Sexual Orientation Discrimination Law

Religious Exemptions Removed!

The Australia federal Labor government is pushing ahead with its proposal to ADD ‘sexual orientation’ and gender identity’ as protected attributes to federal anti-discrimination laws.

The government had initially proposed wide-ranging changes to the anti-discrimination laws – including combining all the discrimination laws from five Acts. However, due to public outcry at the restrictions they would place on freedom of speech and freedom of religion, the Labor government ditched the proposals – ALL EXCEPT the addition of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex to the current Sex Discrimination Act.

The legislation was passed by the House of Representatives on May 30, 2013.

Earlier this year, the Senate sent the Bill to the  Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee  for an Inquiry. Ninety submissions were received (see submissions) plus an additional 38 ‘form letters’.

The Report was due TODAY (17 June). However, the Report was handed down EARLY  last Friday (14 June).

The Senate Committee has  proposed MORE restrictions on religious freedom.
The Report endorses the  TOTAL BILL – but suggests THREE MORE amendments which restrict free speech and religious freedom. Recommendations are at the beginning of the Report.

The Committee’s FIRST Recommendation says that  religious exemptions would NOT APPLY…

3.66 The committee recommends that the Bill be amended to provide that religious exemptions in section 37 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 do not apply in respect of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status in connection with the provision of Commonwealth-funded aged care services.

The Bill ALREADY proposed that a religious organisation running aged care that was funded by the Commonwealth could not discriminate against homosexual people who  applied to be residents. It was claimed that this is their ‘home’ – but we noted that it is already the HOME of the current residents and they would be adversely affected by this proposal.

This RECOMMENDATION goes much further. It would remove the general religious exemption of Section 37 of the SDA –  read it here.

The first three parts of Section 37 refer to the ordination of priests and ministers, training and education of priests and ministers and the appointment of people to carry out functions of a religious nature.

We ask, “If you can remove the exemptions in this ONE area of aged care, why not in other areas?”

Regarding aged care, how would removing these exemptions affect the appointment and duties of a CHAPLAIN at an aged care facility run by a religious body?

The final part  of the CURRENT exemption reads,  “(d) any other act or practice  of a body established for religious purposes, being an act or practice that conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion.”

Removing this exemption would be VERY wide-ranging in terms of employment and the practices of the religious organisation running the aged care facility.

Once this principle was adopted for ‘aged care’, how long would it be before it was also applied to OTHER Commonwealth funded programs run by religious bodies.

For instance, the employment of homosexual teachers by religious schools or the employment of homosexual staff by a hospital run by a religious body…

Greens Senator Penny Wright, who is Member of the Senate Committee,  is ALREADY  advocating for those two things  – on the  Greens Facebook  page  and in media interviews.

Committee Members

The Committee is made up of three ALP Senators, 2 Liberal Senators and one Greens Senator.

The Chair is Labor Senator Trish Crossin. Another Labor Member is Louise Pratt, who is a lesbian.

The Greens Senator, Penny Wright from SA, has been actively speaking about how the Bill doesn’t go far enough!

At the launch of the report she claimed that the discrimination law should  NOT  have ANY exemptions for religious organisations. She said,  “These exemptions mean a health or homelessness service could refuse to help a transgender person, while a religious school could turn away children because their parents are gay. The Australian Greens say any organisation receiving public funding to provide a public service must comply with widely-held community standards and anti-discrimination principles.”  Read her Media Release.

Dissenting  ‘Minority Report’ from Coalition Senators

The Coalition Senators on the Committee, Gary Humphries  (ACT) and  Sue Boyce (Qld),  have written a ‘Minority Report’. This opposes the new recommendation regarding  the removal of religious exemptions for Commonwealth-funded church-run aged care facilities.

However, they have NOT opposed the Bill as a whole. In fact, they support the Bill as it was presented!

the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex) Bill 2013.

Contact details for Senators –  click here  then click on your state on the map.

PS – If you haven’t written to them on the Greens Bill to recognise ‘foreign same-sex marriages’ (info here), please ask them to vote against that Bill too.

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