Same-sex marriage: Rabbi says additional protections not needed
By on The World Today
One of the sticking points in this decision about legalising same-sex marriage has been whether the religious freedoms of people with objections to such a change will be restricted.
Senior Rabbi of the Great Synagogue of Sydney, Dr Benjamin Elton, says the vast majority of Jews in NSW are in favour of legalising same-sex marriage.
Dr Elton says as long as a Rabbi in a synagogue only needs to marry two people according to his conscience, he is sure the community will be “perfectly calm and content about the change”.
“We all deserve equal treatment under the law,” the Rabbi told The World Today.
Duration: 4min 52sec
Broadcast: Wed 15 Nov 2017, 12:19pm
Dr Benjamin Elton, Rabbi of the Great Synagogue of Sydney
LINDA MOTTRAM: One of the sticking points in this decision about legalising same-sex marriage has been whether the religious freedoms of people with objections to such a change will be restricted.
Shortly we’ll hear from the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Glenn Davies.
In the studio with me now though is the senior Rabbi of the Great Synagogue of Sydney, Dr Benjamin Elton.
Dr Elton, thank you for your time today.
What’s your response, first of all, to the vote result and that turnout?
BENJAMIN ELTON: The turnout was very high, I think. I, coming from an English background, we dream of having turnouts of 80 per cent.
I think the Australian public are used to voting and it comes naturally to them and it is very important with a change of this magnitude that there was a high turnout and I think a 60 per cent or more result for yes is pretty decisive and the people have spoken.
I think we now have to proceed with legislation to legalise same-sex marriage.
LINDA MOTTRAM: Can you just give me a sense of what the responses to this debate has been in the Jewish community. Like all communities, a range of views, but do you think are there some dominant themes?
BENJAMIN ELTON: The community in general has been very supportive of legalising same-sex marriage. The Board of Deputies, which is the lay leadership body of the New South Wales community has voted 99 to 1 at a plenary in favour of same-sex marriage.
So there’s no question that the vast majority of Jews in New South Wales are in favour.
Of course, there’s concerns about religious freedoms, but as long as in a synagogue, a rabbi only needs to marry two people according to his conscience, as long as that is protected and safeguarded, I’m sure the community will feel perfectly calm and content about the change.
LINDA MOTTRAM: And do you believe that that capability is currently protected or do you think new protections will be needed?
BENJAMIN ELTON: I don’t think we need new protections. At the moment I can only marry, according to my faith, I can only marry people in a very narrow range of eligibilities – a man and a woman, both Jews, both either single or have received a Jewish divorce if they were married before.
I’m totally protected by the law in marrying only according to my own faith principles and I don’t expect that to change.
LINDA MOTTRAM: So this will be now legislated and it is complicated in Canberra. I’m sure everybody is aware of that now.
Religious protections will be discussed and it’s not just about who you can marry. It is about a range of issues like schools and decision making around children and sex education. Are there any other elements there that concern you or your community?
BENJAMIN ELTON: I think it’s important that Jewish schools and other faith schools can be allowed to teach marriage according to their own principles without being, in any way, insulting or denigrating towards other people.
We can say that we believe that marriage according to the Jewish tradition is between a man and a woman and just as we believe that marriage should take place between two Jews. We believe in marriage within the faith as well.
We teach that, and I expect we’ll continue to teach, I know we’ll continue to teach that in the Jewish faith, marriage between a man and a woman.
What is done in civil marriage is a different matter and we certainly shouldn’t teach that these marriages are illegitimate or they are inappropriate. The law of the land is the law, and as long as we can teach our own traditional story and our own children, that is all we need to safeguard.
LINDA MOTTRAM: The Prime Minister made a point yesterday saying that he didn’t think the Parliament, his Government or the Australian people, would countenance making things legal which are currently illegal and this discussion has been around that some of the protections some people want might require the overriding of state anti-discrimination legislation, some of which has been in place for 25 years.
Are you concerned that there might be a rolling back of anti-discrimination legislation in this process?
BENJAMIN ELTON: I would be very concerned to see a rolling back. I don’t think it will happen. I suspect that the way Parliament will vote will be to retain those elements of anti-discrimination legislation. I hope they do.
I don’t think we need more protections for religious freedom than we have at the moment.
I think the big difference between baking a cake and performing a marriage.
LINDA MOTTRAM: And will you be lobbying to that effect, because other religious entities, people will be…
BENJAMIN ELTON: I’ve made my views very clear here, and whenever else I’m asked. I think the current safeguards, which protect us all actually, are essential.
And I mean, what if a Jewish person married a non-Jewish person and not in a synagogue obviously, but they wanted to buy a cake and some person refused to sell them a cake because it didn’t approve of Jews marrying non-Jews. I think that would be appalling.
So whether or not we live entirely by the tenets of our own faith, we all deserve equal treatment under the law and if you are doing something legal like marrying somebody according to the law, you should be served and be entitled to the goods and services you asked for.
LINDA MOTTRAM: Dr Elton, thank you very much for joining us today.
Dr Benjamin Elton is the senior Rabbi of the Great Synagogue of Sydney.