A significant judgment today restored some balance to equal opportunity laws but has sparked calls for reform to limit discrimination by religious groups.
The Supreme Court of Victoria has upheld a VCAT decision that Christian Youth Camps (CYC) unlawfully discriminated against a group of same sex attracted young people by refusing to allow the group to use one of CYC’s camps for a weekend retreat.
The request for accommodation was made in June 2007 by Cobaw Community Health Services, an organisation that aims to prevent youth suicide, particularly among same sex-attracted young people. CYC, which was established by the Christian Brethren Trust, refused that request. Today the majority of the Court of Appeal held that there was no error in VCAT’s finding that there was:
discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; and
exemptions in the Equal Opportunity Act 1995 that allow religious groups to discriminate in certain circumstances did not apply.
“I think this is a terrific outcome for the young people who were discriminated against and the decision vindicates their feeling that what happened to them was wrong,” said Ms Anne McLennan, Chief Executive Officer of Cobaw Community Health.
“It’s been a long haul over six years but it has been worth the time and energy to get such a significant decision that clarifies the operation of equal opportunity law,” added Ms McLennan.
Kat Ettwell, one of the young people involved in the case, was present in the Court with Ms McLennan. “This makes me feel proud. There was a lot involved personally for everyone who contributed to the complaint and it’s really heartening to have the Court say today that standing up for ourselves was the right thing to do,” said Kat.
Rachel Ball, Director of Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said “it is unacceptable and contrary to international human rights law for a commercial entity operating in the public sphere to exclude and discriminate against a group of young people on the basis of their sexual orientation. The outcome in this case strikes a fair balance between the rights of religious groups and the rights of other people in the community.”
The Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby (VGLRL) today called on the Victorian Government to amend the Victorian laws to ensure greater protection from discrimination and ensure greater transparency for members of the public when doing business with religious organisations.
“This decision goes some way to help lessen the impact of the religious exemptions in equal opportunity law but these exemptions are unjustifiably broad to begin with, and further reform is needed to protect young same-sex attracted people from the harmful effects of discrimination,” said Ms Anna Brown, Co-Convener of the Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby.
“Members of the public shouldn’t have to suffer through years of litigation in order to clarify whether they can access basic goods and services. At the very least, we need greater transparency so people know where they stand,” added Ms Brown.
Cobaw would like acknowledge the assistance of the law firm and Counsel who represented them in this case, and the staff and individuals who initially raised and pursued the complaint with Cobaw's support
For a copy of the judgment please click on this link: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/vic/VSCA/2014/75.html
Note: Christian Youth Camps have since filed an application for special leave to the High Court to challenge the decision.
For further comment please contact:
Anna McLennan, Chief Executive Officer, Cobaw Community Health, 0407 128 224
Rachel Ball, Director of Advocacy, Human Rights Law Centre, 0434 045 919
Anna Brown, Co-Convener, Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby, 0422 235 522