Central Victorian Christian leaders support marriage equality, urge people to 'vote with love'

FIVE central Victorian Christian leaders have put their support behind the “yes” vote for marriage equality.

The church leaders – predominantly from the Anglican Church – released a statement on Monday with brief comments outlining their reasons for encouraging people to vote in support of legalising same-sex marriage.

Father Noel Richards of St Paul’s Cathedral, Reverend Jeff Stewart O’Hare of the Anglican Church, Reverend Di Esbensen of the Uniting Church, Reverend Mel Clark of the Anglican Church and Reverend Andrew Eaton were involved in the statement.

Father Richards said love was central to his view on marriage.

“Love should not be ignored, neither should it be denied,” he said.

“The ‘postal survey’ is not perfect, but is a step on the way of saying yes to love.

“Please register to vote, and vote with love.”

For others, the marriage equality debate was close to heart.

Reverend Stewart O’Hare said he had personal experience of the impact of sexuality on his belief.

“Because of ignorance, I didn’t want my sexuality to be an issue in my vocational life, so I towed a line,” he said.

“I had to deny myself to follow Jesus, but it wasn’t Jesus, it was ignorance and fear.

“That’s all changed now – love is love, and God’s love is for everybody. Now I tow the Jesus line, and the church will just have to catch up!”

Their support for the “yes” campaign was in contrast to the Catholic Diocese of Sandhurst, which released a statement reaffirming its opposition to same-sex marriage and claiming the change would have “deeper effects” for society.

Parishioner looks to the teachings of Jesus

Like with many things in life, Bendigo practicing Catholic Willa Whitewolf looked to the teachings of Jesus when considering her vote in the same-sex marriage postal survey.

“The most important thing he taught us was: Love one another as I have loved you,” she said.

“Jesus enacted a non-judgmental idea of morality. He taught us not to judge.”

With this in mind, Ms Whitewolf believed a “yes” vote was the moral choice for her.

And she believed many other Catholics would come to the same conclusion.

“I think Catholics are getting a bad deal from the church’s leadership, and the statements they put out about these matters don’t necessarily reflect the laity,” Ms Whitewolf said.

“I’ve seen research that shows Catholics are, on the whole, quite liberal in their views.

“As long as we’re right with God, have done our own soul searching and prayer, our conscience allows us to reject an unfair decision.

“Our conscience has the final word.”

Campaign welcomes support from churches

Securing the public support of local church leaders was a major positive for the local “yes” campaign. 

At the 2016 census, more than 40 per cent of people in the City of Greater Bendigo identified as Catholic, Anglican or as part of the Uniting Church.

Co-ordinator Natasha Joyce said having church leaders publicly support same-sex marriage would allow congregations to have a more open discussion about the issue.

“Knowing that there are local Christian leaders who support marriage equality, and that they are willing to talk about what it means for them, will help others have conversations in their communities about dignity and respect,” she said.

“We really appreciate how significant these statements are, for those who made them and even more so for those who hear them and take them to heart.”