to show our support so that others who have the same view as us have the courage to speak up and encourage parliamentarians to make the right decision in the Parliament.
I thought it was a very heavy handed response and uncalled for, because we’re very respectful of everybody’s points of view in this debate.
The letters follow the distribution of a booklet titled ‘Don’t Mess with Marriage‘ to Catholic school students last week. The booklet caused significant outrage among students and parents. The document was originally published online by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference in late May.
The document describes same-sex-attracted people as not ‘whole’, refers to the children of same-sex couples as not ‘healthy’ and says such children will be ‘hurt’ and ‘messed with’, and reduces the long-term committed, loving relationships of same-sex couples to a ‘friendship’:
Same-sex friendships are of a very different kind: to treat them as the same does a grave injustice to both kinds of friendship and ignores the particular values that real marriages serve.
The word ‘marriage’ isn’t simply a label that can be attached and transferred to different types of relationships as the fashion of the day dictates. It has an intrinsic or natural meaning prior to anything we may invent or the state may legislate. It reflects God’s plan for humanity, our personal growth and that of our children and society. To say that other friendships are not marriages is not to demean those other friendships or the individuals concerned, but merely to recognise that… …marriage is the covenant of a man and a woman to live as husband and wife, exclusively and for life, and open to the procreation of children.
As for the position of Australian lay Catholics on the issue, a 2014 Crosby|Textor survey indicated 67% of Australian Catholics support marriage equality. If this number stands up to scrutiny, the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney may find itself in the curious position where it no longer actually represents the views of a majority of Australian Catholics.