Australia

Same-sex marriage: Turnbull's religious freedom inquiry 'confusing', says Muslim barrister

A Sydney barrister says Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s inquiry into religious freedom protection, in the wake of the same sex marriage postal survey, confuses a number of issues and could be unnecessary.

Faith leaders may have welcomed the Turnbull government’s announcement of an inquiry into religious freedom protection, but some legal experts want more answers.

Sydney barrister and Muslim community advocate Bilal Rauf told SBS News he was sceptical and cynical about the review that was announced in the wake of the same sex marriage postal vote.

“I think this review seems to conflate or confuse these two very discrete issues and more broadly, religious freedom,” Mr Rauf said.

Former Howard-government minister Philip Ruddock will lead a four month, four member panel to address the question of how people with religious views about the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman should be protected.

Sydney Anglican Archbishop Glenn Davies, who donated a million dollars to the no campaign, applauded the review, but agreed with the view of Treasurer Scott Morrison that the same sex marriage bill before the Senate still needed amending.

“If a school wishes to teach that marriage is not as the way the law defines, but as the way civilisation has known for millennia, then will that school be protected?" Archbishop Davies asked.

Mr Rauf said that while there may be inconsistencies federally and a state level, parliamentarians should work with the laws already in operation.

“There already are exemptions which apply, which permit a school for instance in Victoria and New South Wales to teach in accordance with their doctrines,” Mr Rauf said.

“We have to try and understand before we answer abstract questions.”

The committee has been asked to consider the high risk of unintended consequences of when parliaments try to legislate religious freedom.

Mr Rauf said discussion about religious freedom rights ‘opening doors to Sharia Law’ is nonsense.

“It’s characteristic of a lot of the debate that’s gone on,” Mr Rauf said.

“It’s uninformed, it’s generalised…and when you actually scrutinise it there is not much merit.”

On whether any changes do need to be made, Mr Rauf said there’s no doubt that those coming from a traditional religious perspective have a level of concern about same sex marriage.

“But there’s a role to be played in educating and having a constructive discussion about whether there is actually any implication for them,” Mr Rauf said.

Australia doesn’t have a bill of rights, something Mr Rauf said makes the broader question of religious freedom a separate issue.

“I don’t think the two necessarily interact.” Mr Rauf said.

The review will report on March 31st.