The Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (VGLRL) is seeking an urgent meeting with Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark following an announcement the Baillieu Government will overturn a law — due to come into effect in August — which limits the right of religious organisations to discriminate against gay and lesbian people.
Clark told The Sunday Age amendments are being drafted to overturn an exemptions law which forced religious organisations to prove that a person’s sexuality or marital status would directly undermine their faith.
VGLRL co-convenor Sarah Rogan said the decision was disappointing.
“The Equal Opportunity Act is designed to be fair to everyone,” Rogan told the Star Observer.
“It’s got nothing to do with being an attack on freedom of religion. We’ve got no issue whatsoever with people with religious beliefs and faith-based organisations practising their religion, however, using their religion as a tool to discriminate is deeply problematic and troubling.”
ALSO Foundation CEO Crusader Hillis called the proposed changes a “backwards step”.
“What the previous Government was trying to do was bring religious institutions that were offering services, and often being funded by the government, in line with the Victorian Charter [of Human Rights and Responsibilities],” he said.
“If [religious-based organisations] want to operate entirely by themselves, with no support and no money from the public that might be one thing, but if they’re receiving any funding from the public there is a point they need to live up to the expectations of the law.”
Shadow Attorney-General Martin Pakula told the Star Observer he believes the Brumby Government legislation “struck the right balance”.
“It still gave churches the right to effectively be the masters of their own hiring when it came to certain positions, but where the inherent requirement of the position shouldn’t properly allow discrimination, it didn’t,” Pakula said.
Greens MLC Sue Pennicuik labelled the proposed changes “regrettable”.
“We’ve either got a commitment to universal human rights and everyone has equal rights or we don’t,” she said.
Australian Christian Lobby Victorian director Rob Ward, however, told the Star Observer the proposed changes don’t mean church-based groups will suddenly discriminate against gay and lesbian people.
“We’re not in favour of discrimination as a principle, but rather, we would see it as an act of religious freedom to be able to positively select staff and other members of the organisation who share [similar] values.
“I would say somebody who was of homosexual orientation would not generally seek employment in a circumstance where the teaching of that organisation or the values of that organisation differed from their personal beliefs, so I don’t think the issue generally arises.”