The chair of the ACT’s LGBTIQ Ministerial Advisory Council has warned that the inquiry into protection of ‘religious freedoms’ in relation to same-sex marriage will be a new battleground for the community.

With the inquiry due to report early next year, Anne-Marie Delahunt called for a federal bill protecting human rights, The Canberra Times has reported.

“I think that these issues, although they were lost in the parliament thank goodness, I am sure will be returned in the inquiry that Philip Ruddock will be heading and I think that will provide an opportunity for the institutional power of the churches to increase their sway,” she said.

“That’s what worries me a lot. The right of a school to discriminate against gay and lesbian teachers, surely that means in the school if there are young vulnerable kids they’re going to be at risk because there’s no sympathy and in fact antagonism towards them and I think that’s a real concern.”

The inquiry, led by Philip Ruddock, is looking into the need for formal exemptions to anti-discrimination laws for civil celebrants and other services who refuse to service to LGBTI couples on religious grounds.

The question of anti-discrimination exemptions was raised during parliamentary debate over the marriage equality bill before being postponed as an issue until after the bill was passed.

The proposed exemptions are unprecedented in that civil celebrants have not had enshrined in law a right to refuse service to a particular group.

The 2004 bill that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman was introduced by Ruddock, who opposes a bill of rights.

Delahunt said a bill of rights would ensure that the freedom to practise religion did not become a licence to discriminate.

“Many of the churches in Australia are extremely powerful and we’re talking about groups of people who have been discriminated against and vulnerable all their lives,” she said.

“I have lived through all of that stuff and I don’t want us to go back to a situation where I don’t know if I can gain a service from an organisation because they’re a religious based organisation and they just don’t like lesbians.”

The inquiry is due to report by March 31 next year.

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