MELBOURNE, Australia – Retired Episcopal (Anglican) Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire is embarking on a tour of Australia to meet with church leaders at a time when the Down Under nation is debating marriage equality.
Although neighboring New Zealand joined Commonwealth member Canada in approving marriage for gay and lesbian couples, and the British Parliament is scheduled to debate the issue today, Australia has lagged behind.
Robinson will speak at a public forum titled “Why is gay marriage important in our society?” from 7 to 9 pm Thursday, May 30, at The Edge at Federation Square in Melbourne.
''One of my messages when I visit Australia will be probably the most oft-quoted phrase in the Bible, which is, 'Be not afraid','' the bishop told Fairfax Media in advance of his arrival.
In the interview, Robinson details the many death threats he has received since he was consecrated in 2003 in New Hampshire, becoming the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal (Anglican) Church. The bishop’s appointment divided the Church between liberal and progressive groups and conservatives, and some member churches voted to leave.
The 66-year-old bishop said the Church finally admitted that it was wrong to quote Scripture to justify slavery and should also acknowledge that it is wrong to quote the Bible to justify anti-gay discrimination and homophobia.
''I do believe that 95% of all the discrimination that gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have experienced is at the hands of religious people, and it's going to take religious people to undo that damage,'' he said. ''I think that it will not be too far in the future that we will see the church, the synagogue, the mosque, apologizing for what we have done to gay and lesbian people, the way we apologized for what we did to black people during slavery and for what we've done to women over the ages.
''It's already happening on a local basis in America. We are moving at such a rapid pace, perhaps unprecedented in any civil rights movement.''
During his visit to Australia, Robinson said he hopes to meet with political leaders who are opposed or wavering on the issue of marriage equality. Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott have been holding back any vote on the issue.