2018 feels like the eye of the storm in Australia.
The oft-rampant fury of 2017’s ethical debates around sexuality have dissipated somewhat, and we’re in a holding pattern waiting to see what happens.
12 months ago (has the year really gone that quickly?) we were in the middle of the plebiscite on same sex marriage that ran September through to November 7. It truly was stormy.
And it all led up to the overwhelming Yes vote, and the decision by Parliament in December to pass same sex marriage into law.
After that there was a mad scramble – a belated acknowledge by the government – that contrary to claims by many Yes advocates that the rest of life would go on as normal, and that religious freedoms would not be touched at all by the decision, that this simple Yes/No decision had huge and far reaching implications.
Indeed it didn’t take too long for the challenges to start coming. Challenges to schools and religious organisations in the form of anecdotes and narratives of discrimination appeared in the mainstream media.
These were followed by opinion pieces challenging the right for non-compliant groups to access government funding.
Yet overall things have been calm in 2018.
There’s been the odd baker or photographer, but most of the storm damage so far in 2018 has been by proxy. We’re reading stories from overseas, and projecting those scenarios into our own situations which are never quite the same legally, politically and socially.
We’ve watched situations in the US, the UK and Canada where various court challenges towards religious freedoms have been turned or overturned. And we’ve wondered how our institutions will deal with these same challenges.
Fundamental to the calm in 2018 has been the delay of the Ruddock Inquiry on religious freedoms. In a sense we’re all waiting to see what it concludes before saying anything. People and organisations are regrouping, building their cases and girding their loins for the second half of the storm
The report was handed to the Government in May this year, but has yet to be released publicly, In the meantime we’ve been distracted by yet another change of Prime Minister, tumultuous enough in itself.
But the eye of the storm does not last forever. Political events aside we should expect the Ruddock Inquiry to soon hand down its findings publicly. And then I think we can expect the winds to pick up again.
I suspect no one with any skin in the game will think that the inquiry goes far enough in their direction. That’s often the end result of such inquiries. And much of that boils down to the fact that there is very little common public ground to argue from any longer.
I suspect too that anything the inquiry does to protect the staffing requirements of religious organisations that receive public funding, such as Christian schools, will be immediately and vociferously challenged on both discrimination and mental health/safety grounds.
There will be a raft of legal cases that will result in precedents. And the storm’s intensity will likely lift again as we move into 2019.
My sense in talking to different groups is that there’s genuine uncertainty as to what will happen next. There are hints and ideas, but nothing concrete.
Maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised, and there’ll be an outcome in which Australia can show other nations the way forward in how we live with our deepest differences.