Quakers back same-sex marriage, reject plebiscite as divisive

Members of Bendigo’s Quaker community have backed calls from leaders of their faith for marriage equality to be made law by a vote of the Australian Parliament. 

The Religious Society of Friends – Australia’s Quaker organisation – wrote to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after his re-election to ask he abandon plans for a plebiscite on same-sex marriage, saying the popular vote would be both expensive and divisive.  

“The plebiscite is an attempt to have a national opinion poll, which may not involve compulsory voting and will not bind the parliament to vote in accordance with the result,” the Quakers’ presiding clerk Julian Robertson wrote in the letter.  

The letter also explained the religious group’s concern about the potential negative impact of the plebiscite debate on same-sex attracted people and their families. 

Quakers in Australia have performed same-sex commitment ceremonies at their meetings since 1994. 

Dr Kathryn Barnsley is one of Bendigo’s few Quaker residents. 

Members of the group meet once every month at the Daybreak Christian centre in Spring Gully. 

She welcomed the Quaker stance on marriage equality and the plebiscite, saying her faith had rallied against other forms of legally entrenched discrimination during its 350-year history.

“We campaigned against slavery, which was endemic and was the law,” Dr Barnsley said. 

“We campaigned for better rights for people in prison.”

Dr Barnsley also expressed her disappointment in other Christian denominations that opposed same-sex marriage.

“It's fine for people to be able to say 'I don't want to conduct marriages',” she said. “Beyond that, they should really mind their own business.”

A ReachTEL poll of 10,000 Australians, released yesterday, showed same-sex marriage supporters continue to outweigh its opponents.

Almost 60 per cent of voters were in favour of the reform, with half of people preferring Parliament to resolve the matter.  

The Prime Minister’s office was contacted for comment.