A year since marriage equality passed the Australian parliament and once again LGBTIQ+ people are being dragged into a debate about whether or not we deserve to live our lives without discrimination.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced plans to make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of religion because the ‘walls are closing in’ on religious freedoms.
But that’s not the guts of what Morrison is on about. What he is obsessed about is mounting a last ditch effort to stop the walls closing in on the unacceptable ‘freedom’ to discriminate against LGBTIQ+ people.
When the heat was on during the Wentworth by-election, Scott Morrison promised that protecting LGBTIQ+ kids from discrimination in religious schools was so urgent that parliament would deal with it within a fortnight.
Which didn’t happen.
It was then promised before parliament ended for the year last week.
Which didn’t happen.
Now he’s lobbed the problem to the Australian Law Reform Commission for review, despite the Ruddock Review and a Senate Inquiry.
In other words, it won’t happen under his government.
Apparently enacting religious discrimination laws is now really urgent, more urgent than ensuring LGBTQ+ kids aren’t bullied or demonised or expelled by their school.
Given Scott Morrison’s record on LGBTIQ+ rights, and that of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government, it’s pretty clear that this urgent push for religious discrimination laws will be used to undermine the hard-won protections for LGBTIQ+ people or override existing anti-discrimination laws that protect people on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, pregnancy, or marital status.
The Morrison government bill that was introduced into parliament to ‘protect’ LGBTQ+ kids last week was a Trojan horse that would actually expand discrimination against LGBTQ+ students, not remove it.
It would permit unbelievably harmful conversion practices and allow schools to bully, exclude or even refuse to teach LGBTQ+ students.
This could all be completely legal ‘teaching activity’, defined as ‘any kind of instruction of a student’ that is ‘done in good faith in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed.’
It is chilling to think about potential impacts of ‘teaching activities’ on LGBTQ+ students undertaken in line with the religious beliefs of some schools.
For example the ‘statement of faith’ of one school asserts that ‘transgender is a social construct which denies our God-given biological sex’ and others are adamant about the need for ‘abstinence from… homosexual relationships’.
‘Teaching activities’ conducted in accordance with such views have no place in any school. They are out and out homophobia and transphobia and cause massive damage to young same-sex attracted and gender diverse young people.
Philip Ruddock, former Liberal minister and Chair of the Ruddock Review into religious freedoms, said this morning on national radio that religious schools should be able to expel students if it is in the best interests of the child. The Review had this as one of its recommendations.
However, when pushed by the interviewer, he couldn’t provide any example where expulsion would be in best interest of child.
Because there is no example when it would be in the best interests of a child to be expelled just because of who they are.
There is no example when a school should be able to remove a child from their friends, their support network, their community, just because of who they are.
The same applies to LGBTIQ+ teachers and school staff, and LGBTIQ+ people anywhere in society.
The simple fact is discrimination against LGBTQ+ people is unacceptable. It is wrong. And it cannot be allowed to continue.
The problem with Morrison’s push to ‘protect’ religion is that religious freedom cannot be viewed in isolation of other rights, nor should it be used as a political weapon in an act of vengeance for the marriage equality vote.
The question about balancing the rights of religious belief with the rights of LGBTIQ+ people is quite simple: freedom of religion is not a licence to discriminate against LGBTIQ+ people. Full stop. No ifs. No buts.
What we need is a full review of current anti-discrimination laws and a Charter of Rights to balance the right to religious freedom against other important rights, such as freedom from discrimination. The freedom to live a life free of discrimination should include every single Australian, not just a select few.
What we don’t need is a desperate knee-jerk reaction from a desperate Prime Minister who is again pandering to the conservative ‘base’ of the Liberal party instead of listening to the rest of Australia which has said loud and clear that discrimination against LGBTIQ+ people is unacceptable.
Scott Morrison and his ilk need to join the rest of us in the 21st century and stop using LGBTIQ+ people as political footballs.
Enough is enough.