No end to the right to discriminate

Religion will retain its privilege to reject gay students and others, reports Michael Koziol.

Not all denominations are progressive, and they will retain the right to discriminate. Photo: bildungsr0man, via Flickr. Not all denominations are progressive, and they will retain the right to discriminate. Photo: bildungsr0man, via Flickr.

The NSW government has backed away from previous suggestions it would remove some religious exemptions to the Anti Discrimination Act, which allow denominational schools to expel students for being gay.

In last year’s edition of Queer Honi, we reported that the Attorney-General, Greg Smith, was considering changes to the act’s exemptions but that the government had “other legislative priorities for the time being”.

Whether that was the error of a rogue media adviser, or if the government has changed its position, the Attorney will not say. A current spokesperson for the AG would only tell Queer Honi: “The government proposes to retain the exemptions granted by the Anti Discrimination Act.” The spokesperson would not answer questions about whether the AG had met with religious lobbyists about the matter.

In February, Mr Smith wrote to his federal counterpart Nicola Roxon regarding the proposed consolidation of Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws, saying they threatened to compromise fundamental freedoms.

“The consolidated legislation may very considerably increase the regulatory burden and cost to business (and) diminish core democratic freedoms of speech, conscience, religion and association,” Mr Smith wrote.

The privileged right of religion to discriminate will be protected despite the federal government’s review. The discussion paper initiated by Ms Roxon in 2011 stated: “The Government does not propose to remove the current religious exemptions, apart from considering how they may apply to discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.” It added that the exceptions “are necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of that religion.”

But even the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW stopped short of advocating reform in its submission to the review. Instead it argued that “further public discussion is required”, stipulating “the need to appropriately balance the competing rights of freedom of belief and the right to practice religion with the right to equality and freedom from discrimination.”

Not all denominations are progressive, and they will retain the right to discriminate. Photo: bildungsr0man, via Flickr.

Without strong advocacy to the contrary, it seems impossible that the Commonwealth review will do anything to force change at a state level. That means schools will still be able to ask a gay student to leave, and hospitals will still be able to refuse employment to competent doctors on suspicion of what they might do in the bedroom.

Australia’s laws are among the most luxurious in the world for these state-sanctioned practitioners of hate, and it is a national shame.

Twitter: @michaelkoziol

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