LGBTQI groups, liberal Anglican ministers and local MP Adam Marshall have responded to the alleged sacking of an Armidale church organist for being gay with outrage and disgust.
Since 2018 gay man Peter Sanders was a paid organist and a beloved member of St Mary's West Armidale Anglican Church.
In June, he was told his marriage was "unbiblical" and that he could not continue to play the organ or hold other leadership roles until he and his husband agreed to separate, "be celibate" and "learn how to live in a biblical way".
Anglican Rector of Albury Peter MacLeod-Miller said much of the Anglican community nation-wide had responded to the case with shock.
"There are plenty of Bishops in Australia that were equally horrified," he said.
"What they're doing is not against the law. The rails they're running on are legal rails. The solution can only be if the legislation is changed so the church can no longer act in this way."
Parishioners in Albury, which is part of the Wangaratta diocese, have spent weeks praying for a backdown on the part of the Armidale Anglican authorities.
The alleged sacking has become part of a larger debate about prospective religious freedom legislation.
The Commonwealth government last year shelved proposed religious freedom legislation which would have expanded exemptions against discrimination law for church-owned schools and health institutions, among other changes.
Mr MacLeod-Miller said the Armidale case is "very helpful" because "it exposes the nonsense that religious freedom legislation ultimately is".
"What sort of Australia do we want to live in? And also do we want all children, no matter how they're born and their orientation, do we want them to be equally defended from discrimination?"
He said Australia couldn't take a "Titanic view" and "compartmentalise" bits of society where discrimination is okay.
"If it's not okay, it's not okay," he said.
"Discrimination is bad for people, it impacts upon the mental health and wellbeing of people, and in fact it's an actual threat to life."
Bishop of Armidale Rod Chiswell said the proposed religious freedom legislation is irrelevant.
"The current situation is a pastoral matter which is covered by existing laws, church governance and ordinances," he said.
"Any proposed legislation is not relevant."
In an earlier statement the Bishop denied Mr Sanders had been sacked, claiming he had left his position as church organist voluntarily, which the parishioner denied.
Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall said he had no direct knowledge of the case, but going on what he'd read in papers it was "disgusting".
"It's hard to believe. It's 2021 everyone, get with it," he said.
"There's two sides to every story, there always is. But at face value I'm pretty disgusted with that attitude if that's correct.
"There's no reason in this day and age for people to be discriminated against in that way. It's fairly ordinary."
Chair of religious LGBTQI group Equal Voices, Reverend Jo Inkpin, said the Armidale case was "scandalous".
The transgender former Anglican Reverend, now a Minister with the Uniting Church, said there were LGBTQI parishioners in every congregation she'd served in, in the UK, Toowoomba and Sydney.
"They've often had to keep their heads down," she said.
"But once it comes out into the open, there's plenty of us around in church. The churches would fall over if we were in a position where you said no LGBTQI people could hold office or something."
HAVE YOUR SAY: Click here to send a letter to the editor
Rodney Croome spokesperson for LGBTIQ+ advocacy group, Just.Equal Australia, and former national director of Australian Marriage Equality, said a majority of Australians and a majority of Christians had voted for marriage equality in 2017 because they wanted a future in which no-one would face discrimination because of who they love.
"It is hypocritical of church officials to say they are upholding the institution of marriage and then ask these men to break their solemn vows of lifelong commitment by divorcing," he said.
"I know church officials will claim they should have the 'religious freedom' to impose their values on their congregations, but what about the religious freedom of the congregation in Armidale to decide who it welcomes?"
Freedom of Faith and the Australian Christian Lobby have been contacted for comment on this story.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content: