The Rationalist Society of Australia is urging the Morrison government and the Labor opposition to join forces to provide protections for LGBTIQ students and teachers in religious schools instead of pursuing the divisive Religious Discrimination Bill.
In a newly released video (see below), RSA president Meredith Doig calls on the major parties to deliver on the promises they made in 2018 to remove exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act that allow religious schools to expel students and fire teachers for being gay.
Dr Doig said it was unacceptable that schools could still legally discriminate against students and teachers for reasons including sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status or pregnancy.
In recent days, under pressure from moderate Liberal MPs, the Morrison government has indicated it would fast-track the removal of these exemptions, having originally said they would be dealt with a year after the passing of the Religious Discrimination Bill.
Dr Doig said the government and Labor should prioritise the removal of these exemptions from the Sex Discrimination Act – a move which would have overwhelming public support.
“These existing exemptions in the SDA have the capacity now for religious schools to harm and to hurt many Australians. They have to go. And now,” she said.
Just NOT OK that religious schools can legally discriminate against students & teachers for reasons including sexual orientation. Time the Morrison govt & Labor work together to remove religious exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act. #auspol Read more: https://t.co/iFc4UdTm37 pic.twitter.com/n0GEa9VDC6
— MeredithDoig (@MeredithDoig) December 3, 2021
In 2018, a public outcry about the exemptions drew cross-party support for an end to discriminatory treatment of LGBTIQ students.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised to act with urgency before the end of that year, and Labor and The Greens introduced separate bills.
A number of Labor members, including senators Penny Wong, Kristina Keneally and Jenny McAllister, told parliament the exemptions should be removed for both students and staff.
Conservative religious lobbyists, such as the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), are reportedly threatening to withdraw their support for the Religious Discrimination Bill if amendments are made to the Sex Discrimination Act.
In a live-streamed discussion on FamilyVoice Australia’s Facebook page yesterday, John Steenhof, of the ACL-aligned Human Rights Law Alliance, raised doubts that Christian groups could maintain support for the Religious Discrimination Bill.
“…if a deal has been struck and Sex Discrimination Act changes have been agreed in a way that really rips the heart out of protections in the Sex Discrimination Act, it just simply would be a bridge too far to advocate to people that they should support this Religious Discrimination Bill,” he said.
“You’re going to come out the back end of it much worse off than you went in.”
Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman