There’s Still Time to Remove Religious Right to Discriminate Against LGBTI Elders

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pic by Richard Riley

We were all startled to see that when Attorney General Mark Dreyfus brought the amendments to  the Sex Discrimination Act into parliament, just before the Easter break, something was missing.

While the revised act would for the first time make it a crime to discriminate against LGBTI people, as promised, the special privileges allowing religious age-care providers to refuse to assist or house LGBTI people remained (I won’t rehash the whole story here, but there’s more below at the end of this post).

Since then several things have happened:

The major religious age care providers, Anglicare Victoria, Uniting Care and Catholic Health, have said they do not discriminate either in employment or in service delivery, and think the exemptions should go.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has issued a statement supporting the removal of religious exemptions in respect of aged care:

“The deferred exposure draft of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill proposed removal of the exemption that allows church based aged care providers to exclude LGBTI people.

President Triggs said that “as this change was not contentious, it should be included in the Sex discrimination amendment bill now before the parliament.”

“It is clearly widely supported, is a simple change and actually reflects current polices of most church based aged care providers,” she said.”

The HRC will continue to press for the exemptions to be removed.

Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan, following a meeting with Mark Dreyfus, suggested in an interview with me (start about 3.30) that the failure to include their removal in the proposed bill was probably due to an oversight, because of the speed with the changes were made.

She also suggested that Dreyfus is sympathetic to correcting this mistake and there is a good chance of correcting this error if we keep up the pressure. Here’s how you do it:

Sign this petition to demand that the Attorney General Mark Dreyfus removes the religious exemptions.

Email the A-G to tell him you want the religious exemptions gone.

Call his constituency office  (03) 9769 1955 / Fax: 03 9769 1977 and Parliamentary Office (02) 6277 7300  /  Fax: 02 6273 4102

We stand a better chance of getting the exemptions removed if the opposition does not object: they supported the removal of this exemption during the consultation process.

Email Senator George Brandis the Shadow Attorney General asking for bipartisan support:

Call his constituency office (07) 3001 8180 / Fax:(07) 3001 8181 and his parliament office (02) 6277 3163 / Fax: (02) 6277 5730

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Explanation: the government had been working on consolidating all anti-discrimination laws (sex, race and disability), into one universal measure. As part of these changes, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people would be protected for the first time.

But so-called ‘religious exemptions’ – better described as ‘religious privileges’ were to remain – with one exception.

These special privileges allow religious organisations, and religious-run/owned businesses, to ignore anti-discrimination law if to do so would offend their religious sensibilities.

They could go on refusing to employ single mothers, or people in de facto relationships, or gays, lesbians, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI)npeople in their hospitals, clinics, and schools. They could continue to refuse to find jobs or homes for such people – even when they are being paid by governments to find people jobs or homes.

There was one exception. Religious aged-care providers – both residential and in-home services – would no longer be able to refuse to care for  LGBTI seniors. Their ‘religious exemption’ was to be removed.

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About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)