A case before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) could have future implications on the way religious groups can legally discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The Christian Brethren vs WayOut hearing before VCAT has heard that the Christian Brethren Youth Camps (CYC) would need to establish why it was necessary to their religious beliefs to refuse the WayOut youth group accommodation at the site.
“You can’t be selective and pick the bits of religious belief to justify [an exemption] … when there are aspects of religious beliefs that would require you to act entirely in the opposite,” Debbie Mortimer SC said.
WayOut — a support group for rural same-sex attracted youth — lodged the case against the Christian Brethren owners of Phillip Island Adventure Resort two years ago after being refused use of the resort camping facilities.
Legal counsel for CYC, Greg Garde QC said there had been misunderstanding about the content of a phone call that took place, which had become the subject of proceedings.
He told the hearing that camping ground manager Mark Rowe had expressed a concern the board of the CYC may not support the “promotion of homosexuality” in the context of the age of the young people.
The Victorian Equal Opportunity Act (EOA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but allows exemptions for some religious groups.
The case also raises question of the right of businesses run by religious groups to claim exemptions under the EOA.
Keren Palermo, 19, from LaTrobe Valley was to attend the camp at Phillip Island. She told Sydney Star Observer she was upset when the group was turned down.
“We were really shocked at first, and after it sunk in a bit I was really angry,” she said.
Palermo was forced to leave school aged 16, the victim of homophobic bullying at a rural school.
“I really didn’t enjoy school at all from the bullying, so I quit … it made me feel so depressed just being there it was awful,” she said.
Palermo, who has since returned to school to complete Year 12, said when the WayOut camp was eventually held in Bacchus Marsh months later it had a positive impact on her life.
“It was a life changing event for me and the group … all the other young people were just so incredibly inspiring,” she said.