Christian organisations in all states and territories may have lost the right to discriminate against gay people despite religious exemptions in anti-discrimination laws, legal experts claimed this week following a landmark ruling against the Uniting Church’s Wesley Mission.
Homosexuality as an intolerable sin was not a doctrine of Christianity, the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal ruled last month, because there were many dissenting views on the subject among Christian groups generally, and specifically within the Uniting Church.
As long as gay-friendly congregations like Metropolitan Community Church exist, this ruling means Christian organisations don’t have a license to legally discriminate against gays, Brisbane lawyer Stephen Page said.
Religious exemptions are worded almost identically across all state and territory anti-discrimination laws, so I’d expect other commissions to start citing this case, Page told SSO.
Christian religious schools in the ACT, NSW, Victoria, SA and WA would not be able to use religion as the reason that gay and lesbian students can be prevented from bringing their partners to the school formal.
The Tribunal rejected the welfare agency’s right to refuse a gay couple seeking to become foster parents as the laws only allow-ed exemptions for religions, and there was no religion of Uniting Church.
The basis for this decision may have come from the Church’s own witness, Reverend Paul Swalding, who testified that his religion was Christianity, even though when most people asked what religion they meant which denominational church.
It is common ground that there is a diversity of views and beliefs within the Christian religion on the issue of homosexuality, the ruling stated.
The debate within the Uniting Church, about which much evidence was given in these proceedings, is but one of many examples that can be cited to illustrate this point. In our view the respondents have failed to establish that the nominated doctrine [forbidding homosexuality] constitutes a doctrine of the Christian religion.
Other religions would have to pass the same legal test, Page said, and the Catholic stance would be particularly challenging as the Church would have to claim it is a separate religion from Protestant Christianity.
The Tribunal also found refusing gay couples from fostering services cannot be said to be necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of the Christian religion, which was a requirement of the exemption provisions.
More of Page’s analysis of the implications can be found at lgbtlawblog.blogspot.com