By MICHAEL HITCH
“Hostile” demands from the 2017 same-sex marriage debate may be re-ignited as another religious freedom bill, heading for parliament in the coming months could aim to put the traditional “man/woman” definition of marriage back into federal legislation.
LGBTIQ+ leaders fear that “hostile amendments” recommended from Philip Ruddock’s 2018 religious freedom review will also be resurged through the proposed “Omnibus Bill”, which supports many of the 2017 ‘No Campaigns’ arguments and amendments.
The Omnibus Bill is listed by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet for the winter/spring parliamentary session and is separate to the ‘Religious Discrimination Bill’ that Attorney-General, Christian Porter is preparing for Parliament.
It seems there’s a pattern emerging with the Coalition Government.
CEO of Equality Australia, Anna Brown agrees and said that the Australian Christian Lobby, who provided a comprehensive submission to the panel of the ‘Ruddock Review’, are using the bill as “payback” for same-sex marriage.
“We are deeply concerned that the Australian Christian Lobby is using elements of the Omnibus Bill as payback for marriage equality,” she said.
“The Omnibus Bill includes a number of measures that were voted down during the marriage equality debate in 2017. There is absolutely no need to re-litigate these matters.”
Omnibus Bill a Trojan Horse
Ms Brown also denounced the Government’s zipped-lip about the details of the Omnibus Bill and stressed the importance of transparency for the public, in what appears to be a legislative ‘Trojan-Horse’ for allowing free discrimination.
“The Australian Government needs to release the details of the Omnibus Bill, so the public can understand what is being proposed and its exact effect,” she said.
“Conservative religious lobby groups are calling for laws which would override existing anti-discrimination laws, and it’s important that the Government does not introduce any laws that would take us backwards after marriage equality.
“None of the falsehoods the No Campaign raised during the marriage equality campaign have proven true. Legal amendments privileging religious charities were already rejected during 2017 and we see absolutely no need to introduce them now.”
The Omnibus Bill will likely seek amendments that allow religious organisations to openly advocate against marriage equality, as well as provide guidelines for removing students from classes on religious grounds and provide ‘guidance’ for Judges working with cases relating to anti-discrimination laws.
Under the proposed amendments religious schools can refuse to provide goods, facilities and services for gay couples, such as a school hall for a marriage ceremony. Furthermore, religious charity organisations can publically advocate for a ‘traditional’ view of marriage without affecting their charity status. Both proposals were originally voted down during the parliamentary debates on marriage equality in 2017.
Further commitments include introducing national guidelines allowing parents to request removal of students from classes based on ‘religious and moral matters’, which would significantly limit the ability for teachers to teach or answer questions about marriage equality or same-sex relationships. A guideline that advocates believe will instil division and promote ignorance in younger generations.
Managing Director for the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), Martyn Iles disagrees with these claims and firmly believes in the Omnibus bill’s capacity to make society more “pluralistic” – a word that seems entirely foreign to the ACL.
“Some of the changes are good, including the protection of charities with a traditional marriage belief and the passing of a religious discrimination act,” he said.
“Organisations should be free to advocate for a wide range of opinions. That’s a natural part of living in a multicultural, pluralistic society where both freedom and diversity are valued.
“In a pluralistic and diverse society, people will regularly hold beliefs that deeply contradict each other. We must therefore figure out how we can live free in those beliefs, together. Constructive religious freedom reforms will progress the answer to that question.”
Forster for freedom to marry
Liberal City of Sydney Councillor, Christine Forster is a strong advocate for same-sex marriage and believes that legislating to protect ‘religious freedoms’ is simply redundant, noting the need for consultation with the LGBTIQ+ community as these bills are introduced.
“I am not in favour of any new legislation that might redefine marriage as being between a man and a woman, since the Marriage Act now defines that as being between two people,” Cr Forster said.
“I don’t believe the right to express or practice religion is under attack. That right is protected in the Constitution and I have seen little evidence that there is a great need for express legislation to further protect those rights.
“Religious institutions have always had the right to preach their own beliefs about marriage, and the December 2017 reform of the Marriage Act did not impact or diminish that right in any way.
“The LGBTIQ community should be included in the public consultation process ahead of any bill being introduced.”
Ms Brown also agrees and is one of the many calling for Christian Porter to consult wider communities as the bills progress.
“Equality Australia, Fair Agenda, and Democracy in Colour are calling on the Attorney-General to consult with every community who will be affected by the Bill – including affirming faith organisations, LGBTQI+ people, women’s organisations, and people who fall into all three of those categories.”
You can add your support for consultation and fair and balanced anti-discrimination laws here.