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Australian Greens lead fight against ‘religious freedom’ exemptions

Australian Greens lead fight against ‘religious freedom’ exemptions

The Australian Greens attend the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardis Gras (Photo: Twitter)

The New South Wales Greens are looking to repeal religious freedom exemptions to anti-discrimination legislation in the state.

It is part of a push by LGBTI Australians and supporters against a religious freedom review made public this week.

The report calls for the federal Sex Discrimination Act to be amended. Importantly, it suggested allowing religious schools to discriminate against students and staff on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status.

Legislation in New South Wales (NSW), however, already allows this.

In response to the government’s review, the Greens NSW on Thursday (11 October) announced it will introduce a bill next week. The party wants to amend the state’s Anti-Discrimination Bill.

The bill would remove exemptions that allow private educational authorities and religious organizations to discriminate against LGBTI Australians.

‘Appalling’

Importantly, member of Parliament Tamara Smith said it was ‘appalling’ that the federal government allowed discrimination to continue.

‘We should be removing exemptions for religious schools from anti-discrimination laws, not promoting them’ she also said.

‘Schools that are in receipt of public, taxpayer funding should not have the right to discriminate against any student or staff member from the LGBTIQ+ community or on any other grounds’.

Furthermore, LGBTI rights organization Just Equal welcomed the Greens’ announcement.

The group said national law should match the states of Queensland and Tasmania. These states already protect LGBTI students and staff at religious schools.

‘Schools should be places of learning not breeding grounds of prejudice’, said spokesperson Rodney Croome.

What’s more, ‘the bullies and haters have got their way for too long’, Greens MP Jenny Leong said on Twitter. ‘It’s time to end discrimination against young and vulnerable people’, she also said.

‘Get the balance right’

Australias long-awaited religious freedom review was launched to placate conservatives after Australia legalized same-sex marriage late last year.

It was passed to the government in May but the details were not public until Fairfax Media leaked some of the details this week. The news sparked intense debate.

LGBTI rights advocates spoke out against the review while others downplayed the suggestions.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said cabinet would review the suggestions and ‘get the balance right’. 

Meanwhile, the Greens launched a nationwide petition to ‘defeat this latest attack on the LGBTIQ+ community’.

Australia’s LGBTI youth organization, Minus 18, has also launched a petition. The change.org petition has so far garnered 2,500 signatures.

Some religious organizations also spoke out against the government report. A group of LGBTI churches, Uniting Network Australia, called on the government to wind back existing discrimination measures that impact LGBTI staff and students. 

It also said excluding LGBTI individuals from schools would prevent many Australians from forming natural connections with LGBTI peers.

This could ‘ingrain homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in Australian society indefinitely’, Uniting Network warned.

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