Australian bishops: Don't let same-sex marriage limit religious freedom

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Following a postal survey showing support for same-sex marriage, Australia's Catholic bishops said that the nation's laws need to protect those who understand marriage as it has always been viewed.

"Parliamentarians must recognize and respect the concerns of the more than 4.8 million Australians who opposed a change to the definition of marriage by putting in place strong conscience and religious freedom protections," Archbishop Denis Hart of Melbourne, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said Nov. 15.

"These protections must ensure that Australians can continue to express their views on marriage, that faith-based schools can continue to teach the traditional understandings of marriage and that organizations can continue to operate in a manner that is consistent with those values," he said.

Hart's comments came after a national postal survey showed support for redefining marriage. About 61 percent of Australians who participated in the survey voted to recognize "gay marriage," with 38 percent opposed.

The two-month postal survey concluded Nov. 7, with the results announced Wednesday. More than 12.7 million people, nearly 80 percent of the voting eligible population, took part in the survey. Every Australian state and territory had a majority "yes" vote, CNN reports.

The survey is not legally binding, but the majority vote means that a bill recognizing same-sex unions as marriages will be introduced in parliament. Members of parliament are not bound to vote in its favor, but it is expected to pass.

Speaking for the Catholic bishops, Archbishop Hart said "the Catholic Church continues to respect the dignity of LGBTIQ Australians and our ministries will continue to care deeply about the dignity and value of all people we encounter."

At the same time, he affirmed that a change in civil law does not change the Catholic understanding of marriage.

"The Catholic Church, and many others who sought to retain the definition of marriage as it has been understood for centuries, continues to view marriage as a special union between a woman and a man, which allows for the creation and nurture of children," he said.

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