Ten Months of Transphobia

The ‘star candidate’ of the first week of the election campaign – for all the wrong reasons – has undoubtedly been the Liberal candidate for Warringah, Katherine Deves.

Hand-picked by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the head of anti-trans lobby group Save Women’s Sport Australasia has left a long trail of public comments for the media to scrutinise. And, well, the results aren’t pretty.

Already this week, they have reported on posts:

  • Describing trans kids as ‘surgically mutilated and sterilised’, while sharing topless images of a trans teenager who had undergone top surgery.
  • Saying she is ‘triggered’ by the rainbow pride flag (‘I get triggered by it. Whenever I see it on social media I think ‘What now? What are they demanding now?’ And I grew up with gay relatives and siblings and hung out in Surry Hills and X in Sydney in the 1990s. Lots of LGB family and friends, their movement has been destroyed.’)
  • Likening her lobbying against the participation of trans women and girls in sport to standing up against the Holocaust.[i]
  • Alleging ‘half of all males with trans identities are sex offenders’ (her tweet: ‘Half of all males with trans identities are sex offenders, compared with less than 20% for the rest of the male estate. That should tell you something.’), and
  • Belittling the serious mental health harms caused by transphobia (‘We hear from the other side the toll, all the harm, the devastation, we’re all going to commit suicide and blah blah’).

When confronted by the media about the above, Deves has been forced to apologise. It seems inevitable there will be more transphobic comments found, and more apologies, in coming days.

For people who only pay attention to federal politics every three years, Deves’ comments must seem bizarre, and extreme. And they are obviously both.

But, one thing they are *not* is an outlier.

Unfortunately, the Liberal candidate for Warringah’s views must be seen in the context of a rising tide of transphobia in Australian political discourse over the past six or seven years.

This includes the moral panic against the Safe Schools program in 2015 and early 2016, after which then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull first reviewed it, then ‘gutted’ its contents, before finally de-funding it completely.

And the same-sex marriage postal survey in the second half of 2017, which became a platform for groups opposing marriage equality to target trans and nonbinary children (indeed, one of the leading organisations against equality, the Marriage Alliance, has since become anti-trans lobby group Binary Australia).

Following his elevation to the Prime Ministership, Scott Morrison himself has engaged in the anti-trans culture wars on a number of occasions (tweeting against teacher support for trans kids – describing them as ‘gender whisperers’ – in September 2018; criticising a trans-inclusive Cricket Australia participation policy in April 2019; and personally intervening to remove gender identity-inclusive toilet door signs in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in August 2019).

However, from my perspective I would argue that the Coalition’s political campaign against trans and gender diverse Australians has really escalated in the past ten months.

In fact, I would pin-point that escalation to ten months ago yesterday (15 June 2021), when the Senate considered a motion from extremist One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts on the subject of ‘childhood gender dysphoria’, which effectively called for gender-affirming health care to be denied to trans and nonbinary children and young people.

Not only was Roberts’ motion not based on either the evidence of experts in the field, or the lived experience of trans people themselves, but if adopted as public policy would directly lead to serious health and mental health harms for gender diverse kids.[ii]

Despite this, the Morrison Liberal/National Government granted its Senators a conscience vote, and they supported this attack on trans health care by a margin of 21 to 6.

Coalition Senators voting to deprive trans kids of evidence-based support included Attorney-General Michaelia Cash, and Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General Amanda Stoker.

The only Coalition Senators who voted to support trans kids were Simon Birmingham, Andrew Bragg, Richard Colbeck, Jane Hume, Marise Payne and Dean Smith (thank you).

Thankfully, the motion was defeated overall (because Labor, the Greens and Jacquie Lambie opposed it), but from my perspective it marked a turning point in debate, with attacks by the Government only becoming more frequent in the months since.

For example, less than three months later in September last year the Government voted against straight-forward amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), which simply would have ensured trans, nonbinary and intersex workers had exactly the same access to the Fair Work Commission as other employees.

There was absolutely no justification for their opposition. Not only because gender identity and intersex status were already included in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), but also because the then-Tony Abbott-led Liberal/National Opposition had actually supported the inclusion of those protected attributes back in 2013.

The Government’s position on trans (and intersex) rights had effectively gone backwards in the eight years since. It was, as I wrote at the time, both a pathetic position to take, and antipathetic to the rights of some of the most vulnerable members of the community. 

Then of course there was the Religious Discrimination Bill, introduced to Parliament less than three months later again, in November of last year.

As I have written previously, this was damaging and divisive legislation that (among other things): 

  • Overrode existing state and territory anti-discrimination laws to allow demeaning and derogatory comments against women, LGBT people, people with disability and even people of minority faiths, provided they were religiously-motivated
  • Overrode existing state and territory anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT teachers in religious schools against discrimination (especially in Tasmania, the ACT and Queensland, and soon to commence laws in Victoria), and
  • Introduced religious exceptions which may have allowed discrimination against LGBT students in religious schools ‘under the guise of religious views’.

From this list it is clear trans people were one of many groups who stood to lose out under this legislation (so it wasn’t *only* a transphobic Bill).

But it is also undisputed that trans people were squarely in the sights of religious fundamentalists as they contemplated how they might (ab)use their new special privileges to discriminate had the laws passed (including Citipointe Christian College’s enrolment contract which primarily targeted trans kids, and Senate evidence of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria demanding the ability to misgender trans people in the workplace).

The Government then sought to mistreat trans people again when the Religious Discrimination Bill was considered by Parliament in February 2022, with Prime Minister Morrison introducing amendments that only protected lesbian, gay and bisexual students in religious schools against discrimination (and even then only against expulsion).

Trans and nonbinary students were excluded from any and all protection, breaking Scott Morrison’s own promise from October 2018 without any justification whatsoever.

Even worse, after the Religious Discrimination Bill package was amended by the Opposition, cross-bench and five moderate Liberal MPs to protect trans and nonbinary kids, Morrison then chose not to have the Bill considered by the Senate at all (at least partially at the behest of the Australian Christian Lobby and Christian Schools Australia).

That is how much the Liberal/National Government opposes the rights of trans and nonbinary children: they were prepared to abandon another of their core promises entirely just because gender diverse students might have been protected as a by-product.

Then, on the very same day the Religious Discrimination Bill was placed on pause (to the relief of many, myself included), Tasmanian Liberal Senator Claire Chandler introduced a private members Bill to amend the Sex Discrimination Act in order to exclude trans women and girls from participating in women’s sport (a law which also would have had a significant detrimental impact on intersex women).

Within two weeks, the ‘Save Women’s Sports’ Bill had been personally endorsed by Prime Minister Morrison himself, while campaigning in Tasmania. Even though it is still not ‘official’ Government policy, this endorsement dramatically increases the risk this law will be passed should the Coalition win in May.

Finally, in the dying days of the Parliamentary term in early April, Liberal Senator Alex Antic misused Senate Estimates hearings by asking a range of witnesses how they would define ‘woman’, which is simply re-heated transphobic culture war nonsense copied directly from the Republican Party handbook in the United States.

A few things become clear when looking back on the events of the past ten months in this systematic way.

First, the Liberal/National Government’s war on the rights of trans Australians is relentless.

Second, their attacks only seem to be becoming more frequent.

Third, far from being an outlier, a candidate like Katherine Deves is likely to feel right at home inside the Coalition.

Indeed, her advocacy efforts, aiming to exclude trans women and girls from participating in women’s sport, seems to be the main reason why she was chosen in the first place.

On the first full day of the campaign (Monday 11 April) Morrison told 2GB radio that:

‘She’s [Deves is] standing up for things that she believes in, and I share her views on those topics. And, and I think it’s important that they’re raised and it’s got nothing to do with, you know, the broad agenda debates. This is just about, you know, common sense and what’s right. And I think Katherine’s right on the money there.’

Before telling another radio station later that day, during a discussion of trans inclusion in (or exclusion from) sport: ‘I welcome Katherine’s selection, pleased to play a role in that. I think she’s raised very important issues. I think Claire Chandler’s also been outspoken and brave on these issues. I share their views’ (emphasis added).

Katherine Deves was not chosen as a candidate in spite of her transphobic views. Deves was hand-picked as a candidate, by Scott Morrison, as a direct result of her anti-trans advocacy.

In fact, it seems to have been her primary ‘contribution’ to public life. The only other time I have come across her previously was listening to her as a witness at hearings into Mark Latham’s anti-trans kids Bill, in April 2021.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Deves (wearing her Save Women’s Sport Australasia hat) supported Latham’s Bill to erase trans students from classrooms and schoolyards across NSW – legislation which was so extreme that the NSW Perrottet *Liberal/National* Government ultimately rejected it because it ‘may lead to targeted discrimination against a marginalised community which already experiences poorer mental health and wellbeing outcomes’.

I started this post by highlighting some of the more appalling social media posts and other public comments for which Deves has been forced to apologise this week. But, rather than the (admittedly extreme) ways in which she expresses her position, it is the substance of those views – seeking to exclude trans women and girls from sport, supporting laws to erase trans kids and nonbinary students from classrooms – for which she should apologise.

But we already know that she won’t, because campaigning against trans rights is what Katherine Deves is known for.

I will now end this post by making three final points.

First, none of the above is news to trans and gender diverse Australians, who have been enduring this culture war for the past six or seven years, and are all-too-aware of its escalation over the past ten months. We already know it is having a devastating impact on their mental health and wellbeing, and will continue to do so for as long as it is allowed to go on.

Second, none of this will stop until the rest of us stand up and make it stop. Trans and gender diverse Australians have been fighting this battle on their own for far too long. It’s time for cis allies, including within the LGBTIQ community, but also in the Labor Opposition, Greens, moderate Liberals, and everyday members of the community, to tell the Morrison Liberal/National Coalition that enough is enough.

Trans women are women.

Trans men are men.

Trans rights are human rights.

And trans kids will be protected with all of our collective might.

Third, perhaps the most frustrating part of all is that spending significant time fighting back against attacks on trans rights means there’s less time to advocate for much-needed positive changes to improve the lives of trans Australians, because the project of trans equality is far from complete.

This obviously includes amending the Fair Work Act to explicitly protect trans and nonbinary (and intersex) workers.

And amending the Sex Discrimination Act to remove the ability of religious schools to lawfully discriminate against LGBT students, and teachers and other staff members.

It also includes removing the high out-of-pocket costs for gender-affirming health care which places transition financially out of reach for too many trans Australians (and leaves others under severe financial stress).

And plenty more besides.

These are the things we need to happen. Not another ten months of unrelenting attacks on the trans community. And not the election of candidates like Katherine Deves, or other people with views like hers.

For LGBTI people, if this post has raised issues for you, please contact QLife on 1800 184 527, or via webchat: https://qlife.org.au/ or contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

NB This post is written in a personal capacity, and does not reflect the views of employers past or present.

Katherine Deves

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Footnotes:


[i]  Full quote: ‘I’ve always loved 20th-century history and I think many people would say to themselves, ‘I’d never been to villages that stayed quiet, while the trains went past or whatever, I would have been part of the French Resistance, the underground, you know, I would be one of those people.’ And when all of this was happening, and no one was speaking out, I thought, this is it. This is the moment in my life, when I’m going to have to stand up and say something against the status quo and against the establishment and say, ‘I don’t think this is right’.’

[ii] Full text:

‘That the Senate-

(a) notes that:

(i) in 100 years of diagnostic history of childhood gender dysphoria (GD) there is an alarming trend that teenage girls, with no history of GD, have become the largest group seeking treatment,

(ii) in the United States of America, girsl requesting gender reassignment surgery in 2016-17 rose 400%,

(iii) in the United Kingdom, girls presenting with GD in the last 10 years rose 4000%, and

(iv) Australia’s Royal Children’s Hospital indicates referrals have grown from 1 every two years to 104 patients in 2014;

(b) further notes that:

(i) Sweden’s leading gender clinic has ended treatment of minors with hormonal drugs due to safety concerns, citing cancer and infertility, and

(ii) suicide mortality rate for transgendered people is 20 times higher than comparable peers;

(c) supports children presenting with GD to be given:

(i) the ‘wait and see’ method as the first choice, since evidence shows between 70-90% of young people’s dysphoria resolves itself by puberty, and

(ii) a comprehensive therapeutic pathway, since a large percentage of these children have pre-existing mental health issues, and not a medical pathway; and

(d) condemns the practice of children receiving:

(i) experimental and unproven medical treatments of irreversible puberty blockers and sex hormone treatments, and

(ii) irreversible transgender surgery.’

This is the easiest LGBTIQ election promise a political party could make. But the Morrison Government still probably won’t commit to it.

Problem: Transgender and intersex workers are not explicitly protected under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).

While discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status are all prohibited under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), only sexual orientation is included as a relevant attribute in the Fair Work Act for the purposes of protections against ‘adverse action’ (section 351(1)), and ‘unlawful termination’ (section 772(1)(f)), as well as in sections covering the contents of awards (section 153) and enterprise agreements (section 195), and the functions of the Fair Work Commission (section 578(c)).

This means that while the ability of lesbian, gay and bisexual workers to bring complaints to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) is certain, there is significant doubt about whether trans, nonbinary and intersex employees can do the same.

In practice, a trans worker who is mistreated in the workplace because of their gender identity, or an intersex employee who is fired on the basis of their sex characteristics, may be unable to have their issue resolved quickly and at low cost via the FWC, and instead be forced to go through a much less timely, and potentially more expensive, complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission (and then in federal court after that).

This is a completely unjustified discrepancy in the rights of LG and B Australians on one hand, and transgender and intersex people on the other, and it must be resolved.

Solution: Amend the Fair Work Act to explicitly protect transgender and intersex workers.

Simple, right? Well, it certainly should be.

Sadly, however, the Liberal/National Government has proven itself to be completely uninterested in doing anything to address this most straightforward of problems.

I have been raising the lack of explicit protections for trans, nonbinary and intersex workers in the Fair Work Act since Malcolm Turnbull was Prime Minister. And on multiple occasions since then, to multiple Attorneys-General.

Not only have they refused to take action, but last September current Attorney-General Michaelia Cash, and the Morrison Government generally, voted *against* amendments to the Fair Work Act which would have, at a minimum, brought it into line with Sex Discrimination Act (SDA).

What makes that vote even more disappointing is the then Opposition, under Tony Abbott, had actually voted in favour of protecting transgender and intersex people in the SDA back in 2013 – meaning the Liberal/National Coalition has gone *backwards* in its support for these groups in the subsequent eight years.

In any event, with the election expected to be called today (and at the latest by Monday 18 April), it is clear the lack of explicit protections for trans, nonbinary and intersex workers in the Fair Work Act will not be addressed this term.

In which case, I think we should ensure that finally addressing this problem is made an election issue for the upcoming poll (on May 14 or 21).

What policy commitments do we want?

From my perspective, any election commitment on this issue should comprise four, inter-related parts.

First, a commitment to ensure the Fair Work Act explicitly covers trans, nonbinary and intersex workers.

Second, a commitment to use best practice terminology to do so.

This includes adding a protected attribute of ‘gender identity’, using the definition in section 4 of the Sex Discrimination Act (‘the gender-related identity, appearance or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of a person (whether by way of medical intervention or not), with or without regard to the person’s designated sex at birth’) as a starting point, and finalised in consultation with trans community organisations.

However, while the SDA currently uses the protected attribute ‘intersex status’ (defined in section 4 as ‘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’) this is no longer supported by the intersex community, at least in part because it has been interpreted by some as relating to identity rather than biology.

Instead, the best practice terminology is now ‘sex characteristics’, as called for in the historic March 2017 Darlington Statement, and most recently defined in the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic) as:

‘a person’s physical features relating to sex, including-

(a) genitalia and other sexual and reproductive parts of the person’s anatomy; and

(b) the person’s chromosomes, genes, hormones, and secondary physical features that emerge as a result of puberty.’

The definition of sex characteristics should also be finalised in consultation with intersex community organisations, particularly Intersex Human Rights Australia.

Third, if the attribute of ‘sex characteristics’ is added to the Fair Work Act, the Parliament should use the same opportunity to update the Sex Discrimination Act, replacing the protected attribute of intersex status with sex characteristics.

Fourth, a commitment to make these reforms within the first 12 months of the next Parliamentary term.

This discrepancy has existed since the passage of the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013, in June of that year.

Which means by mid-2023 it would have been a full decade of trans, nonbinary and intersex workers having less clear, and potentially lesser, workplace rights than lesbian, gay and bisexual employees.

That is far too long for workers to wait for what are basic protections, making a request that it be fixed in the next year entirely reasonable.

In this context, today I sent the below emails to the Government, Opposition and Greens.

The email to the Government highlights their rejection of amendments to the Fair Work Act in September last year, and asks them to take concrete action to protect trans, nonbinary and intersex workers as a matter of urgency.

The email to the Opposition welcomes their vote to support adding ‘intersex status’ to the Fair Work Act last September, while calling on them to go further, and commit to instead add the protected attribute of ‘sex characteristics’ if they form Government.

Finally, the email to the Greens thanks them for their leadership on this issue to date (it was their amendments that were voted on last year) and urges them to continue to prioritise this reform in the upcoming term of Parliament.

*****

Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash

Attorney-General

Via email: senator.cash@aph.gov.au

10 April 2022

Dear Senator Cash

Please commit to protecting trans, nonbinary and intersex workers in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth)

All workers should be protected against adverse action, and unlawful termination, on the basis of who they are.

These protections must include transgender and intersex employees.

As you are aware, these groups are not explicitly covered by relevant provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), unlike other protected attributes like race, sex, age, disability, religious belief and even sexual orientation.

In this context, it was extremely disappointing that you, and other Government Senators, voted to reject straight-forward amendments to address this discrepancy in September 2021, thus leaving the position of trans, nonbinary and intersex workers unclear.

In light of the upcoming federal election, I call on you, and the Liberal/National Coalition, to unequivocally commit to fixing this problem as a matter of priority next term.

Not only would this be the right thing to do in principle, it would also be consistent with the actions of the then Abbott Opposition in 2013 (of which you were a member), to support the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of gender identity and intersex status in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).

A commitment in four, inter-related parts

From my perspective, this commitment should include the following four, closely-linked, elements:

First, a commitment to protect transgender and intersex workers on exactly the same basis as other groups.

Second, a commitment to add the protected attributes of ‘gender identity’ (based on the definition in the Sex Discrimination Act, and finalised in consultation with transgender community groups) and ‘sex characteristics’ (which is now best practice rather than intersex status, based on the recently-added definition in the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic), and finalised in consultation with Intersex Human Rights Australia) to the Fair Work Act.

Third, a commitment to use the same legislation to replace the protected attribute of intersex status in the Sex Discrimination Act with the best practice terminology sex characteristics.

Fourth, a commitment to complete the above steps within the first 12 months of the next Parliamentary term, especially given trans, nonbinary and intersex workers have been waiting for these protections since mid-2013.

I look forward to receiving your response to this correspondence, and sincerely hope you are able to provide clear promises on these issues on behalf of the Morrison Liberal/National Government.

Please note that, as your commitments (or lack of commitments) on the above will be in the public interest, I will publish the contents of any response I receive on my personal website: www.alastairlawrie.net

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

*****

The Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP

Shadow Attorney-General

Via online contact form 

10 April 2022

Dear Mr Dreyfus

Please commit to protecting trans, nonbinary and intersex workers in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth)

All workers should be protected against adverse action, and unlawful termination, on the basis of who they are.

These protections must include transgender and intersex employees.

As you are aware, these groups are not explicitly covered by relevant provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), unlike other protected attributes like race, sex, age, disability, religious belief and even sexual orientation.

In this context, the ALP’s support for amendments in September 2021 to add gender identity and intersex status as protected attributes in the Fair Work Act was obviously welcome, although it was disappointing this did not extend to supporting the best practice terminology of sex characteristics.

In light of the upcoming federal election, I call on you, and the Australian Labor Party, to commit to protecting trans, nonbinary and intersex workers as a matter of priority next term.

Not only would this be the right thing to do in principle, it would also be consistent with, and build on, one of the major achievements of the most recent Labor Government, the passage of the historic Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013 (during your term as Attorney-General).

A commitment in four, inter-related parts

From my perspective, this commitment should include the following four, closely-linked, elements:

First, a commitment to protect transgender and intersex workers on exactly the same basis as other groups.

Second, a commitment to add the protected attributes of ‘gender identity’ (based on the definition in the Sex Discrimination Act, and finalised in consultation with transgender community groups) and ‘sex characteristics’ (which is now best practice rather than intersex status, based on the recently-added definition in the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic), and finalised in consultation with Intersex Human Rights Australia) to the Fair Work Act.

Third, a commitment to use the same legislation to replace the protected attribute of intersex status in the Sex Discrimination Act with the best practice terminology sex characteristics.

Fourth, a commitment to complete the above steps within the first 12 months of the next Parliamentary term, especially given trans, nonbinary and intersex workers have been waiting for these protections since mid-2013.

I look forward to receiving your response to this correspondence, and sincerely hope you are able to provide clear promises on these issues on behalf of the Albanese Labor Opposition.

Please note that, as your commitments (or lack of commitments) on the above will be in the public interest, I will publish the contents of any response I receive on my personal website: www.alastairlawrie.net

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

*****

Senator Janet Rice

Australian Greens

Via email: senator.rice@aph.gov.au

10 April 2022

Dear Senator Rice

Lack of explicit protections for trans, nonbinary and intersex workers under the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth)

Thank you for your ongoing leadership on this issue in the Commonwealth Parliament.

This includes regularly raising the lack of explicit protections for transgender and intersex employees in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) during Senate Estimates hearings.

Most importantly, thank you for introducing amendments to the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021 in September last year which, at best, would have added gender identity and sex characteristics as protected attributes to the Fair Work Act or, at a minimum, would have included gender identity and intersex status instead.

As you know, I shared your disappointment when neither set of amendments was successful.

However, I also share your passion to ensure this work is finally completed.

For your information, and in light of the upcoming federal election, this morning I have written to both the Attorney-General and Shadow Attorney-General calling on the Government and Opposition respectively to promise the following:

First, a commitment to protect transgender and intersex workers on exactly the same basis as other groups.

Second, a commitment to add the protected attributes of ‘gender identity’ (based on the definition in the Sex Discrimination Act, and finalised in consultation with transgender community groups) and ‘sex characteristics’ (which is now best practice rather than intersex status, based on the recently-added definition in the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic), and finalised in consultation with Intersex Human Rights Australia) to the Fair Work Act.

Third, a commitment to use the same legislation to replace the protected attribute of intersex status in the Sex Discrimination Act with the best practice terminology sex characteristics.

Fourth, a commitment to complete the above steps within the first 12 months of the next Parliamentary term, especially given trans, nonbinary and intersex workers have been waiting for these protections since mid-2013.

Ideally, both major parties will commit to protecting the rights of trans, nonbinary and intersex workers, and this reform will be passed quickly and on a bipartisan basis.

However, in the event that neither of the major parties is willing to make these promises, or that they do but do not follow through on them with appropriate and timely action, I urge you to continue fighting on this issue.

In particular, if no amendments are forthcoming by mid-2023, I call on you to reintroduce your amendments to the Fair Work Act either as part of a relevant legislative package, or via a private members Bill.

I look forward to receiving your response to this correspondence.

As with my emails to the Government and Opposition, please note that, as your response on the above will be in the public interest, I will publish the contents of any correspondence I receive on my personal website: www.alastairlawrie.net

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

*****

Update, Sunday 8 May 2022:

On Friday (6 May) I received the following response from Greens Senator, and LGBTIQA+ spokesperson, Janet Rice:

Dear Alistair Lawrie

Thank you for your correspondence of 10 April 2022, in relation to improvements to antidiscrimination legislation, in order to protect members of LGBTIQA+ communities.
I would like to thank you for your tireless and important advocacy on such important issues, and in particular the legal expertise you have brought to issues which have such crucial importance for people’s lives.

Let me re-affirm the Greens’ commitment to fighting for LGBTIQA+ rights, as set out in our policy.

We will continue to advocate for the necessary changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 to ensure that workers who are trans or have intersex variations are protected on the same basis as other groups. That should include appropriate definitions in relation to gender identity and sex characteristics, developed in consultation with relevant communities. Those changes should also be accompanied by relevant updates to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 as needed.

As you are aware, the Greens have a significant opportunity in this Parliament to achieve balance of power, potentially in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. We will continue to advocate as forcefully as we are able to, for these changes and others to protect the rights of LGBTIQA+ people.

Yours sincerely

Senator Janet Rice
Australian Greens LGBTIQA+ spokesperson

This is obviously encouraging, including commitments to advocate for the introduction of gender identity and sex characteristics as protected attributes in the Fair Work Act, with definitions to be developed in consultation with trans and intersex communities.

Disappointingly, I am yet to receive any response from either Senator Cash on behalf of the Government, or Mark Dreyfus on behalf of the Australian Labor Party.

Today I have written again to both, asking for any response to be provided by Sunday 15 May, so that they can be published prior to the election. I will obviously update this post if and when any such response is received.

*****

Update Wednesday 18 May:

Well, the update is really that there is nothing to update.

Unfortunately, despite writing again to both the Attorney-General Michaelia Cash and her Shadow Mark Dreyfus, I have received no response from either the Morrison Liberal/National Coalition, or the Albanese Labor Party. Which is perhaps not surprising in the case of the former (given they voted against protecting trans, gender diverse and intersex workers in the Fair Work Act in September last year), but is more disappointing in the case of the latter given they actually supported including gender identity and intersex status as protected attributes at a minimum (although need to go one step further by supporting the best practice terminology of sex characteristics).

I will of course update the post further if any response is received between now (COB Wednesday) and the opening of polls on Saturday morning.

NB This post is written in a personal capacity, and does not reflect the views of employers past or present.

Commonwealth Attorney-General Michaelia Cash and Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus

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

Why the Religious Discrimination Bill must be rejected (in 1000 words or less)

The Morrison Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill is a serious threat to the rights of women, LGBT people, people with disability, people of minority faiths and many other Australians.

However, because anti-discrimination law is already highly technical, and the proposed Bill is both incredibly complex, and contains a range of provisions that are completely unprecedented, it can be difficult to understand exactly what is at stake.

The following, then, is my attempt to explain the major problems contained in the Religious Discrimination Bill in 1000 words or less:

*****

The statement of belief’ provision protects offensive, humiliating, insulting and ridiculing comments against women, LGBT people, people with disability, people of minority faiths and others on the basis of who they are.

It does this by taking away existing protections against discrimination under all Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination laws, including targeting the best practice provisions of Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act.

As long as they are motivated by religious belief, people will be empowered to make demeaning and derogatory comments in all areas of public life: in workplaces, schools and universities, hospitals, aged care, public transport, cafes, restaurants and shops. Everywhere.

And because the definition of statement of belief depends only on the subjective interpretation of the person making them, it protects fringe or radical views, including religiously-motivated anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and even racism.

By overriding all other anti-discrimination laws, the ‘statement of belief’ provision also denies access to justice to victims of discrimination.

This is because it effectively introduces a Commonwealth ‘defence’ to state laws, meaning state tribunals – which hear the majority of anti-discrimination cases – will be unable to resolve complaints where this issue is raised.

These cases will instead need to be heard by state supreme courts, or federal courts, at massively-increased costs to complainants.

The groups most likely to experience religiously-motivated discrimination – women, LGBT people, people with disability and people of minority faiths – will lose the most.

The ‘statement of belief’ provision also grants extraordinary powers to the Commonwealth Attorney-General to take away existing rights in other areas, by ‘prescribing’ additional laws that will be undermined.

Laws that are at risk include:

  • ‘Safe access zone’ protections covering pregnant people seeking lawful terminations
  • Bans on sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices, and even
  • Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which prohibits racial vilification.

The ‘religious exceptions’ in the proposed Bill are just as dangerous.

While many anti-discrimination laws contain ‘religious exceptions’, the special privileges allowing religious organisations to discriminate under the Religious Discrimination Bill are far broader than any other Commonwealth, state or territory anti-discrimination law.

This is both because it adopts a much more lenient test than other laws to determine when this discrimination is permitted (only requiring that one other person of the same religion could reasonably consider the discrimination to be justified).

And because it applies to a much wider range of organisations than other laws, covering charities, hospitals, aged care facilities, accommodation providers, disability service providers, camps and conference sites and even religious organisations undertaking some commercial activities.

Unlike the Sex Discrimination Act and similar laws, the Bill does not require these bodies to have been ‘established for religious purposes’, imposing the much easier test of ‘conducted in accordance with’ religious beliefs.

The people who stand to lose most from these exceptions are Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic and atheist workers denied jobs, promotions and training they are qualified for simply because of their religious beliefs (or lack thereof).

These exceptions also apply to ‘religious educational institutions’, covering everything from child-care and early learning centres, through to schools, colleges and universities.

However, unlike best practice provisions in Tasmania, Queensland, the ACT and NT which limit these exceptions to enrolment only, the proposed Bill permits discrimination against students on the basis of religious belief throughout their education.

In this way, the Religious Discrimination Bill allows discrimination against children and young people, denying them their religious freedom to question, explore and develop their own faith as they learn and grow, without fear of punishment.

The same provisions could also be used by religious schools to discriminate against LGBT kids, not on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity itself, but on whether they affirm statements like ‘homosexuality is intrinsically disordered’ or ‘God created man and woman, therefore being transgender is sinful’. The outcome would nevertheless be the same: LGBT kids being mistreated because of who they are.

This means that, even if the Morrison Government finally implements its promise to amend the Sex Discrimination Act to protect LGBT students, religious schools could still discriminate against them via alternative means.

The Bill also allows discrimination against teachers and other employees of religious educational institutionsmeaning they can be hired and fired on the basis of their faith, not their skills.

In addition, it grants extraordinary powers to the Commonwealth Attorney-General, allowing them to take away existing rights from teachers under state and territory anti-discrimination laws.

This includes recently-passed laws in Victoria which only permit discrimination where it is an inherent requirement of the role, and ‘reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances’, as well as similar laws in operation in Queensland for two decades, and in Tasmania and the ACT.

As with students, these provisions could also provide an alternative means to permit discrimination against LGBT workers ‘under the guise of religious views’. LGBT teachers and other staff are potentially at risk in Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT.

Finally, the Bill includes a range of other significant problems:

  • Removing the ability of qualifying bodies to take appropriate action about harmful ‘statements of belief’ made by professionals outside the workplace (for example, protecting repeated homophobic and transphobic comments by a doctor in a small town, even where this makes it unsafe for LGBT people to access essential healthcare)
  • Providing an unprecedented ability for religious organisations to make discrimination complaints in their own right, including allowing faith bodies to take legal action to prevent Commonwealth, state and territory governments from requiring organisations that receive public funding not to discriminate against LGBT people
  • Preventing local governments from passing by-laws to address harmful anti-LGBT ‘street preachers’
  • Introducing a totally unnecessary amendment to the Charities Act to ‘protect’ charities advocating a ‘traditional view of marriage’ (and those charities only), and
  • Expanding ‘religious exceptions’ in the Marriage Act to allow religious educational institutions to deny the use of their facilities for LGBTI-inclusive weddings, even where these facilities are offered to the public on a commercial basis.

Overall, the Religious Discrimination Bill promotes rather than prohibits discrimination. It must be blocked.

(999 words)

*****

The above summary does not even cover all of the many problems created by the Religious Discrimination Bill. If you would like to know more of the technical details, I encourage you to read the public submissions made by:

  • the Public Interest Advocacy Centrehere;

and

  • the Australian Discrimination Law Experts Grouphere

to the two Parliamentary committees (Joint Committee on Human Rights, and Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs) which have been holding inquiries into this legislation over summer.

Both Committees are due to table their final reports to Parliament on Friday 4 February, meaning the Religious Discrimination Bill could be debated, and passed, in the sitting weeks beginning on Tuesday 8 February.

There is, however, still time to stop this extraordinary and extreme, radical and unprecedented – and downright dangerous – law, but only if you make your opposition to it known right now.

There are a number of actions you can take, today:

  • Contact the following list of moderate and/or lesbian and gay Liberal MPs and Senators, expressing your serious concerns about the Bill and asking them to cross the floor to protect the rights of all Australians (using their contact details from Parliament House):
    • Angie Bell (Member for Moncrieff)
    • Dave Sharma (Wentworth)
    • Katie Allen (Higgins)
    • Fiona Martin (Reid)
    • Trevor Evans (Brisbane)
    • Tim Wilson (Goldstein)
    • Trent Zimmerman (North Sydney)
    • Warren Entsch (Leichhardt)
    • Bridget Archer (Bass)
    • Andrew Bragg (Senator for New South Wales)
    • Richard Colbeck (Senator for Tasmania), and
    • Dean Smith (Senator for Western Australia).

Together, we can ensure the Religious Discrimination Bill is rejected, for the benefit of women, LGBT people, people with disability, people of minority faiths and many, many other Australians whose rights would be at risk if this divisive law was allowed to pass.

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

[NB This article is written in a personal capacity and does not represent the views of employers, past or present.]

LGBT kids don’t need more hollow promises

On Thursday, it was reported that Attorney-General Michaelia Cash has written to the Australian Law Reform Commission, asking for ‘detailed drafting’ to protect LGBT children from discrimination in faith-based schools.  

‘It is … the government’s position that no child should be suspended or expelled from school on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity,’ wrote Cash.

There are at least six reasons why this seemingly positive expression of support for LGBT kids is a bitterly disappointing statement of hollow nothingness.

First, we’ve heard this all before.  On 11 October 2018 the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, stated unequivocally: ‘We do not think that children should be discriminated against’. He promised to amend the Sex Discrimination Act to protect LGBT students in religious schools against discrimination before the end of that year.

That was more than 3 years ago. 1,137 days to be exact (and yes, I’m counting). In that time, the Morrison Government has failed to do anything concrete to implement its promise.

Second, the Attorney-General was writing to ask the ALRC to do what it was already tasked to do by her predecessor, Christian Porter, back in April 2019. His original terms of reference requested the Commission to review religious exemptions, ‘having regard to… the importance of protecting the rights of all people, and children in particular, to be free from discrimination in education.’

More than 30 months later, the new Attorney-General is trying to spin a request for ‘detailed drafting’ as being something new. Exactly how that varies from ordinary ALRC recommendations is a distinction without a difference.

Third, we don’t need ‘detailed drafting’. We know how to protect LGBT students in religious schools against discrimination.  Four jurisdictions – Queensland, Tasmania, the ACT and NT – have already done so. Tasmania has been protecting LGBT kids, successfully, for more than 23 years. The amendments required are simple. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.

Fourth, there’s not even a need to invent a new Bill. In response to the Prime Minister’s promise to protect LGBT kids in October 2018, the Labor Opposition introduced their own legislation the following month (the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018). The schedule of substantive amendments came to a grand total of 70 words.

If the ALRC reports in 2023, and the Government finally takes action that same year (both of which remain big ifs), it could end up taking them 5 years to draft 70 words. At just over one word per month, they’re certainly pacing themselves.

Fifth, we can see from the time and energy expended on the Religious Discrimination Bill where the Government’s real priorities lie. 

We’ve already gone through two rounds of public exposure drafts on the ‘religious freedom’ Bills package (which actually comprises three separate Bills). We’ve had 157 pages of draft legislation, before we even get to the third and final version(s) next week.

The drafting effort that has gone into the Religious Discrimination Bill demonstrates what happens when a Government wants to get something done. The comparative lack of effort in drafting straight-forward amendments to protect LGBT kids reveals what happens when they don’t.

Sixth, based on Senator Cash’s correspondence, it’s not even clear whether the Government supports ending all discrimination against LGBT students, or only removing the ability of religious schools to suspend or expel them. If it’s just the latter, then other forms of mistreatment would continue to be permitted, and the harm they experience will go on.

A child who was in Year 7 when the Prime Minister first promised to protect them from discrimination is on track to finish high school before he keeps that promise. That’s an entire generation of LGBT kids abandoned because they’re not considered a priority by their own Government.

LGBT kids don’t need more ‘detailed drafting’. They need action. What do we have instead? The Attorney-General sending the emptiest of gestures to the Australian Law Reform Commission, asking them to do something they’ve already been tasked to do.

It is a fig-leaf trying to cover up years of the Morrison Government’s inaction. But nothing can hide their lack of care about this issue. Because if they cared, it would have been fixed years ago.

The tragedy of it all is that, for as long as the Government prevaricates and obfuscates, vulnerable children are left exposed to abuse and mistreatment, discrimination, suspension and even expulsion, just because of who they are.

LGBT students deserve the right to learn in safety. Instead, Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws grant religious schools extraordinary special privileges to discriminate against them.

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Don’t Rain on Our Parade

It’s reached that point in late February where, every day at 4:20pm, I visit the Bureau of Meteorology website to check the forecast for Saturday night’s Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade.

 

But, irrespective of whether the BoM says it will rain, hail, (smoke) or shine, there’s a much larger cloud hanging over Australia’s LGBTI community: the Morrison Government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill.

 

This legislation has the potential to adversely affect nearly every aspect of our existence.

 

From health-care, where it will allow doctors and pharmacists to deny hormone therapy, including puberty blockers, to trans and gender diverse people. And to refuse to provide access to PEP, and PrEP, exposing gay and bisexual men to greater risk of HIV transmission.

 

To the workplace, where employers and colleagues will be able to make comments that offend, humiliate, intimidate, insult or ridicule us, as long as those statements are based on religious belief.

 

A manager could tell a staff member that gay sex is sinful, and same-sex relationships are intrinsically disordered.

 

An interviewer may inform a trans applicant that gender is binary, and therefore their gender identity is not real.

 

A colleague could respond to a lesbian co-worker showing pictures of her family in the lunch-room that she has deliberately denied her children of a father, and will be condemned by god for her ‘lifestyle’ choices.

 

These are all entirely plausible scenarios. And all would be legally permitted under the Religious Discrimination Bill, because statements of belief are effectively exempt from all Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination laws.

 

Indeed, statements of belief would be protected across all areas of public life, not just employment.

 

If this legislation passes, international tourists visiting Sydney this time next year could be subjected to degrading and demeaning comments anywhere and everywhere, at the airport, in the taxi or uber, on buses, trains and ferries, at the hotel or B&B, at tourist attractions, in cafes and restaurants, at shops and on the streets.

 

That sounds more like hate-song than ‘matesong’.

 

Except, once the party is over tourists will be able to leave these homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic comments behind, while LGBTI Australians will be stuck with them, like unshakeable glitter, invading every nook and cranny for years to come.

 

As a certain bank tried to remind us last week – and was then itself reminded by the community – ‘words do hurt’. It is unacceptable that our own Government is so focussed on ensuring we are all exposed to more hurtful words in our lives.

 

The Bill also further entrenches the special privileges granted to religious schools and other faith-based organisations to discriminate against teachers, other employees, students and, in some cases, people accessing their services, on the grounds of religious belief or lack of belief. Even where these services are being delivered using public funding.

 

It doesn’t explicitly grant new powers to religious schools to discriminate against LGBT teachers and students. But then it doesn’t need to, either – because those powers already exist under the Sex Discrimination Act and, despite promising to protect LGBT students before the end of 2018, the Morrison Government has so far failed to shield some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

 

The theme for this year’s Mardi Gras is ‘What Matters’. In pushing ahead with the Religious Discrimination Bill, despite criticism from LGBTI organisations and a wide range of other civil society bodies, while failing to protect students in religious schools, it is clear the right to be a bigot matters much more to them than the safety of LGBT kids.

 

Perhaps the most frustrating part of the current debate is that, from an LGBTI advocate’s perspective, it is a purely reactive one – defending existing rights under what are already-flawed anti-discrimination laws, rather than trying to make those laws better (for example, including bisexual, non-binary and intersex people in NSW’s out-dated Anti-Discrimination Act).

 

It takes attention away from other urgent law and policy reform, too.

 

We shouldn’t forget that this Saturday’s march takes place in a state where trans people still need to have surgery – which is both expensive, and for some people, unwanted – before being able to update their identity documentation.

 

And in a country where children born with variations in sex characteristics continue to suffer massive human rights violations, including coercive, intrusive and irreversible surgery and other medical treatments.

 

The Religious Discrimination Bill will take LGBTI rights in Australia backwards, when there is still so much progress left to be made, on these and many other issues.

 

It’s time the Morrison Government abandoned this legislative attack on our community, and instead worked with us to achieve positive change – maybe then we can finally celebrate under clear skies.

 

Mardi Gras flag

 

For more on this subject, see The Religious Discrimination Bill: What you should know.

 

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

What Happens Now for LGBTI Rights?

It is two weeks on from the Federal election, in which the Liberal-National Coalition was surprisingly (some might say shockingly) re-elected. It was a disappointing result from an LGBTI rights perspective, given Labor had adopted the most progressive major-party platform on LGBTI issues in history.

 

The Morrison Government’s position on a range of topics that affect our community is a lot less clear. Now that the dust has settled after the May 18 poll, what does the future hold for LGBTI rights in Australia?

 

  1. Threat

 

The most immediate issue that confronts the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community is the potential threat of a Religious Discrimination Bill.

 

I write ‘potential’ because it remains unclear exactly what type of legislation the Government is proposing to implement its commitment arising from the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review.

 

On one hand, it could be a Religious Anti-Discrimination Bill, which would add religious belief, including lack of belief, as a protected attribute to Commonwealth anti-discrimination law. This would be welcome, given religious minorities in particular should be protected against discrimination simply because of who they are (something LGBTI Australians have much empathy for).

 

Indeed, that is what was promised by Attorney-General Christian Porter, in his joint press conference with Prime Minister Morrison in December 2018, when they announced the Government’s response to the Ruddock Review:

 

“The architecture for discrimination legislation is well-known, it’s not overly complicated. An attribute is defined – such as age or race or sex or disability or, in this case, the adherence to a religion or the right to not adhere to a religion – and then certain prohibitions are placed on people in terms of their treatment of other Australians based on that attribute. So you are protected from discrimination because of that attribute and then there are certain exemptions drafted as is appropriate. I don’t think that that would be a very contentious bill, necessarily, it follows a very standard architecture. But what the Ruddock Report said, is that there is a need for such a bill.

 

“I would put it to you all this way. In Australia at the moment, if you’re invited to a function at Parliament and at entry to the room of that function, you were denied entry because of the fact that you had a disability or because of your race, or because of your age, or because of your sex, that would be unlawful. But if you were turned away because of your religion, that would not be unlawful in Australia. So this, if you like, is the fifth and final pillar of an overarching architecture that prevents discrimination for Australians, directed to Australians, based on attributes which should never be the basis for discrimination.”

 

On the other hand, the Government could instead introduce a Religion Pro-Discrimination Bill, which further entrenches the special privileges of religious organisations to discriminate against others, including (but not limited to – see below) LGBTI Australians.

 

This discriminatory type of legislation was this week publicly-supported by Government MPs Barnaby Joyce and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells (‘Folau’s Law: Coalition MPs push for bolder action in a ‘new dawn’ for religious freedom, Sydney Morning Herald, 29 May 2019). It is also being advocated for by religious fundamentalist groups like the Australian Christian Lobby, while backed by a campaign from The Australian newspaper.

 

A Religious Pro-Discrimination Bill would present the greatest threat to LGBTI rights in Australia since criminalisation. It is entirely natural for us to feel threatened by this possible development. Indeed, the Government has created the vacuum allowing this fear to arise, given it would not reveal the contents of its proposal before the election (despite Porter saying in December 2018 that: “the Religious Discrimination Bill, which we are well-advanced on the drafting of and which we would have out early next year, so that people can see it”).

 

Therefore, while it was encouraging that Porter pushed back on the calls from his colleagues (Attorney-General Christian Porter pushes back on ‘Folau’s law’ idea, Sydney Morning Herald, 30 May 2019), we must prepare for either possibility, a Religious Anti-Discrimination Bill or a Religious Pro-Discrimination Bill.

 

And we must do so as a matter of urgency, with Porter indicating that he wants to introduce the legislation – whichever it is – when Parliament resumes in July.

 

  1. Uncertainty

 

While it is almost certain the Morrison Government will proceed with a Religious Discrimination Bill (of some kind) in the near-term, the future for LGBT students in religious schools is far less clear.

 

Despite the Prime Minister himself promising to protect LGBT students against discrimination before the end of 2018, he obviously failed to do so. Instead, the day before the election was called, Attorney-General Porter referred the issue of religious exceptions to the Australian Law Reform Commission for review.

 

At this stage, “[t]he ALRC is planning to release a Discussion Paper on 2 September 2019 which will set out proposed reforms and ask questions to assist the ALRC to prepare formal recommendations. Submissions on the Discussion Paper will be due by 15 October 2019.” The final report is due by 10 April 2020 (for more details, see the ALRC website).

 

The LGBTI community must be heavily involved in this process, to ensure that our interests are appropriately considered at every step. This includes advocating for the full removal of the ability of religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), rather than allowing such discrimination to continue just under a different name. And we must engage politically (see below) to pressure the Government to finally fulfil its commitment to protect LGBT kids.

 

Unfortunately, the election result makes the removal of similar discrimination against LGBT teachers that much more difficult (although not impossible). Ditto for abolishing the exceptions that allow religious organisations to lawfully discriminate against LGBT Australians in employment generally, and in the provision of services.

 

But that doesn’t mean we give up. It just means we fight harder. Because LGBTI Australians will not truly be equal until we have the right to learn, the freedom to earn and the ability to access services without fear of discrimination on the basis of our sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics.

 

  1. Targets

 

As after any election, the personnel in Federal parliament have changed (even if perhaps not as much as many LGBTI Australians would have liked). This means we must adapt the targets of our advocacy regarding the above two issues.

 

In addition to lobbying (where possible) Prime Minister Morrison and Attorney-General Porter, we should also focus on the growing ‘rainbow’ group within the Liberal Party, with lesbian Angie Bell elected to represent Moncrieff in the House of Representatives, joining Trent Zimmerman, Trevor Evans, Tim Wilson and Senator Dean Smith, plus long-term LGBTI ally Warren Entsch.

 

The likely composition of the new Senate also means that returning Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie now wields significant power, together with the two Centre Alliance Senators from South Australia, Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff. It is not an exaggeration to say that these three Senators will hold our collective fate in their hands on a large number of Bills.

 

Finally, following Labor’s election loss, and the election of new Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, the ALP’s positions on all issues, including LGBTI issues, is now up for grabs. We will need to make sure that they do not back-track on any of the positive positions which they took to the election, including the full removal of discrimination against LGBT students and teachers. In this push, we should also engage with Rainbow Labow MPs, including Penny Wong, Louise Pratt, Julian Hill and the newly-elected Queensland Senator Nita Green.

 

[I have deliberately not mentioned the Australian Greens here, including bisexual Victorian Senator Janet Rice, because their support on LGBTI issues can usually be relied upon].

 

Lambie Griff Patrick

Senators Jacqui Lambie, Stirling Griff and Rex Patrick will play a significant role in determining what LGBTI law reforms can be achieved – and whether a Religious Pro-Discrimination Bill can be defeated.

 

  1. Allies

 

One of the main lessons of the marriage equality campaign was the vital role of allies in achieving progress on LGBTI issues. This is equally important in terms of the push to protect LGBT students and teachers against discrimination and – if necessary – to fight against a Religious Pro-Discrimination Bill.

 

We have seen that the vast majority of Australians are already onside when it comes to protecting LGBT students against discrimination, with the immense public backlash against these exceptions when the Ruddock Review was leaked in October 2018 (and which prompted Morrison’s promise in the first place).

 

With regards to protecting LGBT teachers, we must work better together with education unions (including the Australian Education Union, and Independent Education Union). The same applies to building our relationship with the ACTU, and union movement more broadly, to remove all religious exceptions from employment law, including the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).

 

Thinking about the potential Religious Pro-Discrimination Bill, the legislation itself presents us with natural allies – because it is not just LGBTI Australians who would be subjected to discrimination as a result.

 

A Religious Pro-Discrimination Bill could also increase discrimination against women, especially in relation to their marital or relationship status, and their ability to access reproductive health services. Unmarried/single mothers are at particular risk (alongside divorced people generally). It’s time to build bridges between LGBTI and women’s organisations to respond to this common threat.

 

Finally, perhaps the most important allies we have in this struggle are good people of faith. We simply cannot afford to let this issue be defined as ‘god versus gays’, especially because the majority of religious people support the equality of their fellow citizens – as demonstrated through the same-sex marriage postal survey.

 

Instead, our enemies are religious fundamentalist groups, like the ACL and some established churches (the formal organisations – not the followers), and any individuals who are acting in bad faith to impose their religious beliefs on others, including demanding the ability to lawfully discriminate against LGBTI people. They are who we are fighting against, not ordinary Australians.

 

This means that throughout this debate, no matter how ugly it may become, we should strive to be respectful of people’s faith, or lack of faith, in the same way we are fighting for the right to be treated fairly, with decency and respect (some might even say at this point ‘Do unto others…’).

 

  1. Opportunities

 

It may seem strange, given the current political environment in which we are operating and the threat of a Religious Pro-Discrimination Bill, to talk about opportunities for progress on LGBTI rights but there are several.

 

The first is for action to (finally) be taken to stop coercive and invasive surgeries and other medical interventions on intersex children. These human rights violations continue unabated, despite a bipartisan 2013 Senate Inquiry recommending that such surgeries and/or treatments be stopped.

 

In 2017-18, the Australian Human Rights Commission initiated a new project focusing on ‘Protecting the human rights of people born with variations in sex characteristics in the context of medical interventions’, with a final report expected shortly.

 

This will be an opportunity for non-intersex LGBT individuals and for LGBT/I organisations to support the work of groups like Intersex Human Rights Australia and their campaign to end these practices once and for all (noting that there is no right-wing, or left-wing, justification for such interventions, so there is no political rationale for the Government not to intervene).

 

The second opportunity is on ex-gay or ex-trans therapy, with the Morrison Liberal-National Government providing the following response to Equality Australia’s pre-election survey:

 

“As the Prime Minister has said, the Morrison Government does not support LGBTIQ+ conversion therapy. The use of conversion therapy has long been discredited with no scientific or medical evidence to support its use.

 

“The Morrison Government remains committed to addressing the mental health of all Australians, including the LGBTI community, and this also relates to opposition to gay conversion therapy. The Government will work with the states, which have legal responsibility in this area, to ensure such practices are not supported or occurring [emphasis added].

 

We should take them at their word and seek to make urgent progress to end this psychological torture.

 

The other main opportunities lie at state and territory level. This includes the ongoing campaign to provide trans and gender diverse people with better access to appropriate identity documentation.

 

With Tasmania recently passing best practice laws that allow individuals to update their birth certificate on the basis of self-identification – without the need for surgery, other treatment or medical approval – we must pressure the seven other jurisdictions to quickly follow suit.

 

It also includes working towards reform of state and territory anti-discrimination laws. Because, while the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 allows discrimination against LGBT students and teachers under Commonwealth law, some states and territories have adopted preferable provisions.

 

For example, last year the ACT amended its Discrimination Act 1991 to protect both LGBT students and teachers in religious schools against discrimination. Queensland and the Northern Territory already protected LGBT students against discrimination, while once again Tasmania has best practice laws in this area (their Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 only allows religious organisations to discriminate on the basis of religious belief, and not on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex variations of sex characteristics).

 

Given the vulnerability of LGBT kids in particular, there is no reason why we should not pressure state and territory governments to amend their own laws, even before the ALRC completes its report.

 

  1. Certainty

 

I have written about the threats we potentially face, as well as some of the uncertainty that now confronts us. But there is one thing that is absolutely sure: nothing will get better unless we act to make it better.

 

The Government won’t make changes on our behalf out of the kindness of its heart. Just like with countless LGBTI law reforms in the past, the only way to improve our situation – especially for vulnerable members of our community – is to get involved and collectively force them to do it.

 

This will be especially important if the Morrison Government decides to introduce a Religious Pro-Discrimination Bill. We will need all hands on deck, including people who (completely understandably) needed to take time away after the horrific experience that was the same-sex marriage postal survey.

 

And so I would conclude by encouraging you to join one or more of the many LGBTI advocacy organisations that will be fighting on our behalf in the coming months and years. This includes:

 

NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby

 

Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby

 

Equality Tasmania

 

Transgender Victoria

 

A Gender Agenda

 

Intersex Human Rights Australia

 

Just Equal

 

Rainbow Families

 

Rainbow Families Victoria

 

PFLAG Australia

 

Equality Australia

 

(as well as plenty of others I have inadvertently omitted, including in the other states and territories).

 

You can also stay up to date with latest developments by following LGBTI Rights Australia on Facebook.

 

Finally, I will continue writing regular articles about the campaign to protect LGBT students and teachers in religious schools against discrimination, as well as key developments surrounding the Religious Anti- or Pro-Discrimination Bill. To receive these posts direct to your email, please sign up via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog, or near the bottom of the page on mobile. Thanks.

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

 

Not so fast. Dean Smith’s Marriage Bill is deeply flawed.

Over the past fortnight, there has been increasing discussion about what marriage equality might look like in practice. Based on the widely-held assumption that a majority Yes vote will be announced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) on Wednesday 15 November, there appears to be a co-ordinated push to ‘unite’ behind Liberal Senator Dean Smith’s Marriage Bill.

 

This includes the decision by the Labor caucus, on Tuesday 17 October, that it will support Smith’s Bill being passed as quickly as possible after the conclusion of the postal survey.

 

This was almost immediately followed by an opinion piece from Alex Greenwich and Anna Brown of Australian Marriage Equality describing Smith’s Bill as ‘a game changer’ and claiming that ‘[i]t would deliver equality for same-sex couples and it also ensures that faith communities can continue to celebrate religious marriage.’

 

One state-based gay and lesbian rights lobby even went so far as to declare Senator Smith’s draft legislation – which, let’s not forget, hasn’t even been introduced into Commonwealth Parliament yet – as ‘the only legitimate bill.’

 

In response to these developments, I had two equally-strong reactions.

 

The first was to say ‘not so fast’. Voting in the postal survey was still well underway, so to presume victory, and to start discussing how it might be implemented, could be seen as hubris, as well as confusing what should have been the one and only message of the Yes campaign – to #postyouryes.

 

It is for this reason that I chose not to write about this topic (what marriage equality legislation should look like) until after Friday 27 October, the date by which the ABS recommended people post their ballots in order to ensure they are counted.[i]

 

My second reaction was also to say ‘not so fast’, only this time in relation to the substance of Smith’s Bill. And that is because his draft legislation might give us marriage, but it will not deliver marriage equality.

 

In fact, on closer analysis it is a deeply flawed Bill. From the title: the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 (notice what word is missing?). To its apparent purpose: to appease conservative Liberal and National MPs and Senators who oppose the equal treatment of LGBTI Australians under secular law. To its all-important details (discussed below).

 

It is clear that Senator Smith’s Marriage Bill is far less concerned with allowing all couples to marry irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics, and far more concerned with allowing individuals and organisations to discriminate against couples on the basis of these very same attributes.

 

Three major shortcomings can be seen by examining key aspects of his draft legislation:

 

  1. Dean Smith’s Marriage Bill gives new special privileges to existing civil celebrants allowing them to discriminate against LGBTI couples

 

Under the Marriage Act 1961, ministers of religion already have the ability to refuse to officiate the wedding of any couple, for any reason. There has never been a serious proposal to remove this ‘right’ to discriminate, and Smith’s Bill won’t alter this situation either.

 

However, what the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 proposes in this area is actually far more radical – and that is to give a new special privilege to existing civil celebrants allowing them to discriminate against LGBTI couples, and to do so entirely lawfully.

 

It would provide people who are already registered as civil celebrants the ability to simply fill out some paperwork and declare themselves to be ‘religious marriage celebrants’ [clause 39DD(2) of the draft legislation].

 

There is only one substantive criterion that an existing civil celebrant must satisfy – that “the choice is based on the person’s religious beliefs” [clause 39DD(2)(c)].

 

That’s it – self-identification is enough. It is the legislative equivalent of never-was-a-Senator Malcolm Roberts’ approach to life: ‘I think I am a religious marriage celebrant, therefore I must be.’ Or the Andrew Bolt version of Descartes’ proposition: ‘I discriminate, therefore I am.’

 

In practice, the Registrar of Marriage Celebrants would be obliged to accept this application and voila – an existing civil celebrant can suddenly refuse to perform weddings of couples solely on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics.

 

Remember, these people are not ministers of religion.

 

They are not formally associated with any church or religious body.

 

And the weddings they officiate do not have to be ‘religious’ in any way, shape or form.

 

But none of that would matter because, on the basis of their personal views and nothing more, they would be provided with what George Brandis would describe as ‘the right to be a bigot’.

 

This situation is bad enough in and of itself. But it is even worse when you consider that it would be setting a terrible new precedent in Commonwealth law.

 

As many people would know, the anti-discrimination protections contained in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 are already limited by ‘religious exceptions’, which provide religious organisations with special privileges to fire, refuse to hire or deny service to LGBT people.

 

The main exception is contained in sub-section 37(1)(d), which protects “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.”

 

This is supplemented by special privileges for religious schools to likewise discriminate against LGBT students and teachers [section 38].

 

One limitation on both of these exceptions is that they apply to religious organisations only, like churches or schools. They do not provide individuals, who are not connected to any other religious body, the right to discriminate solely on the basis their own personal beliefs (or prejudices).[ii]

 

The introduction of a new special privilege for individual celebrants to discriminate against LGBTI couples, based on their own religious views and nothing else, would therefore be creating a dangerous precedent, one which could be used to argue for expanded rights to discriminate in the future.

 

Indeed, this appears to be the goal of anti-LGBTI hate groups like the Australian Christian Lobby, as well as Liberal backbencher Andrew Hastie who has argued that the exceptions in Smith’s Bill should go much, much further:

 

“The protections offered [extend] only to the wedding and the wedding participants themselves. They need to be expanded to whole-of-life protections” (emphasis added).

 

In the long-term, that is what is really at stake in the debate around marriage equality and religious exceptions – whether individuals will be able to discriminate against us as LGBTI Australians, in every aspect of our lives, based on nothing more than their personal views.

 

And so, while achieving marriage equality in the short-term is obviously important (and I write that as someone who has been engaged for almost eight years), we should make sure we don’t win the battle but lose the war.

 

  1. Dean Smith’s Marriage Bill includes unnecessary and/or new special privileges for religious bodies to refuse to provide facilities, goods or services to LGBTI couples

 

The second major shortcoming of the Smith Bill is how it approaches the issue of ‘religious exceptions’ more broadly.

 

As indicated above, the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 already provides religious bodies with extremely generous special privileges to discriminate against LGBT Australians.

 

Despite this, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill includes the following:

 

“47B(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.”

 

There are two possible readings of this clause. The first is that it merely reflects existing Sex Discrimination Act provisions, and grants the same privileges to discriminate within the Marriage Act. To which the obvious reply is: if religious bodies already have the ability to discriminate in this way, why does it need to be replicated (some might say duplicated) here?

 

The alternative reading is that this is an expansion of the ability of religious bodies to discriminate, in that it grants new special privileges in relation to same-sex weddings in particular.

 

How broad these new special privileges are depends on what ‘reasonably incidental to the solemnisation of a marriage’ means. Proposed new sub-section 47B(5) notes that “[f]or 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.” Which isn’t exactly helpful (and nor is the Explanatory Memorandum).

 

Irrespective of which reading you adopt, however, I would argue that these new provisions should be rejected. Because they either unnecessarily duplicate protections that already exist. Or they introduce new special privileges to discriminate in wedding-related services simply because same-sex couples will finally be able to get married.

 

This last point is particularly important. Debate around the right to marry is at least as much symbolic as it is practical, and the marriage equality movement has meant so much to so many because it has taken on larger significance – whether lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians are considered full citizens. Or not.

 

To give marriage with one hand, but take equality away with the other – by including new special privileges to discriminate against us – fundamentally undermines what should be a powerful symbolic moment.

 

And make no mistake, it does so because of anti-LGBTI prejudice. As much as proponents of this legislation will try to argue it is necessary to protect ‘religious freedom’, as I have written previously this can be seen as a transparent lie.

 

After all, many religious bodies have strong beliefs about divorce and remarriage. And yet following the introduction of ‘no fault’ divorce via the Family Law Act 1975, and during the four decades since, there have not been any amendments to the Marriage Act to grant special privileges to religious bodies allowing them to discriminate against people who remarry.

 

The fact that they are being introduced now, when LGBTI Australians might finally get a seat at the ‘head table’, reveals that these new exceptions are not aimed at protecting ‘religious freedom’ – they are instead designed to protect homophobia (and transphobia, and biphobia, and intersexphobia).[iii] Nothing more and nothing less.

 

  1. Dean Smith’s Marriage Bill strengthens special privileges for some public servants to discriminate against LGBTI couples

 

The final major shortcoming of the Smith Bill relates to the ability of Australian Defence Force Chaplains to discriminate against personnel who wish to get married.

 

Importantly, ADF Chaplains already have the ‘right’ to refuse to officiate the ceremonies of anyone they wish, for any reason they wish, as a result of section 81 of the Marriage Act.[iv]

 

Nevertheless, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 reinforces this ability by adding the following:

 

“81(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 or 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.”

 

The duplication of the existing right of ADF Chaplains to discriminate in this way is entirely unnecessary.

 

But I have a much more substantive problem with the Marriage Act granting such privileges: ADF Chaplains are public servants, and therefore should be able to, indeed should be required to, serve all members of the ADF equally, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex personnel.

 

The Defence Jobs website seems to recognise this obligation in its advertisements: “the military Chaplain must provide spiritual ministry to all members of the Army, regardless of faith or denomination … in recognition of the imperative to foster firm faith as described, every Chaplain must be the spiritual minister to every member” (emphasis added).

 

Every member should mean every member – not just cisgender and/or heterosexual members. To determine otherwise is to permit public servants to discriminate against people simply because of their personal beliefs, thereby creating Australia’s equivalent of Kentucky’s infamous Kim Davis.

 

The most offensive aspect of these special privileges is that ADF Chaplains are paid for by taxpayers’ money, including LGBTI taxpayers, and yet they will continue to be free to discriminate on the basis of their own anti-LGBTI beliefs.

 

Smith’s Marriage Bill is therefore a missed opportunity to remedy this injustice, either by requiring all Chaplains to serve all ADF personnel without prejudice (which, based on the public debate so far, seems unlikely to be acceptable to religious stakeholders) or by removing the ability of these Chaplains to officiate any weddings, and coming up with a suitable alternative.

 

Which brings me to one of maybe three positive aspects of the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, proposed section 71A, which provides that:

 

“The Chief of the Defence Force may, by instrument in writing, authorise an officer (within the meaning of the Defence Act 1903), other than a chaplain, to solemnise marriages under this Division.”[v]

 

I can see no reason why the appointment of these officers should not be the primary way in which ADF personnel are able to marry while on deployment, something that would effectively guarantee every serving member is treated equally, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status. Surely that is a goal we can all agree on.

 

Conclusion:

 

If the result of the same-sex marriage postal survey on 15 November is the one that we want, that is not the end of the story – not by a long way.

 

We must also ensure that the legislation that is passed afterwards reflects what we want, or as close to it as possible – and that means not rushing to accept a Bill that might give us marriage, but not deliver marriage equality.

 

We should consider, in detail, all possible legislative options and decide whether what they offer is ‘acceptable’.

 

From my perspective, I don’t think we should accept a Bill that gives new special privileges to existing civil celebrants allowing them to discriminate against LGBTI couples.

 

Nor we should accept a Bill that includes unnecessary and/or new special privileges for religious bodies to refuse to provide facilities, goods or services to LGBTI couples.

 

Finally, I don’t think we should accept a Bill that strengthens special privileges for some public servants to discriminate against LGBTI couples.

 

Consequently, I don’t think we should accept Liberal Senator Dean Smith’s Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017.

 

I think we can, and we must, do better. Because LGBTI Australians deserve more than just marriage. We deserve genuine marriage equality.

 

150518 Dean Smith

Liberal Senator Dean Smith, whose Marriage Bill uses just nine words to amend the definition of marriage, but more than 400 introducing or expanding special privileges to discriminate against LGBTI couples.

 

Footnotes:

[i] If you are reading this article after 27 October, but before 7 November, and still have your postal survey, then please #postyouryes as soon as possible. The earlier you do, the more chance there is it will be counted, and help Australia finally achieve marriage equality.

[ii] Even the religious exceptions contained in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 – which are the broadest (and arguably the worst) in the country – only apply to religious bodies, or educational authorities, and not to individuals.

[iii] The same argument can be made against proposals for civil celebrants to become ‘religious marriage celebrants’ allowing them to discriminate, discussed above. This ‘right’ has not previously been offered (nor sought apparently) in relation to people who remarry – it is only being added now to allow discrimination against LGBTI couples. That is homophobia, pure and simple.

[iv] “A chaplain may refuse to solemnise a marriage under this Part on any grounds which appear to the chaplain to be sufficient and, in particular, on the ground that, in the opinion of the chaplain, the solemnisation of the marriage would be inconsistent with international law or the comity of nations.”

[v] The other two positive features of the draft legislation are the proposed change to the definition of marriage (sub-section 5(1) “Omit ‘a man and a woman’, substitute ‘2 people’”) and the recognition of existing same-sex marriages.

Submission to National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Strategy Review

The Commonwealth Department of Health is currently undertaking a review of the National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Strategy, with detailed public submissions due by Friday 12 May 2017. Full details here.

 

My submission focuses on the issue of LGBTI anti-discrimination protections, and answers two of the main questions in the submission template:

 

5.3 In terms of the LGBTI Strategy, where do you think the government and aged care sector need to improve?

 

In this submission, I would like to raise one specific area where, despite some progress having been made, there remains a significant, and urgent, need for further action – and that is the anti-discrimination protections that are provided under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

 

One of the (many) positive features of the historic Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013 was the ‘carve-out’ to ensure that Commonwealth-funded aged care services operated by religious organisations could not discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people accessing those services.

 

As noted in section 37:

Religious bodies

(1) Nothing in Division 1 or 2 affects…

(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.

(2) 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 Commonwealth-funded aged care; and

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

 

This exception from the over-arching ‘religious exceptions’ provided under the Act was a major achievement in and of itself, removing discrimination from a vulnerable group within a vulnerable group (older LGBTI people within the overall LGBTI community).

 

More importantly, the aged care carve-out in the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 underpins many other achievements of the National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Strategy in improving the circumstances of older LGBTI people who live in facilities operated by religious organisations.

 

However, from my perspective, this important reform remains incomplete – because, while it is essential that all Commonwealth-funded aged care services are not permitted to discriminate against LGBTI people accessing their services, I do not believe such services will ever be completely inclusive while they retain the ‘right’ to discriminate against LGBTI people who are employed there.

 

This can be illustrated by considering this issue – the ongoing ability of Commonwealth-funded aged care services operated by religious organisations to fire, or refuse to hire, LGBTI employees – in the context of two of the Principles, and associated Goals, of the existing Strategy.

 

  1. Access and Equity

 

The 3rd Principle contained in the National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Strategy is “Access and Equity – All areas of aged care understand the importance of, and deliver, LGBTI-inclusive services”. This is reflected in the 3rd Goal: “Ageing and aged care services will be supported to deliver LGBTI-inclusive services.”

 

Of course, significant work can be, and in many cases has been, done to ensure that the services provided directly to LGBTI older people are as inclusive as possible. But, my fundamental question is: how genuinely inclusive can a service be, taken as a whole, where a member of staff can still be disciplined, or even terminated, for merely disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity?

 

Is it ‘inclusive’ when a member of staff can be punished for engaging with a LGBTI service user by expressing empathy with them, exchanging personal stories about their respective same-sex partners in the ordinary course of conversation?

 

Is it ‘inclusive’ when an employee can be fired for simply talking with an older LGBTI resident, asking questions about that person’s background and in the process disclosing their own trans gender identity?

 

The answer must be an unequivocal no. The threat of discrimination against LGBTI employees in Commonwealth-funded aged care services operated by religious organisations casts a long shadow over the ability for any such facility to be genuinely inclusive.

 

The only way a fully inclusive aged care service can be provided is by ensuring all LGBTI employees are able to be themselves, and express themselves, in their workplace, without the risk of punishment for who they are or who they love.

 

  1. Quality

 

The 4th Principle featured in the National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Strategy is “Quality – Care and support services provide quality services that meet the needs of older LGBTI people, their families and carers and are assessed accordingly”.

 

This principle is then reflected in the 4th Goal: “LGBTI-inclusive ageing and aged care services will be delivered by a skilled and competent paid and volunteer workforce.”

 

There is, however, an inherent contradiction in setting quality as a principle and goal while at the same time legally allowing some Commonwealth-funded aged care facilities to fire, or refuse to hire, staff simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

Such an exception means there will inevitably be some situations where the best person for a particular position is not employed due to factors that have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with their ability. This substantively undermines the ‘quality’ that such a service provides to its residents (both LGBTI and non-LGBTI alike).

 

In short, aged care services should be delivered by the most ‘skilled and competent paid and volunteer workforce’, not the most ‘skilled and competent cisgender heterosexual paid and volunteer workforce.’

 

The inconsistency that lies at the heart of the Strategy is further revealed by considering one of the dot points under the Principle of ‘Quality’ on page 11 of the existing National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Strategy:

 

“All aged care staff, from administration to management, understand the life experiences and needs of LGBTI people and are equipped with the necessary tools to provide LGBTI-inclusive practice.”

 

Prima facie, this statement is commendable – that all people providing aged care services ‘understand the life experiences and needs of LGBTI people’.

 

But, looked at in another way, it is absurd to declare all staff should ‘understand the life experiences and needs of LGBTI people’ when we continue to permit some Commonwealth-funded aged care services to discriminate against staff who themselves have life experience as a member of the LGBTI community (and who would therefore already have many of ‘the necessary tools to provide LGBTI-inclusive practice’).

 

Overall, then, I believe that ‘quality’ is a worthy goal to aspire to, and, just as importantly, that it should be delivered by the best workforce possible, irrespective of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This means removing the ‘right’ of some Commonwealth-funded aged care services to discriminate against employees on the basis of fundamentally irrelevant factors.

 

6.2 What issues or specific actions do you believe should be included in the LGBTI Aged Care Action Plan that will be developed under the Diversity Framework?

 

As noted in my earlier answer to question 5.3, I believe that a key problem that must be addressed is the ongoing ability of some Commonwealth-funded aged care services to discriminate against LGBTI employees. This undermines the ability of these organisations to provide a service that is fully inclusive of LGBTI people, as well as limiting the quality of their workforce.

 

This problem should be addressed by the Commonwealth Government, by amending section 37 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to ensure that Commonwealth-funded aged care services cannot discriminate against LGBTI employees (and contract workers), in addition to the existing protections for LGBTI people accessing those services.

 

Such an amendment should be welcomed by organisations across the aged care sector, including those run by religious organisations, because it would help ensure these services are provided by the best possible workforce, and not the best possible cisgender heterosexual workforce.

 

170508 Aged Care Image

The National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Strategy is currently under review.

The Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill is Unacceptable

This time last week, our major focus was, understandably, on ensuring Bill Shorten and the Australian Labor Party listened to the concerns of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community and agreed to block Malcolm Turnbull’s unnecessary, wasteful and divisive plebiscite.

With that particular mission (almost) accomplished – although the plebiscite’s enabling legislation won’t be ‘dead, buried and cremated’ until it is finally voted down by the Senate in November – it is time to turn our attention to another battle, and that is the issue of religious exceptions.

Last Monday night (10 October 2016), the Government, via Attorney-General George Brandis, released an exposure draft of the legislation it would put before parliament in the event the plebiscite is held, and if that vote was successful.

Since that time, a number of people have expressed their serious concerns about the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill, and especially about the broad ‘rights to discriminate’ contained within. Now that I have had the opportunity to examine this Bill in detail, I am afraid I must join their condemnatory chorus.

Nearly everything about this Bill, from its title down, is unacceptable. It is far more focussed on ensuring that religious organisations, and even individuals, can refuse to serve LGBTI people, than it is about ensuring LGBTI couples are treated equally, and above all fairly, under the law. And, for the reasons that I will outline below, I sincerely believe it should be rejected in its current form.

**********

First, let’s start with that title, and specifically the phrase ‘same-sex marriage’, which is also used in the Bill’s long title (“A Bill for an Act to provide for same-sex marriage, and for related purposes”).

For the umpteenth time, and for the benefit of slow learners like Prime Minister Turnbull and Senator Brandis, ensuring that all LGBTI Australians can marry is not ‘same-sex marriage’, but ‘marriage equality’.

The former phrase is narrow and excludes non-binary trans people, as well as many intersex individuals. Only the latter phrase captures all couples, irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

Fortunately, the substance of the Bill actually does include all people – the primary clause would amend the homophobic definition of the Marriage Act enacted by John Howard’s Liberal-National Government in 2004 to read “marriage means the union of 2 people to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.”

If that is the case, then why has the Government used the inaccurate phrase ‘same-sex marriage’ in the Bill’s title?

Perhaps it is simply politics, and the ongoing inability of the Coalition’s right-wing to acknowledge that this is, fundamentally, an issue of equality (although not referring to it as marriage equality even after the majority of the population voted for it – which is the precondition for this Bill – would seem to me incredibly petty).

On the other hand, maybe Turnbull and Brandis are right to shy away from describing this legislation as ‘marriage equality’ – because, in the vast majority of its provisions, it is nothing of the sort. Indeed, most of the Bill’s clauses are actually concerned with ensuring couples other than ‘a man and a woman’ are able to be refused service in a wide range of circumstances.

Which means that a far more accurate title for this legislation might be the ‘Marriage Amendment (Allowing any 2 adults to marry, but then allowing them to be denied service if they are LGBTI) Bill’. But, as well as being a mouthful, that might be a little too much ‘truth in advertising’ for this particular Government.

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Turning to the more substantive faults of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill, and the first concerns the rights of ministers of religion to refuse to conduct LGBTI weddings.

Now, let me begin by saying that I actually agree that ministers of religion should legally have the ability to accept, or reject, any couple who wishes to be married by them through a religious ceremony (even if I personally believe that such discrimination is abhorrent).

Indeed, that ‘right’ is already provided to ministers of religion under section 47 of the Marriage Act 1961: “Ministers of religion not bound to solemnise marriage etc. Nothing in this Part: (a) imposes an obligation on an authorised celebrant, being a minister of religion, to solemnise any marriage…”

Which means that no amendments are required to the Act to allow ministers of religion to refuse to officiate LGBTI weddings (and none have been proposed by previous marriage equality Bills from Labor, the Greens and even last-year’s cross-party Bill from MPs including Liberal Warren Entsch). So why then does the Bill repeal section 47 and replace it with the following:

Ministers of religion may refuse to solemnise marriages

Refusing to solemnise a marriage that is not the union of a man and a woman

(3) A minister of religion may refuse to solemnise a marriage despite any law (including this Part) if:

(a) the refusal is because the marriage is not the union of a man and a woman; and

(b) any of the following applies:

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

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

(iii) the minister’s conscientious or religious beliefs do not allow the minister to solemnise the marriage.”

Ministers of religion will still have exactly the same right to refuse to perform any wedding, including newly-recognised LGBTI weddings[i], that they have now. Arguably, it would provide a greater ability for religious organisations to impose their official doctrine on ministers of religion within their faith – although, as we have seen recently, imposing such views is already commonplace.

But the overall power will remain basically the same. So, why introduce these new provisions, spelling out in detail the ability to decline non- ‘man/woman’ marriages, at all?

It is difficult to see any other motivation than plain old homophobia and transphobia.

And that becomes apparent when comparing it against another issue that is also contrary to some religious views – divorce and remarriage[ii]. The Catholic Church in particular espouses an official view against both, and its ministers would therefore reserve the right to decline to officiate second (or third, fourth or even fifth) weddings.

Under both the existing, and the proposed new, sections 47 a minister of religion has the ability to reject couples in these circumstances – without it being spelled out. Just as the wording of the existing section 47 would allow them to reject LGBTI couples, were it to be retained following the introduction of marriage equality, without it necessarily being spelled out.

Which means there is absolutely no valid reason to insert new provisions that single out LGBTI couples (or non- ‘man/woman’ couples) for special, and detrimental, treatment, as part of a redrafted section 47.

Therefore, while the continuing ability of ministers of religion to decline to officiate weddings is not particularly problematic (from a legal point of view anyway), the unnecessary insertion of clauses which specify the right to discriminate against LGBTI couples – but not any other couples – definitely is.

The proposed new section 47 is homophobic and transphobic. It is unacceptable, and it must be rejected.

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Sadly, it only gets worse from here. The second substantive fault of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill is the creation of an entirely new ‘right’ to discriminate against LGBTI couples.

Currently, only ministers of religion have an explicit ‘opt-out’ clause. No equivalent provision or power exists for civil celebrants[iii] – which is entirely reasonable, given they are essentially ‘small businesses’, providing a service that the government has authorised them to, and explicitly not acting on behalf of any religion or religious organisation.

However, the Government is proposing, through this Bill, to allow even these ‘secular’ civil celebrants to reject LGBTI couples simply because of who they are (again, this is something that has not been included in most previous Bills, other than that from Senator David Leyonhjelm[iv]). Proposed new section 47A reads:

Marriage celebrants may refuse to solemnise marriages

(1) A marriage celebrant (not being a minister of religion) may refuse to solemnise a marriage despite any law (including this Part) if:

(a) the refusal is because the marriage is not the union of a man and a woman; and

(b) the marriage celebrant’s conscientious or religious beliefs do not allow the marriage celebrant to solemnise the marriage.”

This is, to put it simply, outrageous.

There is absolutely no reason why someone who is engaged in small business should be able to discriminate in such a way, against people who are LGBTI, simply because of their ‘personal beliefs’. It is the equivalent of encouraging them to put up a sign saying ‘no gays (or lesbians, or bisexuals, or trans people, or intersex people) allowed.’

And exactly how outrageous, and offensive, is revealed by once again comparing it to the situation with divorce and remarriage.

Despite whatever personal beliefs a civil celebrant may hold, and even after the Government’s Bill was passed, they would still not be able to formally decline to officiate someone’s second (or subsequent) wedding. Indeed, it is likely such discrimination would be unlawful under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, which includes ‘marital or relationship status’ as a protected attribute in section 6[v].

In contrast, if the new section 47A was included in any amendments to the Marriage Act, these same celebrants would be able to reject LGBTI couples on the basis that they were not ‘a man and a woman’[vi], and for no other reason.

In effect, Malcolm Turnbull and his Government are saying that the religious beliefs of civil celebrants can be used to justify discrimination – but only if those religious beliefs are anti-LGBTI (and not, for example, if they are opposed to divorce).

Once again, I am forced to conclude that the proposed new section 47A is homophobic and transphobic. It is unacceptable, and it must be rejected.

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But it’s not just civil celebrants who will be allowed to put up unwelcome, on multiple levels, signs saying ‘no gays (or lesbians, or bisexuals, or trans people, or intersex people) allowed’. Religious bodies or organisations will also be able to do so as part of proposed new section 47B, which reads:

Religious bodies and organisations may refuse to make facilities available or provide goods or services

(1) A religious body or a religious organisation may, despite any law (including this Part), 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:

(a) the refusal is because the marriage is not the union of a man and a woman; and

(b) the refusal:

(i) conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of the religion of the religious body or religious organisation; or

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

If this provision were solely concerned with providing clarity that religious bodies were not obliged to conduct any weddings that they did not condone in their places of worship, like churches, then it may have almost been reasonable.

However, section 47B goes far beyond what would be required to achieve that limited goal. Instead, it provides a wide-ranging ‘right to discriminate’ against LGBTI couples, one that is problematic in at least three key ways:

  • It applies to more than just facilities, but also to the provision of ‘goods and services’, which, given the extent of influence of religious bodies and organisations in Australia, is incredibly broad
  • Sub-section (2)[vii] makes it clear that this right extends to religious bodies or organisations that are engaged in providing commercial services, for profit, and
  • The phrase “for purposes reasonably incidental to the solemnisation of a marriage” is vague, and left undefined, and could potentially capture a range of facilities, goods or services that are not directly connected to either a wedding ceremony or reception.

This section is also cause for concern in that it establishes a precedent whereby discrimination against LGBTI couples is encouraged. One consequence is that, while the current Bill does not allow florists, wedding cake-bakers, photographers or reception venues to refuse service (unless of course they themselves are run by a religious organisation), their voices demanding such exceptions in future will only get louder.

But again the major problem with this section is that it is singling out LGBTI couples – or anyone who doesn’t fit within the definition of ‘a man and a woman’[viii] – for special, and detrimental, treatment. And literally nobody else.

As with civil celebrants, it is only homophobic and transphobic religious belief that is preferenced here – other sincerely-held religious beliefs, for example, against divorce and remarriage, do not attract any such right. Which means that, yet again, the Liberal-National Government is expressing its support for religious freedom, but only as long as the beliefs concerned are anti-LGBTI.

The only possible conclusion is that proposed new section 47B is homophobic and transphobic, which makes it unacceptable. It must be rejected.

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The fourth and final substantive fault in the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill is the addition of a note to section 81, which deals with the rights of Defence Force chaplains to refuse to solemnise weddings.

The new note reads: “Example: A chaplain may refuse to solemnise a marriage that is not the union of a man and a woman where the refusal conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of the chaplain’s church or faith group.”

I am strongly opposed to allowing these chaplains to discriminate against LGBTI couples in this way. Which might be surprising to some, especially given my view, expressed above, that ministers of religion should legally have this right.

Surprising, that is, until you consider that Defence Force chaplains are public servants, paid for out of everyone’s taxes – LGBTI and non-LGBTI, and religious and non-religious, alike[ix]. Indeed, the Defence Jobs Australia website indicates that chaplains are paid over $94,200 following completion of basic training.

The same website also claims that chaplains must “administer spiritual support to all members, regardless of their religion.”

Therefore, allowing discrimination by Defence Force chaplains fails in principle on two counts:

  • As public servants they should not be able to discriminate against members of the public simply because of their personal beliefs (otherwise we are allowing the Australian equivalent of Kim Davis), and
  • In providing spiritual support to Defence Force personnel, they are expected to do so for all people, not just those who are cisgender and/or heterosexual.

Which means that, if Defence Force chaplains are to continue to be authorised to officiate any weddings, then that must include the weddings of LGBTI people.

To do otherwise is, once again, homophobic and transphobic. It is unacceptable, and it must be rejected.

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There follows a few provisions that are actually positive in nature – removing the existing prohibition on the recognition of foreign marriages between two men, or two women[x] – before one final provision that establishes, clearly, that the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill is more concerned with promoting homophobia and transphobia than in addressing LGBTI inequality.

That is an amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act provision[xi] that currently provides an exception for conduct which is “in direct compliance with” the Marriage Act – because, for example, a civil celebrant is unable to lawfully marry an LGBTI couple.

The introduction of genuine marriage equality should lessen that discrimination, and potentially even obviate the need for such a provision to begin with.

Instead, this amendment expands the exception, by adding conduct that is “authorised by” the Marriage Act, thus ensuring that the exceptions to Australia’s federal LGBTI anti-discrimination framework, which are already too broad[xii], are broadened even further.

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SENATE SINODINOS DEBATE

Attorney-General George Brandis’ Bill is not aimed at achieving genuine marriage equality, and should perhaps be renamed the Marriage Amendment (Allowing any 2 adults to marry, but then allowing them to be denied service if they are LGBTI) Bill.

It is disappointing, although perhaps not entirely surprising, to observe that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his Liberal-National Government just don’t get it when it comes to marriage equality.

First, they sought to impose an unnecessary, wasteful and divisive plebiscite on LGBTI Australians in order for our relationships to simply be recognised as equal under secular law.

Then we discover that their planned ‘reward’ – if the plebiscite is held, and if we are ultimately successful in their $200 million+ national opinion poll – is actually a fundamentally flawed piece of legislation, that spends more time and effort in expanding the rights of religious bodies, and civil celebrants, to discriminate against us than in actually implementing marriage equality.

We all know, far too well, that the equal recognition of our relationships is long overdue in Australian law. Unfortunately, that equality, genuine equality, will not be achieved via passage of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill.

At its core, it is homophobic and transphobic, making it unacceptable. I believe that, just as we have campaigned for Parliament to reject the plebiscite, and adopt a better process, we must also demand that they reject this ill-conceived legislation, and replace it with a better Bill.

If you believe that marriage equality should be exactly that – equality – please sign & share this petition to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull: Equal Love Should Not Be Treated Unequally.

Footnotes:

[i] It would appear that this provision does not explicitly allow ministers of religion to discriminate against trans individuals or couples where the union is between two people who identify as a man and a woman – although the catch-all ‘right to discriminate’ in 47(1) “A minister of religion may refuse to solemnise a marriage despite anything in this part” would nevertheless still apply.

[ii] Please note that I am not expressing support for such beliefs (against divorce and remarriage). I am merely using this example because, given many people sincerely hold such views, their differential treatment under the Bill makes it clear that the legislation is not concerned with protecting religious freedom, but instead aims to legitimise homophobia and transphobia.

[iii] Curiously, both the Attorney-General’s Media Release announcing the Exposure Draft Bill, and sub-section 2 of the proposed new section 47A, imply that civil celebrants do have such a power. This may be based on a very generous interpretation of section 39F of the Marriage Act 1961 which notes that “A person who is registered as a marriage celebrant may solemnise marriages at any place in Australia” – and in particular that the word may is used here rather than must.

However, it is just as easily argued that the fact ministers of religion currently enjoy an explicit ‘right to discriminate’ under section 47, while there is no equivalent section for civil celebrants, means civil celebrants cannot simply reject couples for any reason whatsoever.

More importantly, without an explicit power, it is likely the actions of civil celebrants would be captured by the anti-discrimination protections of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 – currently, with respect to sex and relationship status, and, if marriage equality is passed, with respect to sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status (unless a new right to discriminate is inserted).

[iv] For more, please see: Senator Leyonhjelm’s Marriage Equality Bill undermines the principle of LGBTI anti-discrimination. Should we still support it?

[v] With the definition of ‘marital or relationship status’ in section 4 of the Sex Discrimination Act explicitly including “(d) divorced”.

[vi] Interestingly, my interpretation of this provision means that, unlike ministers of religion, civil celebrants would not be able to reject trans individuals or couples who identify as a man and a woman, particularly because there is no other stand-alone right to refuse.

[vii] Which reads “Subsection (1) applies to facilities made available, and goods and services provided, whether for payment or not.”

[viii] Interestingly, this section would not allow religious bodies or organisations to refuse to provide facilities, goods or services to weddings involving one or two trans people where the couple identified as a man and a woman, although it is possible religious exceptions contained in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 would make such discrimination lawful.

[ix] Of course, I would argue that the High Court should find this arrangement – the use of taxpayer funds to hire people to perform an explicitly religious function – to be unconstitutional under section 116, but that is an argument for another day (and probably for a more adventurous High Court too).

[x] Sections 88B(4) and 88EA.

[xi] Subsection 40(2A)

[xii] For more, please see: What’s Wrong With the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984?