Churches still free to discriminate

March 11, 2011
Equal marriage rights rally, Perth, November 6. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

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, ]


I can't understand why anyone would want to work in an organization that had deeply held objections to their way of life (except perhaps to prove a point). Religions are organizations built only on belief, and we allow them to hold whatever beliefs they want, whether it is that homosexuality is evil, that women are inferior and should be veiled and subjugated, that we are descended from aliens, that some people are innately superior on the basis of race, or can become so for a price. If they can't discriminate on the basis of their belief system (however loony) then what purpose do they serve? Very little in my opinion. It gets back to the question - why would you want to work there in the first place?
Sure, hold any belief you want - as long as it does not impact unduly on others. The question should not be "why would you want to work there?", rather it should be "Why should the holding of empirically unfounded religious beliefs exempt an individual, or in this case an organisation, from the rule of law?" Why should a belief in care-bear land allow me to discriminate against other human beings? Sure, be a whack-job all you want. Vote for Fred Nile and narrow your views to such an extent that you can hammer a nail through steel just by looking at it. But, don't expect others to have to abide by your ridiculous point-of-view, no matter how seriously you take it.
What else can the church get away with under religious grounds I wonder? In the bible God supports slavery, (Lev.25:44-46, Exod.21:2-8, Eph.6:5, Col.3:22) Homosexuals must be killed, (Lev.20:13, Rom.1:26-32) If your children are disobedient you have the right to kill them, (Deaut.21:21-22, Lev.20:9, Exo.21:15) Kill all the male babies and all the women who aren't virgins and keep the virgins for yourself, according to none other than Moses (num.31:17-18) And hundreds of other atrocities you never hear in a church sermon because they just cherry pick the good stuff. Also, the popular spiel that "the really devious stuff in the old testament doesn't count now we have the new testament", well to quote Jesus in Matt:5 17-19; “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven." So yeah, Jesus was down with the crazy BC shit.
You guys have step a new benchmark for intolerance. You have moved beyond respectful tolerance of different ideas to demanding approval. Why would you want to be employed in a Christian school for example if you did not agree with its principles? No one is forcing you. Just as you would not accept me if I applied for a job on a homosexual newspaper for example. But you need and crave endorsement and affirmation rather than tolerance and coexistence. Why do you need that? In terms of 'empirical evidence' since the 60's and with growing speed and force, secular, humanist, atheist philosophy is setting the agenda in public debate and policy. What is the fruit of that agenda? As you state; increased suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, selfishness, rage, intolerance, lack of respect, lack of empathy, greed, less compassion, disillusionment, growing corruption, less self control and less consideration of others. Everyone of these points can be empirically, statistically measured sociologically. Growing disfunction in individuals, the family and society in general is a result of the philosophy that you aspouse.
Religion has long discriminated against women, and their is a very long history of abuse of children. I belief religious hate speech should not be protected by the laws that everybody else must abide by. Speaking out against democracy can now result in arrest so to vilify people from the pulpit should not be tolerated.

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