ACT News

Hyatt Hotel defends booking for Australian Christian Lobby's anti-gay marriage conference

Canberra's Hyatt Hotel says it supports gay and lesbian equality, amid growing criticism of a conference organised by controversial anti-gay marriage campaigners the Australian Christian Lobby. 

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has come under pressure to withdraw from his keynote speech to the two-day conference, which will also include speeches by incoming Sydney Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher, Assistant Immigration Minister Michaelia Cash and Labor backbencher Shayne Neumann. 

Critics of the group, known for its highly organised and well funded political campaign against same-sex marriage in Australia, have targeted the Hyatt Hotel on social media this week.

The criticism comes one year after the ACT Legislative Assembly passed historic same-sex marriage laws. 

Wednesday's anniversary of the passage of the laws, overturned by the High Court in December, will be commemorated in a motion before the Assembly chamber.  

Phone calls and dozens of posts on the Hyatt's social media accounts have slammed its decision to accept the conference booking and Facebook users have targeted the hotel's online star ratings and reviews.

A Hyatt spokeswoman said the hotel believed in and supported equality for lesbian, gay and transgender staff and guests.

"Hyatt Hotel Canberra is listening to feedback via social media channels, we hear the LGBTI community's concern that the ACL are holding an event at the hotel and would like you to know that we don't always agree with the views of those who meet at our hotels.

"We don't discriminate against guests who want to conduct lawful business at Hyatt hotels," the spokeswoman said in a statement.

ACL managing director Lyle Shelton described the criticism as "a vitriolic social media campaign" using "vile insults" in social media posts including "pearl clutching, haters, bigots, faeces, racist, and cult".

Mr Shelton said he was particularly distressed about being likened to the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis.

"Apart from being untrue, this is very distressing to me, my staff and our families," he said.

"We have been involved in a robust political debate, driven by others, in recent years. I would invite anyone to produce evidence that we are any of the things of which we are being accused.

"There are many good reasons to support the current legal definition of marriage and there should always be freedom in Australia to advocate this. It would be a sad day for free speech and tolerance if promoting marriage was no longer allowed," Mr Shelton said.  

Opening on Friday night, the conference theme is "speak up" and promotional materials call on ACL supporters to consider their "responsibility to bring justice and compassion into public policy". 

Styled on right-wing American political lobby groups, the Australian Christian Lobby is regularly outspoken in campaigns on issues including abortion, religious education, threats to religious freedom, standards in entertainment and advertising. 

It has been most prominent in its vociferous campaign against civil marriage rights for gay and lesbian people in Australia. 

Mr Shorten is expected to explain his support for same-sex marriage to the conference, as opinion polls show growing numbers of Australians want same-sex marriage legalised

"The Leader of the Opposition speaks to a number of organisations which hold a range of views," a spokesman said. "Of course, he does not always agree with all of the views of those organisations he speaks to.

"It is important for the Leader of the Opposition to speak to the Australian community about what he believes and what Labor's priorities are." 

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard pulled out of the lobby group's conference in 2012 after deputy chairman Jim Wallace suggested the risk from a "homosexual lifestyle" was more hazardous to health than smoking.

Ms Gillard, a longtime opponent of same-sex marriage, described the comments as "heartless and wrong". 

A spokeswoman for Mr Neumann said he would speak about constitution recognition for Indigenous Australians. 

Mr Wallace will speak at the event, as well as Baptist pastor and radio host Karl Faase, religious liberty analyst Elizabeth Kendal and researcher Paul Henderson. 

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