Growing anger over religious exemptions
As a Senate committee prepares to hold public hearings in Sydney this week on Labor's draft national anti-discrimination laws, there’s growing outrage within the LGBTI community and elsewhere over the wide-ranging exemptions offered to religious bodies and other groups that will allow them to continue to legally discriminate against people on several grounds including sexual orientation and gender identity.
Lobby group GetUp, the Atheist Foundation of Australia and the Greens have also all criticised the Bill for not offering proper protections against discrimination for LGBTI people after media reports suggested Prime Minister Julia Gillard had already promised the Australian Christian Lobby religious groups will have the freedom to discriminate against homosexuals and others under any new laws. The reports have led Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich to challenge Gillard to “justify” her stance.
The Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 Bill, introduced by Attorney-General Nicola Roxon late last year, seeks to consolidate five separate pieces of legislation into a single Act and will provide federal protections for sexual orientation and gender and sex diversity for the first time.
In effect, the Bill will make it unlawful for persons and companies and others in “public life” to offer unfair treatment in service provision or employment opportunity on 18 grounds listed as protected attributes; including sexual orientation, gender identity sex, religion, political opinion, pregnancy or potential pregnancy, immigrant status, and social origin. People who believe they have been discriminated against will have the option to have complaints heard by the Human Rights Commission or in court.
SOME LESS EQUAL THAN OTHERS
However, the Bill will also continue to allow religious groups and any businesses or services run by them (including hospitals, schools, mental health providers) the ability to refuse to hire, dismiss, or refuse services to LGBTI people on the basis that it “is necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of that religion”.
The exemptions will also allow such groups to discriminate against single parents, people in de facto relationships, pregnant women and other women, and adulterers.
“Who knows who else is on the narrow-minded hit list,” Dave Nicholls, president of the Atheist Foundation of Australia, said.
“Such discrimination sends a strong message to the community that some people are – to paraphrase George Orwell – less equal than others in the eyes of the government of the day.”
As it currently stands, the Bill will force all aged care service providers that receive public funding, including faith-based organisations, to provide inclusive conditions for LGBTI clients however the exemptions mean that LGBTI people can be denied employment in such areas while those who already work in nursing homes and other community care facilities will have no recourse to claim discrimination.
University of South Australia gerontologist and LGBTI-ageing expert, Dr Jo Harrison, told SX it was counterproductive to have aged care organisations provide inclusive services when they were allowed to discriminate against LGBTI people when hiring employees.
“The prohibition from discrimination by federally funded aged care organisations in relation to service provision in the exposure draft is evidence that exemptions only do harm and perpetuate fear and should not be included in the final law.
“Discrimination in relation to employment in aged care also contradicts the Federal Government’s LGBTI ageing and aged care strategy, which commits to inclusive non-discriminatory care,” Harrison said.
“There must be consistency if our elders are to be protected from harm, and those who care for them are able to be openly supportive. LGBTI elders need LGBTI people around them who are also not afraid.”
RELIGION SHOULD BE NO EXCUSE TO DISCRIMINATE
Feasibly, the Bill could also potentially excuse discrimination suffered by LGBTI people at the hands of individuals if it is found the individual in question was motivated to discriminate based on their “religious sensitivities”.
Of particular further worry to trans and intersex people, the Bill will also allow sporting clubs and competitions to discriminate against persons solely on the grounds of their sex or gender identity simply if the “strength, stamina or physique of competitors is relevant”. Organisation Intersex International (OII) was also dismayed after intersex was not listed as a specific protected attribute but instead classified with gender identity.
Support for the continuing exemptions have come from a coterie of religious, conservative and anti-gay groups, including NSW’s Liberal Government, aged care provider Anglicare Sydney, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employee’s Association (SDA) as well as the right-wing lobby group CANdo.
“The majority of people in NSW will be outraged to learn that the NSW Government is lobbying the Federal Government to maintain these last-century pacifiers to the far right,” Greens MP Cate Faehrmann said.
On Thursday, the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (GLRL) will front a public hearing of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee alongside representatives from the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby and OIIl to argue for improved protections from discrimination.
“Religious organisations should not be given carte blanche to discriminate against members of the LGBTI community,” GLRL policy officer Jed Horner told SX.
“Freedom of religion is an individual right, which distinguishes it from collective rights like the right to education or health. It’s inexcusable for individuals or organisations to use their religious beliefs as a reason to discriminate against others, particularly in public settings.”
Horner said at the very least broad exemptions should not apply to groups receiving public money.
“Giving organisations taxpayers’ money and allowing them to discriminate against LGBTI Australians, in their access to education, healthcare or social services, is an affront to notions of equality and a fair go, upon which Australia is supposedly based,” he said.
TASMANIAN LAW OFFERS WAY FORWARD
Rodney Croome, spokesperson for the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group, said the Commonwealth could do well to take a page out of Tasmanian state law which strictly prohibits discrimination by faith-based organisations against LGBTI employees.
“The Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act penalises church-based schools and welfare agencies if they are found to discriminate against GLBTI employees, students or clients,” Croome said.
“If Tasmania can have truly non-discriminatory laws without the sky falling in, then why not the nation as a whole?”
Sally Goldner, spokesperson for TransGender Victoria, told SX it was time Parliament listened to the concerns of the community.
“The federal draft was going through approval processes and the Cabinet at the same time amendments to Tasmanian state law offered better clauses regarding the definitions for gender identity and intersex,” she said.
“The federal bill, when actually introduced into Parliament, could well contain these better definitions.”
Late last week, GetUp launched a national petition urging the Commonwealth to adopt a number of “simple changes” that will see exemptions for religious organisations to legally discriminate removed as well as adopting a definition of gender identity that would protect all people of diverse sex and gender.
To sign the GetUp petition, visit: http://www.getup.org.au/campaigns/anti-discrimination/act-for-anti-discrimination/take-action-for-human-rights
The Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 Bill can be viewed at: http://www.ag.gov.au/Consultations/Documents/ConsolidationofCommonwealthanti-discriminationlaws/Human%20Rights%20and%20Anti-Discrimination%20Bill%202012%20-%20Exposure%20Draft%20.pdf
Public submissions on the Bill can be accessed from: http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=legcon_ctte/anti_discrimination_2012/submissions.htm
- Tags: Aged Care, Alex Greenwich, Anti-Discrimination, Atheist Foundation of Australia, Blaze, Dave Nicholls, Diversity, Dr Jo Harrison, Employment, Faith, Health, Hospitals, Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 Bill, Inclusion, Jed Horner, Julia Gillard, Labor Party, LGBTI Community, MCV, Mental Health, Nicola Roxon, NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, Organisation Intersex International, Queensland Pride, Religion, Rodney Croome, Sally Goldner, Schools, Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, SX, TransGender Victoria, University of South Australia, Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, Vilification, Workplace