‘Lovingly’ refuse gays, says Reverend

CLARENCE Valley Anglicans are being encouraged to break the law if they oppose same-sex marriage.

One of Australia's top reverends says the region's wedding suppliers should "lovingly and respectfully" refuse to supply services such as wedding dresses, cakes and flowers if they are offended by gay unions.

Refusal to supply goods based on sexuality is illegal in NSW and can cost the offender $100,000, Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW president Dr Stepan Kerkyasharian said.

The comments from Dr Gordon Preece, who heads the Ethos Centre for Christianity and Society, follow Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten's introduction of the same-sex marriage bill to Parliament on June 1.

Dr Preece said the Clarence Valley's 15,210 Anglicans should remember the church "abhorred" homophobia so a gentle approach was needed when refusing to provide services to gay people.

"Many different believers of all religions have different views about the extent that renting premises or making a cake for same-sex marriage ceremonies represents personal support for same-sex marriages," Dr Preece said.

"But the rights of religious believers to not participate in acts they believe indicate such support needs to be safeguarded.

"Believers who take such a stand should seek to cause as little offence as possible by lovingly and respectfully withdrawing their services and suggesting alternative providers."

Law Council of Australia president Duncan McConnel said the region's business operators could not use their religion as an excuse for "unlawful discrimination".

"One's religious beliefs should not be enough to justify refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex couple wanting to marry or hiring a venue," Mr McConnel said. "Their choice to enter into the business of providing such services is made in light of the knowledge that Australia has agreed to be bound by laws that prevent discrimination against people on the grounds of their sexuality."

Australian Marriage Equality national director Rodney Croome said it was wrong for religious leaders to encourage discrimination.

"We don't accept business people illegally discriminating against divorcees or against interracial couples because they may find their unions objectionable, and neither should we accept illegal discrimination against same-sex couples," Mr Croome said.

While refusing to provide services based on sexuality breaches the NSW Discrimination Act, there are no prescribed penalties such as jail or fines.

However, Dr Kerkyasharian said offenders could be forced to pay $100,000 to aggrieved parties.

"If the matter comes to the Anti-Discrimination Board, our role is to try and conciliate that," he said.

"The conciliation process may include an agreement to pay some damages but that's through mutual agreement.

"If agreement is not reached it can be referred to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal which can impose damages of up to $100,000."



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