Some claims same-sex marriage threatens religious freedom 'exaggerated', according to advisor to the Australian Human Rights Commissioner

MORE PROTECTION: Daniel Nellor, advisor to the Australian Human Rights commissioner, believes more can be done to protect religious freedom in Australia, in particular on a federal level.
MORE PROTECTION: Daniel Nellor, advisor to the Australian Human Rights commissioner, believes more can be done to protect religious freedom in Australia, in particular on a federal level.

Some of the perceived threats to freedom of religion emanating from the same-sex marriage debate have been “exaggerated”, according to an advisor to the Australian Human Rights Commissioner.

Speaking at the Victorian Interfaith Networks Conference, held in Bendigo on Sunday, Daniel Nellor told the audience there was concern among religious communities that changing social attitudes on sexuality and gender may have an adverse affect on their rights to maintain their traditional stance on these matters.

“We (Australian Human Rights Commission) believe there is an important distinction between civil and religious marriage – no religious practitioner should be required to solemnise a civil marriage,” he said, suggesting every piece of proposed legislation regarding marriage equality supported that stance.

Related: Why talk of same-sex marriage impinging on religious freedom is misconceived

“Some of the claims relating to religious freedom arising from marriage equality have been exaggerated – not all of them – but that does not mean there isn’t more we can do to protect religious freedom in this country.” 

Federally, no laws were currently in place that prohibited discrimination on the basis of religion, he said.

In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Nellor spoke of the “constant threat” of anti-semitism in Australia.

“It rises and falls, but it’s always there,” he said.

Islamophobia, including public calls the ban the burqa, opposition to planning applications for mosques, verbal abuse of Muslim people in public spaces and the anti-Muslim sentiment in certain sections of Australian federal parliament, added up to “a genuine threat to freedom of religion in Australia”, he said.

The commission would work toward potential legal remedies to current federal laws, but Mr Nellor believed human rights, and its association with human dignity, can have a cohesive role going forward for Australia’s rapidly-changing religious environment.

The event, held at Ulumbarra Theatre, included a number of workshops, one of which provided bystander training to prevent violence against women.

Related: Bendigo to host first interfaith conference in regional Victoria

During an impassioned speech, Faith Communities Council of Victoria chairperson Murray Davies called upon people of faith to help eliminate family violence.

“Sacred texts, scriptures, cultures and traditions should not be used as a way to justify or excuse violence against women,” he said.

“We (FCCV) undertake a journey together to raise awareness in our communities and to stop violence against women before it occurs.

“Its (family violence) roots are abuse of power and control of one person over another.”