The government has two pieces of unfinished business for the LGBTI community, and with only four sitting weeks left before Parliament rises, it’s not certain they will make it on to the statute book.
The first is the Sex Discrimination Act, which is being extended to cover LGBTI people for the first time. It has passed the lower house, but has yet to pass the Senate.
And that’s when it gets tricky. The Act is the last remnant of the ambitious attempt to roll all anti-discrimination law into one big package, which the government decided was too contentious to proceed with.
The major problem was the squabbling over religious exemptions, which permit religious run organisations and businesses to effectively ignore the law.
Needless to say, the Labor Party is irreconcilably split on this issue, with the Catholic elements in the party, led by Shoppies Union President for Life Joe de Bruyn (on whose support Julia Gillard relies to keep her job) strongly opposed to their removal, while progressive elements want them gone.
The parties could only agree to remove one set of exemptions: the ones that allowed age care businesses to discriminate against LGBTI.
The Sex Discrimination Act as passed by the lower house has the religious exemptions: Attorney General Mark Dreyfus has promised to remove the exemption for LGBTI age care in the Senate. Some changes are also needed to properly describe and cover Intersex people. It’s by no means certain these changes will get through. Some religious run age care homes have threatened to sell up rather than comply, and there will be some on both sides who will support them.
The second package also concerns LGBTI seniors: the reform of the age care sector. In it, LGBTI people are for the first time recognised as a special needs group. This means money will be available, for example, to educate age care providers about LGBTI clients.
Again, the devil will be in the detail: and the capacity of god-bothering pollies to make trouble.
I’ll be talking to the Minister for Aged Care Mark Butler (whose responsibility this is), and his Green counterpart Senator Rachel Siewart, on the Rainbow Report on Joy 94.9 Thursday night June 6 at 7pm. Click through to listen online, or download podcasts of earlier shows.