Since 2004, a mass mobilisation of popular support for marriage equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) people has gained momentum, and now a possible victory is in sight.
But sadly, marriage equality would not mean an end to homophobia or transphobia in Australia.
Lurking behind Australia’s marriage ban is an even more sinister injustice clothed in the language of religious tolerance.
Religious organsations have a blanket exemption from the anti-discrimination act, which means that no matter how many rights LGBTIQ people win, religious organisations are not legally bound to honour them.
There are several implications of this exemption, each of which is a significant example of oppression of LGBTIQ people.
Religious Schools can expel LGBTIQ kids
Statistics from Suicide Prevention Australia show that same-sex attracted individuals “attempt suicides at a rate of 3.5 to 14 times those of their heterosexual peers” and that one in five transgender people reported current suicidal feelings.
However, these are only conservative estimates.
Most people do not come out while they are still in high school, so it is reasonable to suspect that the vast majority of LGBTIQ teen suicide attempts, especially successful ones, are never recognised as LGBTIQ suicides — so they’re not counted.
La Trobe University's 2010 Writing Themselves In 3 report has shown that the primary factor increasing the likelihood of LGBTIQ youth suicide is physical abuse, and the second is verbal abuse.
It says: “Almost double the number of young people who had been verbally abused (40%), in comparison with those who had experienced no abuse, had thought of self harm (22%).
“Three times those who had been physically abused (62%), in comparison with those who reported no abuse, had thought of self harm.
“In comparison with those who reported no abuse, twice the number of young people who suffered verbal abuse, had attempted suicide and four and a half times the number of young people who had been physically assaulted, had attempted suicide.”
The religious exemptions give religious teachers and principles the right to severely endanger the lives of children and youth. If we want to keep our kids alive, we need to get rid of these unjust laws.
Churches can discriminate against women
Have you ever wondered why the Catholic Church, and the Sydney Anglican diocese, which refuse women the right to be employed as bishops, priests or rectors, don't have a million anti-discrimination lawsuits on their hands? They're exempt!
On this issue, the churches often gain sympathy from compassionate people who do not want to persecute religious believers. If having all-male clergy is a doctrine of the faith, then wouldn’t forcing religious bodies to ordain women as clergy be a form of persecution?
But that’s a double standard. Imagine if a local McDonald's restaurant was allowed to discriminate because the manager personally believed God didn't intend women or black people to flip burgers!
Religious charities and welfare groups can discriminate
Religious charities and welfare agencies can sack or refuse to hire not only LGBTIQ people, but people who have pre-marital sex, are divorced, or masturbate.
My mother works for Anglicare. It's lucky for her that she's 40 years' heterosexually married, because Anglicare is exempt from anti-discrimination and can fire her if they think she is a sinner.
But perhaps Anglicare workers are safer than it seems. David Marr recently quoted Sally McManus of the Australian Services Union in The Age, who said: "Anglicare has lots of lesbians, it's a bit like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”
Marr also asked the Anglican Bishop of Parramatta, Robert Forsyth, (who happens to agree that queer students should not be expelled) to specify who should be sacked.
The list included adulterers, the unmarried and unchaste, gay men and lesbians in relationships and de factos. Single mothers were not to be “carte blanche” sacked, until they were given a chance to explain themselves, and divorcees were not normally at risk of losing their jobs.
His reason was that "immoral” workers “chill the fervor and the life of the organisation".
In any case, if McManus is right and discrete sinners are indulged, then what Forsyth is really saying is that honest workers give him the chills.
Religious adoption agencies can refuse LGBTIQ parents
Independent NSW MP Clover Moore reluctantly made this concession to allow her same-sex adoption bill to pass the Labor and Liberal-dominated state lower house in September.
But this is not okay, for many of the same reasons I have discussed above. Parliamentary democracy has clearly failed when human rights can become a bargaining chip.
If we win marriage equality, it will not be the end of the struggle.
We were never fighting because we wanted fairytale weddings in Disneyland. We have been fighting, and must continue to fight, for LGBTIQ rights because they are human rights.
The struggle to specifically overturn religious exemptions from anti-discrimination law is a struggle for workplace rights. The only people who are powerful enough to get these rights recognised by law are the working people of Australia — united against the homophobic ruling class.
That's why we can't give up this fight.
[Karl Hand is the pastor of CRAVE Metropolitan Community Church, cravemcc.com ]