DEFENSE OF religious freedom is the war cry of "No" campaigners. It is a cynical attempt by the likes of Tony Abbott, John Howard, Eric Abetz and Cory Bernardi to divert the debate away from the core issue of the democratic right of same sex couples to be married in a civil ceremony.
Civil marriage is a state-controlled legal ceremony that has nothing to do with religion. The Catholic Church does not recognize as valid a marriage of a heterosexual Catholic couple in a civil ceremony. It will not be forced to.
The conservatives want to change the subject and muddy the waters because they know that, on the terrain of civil liberties and equal rights, they are on a hiding to nothing.
But it is cynical at another level because the right-wing campaigners against civil rights for LGBTI people could not care less about religious beliefs, let alone religious freedom. The entrenched homophobic sentiment in society is not mainly based on people's interpretation of the Bible or "the word of God."
Anti-gay bigotry primarily reflects longstanding secular prejudices that homosexuality is "unnatural," that gays are "perverts" who prey on children, that male homosexuals are "effeminate," that homosexuality is a medical condition that can be "cured" and so on.
A clear confirmation that the continuing influence of these non-religious bigoted views motivates much of the No vote is that it is disproportionately men, for decades less religious and church going than women, who are set to vote No.