Protecting LGBT Students and Teachers Against Discrimination

Update 23 February 2019:

 

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee handed down its report on the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018 on Thursday 14 February 2019.

 

Although it is perhaps more accurate to say it handed down three reports. The majority report, by Government Senators, recommended that the Bill – which, as the name suggests, would protect LGBT students in religious schools against discrimination – not be passed. This is a broken promise, after Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s commitment to protect these students in October last year.

 

Even worse, Coalition members of the Committee recommended that the issue of religious exceptions be referred to the Australian Law Reform Commission for another review. For context, we have already had the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review, a Senate inquiry into the issue of discrimination against LGBT students and teachers last November, and this most recent Senate review.

 

We don’t need another inquiry, review or report. We just need a Government to take action to protect LGBT students and teachers. Nothing more. Nothing less.

 

The Labor members of the Committee provided a dissenting report, which (unsurprisingly) called for their Bill to be passed. Importantly, they also rejected all five of the Government’s amendments that would allow discrimination against LGBT students to continue, contrary to the purpose of the legislation (for more, see my original submission to the inquiry below).

 

On the other hand, Labor Senators also rejected the proposed Greens’ amendment that would remove the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 exception allowing religious schools to discriminate against LGBT teachers. They did restate the ALP’s commitment to protect LGBT teachers in the future, although it is unclear what form this would take.

 

We will need to keep pressure on Bill Shorten, and the ALP, to protect LGBT teachers and to ensure these protections are not undermined by provisions allowing religious schools to discriminate on ‘ethos and values’.

 

Finally, the Greens also provided a dissenting report, supporting the ALP Bill, rejecting the Government’s amendments (for the same reasons as Labor) and calling for their own amendment protecting LGBT teachers to be passed.

 

The Greens have also recommended an urgent review of provisions in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) that allow religious schools to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

 

Overall, then, this was a disappointing Committee Report, with the Government’s proposed referral of the issue to the Australian Law Reform Commission nothing more than a delaying tactic.

 

It’s important to remember there was always going to be resistance to this change. There will always be some religious schools that want to discriminate against LGBT students and teachers. And there will always be some politicians who want to let them.

 

It is up to us to continue with this campaign until all schools are safe and nurturing environments for all students, irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Because our kids are counting on us.

 

Original submission:

 

there's no place for discrimination in the classroom-10

 

Start the new year right, by writing to support the right of LGBT students, teachers and other staff at religious schools to be free from discrimination.

 

The Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs is currently holding an inquiry into Labor’s Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018, and proposed amendments to it.

 

Full details of this inquiry can be found here.

 

The most important details are that:

 

  • This is our opportunity to call for all schools to be made free from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity
  • Submissions close on Monday 21 January 2019 (ie two weeks away) and
  • Once you’ve written yours, it can be uploaded here or emailed to sen@aph.gov.au

 

**********

 

If you are looking for some ‘inspiration’ about what to write, here are my suggestions:

 

  1. Personal stories

 

If you are, or have been, a student, a family member of a student, or a teacher or other staff member at a religious educational institution (including schools and universities), please share what that experience was like.

 

This is especially important if you are a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex person, or member of a rainbow family, who has encountered homophobia, biphobia or transphobia at a religious school.

 

Remember, these examples can range from overt or outright discrimination (such as a student being disciplined, or a teacher being fired or not hired, simply for being LGBT) through to more subtle or insidious forms of mistreatment (being made to feel invisible, having LGBTI content excluded from subjects like health and physical education, or feeling unable to disclose your sexual orientation or gender identity, or information about your partner, to others).

 

The more stories that we share, the louder our collective voice for change will be.

 

Importantly, if your submission is deeply personal, you can ask the committee to keep your submission private. From the aph website:

 

If you do not want your name published on the internet, or if you want your submission to be kept confidential, you should:

  • Include the word confidential clearly on the front of your submission and provide a reason for your request.
  • Make sure that your name and contact details are on a separate page and not in the main part of your submission.

Confidential submissions are only read by members of the committee and the secretariat.

Confidential information may be placed in an attachment to the main part of your submission, with a request for the committee to keep the attachment confidential.

The committee will consider your request but you need to know that the committee has the authority to publish any submission.

The committee will contact you if the committee wants to publish something you have asked to be kept confidential.

If you are considering making a confidential submission, you should contact the committee secretariat to discuss this before you send us your submission.

 

  1. Call for LGBT students to be protected against discrimination

 

Whether you have attended or worked at a religious school or not, everyone should call for the ability of religious schools to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students to be abolished.

 

Labor’s Bill achieves this outcome, because it would remove both of the existing exceptions in the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 which allow religious schools to do exactly that.[i]

 

In your submission, you should ask for the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018 to be passed urgently, so that all students can learn in a safe and inclusive environment.

 

  1. Call for LGBT teachers to be protected against discrimination

 

One thing Labor’s Bill does not do is remove the exceptions in the Sex Discrimination Act which allow religious schools to discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff.

 

This discrimination is also wrong. Teachers should be judged according to the ability to do their jobs, not whether they are heterosexual and cisgender. The billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money that is provided to religious schools each year should not be used to reject teachers and other staff simply for being LGBT.

 

Most importantly, in order for the classroom to be a truly safe environment for LGBT children, it must be an inclusive one for LGBT adults too.

 

Employing LGBT teachers means potentially having role models for kids discovering their own sexual orientations or gender identities. On the other hand, if children see teachers being discriminated against just for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, they will learn the lesson that their school thinks LGBT people are somehow less worthy than other people.

 

In your submission, you should ask for the Greens amendments to the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018 to be supported. These amendments would remove the exceptions in the Sex Discrimination Act that allow religious schools to discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff.[ii]

 

However, you should call for the Parliament to make similar amendments to the Commonwealth Fair Work Act 2009 as well, because that legislation also allows religious schools to adversely treat,[iii] or unfairly dismiss,[iv] teachers because of their sexual orientation.

 

Finally, you could ask the Parliament to take this opportunity to amend the Fair Work Act to protect transgender and intersex people against adverse treatment and unfair dismissal, because they are currently excluded entirely from these provisions.[v]

 

  1. Call for the Parliament to reject the Government’s proposed amendments

 

The Morrison Liberal-National Government has released its own proposed amendments to the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018.

 

These amendments would allow religious schools to continue to discriminate against LGBT students in three distinct ways.

 

First, the Government’s amendments would reinstate one of the two current exceptions that allow religious schools to expel or otherwise mistreat students because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.[vi]

 

Second, the Government’s amendments would insert an entirely new provision allowing religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students as long as it formed part of ‘teaching activity’ – where teaching activity is incredibly broadly defined as ‘any kind of instruction of a student by a person employed or otherwise engaged by an educational institution.’[vii]

 

Third, the Government’s amendments would change the test for whether indirect discrimination is lawful in three differently-worded alternative ways,[viii] but with all three adding consideration of whether a ‘condition, requirement or practice… imposed, or proposed to be imposed [by a religious school is] in good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.’

 

The Government’s changes are unnecessary, and would introduce unnecessary complexity into the Sex Discrimination Act. None of the four Australian jurisdictions that already protect LGBT students against discrimination (Queensland, Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Territory)[ix] include similar provisions in their anti-discrimination laws.

 

Most importantly, the Morrison Liberal-National Government’s proposed amendments fundamentally undermine the purpose of the legislation, by allowing religious schools to continue to discriminate against LGBT students just under a different name.

 

You should call for the Parliament to reject all of the Government’s proposed amendments to the Bill.

 

**********

 

Every student should be able to learn in a safe and inclusive environment, free from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

Every teacher and staff member should be judged on their ability to perform their role, not according to who they love or how they identify.

 

Parliament has the opportunity to make both a reality in 2019. But, as with so many law reforms before, they won’t act unless we make them.

 

So, it’s time to get writing.

 

there's no place for discrimination in the classroom-9

 

Footnotes:

[i] The Bill repeals subsection 38(3) of the Sex Discrimination Act which specifically allows religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students, as well as limiting the general religious exception in subsection 37(1)(d) by adding a new subsection 37(3):

‘Paragraph (1)(d) does not apply to an act or practice of a body established for religious purposes if:

(a) the act or practice is connected with the provision, by the body, of education; and

(b) the act or practice is not connected with the employment of persons to provide that education.’

[ii] The Greens amendments repeal subsections 38(1) and 38(2) of the Sex Discrimination Act that specifically allow religious schools to discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff, and contractors, respectively.

It also amends the proposed new subsection 37(3) so that it removes the ability of religious schools to discriminate both in terms of service provision (ie students) and employment.

[iii] Subsection 351(2) of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).

[iv] Subsection 772(2) of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).

[v] For more on this subject, see Unfairness in the Fair Work Act.

[vi] The Government’s amendments remove proposed new subsection 37(3) of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) in Labor’s Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018 that limits the operation of the general religious exception in section 37(1)(d) of that Act. Therefore, even if subsection 38(3) is repealed, religious schools would still be able to rely on subsection 37(1)(d) to discriminate against LGBT students.

[vii] The proposed amendment reads as follows:

‘7F Educational institutions established for religious purposes

(1) Nothing in this Act renders it unlawful to engage in teaching activity if that activity:

(a) is in good faith in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed; and

(b) is done by, or with the authority of, an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with those doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings.

(2) In this section:

Teaching activity means any kind of instruction of a student by a person employed or otherwise engaged by an educational institution.’

[viii] See amendments KQ 148, KQ 150 and KQ 151, here.

[ix] For more on this subject, see Back to School, Back to Discrimination for LGBT Students and Teachers.

No, We Don’t Have Marriage Equality Yet

This post is part of a series looking at the unfinished business of LGBTI equality in Australia. You can see the rest of the posts here.

 

12 months ago today, the House of Representatives passed Liberal Senator Dean Smith’s Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017.

 

It was the culmination of more than 13 years of campaigning by Australia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities.

 

When that law took effect, two days later, Australia finally permitted same-sex couples to wed and recognised the marriages of most[i] LGBTI couples.

 

But we did not achieve genuine marriage equality – nor do we enjoy it exactly one year later.

 

This is because the terms and conditions which apply to the marriages of LGBTI couples after 9 December 2017 are different to those which applied to cisgender heterosexual couples before that date.

 

First, and most importantly, at the time of writing, forced trans divorce – where a transgender person who is already married cannot gain access to accurate identity documentation unless they first divorce their partner – still exists in Western Australia and Tasmania[ii] (while legislation to abolish forced trans divorce has only passed in the Northern Territory in the past fortnight).

 

One of the positive aspects of last year’s marriage Bill is that it included a 12-month phase out of exceptions to the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 which allowed states and territories to enforce these discriminatory laws.

 

Which means that, from this Sunday, trans people who are already married in WA and Tasmania will be able to lodge a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) about their mistreatment under the Gender Reassignment Act 2000 (WA) and the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1999 (Tas).

 

Presumably, they will also be able to seek a new birth certificate through this process (although whether the respective state Governments provide one remains to be seen).

 

Nevertheless, for as long as forced trans divorce sits on the statute books in any Australian jurisdiction, and we compel some trans people who are already married to take action with the AHRC – or even have to go to Federal Court – just to gain access to accurate identity documentation, it is inaccurate to say we have genuine marriage equality in Australia.

 

[Update May 2019: Western Australia abolished its forced trans divorce laws in February 2019, while Tasmania removed its own forced trans divorce provisions in April 2019, taking effect earlier this month. This means that – finally – forced trans divorce is history.]

 

Second, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017 didn’t just allow LGBTI couples to wed – it also inserted new ‘religious exceptions’ into the Marriage Act 1961 itself. For example, it gave existing civil celebrants the ability to nominate themselves as ‘religious marriage celebrants’ and thereby refuse to perform the ceremonies of same-sex couples.

 

Importantly, this didn’t just apply to civil celebrants who were ‘ministers of religion’ of unrecognised religions (sub-section 39DD(1), which is at least arguably consistent with freedom of religion).

 

It also allowed existing civil celebrants to gain access to these special privileges based on nothing more than their personal beliefs. As is now set out in sub-section 39DD(2) of the Marriage Act 1961:

 

Marriage celebrants who wish to be religious marriage celebrants on the basis of their religious beliefs

(2) The Registrar of Marriage Celebrants must identify a person as a religious marriage celebrant on the register of marriage celebrants if:

(a) the person was registered as a marriage celebrant under Subdivision C of this Division immediately before Part 1 of Schedule 1 to the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017 commenced; and

(b) the person gives the Registrar notice that the person wishes to be identified as a religious marriage celebrant on the register:

(i) in writing; and

(ii) in a form approved by the Registrar; and

(iii) within 90 days after Part 1 of Schedule 1 of the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017 commences; and

(c) the choice is based on the person’s religious beliefs [emphasis added].

 

In effect, a civil celebrant who was registered before 9 December 2017 could simply sign-up to be able to say ‘no gays allowed’ (or no lesbians, bisexuals or transgender people allowed either).[iii]

 

[Update 13 December 2018: In fact, as revealed by the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review Report, 406 existing civil celebrants registered to take advantage of these new special privileges to discriminate against LGBTI couples. Which, to be honest, is even more people choosing prejudice over equal love than I had anticipated.]

 

Remember that these celebrants are not ministers of religion, and the ceremonies they officiate need not be religious. There is also no test of their beliefs – it is based solely on self-declaration.

 

In practice, this provision has very little to do with actual religious freedom, but instead provides new legal protections to homophobia, biphobia and transphobia as long as it is dressed up as ‘religious’.

 

That much is made abundantly clear by the fact similar provisions had never been introduced to ‘protect’ civil celebrants who wanted to refuse to (re-)marry people who had previously been divorced, or to reject ceremonies for couples of different faiths – both of which arouse strong religious beliefs for many people.

 

These provisions were introduced only when LGBTI couples were finally allowed to marry, demonstrating that they are not aimed at protecting genuine religious freedom at all – their real target is undermining LGBTI equality.

 

This is obviously a terrible provision in and of itself. It also sets a negative precedent for other laws.

 

After all, if civil celebrants – who are in reality a small business, offering commercial services to the public at large – are allowed to discriminate against their customers on the basis of the customer’s sexual orientation or gender identity, then why shouldn’t other businesses be allowed to do the same (a point that religious fundamentalists made frequently during the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review).

 

Indeed, that brings me to the third reason why we still don’t have genuine marriage equality in Australia.

 

Amidst all of the celebrations of the passage of same-sex marriage (and yes, as someone engaged to be married, I still think some celebration was justified), I wonder how many people understand that the following is now written into the Marriage Act:

 

47B Bodies established for religious purposes may refuse to make facilities available or provide goods or services

(1) A body established for religious purposes may refuse to make a facility available, or to provide goods or services, for the purposes of the solemnisation of a marriage, or for purposes reasonably incidental to the solemnisation of a marriage, if the refusal:

(a) conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of the religion of the body; or

(b) is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion.

(2) Subsection (1) applies to facilities made available, and goods or services provided, whether for payment or not.

(3) This section does not limit the grounds on which a body established for religious purposes may refuse to make a facility available, or to provide goods or services, for the purposes of the solemnisation of a marriage, or for purposes reasonably incidental to the solemnisation of a marriage.

(4) To avoid doubt, a reference to a body established for religious purposes has the same meaning in this section as it has in section 37 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

(5) For the purposes of subsection (1), a purpose is reasonably incidental to the solemnisation of marriage if it is intrinsic to, or directly associated with, the solemnisation of the marriage [emphasis in original].

 

This is an incredibly broad exception, applying to anything provided by a religious organisation that has anything to do with a LGBTI wedding – even where it is provided by a service that advertises to the public at large and is run for profit.

 

The most generous interpretation of the inclusion of this amendment is that it merely replicates, and reinforces, the existing religious exceptions found in section 37(1)(d) of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (provisions which have come under scrutiny this week because they also allow discrimination by religious schools against LGBT students and teachers).

 

But, if that is the case, their inclusion in the Marriage Act is entirely unnecessary. And for a reform that has powerful symbolic value, what does it say about the passage of same-sex marriage that it was accompanied by these equally symbolic, but discriminatory, amendments.

 

On the other hand, it is arguable that the addition of section 47B has actually increased the range of circumstances in which religious organisations can discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

This is particularly the case in relation to Tasmania, where the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 remains the best practice LGBTI discrimination law in Australia.

 

This is because the religious exceptions in section 47B of the Marriage Act 1961 are framed in a positive way (‘a body established for religious purposes may refuse…’), whereas the existing Sex Discrimination Act 1984 exceptions are phrased in a negative way (‘Nothing in Division 1 or 2 affects…’).

 

This is an important distinction because it is more likely that a positively-framed religious exception will override the anti-discrimination laws of jurisdictions which are inconsistent. In practice, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017 has likely allowed new forms of discrimination in our most Southern state.

 

Even if that interpretation is incorrect, it should again be highlighted that this type of exclusionary provision was never needed to allow religious organisations to refuse to serve couples where one or both had previously been divorced, or where the couple had different religious backgrounds.

 

Section 47B was only introduced when LGBTI couples were allowed to walk down the aisle. It’s true purpose is to allow religious bodies – even where they are advertise to the public at large and are run for a profit – to tell same-sex couples to go somewhere else.[iv]

 

Perhaps the most disappointing part about the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017 is that, despite being one of the worst marriage amendment Bills ever introduced into Commonwealth Parliament,[v] it was signed-off on by Australian Marriage Equality (AME), and the Equality Campaign, supposedly on behalf of the LGBTI community.

 

In the days after the announcement of the postal survey results, they presented Senator Dean Smith’s Bill as a fait accompli, arguing for its passage without calling for the removal of its unnecessary provisions regarding existing civil celebrants or wedding-related services, effectively making them accomplices to this new discrimination.

 

In my opinion, AME/The Equality Campaign were wrong to do so.

 

They were wrong on principle. As an organisation purporting to advocate for marriage equality, they should have been calling for genuine equality, not defending the inclusion of provisions that were never needed for anyone else, but were only introduced to target LGBTI Australians. Their acquiescence makes it harder to push for the removal of these provisions in the future.

 

They were wrong on strategy. The religious fundamentalists inside the Coalition Government were the ones who had pushed for the unnecessary, wasteful, harmful and divisive postal survey – and they lost, with the majority of Australians showing they supported the equal treatment of all couples, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics.

 

That is what the LGBTI community should have been demanding: full equality and nothing less. If the Coalition Government refused to pass it because it did not include new rights to discriminate against LGBTI couples, even after imposing an unprecedented $80.5 million three-month national opinion poll, then they would have experienced the biggest of backlashes. It was not up to the LGBTI community to save the Government from itself.

 

And they were wrong on process, because they never secured the informed consent of the LGBTI community to these changes. They never explained, in detail, what had been given up and why, and they never asked lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people whether it was a price they were prepared to pay.

 

Indeed, when other organisations like just.equal and PFLAG Australia did ask the community what they thought, the response was generally unequivocal – there must be no new discrimination.[vi] In the absence of other evidence, that is the position I think AME/The Equality Campaign should have adopted.[vii]

 

It is likely I will be criticised, possibly quite strongly, for writing this (and especially those last few paras). Many will argue that what’s done is done, and should therefore be left alone.

 

Maybe.

 

Except I would argue that what was done last year – the inclusion of new discriminatory provisions in the Marriage Act itself – needs to be undone.

 

In order to do so, we need to know what exactly is in the Act, and how and why it was included. And then we need to work out a strategy for ensuring sections 39DD(2) and 47B are removed from the statute books so that the stain of discrimination is washed clean, permanently.

 

Because for as long as any LGBTI couple is turned away by a homophobic or transphobic civil celebrant (calling themselves a ‘religious marriage celebrant’), and for as long as religious organisations enjoy special privileges to discriminate in the provision of wedding-related goods, services or facilities, then we don’t enjoy genuine marriage equality in Australia.

 

House of Reps Vote

The moment Commonwealth Parliament passed the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017. It introduced same-sex marriage. But it isn’t marriage equality.

 

If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus

 

Footnotes:

[i] See the discussion of forced trans divorce below.

[ii] Legislation to abolish forced trans divorce – as well as making the inclusion of gender on birth certificates optional – has passed Tasmania’s Legislative Assembly, but it is unclear if or when it will pass the Legislative Council.

Legislation to abolish forced trans divorce passed Western Australia’s lower house in late 2018. It was finally passed by the Legislative Council on 12 February 2019, leaving Tasmania as the last state yet to abolish Forced Trans Divorce.

[iii] Authorised under section 47A:

Religious marriage celebrants may refuse to solemnise marriages

(1) A religious marriage celebrant may refuse to solemnise a marriage despite anything in this Part, if the celebrant’s religious beliefs do not allow the celebrant to solemnise the marriage

Grounds for refusal not limited by this section

(2) This section does not limit the grounds on which a religious marriage celebrant may refuse to solemnise a marriage.

[iv] There is a fourth problem with the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017 and that is it reinforces the ability of defence force chaplains to discriminate in terms of which marriage ceremonies they will officiate. As outlined in section 81 of the Marriage Act 1961:

(2) A chaplain may refuse to solemnise a marriage despite anything in this Part, if any of the following applies:

(a) the refusal conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of the religion of the chaplain’s religious body of religious organisation;

(b) the refusal is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion;

(c) the chaplain’s religious beliefs do not allow the chaplain to solemnise the marriage.

Grounds for refusal not limited by this section

(3) This section does not limit the grounds on which an authorised celebrant (including a chaplain) may refuse to solemnise a marriage.

This provision is offensive because military chaplains are public servants, paid for by the taxpayer (including of course LGBTI taxpayers), and obligated to serve all of the people supposedly under their pastoral care. They should be required to provide these services to all ADF personnel, irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity – and if they cannot, they should find another job.

On the other hand, it should be acknowledged that defence force chaplains already had the ability to determine who they performed marriages for (although the revised section 81 made this power even clearer) meaning it is somewhat distinct from the existing civil celebrant, and wedding-related services, religious exceptions, both of which are genuinely new ‘rights’ to discriminate.

[v] Perhaps equal worst with Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm’s Freedom to Marry Bill 2014, which allowed all civil celebrants to turn away LGBTI couples, but which did not insert new general religious exceptions in the Marriage Act itself.

Liberal Senator James Paterson’s Marriage Amendment (Definition and Protection of Freedoms) Bill 2017 – written in conjunction with the Australian Christian Lobby – was obviously far worse than both, but it was never formally introduced.

[vi] See the results of their November 2017 community survey here.

In particular:

  • 63.1% of respondents opposed the Smith Bill’s civil celebrant provisions
  • 86.9% opposed the wedding-related services exceptions, and
  • 77.4% opposed provisions allowing military chaplains to refuse to officiate the ceremonies of LGBTI ADF personnel.

Importantly, 53.7% of respondents indicated they were willing to wait until marriage equality could be achieved without such provisions (while only 27.9% were not willing to wait and 18.4% were neutral on this issue).

[vii] For more on these issues, see Rodney Croome’s excellent recent article in New Matilda, ‘Yes Yes No: Why the History of Marriage Equality Must be Told Accurately’.

Genderless (Notices of Intended) Marriage

The Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department is currently consulting about the Notice of Intended Marriage form. Submissions close today, 28 October 2018 (for more information, click here). Here’s mine:

**********

Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department

via marriagecelebrantssection@ag.gov.au

 

Sunday 28 October 2018

 

To whom it may concern

 

Notice of Intended Marriage Consultation

 

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission to this consultation.

 

My comments relate to only one section of the revised Notice of Intended Marriage form, and that is:

 

  1. Gender (optional) Male, Female or Non-Binary.

 

This is required to be completed for both parties to an intended marriage.

 

The inclusion of this question is entirely unnecessary and it should be removed.

 

It is unnecessary because, following the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017, there is generally no gender (or sex) based restriction on whether couples are able to lawfully marry.

 

This status will be reinforced on December 9 this year when, for those states and territories that have yet to abolish forced trans divorce, the exception provided by the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to permit this unjustifiable discrimination will expire.

 

This question is also unnecessary to establish identity, which is proved by name, date and place of birth and the requirement to supply identity documentation on the subsequent page of the form. Logically, it is clearly unnecessary to prove identity it if answering is optional.

 

It should be removed because of the growing recognition of, and respect for, the full diversity of the Australian community, particularly in terms of sex, sex characteristics and gender identity.

 

As a cisgender gay man and LGBTI advocate I acknowledge the advice of trans, gender diverse and intersex individuals and organisations that, in order to be fully inclusive of their diversity, requests for information about sex and/or gender should only be included if they can be shown to serve a valid purpose.[i]

 

I can see no such purpose in this instance.

 

Recommendation 1: Question 3 of the Notice of Intended Marriage form should be removed.

 

If the above recommendation is not agreed, then it is my strong view this question should remain optional.

 

Further, given the question serves no valid purpose (in terms of determining whether a person is eligible to marry, or in verifying their legal identity) I suggest that the current three options of Male, Female and Non-Binary be removed. Instead it should simply state:

 

Gender (optional), please specify

 

This should be a write-in box, and have no other prompts for information. Amending the question in this way would allow people to enter their own gender identity, including those who may not identify with any of Male, Female, or Non-Binary.

 

Recommendation 2: If question 3 is retained, it must continue to be optional, and should ask for Gender, please specify, followed by a write-in box.

 

With the passage of last year’s amendments to the Marriage Act 1961, and the imminent abolition of forced trans divorce, marriage in Australia will shortly be available to all couples, irrespective of sex, sex characteristics, sexual orientation and gender identity.

 

That is what 61.6% of Australians said yes to (in the Liberal-National Government’s unnecessary, wasteful, divisive and harmful postal survey).

 

This equality-of-access should be reflected in the Notice of Intended Marriage form, by removing the optional question that asks for the gender of the participants, because it is no longer relevant in 2018.

 

Please do not hesitate to contact me at the details provided should you require additional information.

 

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

 

images-1

 

Footnotes:

[i] See for example article 8 of the 2017 Darlington Statement of intersex advocates from Australia and Aoteoroa/New Zealand, which includes:

“Undue emphasis on how to classify intersex people rather than how we are treated is also a form of structural violence. The larger goal is not to seek new classifications, but to end legal classification systems and the hierarchies that lie behind them. Therefore:

  1. a) As with race or religion, sex/gender should not be a legal category on birth certificates or identification documents for anybody” (emphasis in original).

Who pays for homophobia, biphobia and transphobia?

Prejudice against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community comes with a hefty price tag.

 

It is paid for by the individuals who are subject to direct and indirect acts of discrimination, being denied employment, or services, because of who they are, who they love or how they identify.

 

And by others, who self-censor, missing out on opportunities and on full participation in society, because of the legitimate fear of such discrimination.

 

It is paid for in the adverse mental health impacts experienced by the LGBT community, with depression, anxiety and other mental illness caused by homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.

 

And most tragically by those who end their lives as a consequence.

 

It has even been estimated that homophobia costs the global economy at least $119.1 billion in lost GDP every single year (and presumably more if the effects of biphobia and transphobia are included).

 

But, in this post, I want to take this question – who pays for homophobia, biphobia and transphobia – more literally.

 

In essence, who provides the money that funds anti-LGBT prejudice? Who allows it to occur in the first place?

 

The answer (or at least one of the answers), sadly, is all of us. Let me explain.

 

You are probably aware that most religious schools in Australia currently enjoy special privileges that permit them to discriminate against LGBT students, teachers and other staff.

 

This includes religious exceptions such as section 38 of the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, as well as equivalent anti-discrimination laws in New South Wales and Victoria.

 

In fact, Tasmania and now the ACT are the only Australian jurisdictions that do not allow religious schools to discriminate against teachers and students on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status.

 

All of the other states and territories allow at least some discrimination against LGBT students, or teachers, or in many cases both (Queensland actually comes closest to matching Tasmania and the ACT’s ‘best practice’ approach: it does not permit discrimination against LGBT students, while LGBT teachers are subject to a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ regime – although that still means they can be fired if they even mention having a same-sex partner in the workplace).[i]

 

And you likely also know that in Australia, religious schools receive significant government funding.

 

But you are probably not aware just how much public money – taxpayers’ money, your money – is given to these institutions.

 

According to the 2018 Budget, the Commonwealth Government will provide:

 

  • $11.829 billion to non-government schools in 2018-19
  • $12.452 billion in 2019-20
  • $13.145 billion in 2020-21, and
  • $13.821 billion in 2021-22.

 

That’s a total of $51.247 billion in taxpayers’ money going to non-government schools in just four years.

 

In fact, it’s even worse than that. In September, the Morrison Liberal-National Government announced an extra $1.1 billion for non-government schools over the next four years (and $4.5 billion over the next decade).

 

And these numbers don’t include the funding provided by state and territory governments.

 

Based on averages published by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), state and territory governments provide approximately one-third of the amount funded by the Commonwealth.

 

That means an extra $17.43 billion of public funding over the next four years alone, bringing the overall total to $69.78 billion.

 

Now, a couple of important caveats. Given religious schools in Tasmania are not permitted to discriminate against either LGBT students or teachers, let’s subtract $1.438 billion from this figure (the $1.079 billion allocated to Tasmanian non-government schools in the Commonwealth Budget, plus an extra third for additional state government funding) as well as $1.083 billion for the ACT (the $811.7 million allocated by the Commonwealth, plus an extra third from the Territory government).

 

And, with a small proportion of non-government schools being non-religious in nature and therefore generally not allowed to discriminate (except in NSW, where the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 permits all private schools, religious or otherwise, to discriminate against homosexual and transgender students and teachers), let’s be generous and subtract another 5%.

 

That still leaves $63.83 billion in Commonwealth, state and territory government funding allocated to religious schools over the next four years even though they are allowed to discriminate against LGBT teachers, students or both.[ii]

 

And who picks up the tab for this Government-sponsored homophobia, biphobia and transphobia? You do of course.

 

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in June 2017 there were 19.963 million Australians aged 15 and over (and therefore potentially of taxpaying age).

 

This means that for every Australian individual taxpayer Commonwealth, state and territory governments will collectively give $3,198 over the next four years to religious schools that have the legal right to discriminate against LGBT students and/or teachers. Roughly $800 every year, per person, spent subsidising anti-LGBT prejudice.[iii]

 

What makes these figures truly offensive, obscene even, is remembering that this money is coming from LGBT teachers, who are paying for religious schools to have the ability to deny them employment in up to 40% of the jobs for which they are qualified.

 

From the parents of LGBT children, who are paying for the special privileges of these institutions to reject their child’s enrolment simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

And from same-sex couples in rainbow families, who are paying for religious schools to deny their children admission on the basis of their parents’ relationship.

 

Indeed, the homophobia, biphobia and transphobia of religious schools is being paid for by the taxes of all LGBT Australians, our families, friends and allies.

 

And by the 61.6% of voters who just last year said that we are, or should be, equal irrespective of our sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

Despite that result (or perhaps even because of it) the Liberal-National Government seems intent on making what is a horrible situation worse.

 

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull commissioned the Ruddock Review of Religious Freedom during last year’s same-sex marriage parliamentary debate.

 

The contents of that review’s final report, delivered to the government in May but not yet released to the public, were leaked yesterday to Fairfax newspapers, and appear to support the further entrenchment, and possible expansion, of the ‘right’ of religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students and teachers.

 

This could potentially include the Commonwealth Government using the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to override the anti-discrimination laws of states and territories like Tasmania and the ACT (and to a lesser extent Queensland) that have moved to limit these special privileges.

 

New Prime Minister Scott Morrison does not seem opposed to such a development, saying that the right to discriminate against gay students ‘already exists’ (ignoring the fact it has been curtailed in some jurisdictions).

 

Three weeks’ ago he also told Sky’s Paul Murray that:

 

Let me give you this example. I send my kids to a Christian school, I think that Christian school should be able to ensure they can provide education consistent with the Christian faith and teaching that I believe as a parent. That’s why I’m sending them there. I don’t think that school should be told who they can and can’t employ, or have restrictions on them in ensuring that they’re delivering to me – the parent, their client, their customer – what I’ve invested in for my children’s education.

 

What he fails to mention is that, by virtue of public funding for religious schools, we are all ‘investing’ in his children’s education.

 

And what the Ruddock Review, Prime Minister Morrison and some members of his Government seem to want is for all of us to pay even more to allow more religious schools to discriminate against more LGBT students and teachers.

 

Well, fuck that. Enough is enough.

 

It’s time we stopped handing over money so that religious schools can fuck over LGBT students.

 

And it’s time we stopped coughing up cash so that these institutions can tell LGBT teachers and other staff to fuck off.

 

These human rights violations have gone on long enough.

 

To borrow a phrase from the American Revolution, there should be no taxation without anti-discrimination protection. Or even more simply:

 

No Taxation For Discrimination.

 

Instead of being an excuse for expanding religious exceptions in relation to religious schools, the Religious Freedom Review should be the catalyst for these special privileges to finally be subjected to proper scrutiny.

 

If the Morrison Government introduces amendments to entrench and expand the exceptions in section 38 of the Sex Discrimination Act, and potentially to override the best practice approaches of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act and ACT Anti-Discrimination Act, it will be up to Labor, the Greens and the cross-bench to block it (for his part, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is making the right noises, saying “The fact is every child is entitled to human dignity. We shouldn’t even be having this debate”).

 

The pressure will also be on Liberal moderates, who like to claim credit for delivering marriage equality (they didn’t, but that’s a post for another day), to stand up and help defeat proposals that will increase discrimination against that same community.

 

But stopping things from getting worse would hardly be a heroic achievement. The religious exceptions of the Sex Discrimination Act, and the equivalent laws in most states and territories that promote anti-LGBT prejudice, must be repealed.

 

Because LGBT teachers should be employed on the basis of their abilities, not their orientations or identities.

 

And LGBT students should not be refused enrolment, expelled, or discriminated against in any way, shape or form, just because of who they are. Not one student. Not ever.

 

While the rest of us shouldn’t be forced to pay for it, literally funding the homophobia, biphobia and transphobia of religious schools.

 

Bottom line: if religious schools want one cent from us, they must be decent to us, and that means ending their special privileges to discriminate against LGBT students, teachers and other staff once and for all.

 

To take action, please sign and share this petition from just.equal: www.equal.org.au/protectourkidsandteachers

 

aud100front

Your hard-earned dollars are funding anti-LGBT prejudice.

 

If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus

 

Footnotes:

[i] For more information about these laws, see: A Quick Guide to Australian LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws.

[ii] I am not suggesting that all of these schools would discriminate against LGBT students and/or teachers. In practice, a number provide welcoming environments irrespective of sexual orientation and gender identity. However, these schools retain the legal right to discriminate on these grounds.

[iii] By way of comparison, the Commonwealth Government will provide $245.6 million over the next four years to another inappropriate and unjustified school funding initiative (the National School Chaplaincy Program), or the equivalent of $12.30 for every Australian aged 15 and over. On the other hand, the Turnbull Government, of which Scott Morrison was Treasurer, axed the $8 million Safe Schools program in 2016 – in effect, they could not even be bothered spending 40c per taxpayer, spread over four years (so just 10c per taxpayer per year), to help address homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in schools.

5 Years of Commonwealth LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws. 5 Suggestions for Reform.

This post is part of a series looking at the unfinished business of LGBTI equality in Australia. You can see the rest of the posts here

 

Five years ago today, Commonwealth Parliament passed the historic Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013.

 

Almost four decades after the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, and nearly three decades after the passage of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) Australians finally received protection against discrimination under Commonwealth law.

 

While the SDA amendments were ground-breaking at the time, no piece of legislation is ever perfect. Five years into its operation, here are five areas in which I believe this Act can and should be improved.

 

  1. Update ‘intersex status’ to ‘sex characteristics’

 

With the passage of the 2013 amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act, Australia became one of the first jurisdictions in the world to explicitly protect people with intersex variations against discrimination.

 

This is because it added ‘intersex status’ as a stand-alone protected attribute, which was defined under section 4 as:

 

‘means the status of having physical, hormonal or genetic features that are:

(a) neither wholly female nor wholly male; or

(b) a combination of female and male; or

(c) neither female nor male.’

 

However, since then intersex advocates have expressed concerns about this wording, including that it may not adequately protect all intersex people (for example, potentially conflating or confusing issues of biology and identity).

 

For these reasons, in the landmark March 2017 Darlington Statement, OII Australia (now Intersex Human Rights Australia) and other intersex representatives ‘call[ed] for effective legislative protection from discrimination and harmful practices on grounds of sex characteristics’ [emphasis added].

 

Sex characteristics was then defined in the Yogyakarta Plus 10 Principles ‘as each person’s physical features relating to sex, including genitalia and other sexual and reproductive anatomy, chromosomes, hormones, and secondary physical features emerging from puberty.’

 

Australia helped lead the world in including ‘intersex status’ in the Sex Discrimination Act. Five years later we should take action again by updating this attribute to refer to ‘sex characteristics’ instead.

 

  1. Protect LGBT students against discrimination

 

A positive feature of the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013 was the aged care ‘carve-out’ from the otherwise overly-generous (see below) exceptions provided to religious organisations.

 

Sub-section 37(2) of the amended Sex Discrimination Act provides that the general exception ‘does not apply to an act or practice of a body established for religious purposes if:

(a) the act or practice is connected with the provision, by the body, of Commonwealth-funded aged care; and

(b) the act or practice is not connected with the employment of persons to provide that aged care.’

 

In effect, religious-operated aged care facilities that receive public funding are not permitted to discriminate against LGBT people accessing those services (although unfortunately they can still discriminate against LGBT employees).

 

Five years since this clause was passed, and there is exactly zero evidence that it has had any negative impact on the supposed ‘religious freedom’ of these institutions – and plenty of evidence that it has helped to protect older lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from unjustifiable discrimination.

 

Now, it is time to ensure that an equivalent provision is introduced to protect people at the other end of the age spectrum from similar mistreatment: younger LGBT people who are students at government-funded religious schools and colleges.

 

These students are just as vulnerable as older LGBT people accessing aged care services, and just as with the ‘carve-out’ in sub-section 37(2), there is no reason why taxpayer money should be used to discriminate against them on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

It is time to amend the Sex Discrimination Act to remove the special privilege enjoyed by publicly-funded religious educational institutions to discriminate against LGBT students. This could be achieved by adding a similar carve-out in sub-section 37(2), and repealing sub-section 38(3), which also allows discrimination by religious schools against LGBT students.

 

  1. Limit overly-generous general religious exceptions

 

While I believe the exceptions allowing discrimination against LGBT students deserve special attention, it is also important to reform the broader religious exceptions contained in the Sex Discrimination Act.

 

Sub-section 37(1) currently provides that none of the Act’s LGBT discrimination protections apply to:

(a) ‘the ordination or appointment of priests, ministers of religion or members of any religious order;

(b) the training or education of persons seeking ordination or appointment as priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order;

(c) the selection or appointment of persons to perform duties or functions for the purposes of or in connection with, or otherwise to participate in, any religious observance or practice; or

(d) any other act or practice of a body established for religious purposes, being an act or practice that conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion.’

 

[Section 38 provides a similarly-worded exception in relation to education, with sub-section 38(1) allowing religious schools to discriminate against teachers and other employees, and sub-section 38(2) permitting discrimination against contract workers.]

 

These clauses, and especially s37(1)(d), provide religious organisations with carte blanche to discriminate against LGBT Australians on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Such discrimination often has very little to do with sincerely-held religious beliefs, but is instead simply homophobia, biphobia or transphobia dressed up in a cloak of religious-sounding language.

 

I believe this discrimination has no place in 21st century Australia – and suspect most ordinary Australians agree (something that was confirmed in October in the wake of the leaking of the recommendations of the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review).

 

Fortunately, one Australian jurisdiction provides a much better precedent in this area, with legislation that still protects genuine religious freedom without endorsing broader anti-LGBT discrimination.

 

The Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 allows discrimination in certain circumstances in employment (section 51), admission as a student (section 51A) and participation in a religious observance (section 52), but only on the basis of religious belief or affiliation, and not because of sexual orientation or gender identity (or sex, pregnancy, relationship status or other attributes).

 

The Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act should be amended to adopt the much-preferable Tasmanian approach to religious exceptions, thereby dramatically narrowing the special privileges allowing them to engage in discrimination that would otherwise be unlawful.

 

  1. Introduce protections against anti-LGBTI vilification

 

Currently, only four Australian jurisdictions have anti-vilification laws which protect members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community: NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT. Of those, Queensland doesn’t cover intersex people, while NSW includes LGBTI people in the new criminal offence of ‘publicly threatening or inciting violence’ but only lesbians, gay men and trans people with binary gender identities can make civil complaints of vilification under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.

 

There are still no protections against anti-LGBTI vilification in Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia or the Northern Territory. And there is no LGBTI equivalent of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 under Commonwealth law either.

 

This is a situation that must change. Because homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic vilification is just as serious, and just as damaging, as racial vilification.

 

This was unequivocally demonstrated, and witnessed by the entire country, during last year’s same-sex marriage postal survey, with anti-LGBTI (and especially anti-trans) rhetoric in mainstream media and across society more generally. And while there were temporary, narrowly-defined prohibitions on vilification for the duration of that campaign (which have now expired), the hate-speech against our community that it stirred up continues unabated.

 

For all of these reasons, I believe it is beyond time for the Sex Discrimination Act to be amended to prohibit vilification on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics.

 

  1. Create an LGBTI Commissioner

 

From the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) website:

 

‘The Commission has a President and seven Commissioners:

  • President Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Ms June Oscar AO
  • Age Discrimination Commissioner The Hon Dr Kay Patterson AO
  • Children’s Commissioner Ms Megan Mitchell
  • Disability Discrimination Commissioner Mr Alastair McEwin
  • Human Rights Commissioner Mr Edward Santow
  • Race Discrimination Commissioner Mr Chin Tan
  • Sex Discrimination Commissioner Ms Kate Jenkins.’

 

Notice who’s missing? Of the major groups protected against discrimination under legislation administered by the AHRC, only one does not have a stand-alone Commissioner of their own: the LGBTI community.

 

Responsibility for LGBTI issues has instead been allocated to the Human Rights Commissioner (both the current office-holder, and his predecessor, Tim Wilson) but it is merely one of a number of different, often competing priorities of their role – sometimes directly so, given their simultaneous responsibility for promoting religious freedom.

 

It is inevitable that, under this organisational structure, LGBTI issues will not be given the same level of attention as those of race, sex, disability and age. The best way to change this is to amend the Sex Discrimination Act to create a full-time Commissioner dedicated to addressing anti-LGBTI discrimination.

 

**********

 

The passage of the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013 was an important achievement in the long struggle for LGBTI equality in Australia, in my opinion just as significant as the recognition of same-sex de facto relationships in 2008, and the long overdue legalisation of same-sex marriage late last year.

 

But, just five years old, these historic reforms are already showing their inherent limitations. It’s time for Commonwealth parliament to take action to ensure that the Sex Discrimination Act is effective in addressing anti-LGBTI discrimination and vilification. The five reforms suggested above would be a good place to start.

 

julia

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard passed the historic Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013 in the dying days of her leadership.

 

If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus

 

Ending Forced Trans Divorce: Mission Accomplished

It is now 18 months since the passage of legislation that finally allowed lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people the right to marry under Australian law.

 

Well, most LGBTI people. Because it did not immediately overrule the laws of some Australian states and territories that prevent people who are married from changing their identity documentation to reflect their gender identity. In effect, making some trans and gender diverse people choose between the recognition of their relationship, and recognition of who they are.

 

Instead, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017 gave states and territories 12 months in which to update relevant legislation to provide married people with the same opportunity to update their birth certificates as unmarried people.

 

At the end of this 12-month period, on 9 December 2018, the existing exemption under sub-section 40(5) the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 was repealed:

 

Nothing in Division 2 renders it unlawful to refuse to make, issue or alter an official record of a person’s sex if a law of a State or Territory requires the refusal because the person is married.

 

So how did the states and territories respond?

 

First, there are two jurisdictions that had already abolished forced trans divorce prior to the passage of the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act:

 

The Australian Capital Territory, where section 24(1) of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1997 does not make any distinction on the basis of whether a person is married or unmarried, and

 

South Australia, where sub-section 29I(3) of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 explicitly states that an application to change sex or gender identity ‘may be made under this section even if the person is married.’

 

There are four other jurisdictions that passed legislation within the 12 month time-frame granted to repeal forced trans divorce:

 

Victoria, where Parliament approved the Justice Legislation Amendment (Access to Justice) Act 2018 on 22 May. Among other things, this law repealed the requirement in section 30A of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 that a person be unmarried in order to apply to alter their details on the register, and

 

New South Wales, which passed the Miscellaneous Amendment (Marriages) Act 2018 in June. Similar to the Victorian Act, this legislation removes the requirement in sub-section 32B(1)(c) of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995 that a person be unmarried in order to apply to alter the register to record change of sex.

 

Queensland, which also passed its Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Act 2018 in June, amending the requirement in section 22 of the original Act that a person be unmarried for their sexual reassignment to be noted on the Register, and

 

The Northern Territory, which passed the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2018 in late November, taking effect on 6 December with only three days to spare.

 

Which means that, at the time of the December 2018 deadline, two out of eight Australian states and territories had failed to repeal forced trans divorce:

 

Western Australia, where the Gender Reassignment Amendment Bill 2018 passed the Legislative Assembly in November 2018, but was not passed by the Legislative Council before the end of 2018. Update: The Legislative Council passed the Bill on Tuesday 12 February 2019, and

 

Tasmania, where the Justice and Related Legislation (Marriage Amendments) Bill 2018 – which makes a range of important amendments beyond simply repealing forced trans divorce – passed the Legislative Assembly in November 2018 despite Government opposition, and awaits consideration by their Legislative Council in March this year. Update: This Bill was passed by the Legislative Council in April 2019, and took effect in May 2019.

 

Of course, it is disappointing that it took another 17 months for trans and gender diverse Australians to gain access to marriage on the same terms of lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

 

But it is still worthy of celebration that the abhorrent legal discrimination that was forced trans divorce has finally been made history.

 

Finally, this doesn’t mean the struggle for LGBTI equality in Australia is over – there is plenty left to do as part of the LGBTI agenda (see here).

 

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* This article was originally published in June 2018 as ‘Ending Forced Trans Divorce: Mission Half Accomplished’.

Unfairness in the Fair Work Act

This post is part of a series looking at the unfinished business of LGBTI equality in Australia. You can see the rest of the posts here

The first item of ‘unfinished business’ that I have chosen to write about is the discrimination that remains in the Commonwealth Fair Work Act 2009.

This unfairness includes two distinct issues, one relatively well-known (and which exists in other legislation, such as the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984), the other much less so.

Starting with the sometimes-overlooked problem first: did you know that the Fair Work Act 2009 does not protect trans, gender diverse and intersex people against workplace discrimination?

While this legislation prohibits adverse treatment on the basis of sexual orientation – thereby protecting lesbians, gay men and bisexuals (at least to some extent: see the second discussion below) – it does not include equivalent protections for trans, gender diverse and intersex people.

For example, sub-section 351(1) provides that ‘An employer must not take adverse action against a person who is an employee, or prospective employee, of the employer because of the person’s race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.’

Note that this list excludes both gender identity (which would cover trans and gender diverse people) and intersex status (the term used in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to protect intersex people, although the intersex community has since advocated for this to be updated to ‘sex characteristics’; see the Darlington Statement).

The same list of attributes, with the same exclusions, is found in sub-section 772(1)(f) which protects employees against unlawful termination.

In short, the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) does not protect trans, gender diverse and intersex Australians from mistreatment or unfair dismissal based on who they are. This is either a gross oversight, or a deliberate choice to treat transphobic and intersexphobic workplace discrimination less seriously than other forms of mistreatment.

Nor are these the only sections of the Fair Work Act to omit trans, gender diverse and intersex people:

  • Section 153 provides that discriminatory terms must not be included in modern awards. The list of relevant attributes includes sexual orientation, but excludes gender identity and sex characteristics;
  • Section 195 includes a similar prohibition on discriminatory terms in enterprise agreements, and once again omits trans, gender diverse and intersex people; and
  • Sub-section 578(c) provides that the Fair Work Commission must perform its functions taking into account ‘the need to respect and value the diversity of the work force by helping to prevent and eliminate discrimination on the basis of race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.’

There is literally no requirement in the Act for the Fair Work Commission to help prevent or eliminate transphobic and intersexphobic workplace discrimination.

There can be no justification for these omissions. Nor can there be any excuse for the Government, or Parliament more broadly, not to pass urgent amendments to ensure trans, gender diverse and intersex Australians are finally included in the Commonwealth Fair Work Act 2009.

Here are my letters to the Prime Minister, and the Minister for Jobs and Innovation, asking them to do exactly that:

**********

The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

Prime Minister of Australia

PO Box 6022

House of Representatives

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600

27 May 2018

 

Dear Prime Minister

Please include trans, gender diverse and intersex people in the Fair Work Act

On 15 November last year, in your press conference following the announcement of the 61.6% Yes vote in the same-sex marriage postal survey, you said that: ‘we are a fair nation. There is nothing more Australian than a fair go. There is nothing more Australian than equality and mutual respect.’

A little later in that same press conference you added: ‘we are a nation of a fair go and mutual respect and we treat people equally. We don’t discriminate against people because of their gender of their sexual orientation, their religion or race or the colour of their skin.’

Unfortunately, trans, gender diverse and intersex Australians are still a long way from receiving a ‘fair go’, and that includes being treated unfairly within the Commonwealth Fair Work Act 2009.

Section 351 of this legislation includes protections against adverse treatment on the basis of a wide range of attributes, including sexual orientation. However, it excludes both gender identity and sex characteristics (the latter being the term preferred by intersex advocates, as articulated in the Darlington Statement, replacing ‘intersex status’ as used in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984).

Similarly, section 772 of the Fair Work Act prohibits unfair dismissal on the same grounds as 351, once again leaving trans, gender diverse and intersex Australians without equivalent protection.

Meanwhile, sections 153 and 195 do not prohibit the use of discriminatory terms against trans, gender diverse and intersex people in modern awards and enterprise agreements, respectively.

Finally, while section 578 of the Fair Work Act mandates that, in performing its functions, the Fair Work Commission must take into account ‘the need to respect and value the diversity of the work force by helping to prevent and eliminate discrimination’, this does not cover either transphobic or intersexphobic discrimination.

I am writing to ask that you, and your Government, introduce amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 to rectify these gross oversights as a matter of priority.

Trans, gender diverse and intersex people deserve to be protected against workplace discrimination in exactly the same way as other employees, including lesbians, gay men and bisexuals.

If you fail to do so, you will be continuing to deny a ‘fair go’ to trans, gender diverse and intersex Australians, and your words of 15 November last year will ring hollow.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

**********

Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash

Minister for Jobs and Innovation

PO Box 6100

Senate

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600

via minister.cash@jobs.gov.au

27 May 2018

 

Dear Minister Cash

Please include trans, gender diverse and intersex people in the Fair Work Act

I am writing to you about the Commonwealth Fair Work Act 2009, which you administer, and specifically its failure to adequately protect trans, gender diverse and intersex employees against workplace discrimination.

Section 351 of this legislation includes protections against adverse treatment on the basis of a wide range of attributes, including sexual orientation. However, it excludes both gender identity and sex characteristics (the latter being the term preferred by intersex advocates, as articulated in the Darlington Statement, replacing ‘intersex status’ as used in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984).

Similarly, section 772 of the Fair Work Act prohibits unfair dismissal on the same grounds as 351, once again leaving trans, gender diverse and intersex Australians without equivalent protection.

Meanwhile, sections 153 and 195 do not prohibit the use of discriminatory terms against trans, gender diverse and intersex people in modern awards and enterprise agreements, respectively.

Finally, while section 578 of the Fair Work Act mandates that, in performing its functions, the Fair Work Commission must take into account ‘the need to respect and value the diversity of the work force by helping to prevent and eliminate discrimination’, this does not cover either transphobic or intersexphobic discrimination.

I am writing to ask that you, and the Liberal-National Government, introduce amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 to rectify these gross oversights as a matter of priority.

Trans, gender diverse and intersex people deserve to be protected against workplace discrimination in exactly the same way as other employees, including lesbians, gay men and bisexuals.

If you fail to do so, you will be failing to ensure trans, gender diverse and intersex Australians receive a ‘fair go’ in their jobs.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

**********

The second, much better-known, issue of unfairness in the Fair Work Act 2009 is its inclusion of extensive ‘religious exceptions’. These are loopholes that allow religious organisations to discriminate against employees on the basis of their sexual orientation (and would likely allow discrimination on the basis of gender identity were it to be included as a protected attribute in the Act in future).

The Fair Work Act entrenches these loopholes in two ways.

First, the prohibition on adverse treatment in section 351 (described above) does not apply to any action that is ‘not unlawful under any anti-discrimination law in force in the place where the action is taken’ (sub-section (2)(a)).

This means that the Fair Work Act reinforces the religious exceptions that already exist in the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, and its state and territory equivalents (other than the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998),[i] which permit anti-LGBT discrimination.

However, the Fair Work Act then includes its own ‘religious exceptions’ in sub-section 351(2)(c), allowing adverse treatment ‘if the action is taken against a staff member of an institution conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed – taken:

(i) in good faith; and

(ii) to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.’

In effect, the Act provides two different avenues for religious organisations to justify mistreating employees simply because of their sexual orientation.

The protection against unfair dismissal in section 772 also includes its own ‘religious exception’, while even the terms of modern awards (section 153) and enterprise agreements (section 195) are allowed to be explicitly discriminatory on the basis of sexual orientation where it relates to employment by a religious institution.

There is, however, one important difference between the religious exceptions in this Act and those that are contained in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984: the Fair Work Act religious exceptions technically apply across all protected attributes.

This means that, theoretically at least, a religious organisation could claim its beliefs required it to discriminate on the basis of race, or even physical or mental disability – and that it would therefore be protected from any adverse consequences under the Act.

Of course, in practice we all know that religious exceptions are most likely to be used to justify discrimination against women (including unmarried and/or pregnant women) and LGBT people.

Unfortunately, the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review recently handed to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (although not yet publicly released) is likely to recommend that these loopholes are expanded, rather than drastically reduced. That is a subject I am sure I will be writing about further in coming months.

Nevertheless, in the meantime we should continue to highlight the injustice of religious exceptions, including those found in the Fair Work Act and elsewhere, and campaign for their removal.

One such campaign, called ‘Change the Rules on Workplace Discrimination’, is currently being run by the Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby. I encourage you to sign their petition, here.

Ultimately, we need to collectively work towards a Fair Work Act that covers all parts of the LGBTI community – and that doesn’t feature extensive ‘religious exceptions’ allowing discrimination against us.

**********

Update 24 October 2018:

Earlier this year, the (then) Minister for Small and Family Business, the Workplace and Deregulation, the Hon Craig Laundy MP, replied to my letter. As you can see below, it is an extremely disappointing response.

He, and the Liberal-National Government, either don’t understand that the Fair Work Act excludes trans, gender diverse and intersex Australians (leaving them at a disadvantage compared to other groups, including lesbian, gay and bisexual people). Or they simply don’t care. I think we all know which is the likelier explanation.

This issue has taken on added importance in the context of the current debate around the Ruddock Review, and removing religious exceptions that allow discrimination against LGBT students and teachers.

That is because, even if those exceptions are repealed (from both the Sex Discrimination Act and the Fair Work Act), if the protected attributes of gender identity and sex characteristics/intersex status are not also added to the Fair Work Act, there will still be a two-tiered system for LGBTI teachers.

In short, lesbian, gay and bisexual teachers will be able to complain to both the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Australian Human Rights Commission, while trans, gender diverse and intersex teachers will only be able to complain to the latter.

Unfortunately, the otherwise positive Discrimination Free Schools Bill 2018 from the Australian Greens makes this fundamental mistake. We are also still waiting to see whether the now Morrison Government will introduce any reforms in this area at all, as well as what a Shorten Labor Opposition Bill (or amendments) might look like.

But, irrespective of whose Bill it is, and whatever other amendments it contains, if it doesn’t add gender identity and sex characteristics/intersex status to the Fair Work Act, it will be incomplete.

**********

16 July 2018

Dear Alastair

Thank you for your email of 27 May 2018 to Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, Minister for Jobs and Innovation, about protection from discrimination against trans, gender diverse and intersex employees under the Fair Work Act 2009. As the issues raised fall within my portfolio responsibilities as Minister for Small and Family Business, the Workplace and Deregulation, your email was referred to me for reply.

The Australian Government believes that discrimination in the workplace is unacceptable and all employees have the right to be free from discrimination at work.

The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (the Sex Discrimination Act) is the principle legislation providing protection against discrimination or harassment on the basis of sex and/or gender. It also covers discrimination and harassment in the workplace. The Sex Discrimination Act explicitly covers discrimination on the basis of gender identity and intersex status.

The Human Rights Commission Act 1986 provides remedies for workers who have been discriminated against, harassed or dismissed on the basis of gender identity or intersex status, including in the workplace. The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is responsible for responding to complaints about harassment or discrimination on the basis of gender identity or intersex status.

Any person who has been discriminated against, harassed or dismissed on the basis of gender identity or sex characteristics should contact the AHRC for information and advice. The AHRC has the power to investigate and conciliate the complaints of discrimination and breaches of human rights. Information on what is required to make a complaint is available at www.humanrights.gov.au under the complaints tab on that page. There is also a National Information Service line on 1300 656 419.

Yours sincerely

Craig Laundy

(then) Minister for Small and Family Business, the Workplace and Deregulation

Update 21 June 2020:

It has been brought to my attention that there is a possibility the Fair Work Commission would interpret ‘sex’ to include gender identity and potentially intersex status, based on this information on their website.

However, this interpretation is open to legal challenge, and may be overturned in the Federal Court. I remain of the view the only way to put workplace protection for trans, gender diverse and intersex people beyond doubt would be to add gender identity and sex characteristics to the Fair Work Act.

Morrison

Will Scott Morrison’s Government continue to exclude trans, gender diverse and intersex employees from the Fair Work Act?

If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus

Footnotes:

[i] For more information on the differences in these laws, see A quick guide to Australian LGBTI anti-discrimination laws.

Quit Playing Games

With marriage equality set to be debated in Commonwealth Parliament during the next fortnight, I have written the below letter to all MPs and Senators, calling on them to legislate for genuine marriage equality, not a Bill (or amendments) that entrenches our second-class status. To send your own message that #equalmeansequal, click here.

 

**********

 

Dear MP/Senator

 

I met my fiancé Steven two weeks after my 30th birthday.

 

Within a few months it was clear this relationship was something special. Just 17 months after we met, in January 2010, we did what most couples who are in love do: we got engaged.

 

That means we have been engaged, waiting for the right to marry, for almost eight years.

 

Obviously, a lot of ‘life’ can happen in eight years. We’ve moved cities, changed jobs – almost as many times as the country has changed Prime Ministers – and even bought a home together (well, the small fraction that isn’t owned by the bank).

 

But, nearing the end of 2017, we still can’t plan our wedding day. I want to draw your attention to one of the consequences of our extended, involuntary wait.

 

My grandmother, who is now in the second half of her 90s, would have been able to attend our wedding had we held it when most couples do, within a year or two of our engagement.

 

Instead, with her health declining and having recently moved into assisted living, she won’t be there when Steven and I tie the knot.

 

The delay in passing marriage equality, due to the intolerance, and intransigence, of too many politicians over too many years, has stolen that moment of celebration from us all.

 

Steven’s situation is only slightly better. With a Portuguese background, family is even more important to him. He would love nothing more than to be able to wed in front of his grandmother.

 

But, in her late 80s and having recently had a pacemaker installed, we cannot ignore the possibility his dream may not come true, especially if marriage equality is delayed any further.

 

I think I will be even more upset for him if that moment is stolen, too.

 

Of course, the failure to lead on this issue by Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott, and Malcolm Turnbull among others, has taken much, much more from other couples, including Peter Bonsall-Boone and Peter de Waal who, after 50 years together, will forever be denied the ability to marry each other.

 

It’s time for you, as our elected representatives, to end the interminable wait for marriage equality, a wait that has already proven too long for too many.

 

Quit playing games with our relationships. Pass marriage equality now.

 

**********

 

I met my fiancé Steven one week after my brother’s wedding. Two years earlier I attended my sister’s wedding.

 

I look forward to being able to invite both of my siblings, and their respective spouses, to Steven and my nuptials.

 

When we finally say ‘I do’, though, there is a real chance our marriage will be subject to different terms and conditions than theirs. Because the legislation that will give us the right to marry will likely take away our rights in other areas.

 

The Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, introduced by Liberal Senator Dean Smith, is already deeply flawed, allowing existing civil celebrants to simply declare themselves ‘religious marriage celebrants’ in order to turn away same-sex couples, and unnecessarily duplicating religious exceptions from the Sex Discrimination Act within the Marriage Act.

 

Yet, there are many MPs and Senators who seem intent on making this unsatisfactory legislation even worse.

 

From Attorney-General George Brandis, who wants to provide all civil celebrants with the ability to discriminate against couples on the basis of their personal religious or conscientious beliefs, even though their role is entirely secular in nature.

 

And to add a ‘religious freedom’ declaration to the Act that will almost inevitably be used by the Australian Christian Lobby-created Human Rights Law Alliance to litigate to establish new ways of discriminating against LGBTI couples.

 

To Treasurer Scott Morrison, who apparently thinks school students need to be protected from learning about couples like Steven and me, and wants to legislate an unprecedented power for parents to withdraw their children from any class that even mentions the fact same-sex marriages exist.

 

Then there’s Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm, who has already circulated amendments that would allow commercial businesses to discriminate against LGBTI couples on their wedding day. And, if they hold one, at their engagement party. Oh, and on all of their wedding anniversaries too.

 

None of these so-called ‘freedoms to discriminate’ operate currently with respect to inter-faith marriages, or to divorced couples remarrying. The fact they are being proposed now is homophobic.

 

Nor are any of these new religious exceptions necessary.

 

All that is required to introduce marriage equality is to amend the definition in the Marriage Act to be the union of two people, and to recognise the foreign marriages of same-sex couples that already exist. Nothing more.

 

After all, when Steven and I do eventually marry, there is absolutely no reason why we should be treated any differently to, or worse than, my brother or my sister were.

 

Quit playing games with our rights. Pass genuine marriage equality.

 

**********

 

I met my fiancé Steven four days before the 4th anniversary of John Howard’s ban on marriage equality.

 

His Government’s discriminatory Bill was rushed through the Parliament, and passed by the Senate on Friday 13 August, 2004.

 

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians have spent more than 13 years trying to undo his changes, and for a better, fairer, and more-inclusive Marriage Act to be adopted in its place.

 

The process for doing so should have been the same one employed by the then-Liberal Prime Minister: a parliamentary vote.

 

Instead, our two more-recent Liberal Prime Ministers have both argued that LGBTI Australians should have to overcome hurdles that have not been placed in front of other groups.

 

First, it was the proposed plebiscite – a national, non-binding vote that has only been used three times in the 117 years since Federation, but not once to decide on the human rights of a minority, and not once in my lifetime.

 

Then, when that process was firmly rejected by the Senate – at the request of the LGBTI community itself – the Turnbull Government decided to invent a ‘postal survey’ run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, a 3-month, $100 million farce that confirmed what every opinion poll of the last decade had already found, while also stirring up homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in the community.

 

Let’s be clear: the postal survey should never have been held. And it must never, ever be imposed on any other group.

 

Now, having jumped through those extra hoops, and with marriage equality set to be debated by Commonwealth Parliament, the rules have apparently changed once more.

 

Instead of respecting the outcome of the process they chose, which overwhelmingly supported marriage equality, some MPs and Senators are spending more time creating additional restrictions to ensure our relationships are considered lesser than the marriages of cisgender heterosexual couples.

 

They are trying to change the rules of the game, right when LGBTI couples finally get the chance to take our rightful place on the field. Or at the altar. Or wherever we decide to marry.

 

That simply isn’t good enough.

 

Quit playing games with our community. Pass marriage equality, and stop creating new ways to discriminate against us.

 

**********

 

I met my fiancé Steven at a time when I had started to genuinely wonder whether I would ever find someone to spend my days with, let alone share a wedding day.

 

As an LGBTI advocate, the ability to marry felt like an abstract, or even hypothetical, right – important, yes, but not something I thought I would exercise myself.

 

Fortunately, falling in love made the hypothetical real, and today, more than nine years into our relationship, our desire to get married is more real than ever.

 

Unfortunately, public discussion over the past few weeks has at times felt ‘un-real’, as some MPs and Senators have debated the abstract ability of people to discriminate against LGBTI couples, rather than the practical rights of those couples to marry.

 

They have focused on hypothetical homophobic bakers, florists, and wedding-venue providers, and lost sight of the fact marriage equality should be about removing discrimination, not adding to it.

 

Once this parliamentary debate is over, if any of their amendments are passed, the rights of people to discriminate against us will sadly be very real.

 

The message that parliament would send – that our marriages are second-class – would be very real too. And LGBTI Australians would be reminded of that fact every time we are turned away by civil celebrants, or other wedding-related businesses, for years or even decades into the future.

 

It’s time for you, as our elected representatives, to decide what kind of legacy you want to leave. A better, fairer, and more-inclusive Australia. Or a country that chose something else, something lesser.

 

I started this letter by noting that Steven and I met two weeks after my 30th birthday. As much as I might try to deny it that means next year we will celebrate two major milestones: my 40th birthday and, much more significantly, our 10th anniversary.

 

As verbose as I am, I don’t actually have the words to express how much it would mean to me to finally be able to marry the man I love after all this time.

 

And so, I make this final plea to you:

 

Quit playing games. Pass marriage equality now. But, when you do, make sure it treats all couples equally. Because we are. Equal.

 

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

 

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Why we should say ‘I don’t’ to religious exceptions for civil celebrants

The issue of marriage equality will be decided by Commonwealth Parliament in the next fortnight, first in the Senate (from Monday 27 November) and then, assuming it clears the upper house, in the House of Representatives (from Monday 4 December).

 

The ‘starting point’, problematic though it may be, is Liberal Senator Dean Smith’s Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. Although what this legislation looks like by the end of this process remains unpredictable.

 

That’s because a wide variety of Coalition MPs are likely to put forward an even more diverse range of amendments. In this post I will discuss just one, already foreshadowed by Senator George Brandis: to provide all civil celebrants with the ability to discriminate on the basis of their personal religious or conscientious beliefs.[i]

 

I do so because, at this stage, this amendment seems to have a better chance of being successful – in part because of who is proposing it (the Attorney-General, a supposed ‘moderate’ within the Government) and also because it is marginally less extreme than some of the other changes flagged by people like James Paterson, Scott Morrison and Peter Dutton.

 

I don’t, however, support Senator Brandis’ amendment, for the following reasons:

 

  1. Civil wedding ceremonies are not religious. Indeed they were explicitly created as an alternative to religious ceremonies – and are now a very popular alternative, accounting for 3-in-4 weddings in Australia in 2015. If the wedding itself is not religious, surely the religious beliefs of the person officiating it are irrelevant.

 

  1. The ability to discriminate does not currently exist. There are a wide range of religious beliefs around marriage, including people who don’t support marriages between people of different faiths, while others don’t believe in divorce and remarriage. And yet, civil celebrants do not enjoy a special privilege to discriminate for these reasons. That it is being contemplated now, when LGBTI Australians might finally be able to wed, reveals that such an amendment is fundamentally homophobic.

 

  1. Civil celebrants are performing a duty on behalf of the state. Only people who are formally registered are given the legal authority to officiate marriage ceremonies – their role is regulated by, and delegated by, the Commonwealth Government. If the Government is not able to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, then nor should people who are fulfilling a secular function on its behalf.

 

Some people do not accept this characterisation, instead asserting civil celebrants are more akin to small business owners. But even on this theoretical foundation, there is absolutely no basis to provide them with special privileges to discriminate against LGBTI couples (or any other couples for that matter):

 

  1. Commercial businesses should not be able to discriminate on the basis of personal religious or conscientious beliefs. They cannot be allowed to hang signs in their windows – real, or online – saying ‘no gays allowed’. In 2017, it feels strange to actually have to put that down in black and white, but it is the inevitable consequence of Senator Brandis’ proposal. And others within the Turnbull Government would go even further (with Kevin Andrews arguing Jewish bakers should be able to refuse Muslim customers, and vice versa).

 

  1. If civil celebrants are allowed to discriminate, it is difficult to withhold this privilege from other wedding-related businesses. While some claim civil celebrants play such a central role in weddings they alone should be able to discriminate, philosophically it is hard to distinguish their position from others closely involved in the same ceremonies (including photographers, wedding venue-providers and even florists). If the former is permitted to reject couples on the basis of personal prejudice, why not the latter? By opening the door to civil celebrants, we may end up inadvertently allowing plenty of others to walk through – when all should be kept outside.

 

  1. Allowing civil celebrants to discriminate creates a terrible precedent for anti-discrimination law in Australia. Currently, the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act, and most state and territory anti-discrimination laws, only permit religious organisations to discriminate against LGBT people. They do not provide the same special privileges to individuals. The Australian Christian Lobby desperately wants an individual ‘freedom to discriminate’ against people on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status. By granting this ability to civil celebrants in the Marriage Act, a change that may seem small to many, we would actually be handing Lyle Shelton a large victory, and an invaluable tool in his ongoing campaign against LGBTI equality.

 

For all of these reasons, I think that anyone who supports genuine marriage equality – including the LGBTI community, our families, friends and allies, and the 61.6% of the population who voted Yes – should say ‘I don’t’ to religious exceptions for civil celebrants.

 

**********

 

It would, however, be remiss of me not to address an argument that is commonly used to support such special privileges, one that is advanced even by some within the LGBTI community itself. That is the view that ‘why would couples want to be married by someone who disagrees with their relationship?’

 

The answer, of course, is that the vast majority of couples do not (although some, especially in rural and regional areas, may have few other options).

 

But, with all due respect to the people making this case, so what? That response doesn’t actually deal with the substantive issue at hand, and completely misunderstands the essential role of anti-discrimination law.

 

To see why, let’s apply the same question to other scenarios: Why would anyone want the florist for their wedding to be prejudiced against LGBTI people? The (now clichéd) baker? The wedding venue-provider?

 

Why would an LGBTI couple want to spend their honeymoon at a hotel where the proprietor disagrees with their relationship? Or to celebrate their anniversary at a restaurant whose owner is homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic?

 

Why would a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex employee want to work for an anti-LGBTI employer?

 

The answer, again, is that most LGBTI people do not want to find themselves in any of these circumstances. But, for a variety of reasons (including the impact of historical discrimination, ongoing homophobic attitudes in society-at-large, and differences in power and privilege) plenty of people do – and that is the reason we have anti-discrimination laws in the first place.

 

The Sex Discrimination Act, and its state and territory equivalents, operate to protect vulnerable groups against adverse treatment, wherever it occurs: the provision of goods and services, education, employment and other areas of public life. That obviously covers civil celebrants offering their services to the public, too.

 

In amending the Marriage Act, we should not support anything that undermines these vital anti-discrimination protections. By conceding that discrimination by civil celebrants should be allowed, by effectively ‘picking and choosing’ when anti-LGBTI prejudice is made lawful, we would be doing exactly that.

 

Once this broader principle of anti-discrimination has been sacrificed, our opponents will stake their claims for ever-widening ‘freedoms to discriminate’. Indeed, Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm has already circulated amendments to the Smith Bill that would make it entirely legal to discriminate against LGBTI couples in providing goods, services or facilities in relation to:

“(a) the solemnisation of a marriage under the Marriage Act 1961; or

(b) the preparation for, or celebration of, such a marriage; or

(c) the preparation for, or celebration of, events associated with such a marriage, including:

(i) an event announcing or celebrating the engagement of the parties to be married; and

(ii) an event celebrating the anniversary of the marriage.”

 

No doubt other conservative MPs and Senators will move their own amendments in the course of parliamentary debate, some perhaps more expansive, and even worse, than these.

 

They must, of course, be rejected – for exactly the same reasons that we must reject Senator Brandis’ amendment concerning civil celebrants. Because lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians should not be discriminated against in any area of public life. No exceptions.

 

If you agree, please take two minutes to write to Commonwealth MPs and Senators to let them know that #equalmeansequal, and that there should be ‘No compromise on equality’ (click here).

 

**********

 

One final point before I conclude. By now, I have hopefully convinced you to say ‘I don’t’ to Senator Brandis’ amendment to create religious exceptions for civil celebrants.

 

If that is the case, then logically you should also say ‘I don’t’ to the Smith Bill itself – because all of the above arguments can also be made against sub-section 39DD(2), which would allow existing civil celebrants to nominate to become ‘religious marriage celebrants’, and discriminate against LGBTI couples, based on nothing more than their personal religious beliefs.

 

That’s why I and others have argued passionately that the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, as it currently stands, does not offer genuine marriage equality. And why we should be pressuring Labor, the Greens and anyone else who claims to support LGBTI equality to amend that legislation to remove such discriminatory provisions.

 

I guess we’ll all find out in the coming fortnight how real their commitment to equality actually is.

 

George Brandis 25

Attorney-General George Brandis, who is proposing religious exceptions for civil celebrants.

 

Footnotes:

[i] Interestingly, Senator Brandis is doing so even though civil celebrants themselves do no support such an amendment. As reported this week in the Sydney Morning Herald , Dorothy Harrison, the chair of the Coalition of Celebrant Associations, said: “We don’t approve of exemptions. We feel that if that’s the law of the country, then that’s what you do. We have discrimination laws and we have to live by them.”

Bill Shorten, It’s time to honour your commitment on marriage equality

The following is my open letter to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, ahead of the announcement of the postal survey result this Wednesday (15 November) and likely subsequent parliamentary consideration of marriage equality legislation:

 

**********

 

On 31 March 2016, you attended a panel event called ‘Why Knot?’ in Redfern, co-hosted by the Guardian Australia and Australian Marriage Equality.

 

At the end of that forum, during the Q&A session, I asked you the following question:

 

“There is a real risk that, when Malcolm Turnbull finally gets around to drafting it, his Marriage Amendment Bill will seek to include new special rights for civil celebrants and other wedding business-providers to discriminate against LGBTI couples. Just to get it on the record: Mr Shorten, will you commit the Labor Party to voting against any attempts to expand religious exceptions beyond existing provisions and, if they do somehow end up being passed and polluting the Marriage Act, will you seek to repeal them at the earliest available opportunity?”[i]

 

Your answer: “Yes, and yes.”

 

As reported by the Guardian, you went on to state: “It’s not allowed under the current law – why would we water down existing laws? We don’t need to water down anti-discrimination law to keep some people [who oppose same-sex marriage] happy.”

 

You were right then.

 

You were right because this reform, marriage equality, is about removing discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics. One form of discrimination should not simply be replaced by another.

 

You were right because protections for ‘religious freedom’ that are only introduced when LGBTI couples might finally have the opportunity to wed should be seen for what they are: attempts to legitimise homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.

 

You were right because the vast majority of LGBTIQ Australians do not want our long desired, long fought for and long overdue equal right to marry undermined by new special privileges to discriminate against us – with research at the start of 2017 confirming that:

 

“81% of the 6,352 LGBTIQ adult Australians taking part in this survey were strongly opposed to potential new laws making it legal for individuals and organisations to refuse their services to same-sex couples, based on personal conscience or religious belief.”

 

And you were right because four-in-five Australians agree, with a poll earlier this month reporting that:

 

“In response to the question, ‘If the majority vote ‘yes’ in the postal survey, should same-sex couples be treated the same under the law compared with other couples?’, 78% of respondents said yes. This figure consisted of 98% of respondents who said they had voted ‘yes’, and also 43% of those who said they had voted ‘no’.”

 

You were right then. Are you still right now? Specifically, will you, and the Labor Party, do the right thing when marriage equality legislation is likely considered by Commonwealth Parliament in the coming weeks and months?

 

I ask this question because I am extremely disappointed by reports that the Labor Caucus has already decided to support Liberal Senator Dean Smith’s Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, describing it as an ‘acceptable compromise’.

 

This is despite the fact his draft legislation:

 

  • Permits existing civil celebrants to discriminate against LGBTI couples by nominating to become ‘religious marriage celebrants’ based on nothing more than their personal beliefs [section 39DD(2)], and
  • Unnecessarily duplicates exceptions from the Sex Discrimination Act within the Marriage Act itself, allowing religious bodies that offer wedding-related facilities, goods and services to the public to turn away LGBTI couples [section 47B].

 

Both of these provisions appear to be matters you either explicitly or implicitly rejected in your answer at that forum in Redfern just over 19 months ago.

 

I urge you to reconsider your, and your Party’s, position on the Smith Bill, not just because of your previous commitment to me and to that audience, but also because of the principle that marriage equality should be exactly that: equal. The weddings of LGBTI Australians, when they are finally made legal, must not be subject to any extra terms and conditions than those that already exist.

 

At the very least, I believe you should develop amendments to remove both of the above provisions from the Smith Bill prior to its potential passage.

 

I am sure you are also aware of reports that conservatives within the Liberal and National Parties are busy preparing their own amendments to the Smith Bill that would extend discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people across a wide range of areas of public life.

 

It is incumbent upon you, and every member of the parliamentary Labor Party, to vote against every amendment that seeks to perpetuate the second-class treatment of LGBTI Australians, our relationships and our families.

 

In this context, the debate around marriage equality legislation will be an opportunity for you to show, once again, the leadership on this issue that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will not.

 

You stood with the LGBTI community against the unnecessary, wasteful and divisive plebiscite in October 2016.

 

You stood with the LGBTI community again, earlier this year, against the equally unnecessary, wasteful and divisive (and arguably illegitimate) postal survey.

 

When the survey went ahead, you stood with the LGBTI community a third time by campaigning to help win the public vote.

 

Please stand with us now by voting to ensure any Bill that is passed represents genuine marriage equality, not just same-sex marriage subject to additional discrimination.

 

It’s time to honour your commitment, to me, to LGBTI Australians, and to every person who has voted Yes to the equal treatment of equal love.

 

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

 

Bill Shorten Commitment

Will Opposition Leader Bill Shorten support genuine marriage equality?

Footnotes:

[i] I recorded the question shortly thereafter – and published it in April 2016 in the following article: In the battle for marriage equality, we must not forget to fight against religious exceptions.