Consequences of changing the Marriage Act: Human Rights

Today on catholicTalk, we continue our series on the consequences of changing the definition of marriage for ordinary Australians. 

Proponents of same-sex marriage like to assure us that a change to the definition of marriage will have no impact on broader society, but this is not the case.

In previous columns, we have considered the effects of a change in the definition of marriage in freedom, the education of children and gender.  Today, we will look at how a change in the laws on marriage will see a re-ordering of recognised human rights.

Human rights instruments like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child list a number of recognised “rights” in the international community.  But what happens when the rights contained in those instruments conflict?  Which rights are preferred over others?

To assist with determining this, the UN Commission on Human Rights developed the Siracusa Principles, which outlined which rights were to be given priority in the ICCPR. 

Paragraph 58 of those principles tell us that “even in time of emergency threatening the life of the nation,” the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion are guaranteed, and cannot be derogated from “even for the asserted purpose of preserving the life of the nation.”  That’s a pretty clear indication of how highly the right to freedom of religion is valued.

But slowly, we are seeing the non-recognised right to “equality” being used as a trump card, even over freedom of religion.

Two weeks ago, the Ontario Superior Court handed down a judgment which demonstrates this clearly. 

Steve Tourloukis is a man of the Greek Orthodox faith, and had two children who were in public primary school at the time when his case began.  He didn’t want his children to be involved in classes or school activities which presented homosexual or bisexual sexual activity as normal and healthy expressions of sexuality, because those ideas contradicted the faith in which he was trying to raise them.

So he made a simple request to the school, asking them to provide him with advance notice of when these topics would be taught in class, and allow him to remove the children from those classes.  His request was refused by the school, because the school board said that it could not accommodate "religious values and beliefs that clearly conflict with mandated Ministry of Education and Board policies."

These mandatory policies included a requirement that all "policies, guidelines, procedures and practices... are anti-homophobic and anti-heterosexist" and that "curriculum delivery in all subject areas is consistent with the principles and practices of equity as they relate to sexual orientation."

The school board also rejected Mr Tourloukis’ request because allowing children to be excluded from the class would be contrary to the value of inclusion promoted by the school, and went on further to note that accommodating the request would be "impractical if not impossible" because "the curriculum has so fully integrated" the sexual and gender diversity program.

Does this sound familiar?  Is it not like the Safe Schools program we are hearing so much about?

Mr Tourloukis sought to enforce his rights in court.  But the Ontario Superior Court ruled against him.  It recognised that his religious freedom was infringed upon, and that the matter was neither trivial nor insubstantial.  But the court ruled that the infringement was nevertheless reasonable.

The significance of this cannot be understated.  International human rights instruments tell us that the right to religious freedom cannot be overridden even to preserve the life of the nation, but the Ontario court has decided it can be set aside for “inclusivity.”

Ontario legalised same-sex marriage in 2003.  In just over a decade, its highest court is now elevating the right to feel included over rights which were at once considered to be amongst the most important ones granted to any human person.

This re-ordering of human rights is another direct consequence of the legalisation of same-sex marriage.  The Australian Law Reform Commission has already foreshadowed that the same could happen here.  Will we allow it, or will we stand firm for the definition of marriage and, in doing so, stand firm for human rights?

Monica Doumit, catholicTalk contributor

Wednesday, 07 December 2016 06:57 Written by 


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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in CathTalk blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of all members of that of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.

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