b) Gay Australia
Protecting those most vulnerable to discrimination
This article was published in MCV and SX News on 16.5.11
The recently-released Human Rights Commission report into the need for national laws to protect LGBTI people from discrimination failed to tackle the key issue of exemptions for religious organisations.
The report is a reminder that discrimination is rife, that state laws are often too weak to prevent it, and that a national law has the potential to provide real protection.
But the Government knows this already, which is why itís drafting new national anti-discrimination laws that will probably include sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) as grounds for protection.
What is far less likely is that the Federal Government will have tighter religious exemptions in its law than those already in state law.
Successive federal governments have shown an astounding willingness to do whatever a small minority of highly conservative religious voters want.
They have excluded same-sex couples from marriage, overridden civil unions in the ACT and remained silent about homophobia.
Be in doubt they are likely to allow the churches almost all the exemptions they seek from a national SOGI law.
The Human Rights Commission report was the perfect platform from which to launch a pre-emptive strike against this.
The HRC could have pointed out how exemptions violate the principle that everyone has the right to the basics of life like employment, housing and an education, regardless of who provides these things.
It could have pointed out that in places like Tasmania church-run agencies and schools are now fairer and more equitable thanks to the fact that they have no exemptions under local anti-discrimination law.
It could have reminded the Government that religious exemptions violate Australiaís human rights obligations.
It could have reminded the community that religious exemptions mean those people most vulnerable to discrimination are the ones least protected from it.
But it did none of this, instead citing a handful of comments on both sides of the debate (as if there are two sides) and moving on.
If the HRC wonít defend vulnerable LGBTI people from unfair treatment, it is up to the LGBTI community itself to campaign as hard as we can against laws that allow discrimination.
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