It seems increasingly likely is that LGBTI legal rights will be rolled back or capped under proposed religious freedom laws, writes advocate Rodney Croome.
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I understand why LGBTI people say they’re tired of the Israel Folau controversy.
But we have to face the stark reality that the movement to weaken Australia’s LGBTI legal rights under cover of religious freedom is not going away.
After Folau, there will be many more martyrs of the month complaining that their “freedom” to treat LGBTI people badly is being curtailed.
Worse still, there will be many laws, proposed and possibly passed, to protect that “freedom”.
In response, the LGBTI community and our allies must prepare for a long campaign to protect and enhance our legal rights in the face of attacks from the “religious freedom” movement.
I believe we’re in for a long battle because conservative Christians are becoming more fearful that LGBTI people want to take their rights away, not less.
They are being whipped into a moral panic by religious and political leaders whose cultural, political and financial power depends on fear.
In neither the US nor Australia has the moral panic created by the “religious freedom” movement reached its peak.
Right-wing religious and political leaders believe there is still much for them to gain from directing panic and fear at LGBTI people and our rights.
There is nothing LGBTI people can do to avoid, sate or appease this ravenous monster. We can only challenge it.
Under the current federal government there is an immediate threat we must rise to.
Many of its members are committed to rolling back LGBTI discrimination and hate speech protections, as well as laws recognising and protecting transgender and gender diverse folk.
Just as bad, Labor is inching away from its support for the LGBTI community, and towards support for “religious freedom”.
What seems increasingly likely is that LGBTI legal rights will be rolled back, and/or capped, with the enactment of some kind of loosely-worded “right to religious freedom” law.
It feels to me like a repeat of the 2004 Howard same-sex marriage ban where an aggressive Liberal Government entrenched the second-class status of LGBTI people and a weak, ill-prepared Labor opposition fell into line.
And like 2004, the ramifications for the LGBTI community won’t be limited to one bad statute.
A positive right to “religious freedom” will give every would-be religious “martyr” a stepping stone to the High Court, allowing them to slice away at our protections for years to come.
Amending a “religious freedom” law so it is no longer a sword against us would also take many years.
In the meantime, an empowered religious right will stamp on the LGBTI community ever more brutally.
The worst news of all is that, even if the current push for some kind of “religious freedom” law fails this time around, the movement behind it will try again and again, at a state and federal level.
So what must we be doing?
In the short term, we must contact our local MPs asking them not to support any law that weakens the legal rights of LGBTI people.
At the very least we need Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, and the Senate cross-bench to publicly commit that LGBTI legal rights will not be weakened.
But in the long-term there is much more to do.
There must be a national community campaign dedicated to enhancing LGBTI discrimination protections and challenging the “religious freedom” movement.
This campaign must be willing to do just that: campaign.
It must put a priority on community education; large, visible actions; personal story-telling; informing and empowering people of faith; community lobbying of politicians; and reaching out to other groups disadvantaged by “religious freedom”.
It must engage in the same campaign activity that successfully disarmed the movement against same-sex marriage from 2004 to 2011, and then went on to win majority support for marriage equality in the general population and in parliament.
It must be a new Australian Marriage Equality with all the skill, flexibility, creativity and community spirit of the early marriage equality campaign.
I’m not saying we should abandon all the other important reforms facing the LGBTI community.
I’m saying we need to focus on and overcome this new, great threat, just as we focused on and overcame the great threat that was the movement against marriage equality, or before that, the movement against decriminalising homosexuality.
I know all this is hard to hear. After so many trials and sacrifices, after so much educating and rallying, surely we’re almost there?
Yes, there have been great gains. But the backlash against those gains is growing every day.
If we ignore the backlash, we will bequeath a more prejudiced and discriminatory nation to those who come after us.