In the recent postal plebiscite on Same Sex Marriage (SSM) AJA did not enter the debate on behalf of either the “YES” or the “NO” campaign. AJA considered that each citizen had the right to vote according to their own subjective conscience or religious affiliation.

It does not logically follow that the successful “YES” campaign means that those who voted “NO” were wrong to hold their view. The plebiscite did not purport to determine SSM in terms of right or wrong. It simply gauged whether a majority of Australians desired that SSM be enacted.

Those voting “NO” fell broadly into one or both of two categories. One category included those whose views are informed by a religious affiliation espousing moral principles inconsistent with SSM. The other category included those who, in good conscience, value and hence wish to preserve traditional values.

It is fundamental to a civil society that a minority’s right to hold a different but nevertheless perfectly legitimate view be respected and preserved. It is that fundamental freedom which separates civil societies from totalitarian regimes.

That is why our Parliament should ensure that freedom of religion and freedom of conscience – the two concepts underlying the above two categories – must not be adversely affected by legislation enabling SSM.

Everyone, clergy and lay alike, should be free not to be involved in SSM events. In practical terms, that includes the freedom to withhold services for an SSM wedding whether it be catering, printing, photography or venue hire and the right of parents to exempt their children from educational programs promoting SSM.

Our Parliament has recently refused to enshrine these protections but has referred them off to be considered after SSM is enacted. AJA considers that that course is unwise.

AJA considers that the freedom not to participate in SSM events or programs is no less important than SSM itself. That is why this freedom should be enshrined as a protective provision within the SSM legislation.