The Victorian Parliament has opened up an inquiry into exemptions contained in the state’s Equal Opportunity Act.

The Victorian Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee opened the review to the public earlier this month. There is just over a month left for submissions to be made on whether the Government should review and amend current exemptions allowed by the Act.

The issue is likely to stir emotions in the broader community, especially relating to religious exemptions which allow religious groups and institutions to discriminate against gay men and lesbians on the grounds of religious belief.

Recommendations at the conclusion of the inquiry will be sent to the Government which will then either amend the Act or leave exemptions as they are.

In August 2007 Attorney-General Rob Hulls announced a review of the Equal Opportunity Act.

The resulting Gardner Report, released in 2008, identified a need to refocus EO legislation to tackle systemic discrimination and prevent complaints being pursued after discrimination has occurred.

In a 2007 submission to the Justice Department, the ALSO Foundation claimed Sections 75, 76 and 77 of the EO Act give religious groups a -œlicence to discriminate, and contradict Section 8 of the Act which states -œevery person has the right to enjoy his or her human rights without discrimination.

ALSO Foundation CEO Lyn Morgain said the current inquiry is -œvital as it casts a critical eye on exemptions otherwise considered prohibited discrimination under the same Act.

-œOur position is about not accepting blanket exemptions. While we can see a place [for religious exemptions] from time to time, we run into problems where we have these blanket religious exemptions that become cover for homophobic attitudes and the protection of the same actions and behaviours that would be unlawful in other settings, she told Southern Star.

Morgain said problems arise particularly in the delivery of human services, where GLBTI people can be discriminated against, such as aged care or family services.

-œWe think the Government needs to consider the broad nature of the current religious exemptions and take substantive action to narrow those -” not least because religious entities are actively involved in the delivery of public services.

Schools have often been at the centre of the storm over religious exemptions, with religious schools able to use exemptions not to employ openly gay or lesbian teachers.

-œThere should be no licence to discriminate in a secular society, Morgain said.

-œWhile I understand individuals representing religious bodies will argue there’s an in-principle right to protect particular religious beliefs, it should not contravene accepted human rights principles.

Submissions to the inquiry close 5pm Friday, July 10.

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