The public ballot on marriage equality in Australia has stirred up major animosity: A Greek Orthodox priest in Melbourne yelled at his parishioners to vote against the measure, and declared gay people should be shot, during a memorial service for a lesbian.
“The priest was screaming at us [that same-sex marriage] was blasphemy,” Liz Tasiopoulos, a parishioner at Clayton’s Greek Orthodox Church, told News.com.au. “The comments were so hurtful I couldn’t stop crying.”
The incident happened on September 3, 40 days after the death of Tasiopoulis’ friend, a lesbian who took her own life after struggling with her sexuality. In the Orthodox Church, memorials are often held 40 days after the death of a loved one.
“He pointed out everyone was to vote no,” she posted in a Facebook group. “Then one lady stood up and said, ‘I’ll vote yes.’ The priest [said], ‘Shame on you!’”
Tasiopoulis said she, the women who spoke up, and several other parishioners all walked out of the church at that point, “as the girl we were there for was gay.”
(The deceased woman’s father was reportedly in attendance as well.)
“As we walked, the priest said that all gays should be shot. He was yelling at us all standing in the rain,” she recalled. “I’m so disgusted by all of this that I will never return [to] church again.”
Tasiopoulis said one young man was left in tears by the priest’s rant.
“He had only just had the courage to come out. I told him ’God loves you, we love you, ignore him,’ while the priest was screaming at us that it’s blasphemy.”
The incident comes just a few weeks after another Orthodox priest in Melbourne talked to his flock about shooting gay people. Johnno George claims Father Eleftherios Tatsis of Red Hill Greek Orthodox Church even talked about using a gun he had in the church.
“I went with an open heart to celebrate the Virgin Mary—instead I got a hate speech about anti gay marriage and how he would shoot dead anybody who was gay and wanted to be married with a gun he keeps in the back,” George wrote on Facebook. “My church completely let me down today. You may have your own view of gay marriage but to talk about shooting people dead because of their sexual orientation is absolutely disgusting.”
He says it was made to clear him “that I was not welcome in the house of God.”
Father Tatsis offered an apology but said he doesn’t remember making the comments.
“If I lost my temper and said something I shouldn’t have, I apologise, I’m only human,” he told Neos Cosmos, a Greek community newspaper. But in the same interview, Tatsis called gays “pitiful” and compared them to rotten fruit.
“My own granddaughter tells me ‘they are people too’ and yes, they are. And I love them. But say you have a hamper full of oranges and one of those is rotten, all the oranges are going to rot.”
According to a Galaxy Research Poll, 54% of Australians who identify as Christians are in favor of marriage equality.
An additional 49% oppose allowing civil officiants to refuse to marry couples based on “conscientious belief”.
Ballots on the same-sex marriage postal survey are due to be mailed out on September 12, but LGBT rights activists have challenged the legality of the non-binding vote in the High Court. They argue it is unconstitutional to put civil liberties to a public vote, and to spend some $122 million in taxpayers’ money on something parliament should decide.