An online campaign opposing the Baillieu Government’s move to abolish amendments to religious exemptions in Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act — before they come into effect — has started.

A new website, Equal Rights Victoria, has been set up by concerned community members to encourage the GLBT community, and others, to send a message of protest to their local MP about plans to repeal former Brumby Government legislation which would have made it more difficult for religious organisations to discriminate on the basis of sexuality or marital status. The legislation was due to come into effect in August.

The website was set up by Kyneton resident Sue Hackney who told the Star Observer she is concerned the issue is not being discussed.

“We want to enlighten both the GLBTI community and the broader community about the impact this legislation will have,” Hackney said.

“This means many Victorians won’t have equal protection from discrimination in a whole range of areas.”

The new amendments — known as the inherent requirements test — would have forced religious organisations to prove their faith would be undermined by employing or offering services to gay and lesbian people, single mothers or divorcees.

Instead the Coalition will use its control of both houses of Parliament to repeal the amendments as well as abandon measures which would give the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission greater powers to investigate instances of discrimination.

Hackney said she believes many people don’t realise the impact the reversal of laws could have on gay and lesbian people and is concerned the GLBTI community is being ignored.

“I think there is a degree of awareness in a small section of the [gay and lesbian] community about the existence of these laws, and the importance of them, in terms of the unequal protection that exists in our human rights legislation,” she said.

“Without question there’s a whole lot going on behind the scenes and there have been countless reviews and submissions to government, but it’s hard when you feel like you don’t have the ear of the government.

“Conservative religious groups are well organised and although we make submissions, we can’t seem to be heard. It’s about a numbers game — although there is a small group working on this, we need people to be more vocal.”

Hackney is convenor of the WayOut Project — a rural group for same-sex attracted young people — which won a recent legal battle against the Christian Brethren-owned Christian Youth Camps Ltd (CYC) for refusing them accommodation in 2007. The CYC has appealed the decision.

The Star Observer last month spoke to Australian Christian Lobby Victorian director Rob Ward who played down what the reversal might mean.

“I would say somebody who was of homosexual orientation would not generally seek employment in a circumstance where the teaching of that organisation or the values of that organisation differed from their personal beliefs, so I don’t think the issue generally arises,” he said.

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