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Government won’t budge on religious exemptions
The Federal Government will keep providing religious groups with the “freedom” to discriminate in their hiring practices against LGBTI people and others they classify as behaving contrary to Christian doctrine.
Now gay rights advocates want to speak with the Prime Minister about the proposed anti-discrimination laws after Fairfax Media reported today that the PM had repeatedly met with Australian Christian Lobby managing director Jim Wallace and apparently assured him that her government had “no intention of restricting freedom of religion”.
The Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012, due to be debated in Parliament later this year would enshrine the long-held right of religious groups and businesses they run, to refuse to hire people based on their sexuality, marital status or anyone else who may cause “injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents” – a practise that is illegal for non-religious businesses.
Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convener Anna Brown said the broad religious exceptions in the Bill were grossly inappropriate and out of step with contemporary Australian values.
“We are concerned about the level of engagement with the faith based community by the Prime Minister. We would like to see an opportunity for LGBTI groups to talk with the Prime Minister about the practical implications of the broad exceptions available for religious organisations,” Brown said.
“Most Australians would be unaware of the ability of businesses such as Sanitarium to discriminate against employees and customers.
“Then there’s government funded services such as the Salvation Army employment plus programme, aged care services by Anglicare, and Catholic run public hospitals in some parts of the country.
“In 2013, its time to stop tax-payer dollars funding discrimination against the LGBTI community, women and defacto couples.
“These provisions are decades old and it’s outrageous to think that in a multicultural, inclusive society like Australia, that a government that supports workers rights and social justice would permit unjust discrimination to occur.”
Wallace’s statement comes more than a month before the Senate is due to release the findings of its public consultation for the bill.
Exemptions for religious aged care providers may be revoked by the Federal Government as part of the bill.
Minister for Finance and Deregulation Penny Wong, who is both Christian and a lesbian, will oversee the bill’s passage through the Senate.
A spokesperson from Senator Wong’s office said the focus on the exemptions by the media “glossed over” the bill’s increased protections for LGBTI rights.
“We’re introducing important new protection from discrimination on the basis of sexuality. While there are exemptions, this doesn’t detract from these important changes,” the spokesperson said.