Current exemptions in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act permit private and faith-based organisations to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation or sex and/or gender identity.
This means same-sex couples may be denied access to aged-care facilities and students may be expelled for coming out in a religious school.
‘Homosexuality’ and ‘transgender’ were subsequently introduced as protected grounds in 1984 and 1996 respectively to the legislation and exemptions for faith-based organisations were included to avoid ‘offending’ religious sensibilities.
We do not dispute the right to freedom of religion, however, when considering the legitimacy of exemptions for faith-based organisations, we need to consider the often public nature of the services they provide.
Due to the complex nature of modern government, services historically provided by government agencies are often contracted to non-government organisations. Many religious organisations play a vital role in the provision of these services.
Despite being contracted and funded to provide government services, the current exemptions allow faith-based organisations to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and sex/gender identity.
Anglicare, for example, provides a range of services from aged care to foster care. This means Anglicare could refuse to accept an application from a same-sex couple wanting to become foster carers. This refusal can be made without assessing the merits of their application.
Foster care is designed to benefit children, who are wards of the state, not the church. Organisations refusing to accept applications from same-sex couples to foster without assessing the merits of their applications are placing their interests above those of children desperately needing the care of loving parents.
What is more concerning is that faith-based organisations do not need to apply for exemptions from anti-discrimination laws — the religious nature of their organisation means they are permanently exempt.
We propose the removal of all permanent exemptions and believe that organisations seeking an exemption from anti-discrimination laws should be required to apply for an exemption and provide a rigorous justification as to why it is in the interests of justice, fairness and equity that they be allowed to discriminate. If an exemption is granted, it should be made public to ensure accountability.
You can help us continue to lobby for better protections against unfair discrimination by visiting www.glrl.org.au and donating or becoming a member.
By SENTHORUN RAJ, NSW GLRL