The awarding of Australia’s highest honour to tennis legend Margaret Court has been mired in controversy after other recipients protested her inclusion over her stance towards same-sex marriage.
Court, one of the world’s most accomplished tennis players, is expected to be elevated from her previous appointment as an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) to a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC).
But this has triggered outrage among some progressives because, as a Christian, Court holds religious views about homosexuality that has led her to be outspoken about her unsupportive stance towards same-sex marriage.
Former ABC journalist Kerry O’Brien, who had been nominated for an AO in the 2021 honours, told NITV that he had chosen to refuse his Australia Day honour because he believes that Court’s views were “prejudicial” and “disrespectful” to many people.
However, Obrien was quick to say it was Court’s right to express her views, as long as they are not damaging and hurtful to others.
O’Brien’s move comes after transgender Canberra doctor Clara Tuck Meng Soo also handed back her Order of Australia medal, awarded in 2016, over Court’s appointment.
Labor politicians have also strongly criticised Court’s award, including Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. Andrews on Jan. 22 wrote on Twitter that he believes Court’s views are “disgraceful” and “bigoted” and that she was not deserving of the award.
Last week Court, who is a Pentecostal minister, defended her religious views.
“All my life I’ve had those views and I was just saying what the Bible says,” she said. “I should always be able to say my views biblically, being a pastor and helping people with marriages and family. And I’ll never change my views.”
“I have nothing against people—I love the people. We have them come into our community services, all kinds—whether they’re gay, transgender, whatever they are,” Court said. “We never turn a person away, and I think it’s been tried to be made out that I’m somebody that I’m not really. And I think that is very sad.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week that the honours system recognised Australians from across the full spectrum of achievement.
“These awards are an annual reminder of just what Australians can do and achieve,” Morrison said on Jan. 25.
He said the Australia Day award nominees are as diverse and different as the land they are drawn from and “share a yearning to make a good Australia an even better Australia.”
One of the people joining Court in receiving an AC is Malcolm Turnbull, the former prime minister whose government legalised same-sex marriage in 2017.
While the focus has been on Court’s views off the court, her record of 24 grand slam singles titles remains unequalled by any man or woman.
The Australia Day awards recognise 844 people across a wide range of fields spanning politics, sport, arts, medicine, education, business, and community service.
The list includes the first recipients being recognised for their efforts during the Black Summer bushfires and the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 43 percent of awards were for outstanding service or achievement in the community.