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Archbishop: Gay teachers OK if they live far away from their schools

Archbishop: Gay teachers OK if they live far away from their schools

Archbishop Peter Comensoli

The Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Peter Comensoli, has suggested religious schools in Australia are accepting of gay teachers if they keep their relationships hidden: preferably if they and their partners live some distance away from the school in which they teach.

Australia is currently debating the issue of religious school exemptions. Specifically, the Government wants to extend anti-LGBTI discrimination protections to students and staff.

Currently, religious schools can fire employees because they’re gay or transgender and expel pupils who express same-sex attraction. LGBTI campaigners want to see this change.

Comensoli, one of the most senior Catholic figures in Australia, today gave evidence to a Senate inquiry on the issue. Senate members asked him if a gay teacher at a Catholic school could marry without fear of being fired.

Comensoli suggested that if they kept their relationship hidden from pupils it wouldn’t be a problem. By way of example, he pointed to teachers who live some distance from their school.

‘Someone [who] lives in one part of Melbourne up in the north, and they might be a maths teacher in a southern part of Melbourne … there’s no connection in terms of relationships of location and so on.

‘They’ve made it known privately to the principal that they’re in a same-sex relationship, but the person themselves is quite willing to speak publicly and act publicly within the school context in accordance with the mission and identity – there would be no question asked there I don’t think.’

‘Act of advocacy’

He went on to suggest that it becomes more problematic when ‘it becomes an act of advocacy.’

With regards to pupils, Comensoli said, ‘Our schools would not expel a student just because of their sexual orientation but we want to maintain laws that would protect our capacity to teach the Christian understanding of sexual ethics and marriage according to our own faith tradition.’

Other leading Catholic educators supported his viewpoint.

Frank FitzGerald, executive officer at Catholic Secondary Principals Australia, said, ‘We’re all very comfortable with the attribute situation – it’s when it escalates into advocacy.’

However, Mark Spencer, executive officer at Christian Schools Australia, went further, suggesting gay teachers should follow religious school teachings in all aspects of their lives.

‘We are looking for staff to actually have that consistency across the whole of their life – around what they believe, what they say they believe and how they act and behave.

‘Students will pick up very quickly if there’s not that congruity, if there’s that hypocrisy between saying one thing in the school and something [else] outside the school.’

Spencer doesn’t want any new legislation. He asserted that no Catholic schools are expelling students because of same-sex attraction.

He believes schools should, however, retain the right to fire teachers with regards to their sexuality, gender identity, marital status or pregnancy. Section 38 of the Federal Sex Discrimination Act sets out these exemptions

Many want to see the law change

The assistant federal secretary of the Independent Education Union, Anthony Odgers, told the Senate the law needs to change.

‘Many staff and students at faith-based schools fearing persecution have suppressed their sexual orientation or gender identity and/or their marital status and have been, and are being, harmed as a result. All staff and students and schools deserve safe work places and learning environments.’

The co-chair of the marriage equality campaign and director of legal advocacy at Human Rights Law Center, Anna Brown, agrees. She told the Senate religious freedom should not be at the expense of other groups.

‘While the right to hold a belief is absolute, the right to manifest that belief in worship, practice, observance and teaching is limited where it conflicts with other rights. We say the existing permanent exemptions are inappropriate and don’t strike that right balance between equality and religious belief.’

Australia’s Attorney-General, Christian Porter, is expected to introduce legislation next week, following a report from the Senate Committee. The Government has indicated it wants to pass the legislation before the end of the year.

H/T: The Age

See also

Gay student who refused to participate in school Nazi salute speaks out

Gay teacher at Australian Christian school: ‘I am terrified’ of being fired

Sydney Anglican principal rejects the right to discriminate against LGBTI students