Australians who received with joy and satisfaction the news that same-sex marriage is now legal in our country must have been outraged by a disconcerting legal battle that is taking place in the USA.
At about the same time that the Australian parliament was putting the finishing touches to the law allowing gay marriage, the US Supreme Court was hearing a case between a gay couple and a baker who had refused to bake a cake for their wedding.
In July, 2012 Charlie Craig and Dave Mullins entered the Masterpiece Cake Shop in Colorado. They were met with a riposte from the owner Jack Phillips who said “Guys , I don’t make cakes for same-sex weddings” .Later Phillips explained that although he was prepared to serve gay people as individuals his beliefs as a Christian would not permit him to bake a cake which would by implication mean approving of a form of marriage which his religion considered to be objectionable.
The baker, Phillips, was held to have discriminated against the couple by the Colorado Supreme Court. However not content, he appealed to the Supreme Court. Here he argued that compelling him to provide a cake for a same sex marriage would violate his constitutional rights to freedom of religion as well as the right to freedom of expression. This second line of argument was based on the contention that producing a wedding cake is an artistic expression like a sculpture which Phillips was entitled to dispense at his will. A decision is awaited.
It appears from reports that the American populace as well as the Supreme Court is divided on ideological lines in this matter. While it is not unusual in the USA for social issues to find their way into the courts, it would be unfortunate and painful for the gay community if that were to be repeated in this country. One can only hope that for Australians the rancour and divisiveness which led up to the plebiscite and which was extended into the parliamentary debate will not be manifested in continued acts of exclusion and vilification of members of the gay community.
The Australian statute permits ministers of religion to refuse to solemnise same sex marriage if it is against their principles and indeed this is the only additional protection which is really required. A trader offering goods for sale to the public should not be entitled to refuse to sell to parties engaging in a perfectly lawful activity- which is exactly what a same-sex marriage now is.
We at Symmetra understand that simply passing a law will not automatically change the hearts and minds of those who are not only implacably opposed to same-sex marriage but who would also deny the rights of respect and dignity to members of the LGBTI community which they should be able to expect as matter of course.
Legalising same-sex marriage is a huge step forward but there is still work to be done before discrimination against our gay community is truly a thing of the past