Australian laws need a shake up to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) people from discrimination by religious groups and better balance competing rights, the Human Rights Law Centre said today in its submission to the inquiry into religious freedom.
Anna Brown, Director of Legal Advocacy with the Human Rights Law Centre, said, "Last year Australians voted for equality and fairness, not new forms of discrimination. There is no price to be paid for equality, we reject outright that religious freedom is now under threat simply because two people who love each other can marry."
The Religious Freedom Review's Expert Panel was commissioned to conduct the inquiry after last year’s Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey to consider some of the concerns raised by religious groups. The Panel is charged with examining whether Australian law protects religious freedom.
"People are largely free to observe and practice their faith in Australia. We actually need to narrow broad exemptions for religious bodies in discrimination law that prevent vulnerable people, including LGBTI people, from accessing critical services. This inquiry is an opportunity to get the balance right," said Ms Brown.
The submission outlines how existing permanent religious exemptions go too far and highlight cases where LGBTI people have experienced problems at religious schools or other faith based settings.
"Religious exemptions already act as a barrier to vulnerable and marginalised Australians accessing the support services they need. We have spoken to lesbian, gay and transgender people who have been discriminated against when seeking help, and they are afraid to speak out or seek assistance from other religious charities. We need strong discrimination laws but blanket exemptions that bow to the interests of certain groups over other Australians must be avoided," said Ms Brown.
The HRLC recommends filling gaps in the law when it comes to protection for people of faith. Currently, people of faith are protected from discrimination in employment under the Fair Work Act and most states and territories, but aren’t covered by federal anti-discrimination laws.
"We live in a diverse community and people shouldn’t be targeted simply for wearing a turban, cross or headscarf on the street or at school. The United Nations has called on Australia to introduce legal protections for people of faith from discrimination, and so do we," said Ms Brown.
The inquiry highlights the need for Australia to consolidate and modernise its inconsistent and outdated anti-discrimination laws and introduce a Human Rights Act.
"This inquiry reveals a much larger problem – that the fundamental rights and freedoms of Australians are lacking in legal protection. We need to modernise and consolidate our patchwork of federal anti-discrimination laws into a watertight shield against mistreatment, and protect all fundamental rights through a Bill of Rights or Human Rights Act. Our laws should apply equally, regardless of what your faith is, where you’re from or who you love," said Ms Brown.
For interviews or further information please call:
Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519