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Is Australia about to take a step backwards on LGBTI equality?

Is Australia about to take a step backwards on LGBTI equality?

priest standing in front of rainbow flag

The Australian Government announced its intention to amend existing marriage, charities and discrimination laws to allow ‘religious freedom’.

The Religious Discrimination Bill threatens to ‘weaken’ existing protections for LGBTI people.

Activists supports a plan to prohibit discrimination on the ground of religion, but ‘the problem arises when legislation allows discrimination and hate speech in the name of religion,’ according to just.equal’s Rodney Croome.

He then added: ‘Our fear is that the Government’s proposed amendments will allow discrimination that is currently prohibited against LGBTI people and anyone else who falls foul of traditional religious precepts.

‘We call on Labor, the Greens and the Senate cross-bench to block any new provision that weakens existing discrimination protections,’ he said.

What does the Religious Discrimination Bill actually say?

The proposed Religious Discrimination Bill is still fairly vague.

It aims to ‘make it unlawful to discriminate against people on the ground of their religious belief or activity’. It also seeks to establish a Freedom of Religion Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The Bill also says it will make amendments to ‘marriage law, charities law and objects clauses in existing anti-discrimination legislation’.

Australian Government's proposed Religious Discrimination Bill.
Australian Government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill. | Photo: Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

‘Anti-discrimination laws have made Australia an immensely more inclusive and equitable society,’ Croome then argued. ‘And we will strongly oppose any attempt to weaken those laws under the cover of “religious freedom”.’

He then added: ‘Now is the time for Australia to have a national discussion about equal rights and freedoms for everyone, not special rights and freedoms for some.’

Activist group Equality Australia also have ‘grave concerns’ about the proposed new bill.

They say a delay in introducing the bill is good news. It gives LGBTI people time to help consult on what form it takes.

‘We know that LGBTI people and women are those most at risk of experiencing discrimination by religious groups based on religious beliefs,’ said Director of Legal Advocacy Lee Carnie. ‘We hold grave concerns that if this legislation is not crafted carefully, it will hand a license to discriminate to religious organizations.

Carnie then added: ‘We cannot support any legislation that hands a sword to one group to attack or harm another. We need the Prime Minister to hear and understand our concerns.’

Backlash from angry LGBTI Australians

Attorney-General of Australia Christian Porter said religious protection laws are a ‘clear election promise’.

He said it’s about finding the ‘right balance’ between things such as religious institutions teaching in accordance with their faith and students not facing discrimination ‘on the basis of sex or sexual orientation’.

LGBTI Australians are also cautious about the proposed new bill.

Some people called out the hypocrisy of the Australian Government being able to reform the Marriage Act in this instance after they forced Australians into a non-binding postal survey to vote on marriage equality.

Guardian reporter Josh Taylor mused: ‘Oh they’re gonna amend the marriage act without a postal survey?’

Then one person responded: ‘[It’s] always a thrill to see the openly cruel machinations of institutionalised bigotry laid bare for the public to see.’

Equality Australia’s Lee Carnie urged the Prime Minister to commit to meeting with LGBTI and women’s groups.

‘In response to our pre-election survey,’ Carnie said. The Morrison Government committed to “consult with LGBTI organisations across the broad range of policy areas affecting LGBTI Australians”.’

Carnie then added: ‘We are calling on the Government to honor that commitment now.’

See also

Rapper Iggy Azalea stops own set for heartfelt speech on trans equality

Australian LGBTI cop dies by suicide

Australian Christian Lobby pauses Israel Folau fundraiser