Church Leaders Join Australia PM's Stance against Gay 'Marriage'

Two church leaders have called on the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government, which rules Australia’s capital, Canberra, to withdraw its plan to legalize same-sex civil unions.

Canberra's Anglican Bishop, George Browning, and Assistant Bishop Trevor Edwards on Monday backed Australian Prime Minister John Howard's view that legislation, which ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope said would offer gay couples who enter into civil unions the same rights as married heterosexual couples, should be withdrawn from the ACT Assembly.

"We join in calling upon the Stanhope government to withdraw this particular legislation," the bishops said, according to the New South Wales-based Daily Telegraph.

Last Thursday, Australia's conservative national government said that it would overturn any new law legalizing gay civil unions in the national capital after the ACT became the country’s first state or territory to introduce same-sex civil union legislation. Although the ACT hopes to pass the legislation into law by May, the federal government has constitutional control over the nation's two territories, though not its six states, enabling it to overturn laws.

"There is a special place in Australian society for the institution of marriage, as historically understood, and we do not intend to allow that to be in any way undermined," Prime Minister Howard said last week, according to Reuters.

"The Commonwealth Parliament has declared the longstanding law of this country ... is that marriage is a voluntary union for life between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others," Howard also stated, according to the Canberra Times. "[We] look with some skepticism at what the ACT is doing."

In support of Howard’s views, Browning and Edwards said, "We believe this proposal actually threatens and compromises the traditional Christian view of marriage between a man and a woman.”

Although the bishops said it was right to remove discrimination against homosexuals, they added that the laws went a step too far.

"While the desire to remove discrimination and provide legal protection to same sex relationships is thoroughly commendable, we believe a registration system such as exists in Tasmania would guarantee that objective," the bishops said, according to the Telegraph.

Last week, Attorney General Philip Ruddock, who described the portrayal of civil unions as marriage “inappropriate” and “misleading,” said the Commonwealth (federal) government would veto any law that elevated gay civil unions to the status of marriage.

According to the Canberra Times, the Commonwealth has only used it constitutional power to overrule territory legislation once before, when it blocked the Northern Territory's pioneering euthanasia laws in 1997.