Advocates are calling on the federal government to lead by example when it comes to LGBTI discrimination in the name of religion, saying it must reduce rather than increase the legal scope for such discrimination.

Just.equal spokesperson Rodney Croome yesterday told the Foreign Affairs and Trade parliamentary committee’s inquiry into protections for religious freedom, chaired by conservative Catholic Liberal MP Kevin Andrews, that Australia must lead the way in fighting persecution.

“From Russia to Uganda to Indonesia there is growing persecution of LGBTI people in the name of religion,” said Croome.

“Australia must advocate internationally against this persecution.

“Australia should also lead by example, which means reducing the legal licence religious bodies have to discriminate against LGBTI people, rather than increasing it as some church leaders are calling for.”

Croome said the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act provides a good benchmark for balancing LGBTI equality and religious freedom.

“The Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act allows faith-based bodies to discriminate on the grounds on religion in some circumstances, but never on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status,” he said.

“This is a model for laws in other states and federally.”

Croome appeared at the hearing in Hobart alongside former Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Robin Banks, and University of Tasmania religious freedom and discrimination expert Anja Hilkemeijer.

The speakers endorsed a national Human Rights Act as a way to ensure a balance between different rights.

Croome has also spoken out about this week’s ‘cake case’ decision in the US, saying the Supreme Court upholding a baker’s refusal to serve a same-sex couple has little bearing on the Australian religious freedom debate.

“The US decision was based on the narrow ground that the Colorado tribunal that originally found the baker had discriminated was biased against him,” said Croome.

“The Supreme Court failed to address the key question of whether religious freedom should trump the principle of anti-discrimination.

“Indeed, the Supreme Court made strong statements in favour of LGBTI equality and dignity.

“There is nothing in this decision which should bring joy to that tiny minority of Australians who want the right to treat LGBTI people differently.”

Croome called on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to release the religious freedom report that was recently returned to the federal government.

“The Ruddock report has a direct bearing on the lives and rights of LGBTI Australians and we should be able to see what has been recommended,” he said.

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