'I support the law of the country': Debate over sexuality and religion creeps into election campaign

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says his "faith is not about politics" as debate over freedom of religious expression and the targeting of gay Australians creeps into the final week of the election campaign.

Christian leaders wrote to Mr Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on Monday to demand they protect religious beliefs in the wake of controversy surrounding Australian rugby player Israel Folau. The Wallaby is facing the sack after posting on social media that 'gays would go to hell'.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, flanked by the Liberal candidate for Cowan Isaac Stewart and Liberal candidate for Stirling Vince Connelly. Picture: Dominic Lorrimer

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, flanked by the Liberal candidate for Cowan Isaac Stewart and Liberal candidate for Stirling Vince Connelly. Picture: Dominic Lorrimer

Asked directly on Monday if he believed gay people go to hell, Mr Morrison replied: "I support the law of the country."

"I don't mix my religion with politics or my faith with politics and it's always been something that has informed how I live my life and how I seek to care for and support others," he said. "That is what I always seek to do."

Mr Morrison would not say whether his personal opposition to same-sex marriage had changed since it was legalised following a national plebiscite in 2017. The Liberal leader abstained from the final vote on the floor of Parliament.

"It's law. And I'm glad that the change has now been made and people can get on with their lives. That's what I'm happy about."

Mr Morrison, Australia's first Pentecostal prime minister, is deeply religious. Last month he denounced "disgusting" critics who likened his worshipping at an Easter weekend church service to the Nazi salute.

Mr Morrison allowed television cameras and photographers to accompany him into the Pentecostal Horizon Church in Sydney's Sutherland Shire.

"I mean, it's disgusting," Mr Morrison said of the criticism in April. "Australians are bigger than that. And I know that the great majority of Australians are bigger than that. These grubs are gutless and keyboard warriors in their mother's basement trying to make heroes of themselves."

The Coalition has been wracked by an internal debate over religious freedoms, with a decision on five key recommendations from the Ruddock review into the issue pushed out until after the election.

Mr Morrison said he was guided by the example of his mother, a woman of "quiet decent faith" who translated her faith into action and care for others.

"That is the faith that I have been taught. None of us are perfect. None of use are saints. We try and do what is right and what is best. That is what has always sought to guide me," he said.

"My faith is not about politics, it is just about who I am".

Mr Morrison made the comments during a two-hour stop in Perth where he is hoping to win back the seat of Cowan and save neighbouring Pearce for Attorney-General Christian Porter.

Mr Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten were asked to weigh in on religious freedom and Folau's breach of contract during the final leaders' debate last week.

The Prime Minister backed freedom of speech and freedom of religion but also backed the right of employers to terminate contracts if they are breached.

Mr Shorten said he understood the "hurtful impact" of Folau's public comments but said he was "uneasy" about the debate.

"It's a contractual negotiation at one level but I'm uneasy about where that debate's gone," Mr Shorten said.

"On one hand, I think Israel Folau is entitled to his views, and he shouldn't suffer an employment penalty for it. So I'm uneasy about that part of it."

  • SMH/The Age
This story 'I support the law of the country': Debate over sexuality and religion creeps into election campaign first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.