Fear is what drives homophobia, says Reverend Ecclesia de Lange -- a South African lesbian minister -- ahead of the Australian Equality Vote, which begins today (Wednesday). And churches, she says, are part of the problem.
The highly controversial vote begins with a postal vote, with results expected to be announced in November. After this, should the majority vote yes, it will come to a second vote in Parliament.
"This vote is an important question for any country moving towards equality for all kinds of relationships, not just those for the LGBTQI community," De Lange says.
"But the church needs to educate itself a little. It needs to go out and get to know some LGBTQI people. It needs to ask their congregations, "do you know a lesbian, bi, gay, trans person?", because [congregants] need to be encouraged to make friends with these people to [see] that these are just normal people," she says.
De Lange was fired from the SA Methodist Church for marrying her partner seven years ago and has since fought the dismissal in the highest South African courts. But, in June 2017, the courts found that the case should be handled internally by the church.
The church found her guilty of disobeying church rules, forcing her out of the ministry.
Since being excommunicated, De Lange has become the director of Inclusive and Affirming Ministries, a nongovernmental organisation that helps faith communities to become more inclusive on a practical level.
Traditional "family values" still drive the churches' anti-gay rhetoric, she says.
"In South Africa, we know that the whole family idea of a mom and a dad is not true to our context anymore. HIV and aids have changed that drastically for a large part of the population. Family values are not the same for everyone –- they don't hang on having a father and a mother. Family values hang on principles.
"If you as a person can have values that are aligned with ethical principles, and you, as a person, can have children, then surely that should be the criteria for family values. There are so many families that have a mom and a dad, but that have destroyed the lives of their children. I would encourage people to be honest with themselves ahead of this vote, and really ask what their own family values are."
It is also time, De Lange argues, for the church to start considering different readings of their scriptures.
"The whole thing about marriage being between a man and woman is just so... well, you need to unpack it for people. You need to call them to a conversation, to put their fears on the table –- the fear that their god is going to change, or that their families are going to fall apart, or that their kids are going to turn gay. These people clearly need to put it on the table, and unpack, so that we can remove the extraordinary fear, the phobia that is there," she says.