Neither Premier Kristina Keneally nor Opposition leader Barry O’Farrell would remove exemptions in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act that allow religious groups to discriminate against GLBT people.
The leaders made the pledge at a recent forum organised by the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL).
ACL NSW director David Hutt billed the forum as “an important opportunity for both sides of politics … to present themselves to a room full of very senior Christian leaders and make their pitch for the Christian constituency”.
“It was pleasing to see both the Labor Party and the Liberal National Coalition committing to upholding the important protections of religious freedoms that we enjoy in NSW under the Anti-Discrimination Act,” Hutt said after the forum.
“There had been some talk in the week leading up to the event that those protections might be relaxed under a Liberal National Coalition so it was very pleasing to see Barry O’Farrell give a very firm commitment to upholding those important protections for churches and church organisations.”
The Premier’s office did not respond to inquiries about the pledge.
A spokesman for O’Farrell claimed legal advice suggested children could not be denied schooling by religious schools under the current Act and federal law, and that removing the religious privilege to discriminate would be in breach of international law.
There is no federal anti-discrimination legislation covering sexuality.
“Parliaments are obliged by international human rights conventions to provide for the protection of religious freedom in any laws which would unfairly restrict the right of religious communities to operate their schools and services in accord with their beliefs and teachings,” the spokesman said.
The pledge by both leaders drew criticism from the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (GLRL).
GLRL co-convenor Kellie McDonald said Keneally’s and O’Farrell’s decision to uphold the status quo was frustrating as faith-based organisations would continue to have a free pass to discriminate against gays and lesbians and their families.
“This religious exemption allows these organisations to dismiss their gay and lesbians employees solely on the basis of their sexuality,” McDonald said.
“By law, lesbian and gay students can also be expelled on the basis of their sexual orientation if they are enrolled in religious or faith-based schools.”
“The NSW Government has a responsibility to ensure that the human rights of all people are protected and promoted. This exception blatantly undermines this responsibility, and positions the right to religious freedom above the right to live free from discrimination.
The NSW Greens have pledged to change the law.