It’s Time to End Morrison’s Religious Privilege Crusade

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Morrison’s religious discrimination legislation could be brought to federal parliament as early as next week. The Pentecostal PM wants to prevent discrimination against the only institutions in the nation that have the right to discriminate incorporated into both federal and state laws.

The push for further protections around religious freedom arose during the lead up to the passing of marriage equality laws. Since late 2017, key religious right figure Scott Morrison has been the poster boy of the movement against the granting of equal rights to LGBTIQ people.

While the debate is framed around “religious” freedoms, the focus is very much on Christianity. And while many within the majority religion supported marriage equality, it’s certain conservative forces within the faith, who are compelled to legislate for further privilege.

In its ongoing post-election version of Liberals 2.0, federal Labor has said it’s willing to work with the Morrison government on the passing of a Religious Discrimination Act, seemingly not out of a belief in the necessity for such laws, but rather in a scramble to locate the votes it didn’t get last election.

This push for further religious protections is not only a harmful injustice to the LGBTIQ community, but it’s also an affront to an entire nation that voted in favour of extending the basic human right of marriage to all, at a time when governing politicians refused to act on the issue.

A fair go for bigots

“Religious discrimination has really asserted itself as the new frontier in an ongoing homophobic culture war,” said Community Action Against Homophobia (CAAH) co-convener Cat Rose. “We have to remember that Scott Morrison was a key figure in the No campaign against marriage equality.”

“The Liberals in general felt like the postal vote would legitimise a homophobic definition of marriage, even if it was a minority one,” she continued. “But with millions of people mobilising for the Yes vote and a win that was so decisive it ended as a huge blow against them.”

Then PM Malcolm Turnbull announced in August 2017 that a national postal vote on marriage equality would take place. By mid-November that year a Yes result had been announced, and the following month saw same-sex marriage laws passed in federal parliament.

Two weeks prior to the passing of same-sex marriage, Turnbull announced a review of religious protections. And former attorney general Philip Ruddock – the man who made the 2004 changes to the Marriage Act to ensure same-sex marriage was outlawed – was appointed chair of the review.

As Ms Rose put it to Sydney Criminal Lawyers, ever since the return of the Yes vote, the religious right has tried “to carve out a place for homophobic ideas to fester”. And following their “surprise win in the federal election”, the Liberals see it “as the perfect time to go on the offensive”.

The right to discriminate

The national postal vote was condemned for unnecessarily subjecting those who aren’t straight and cisgendered to a stigmatising and prejudicial No campaign. And with the religious freedoms debate in full swing, this discriminatory assault on the LGBTIQ community continues.

“Today, people who identify as LGBTIQ+ are already at a higher risk of mental health issues and suicide,” Ms Rose explained. “For example, LGBTIQ+ people aged 16 to 27 are five times more likely to attempt suicide in their lifetime compared to the average population.”

“LGBTIQ+ people already experience legalised discrimination from publicly-funded religious organisations,” she went on, “with a large portion of Australia’s schools, hospitals and social services outsourced by the government to Christian organisations.”

Section 38 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) allows religious educational institutions to discriminate against employees and students based on “sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status or pregnancy”. And this is not the only religious exemption law.

“This reduces the ability of LGBTIQ+ people to come out at work and leaves young people without diverse role models at school,” Rose stressed. “A bill aimed at strengthening these exemptions will embolden bigots to be openly homophobic and transphobic and spread their harmful views.”

A personal holy grail

The Ruddock review recommended that the federal government pass a Religious Discrimination Act that would make it unlawful to discriminate against someone based on religion, as well as consider providing appropriate religious exemptions.

“This bill is clearly designed as backlash against the marriage equality campaign by Morrison and those who want to embark on culture wars,” Ms Rose remarked. And it could be argued this debate wouldn’t have progressed so far without such a reactionary and devout Christian PM at the helm.

A recent Guardian Essential poll found that only 44 percent of Coalition voters would back such a bill. And as Ms Rose asserts, despite what the major parties would have people think, “the success of marriage equality has only strengthened popular opinion in favour of LGBTIQ+ rights”.

Check your opposition at the door

Now that it’s in a state of post-election loss shellshock, federal Labor has decided the rights of LGBTIQ people are expendable, as speculation has suggested Labor lost the support of religious voters. And it’s now pledged to work with the Coalition on the religious discrimination legislation.

“Labor are looking for a cheap excuse as to why they lost the election,” Ms Rose put forth. And she went on to outline that as Australia isn’t an overtly religious country, the clear majority oppose the new bill, while around 80 percent want the laws allowing schools to fire LGBTIQ staff revoked.

“In this context, Labor’s support of the bill is just appalling,” she underscored.

Taking it to the streets

Community Action Against Homophobia is organising a Sydney rally in a fortnight to show the widespread resistance towards the Liberal government’s attempt “to further entrench and broaden discrimination in a so-called Religious Freedoms Bill”.

“We want the protest to show the vocal opposition of ordinary people towards the bill and to reveal how both the Liberals and Labor lie about a silent homophobic majority in order to push their right-wing agendas,” Ms Rose explained.

And not only does CAAH want to voice opposition to the “bitter and vicious conservative minority” push for the new legislation, but it’s also calling for the standing anti-LGBTIQ religious exemption laws to be removed from both federal and state legislation.

“We especially want to prove that they should expect resistance when attempting a right-wing push back,” long-time LGBTIQ campaigner Mr Rose concluded. “We have fought hard for equality and we will not go down easily.”

The Protest Religious Discrimination Bill: No Right to Discriminate rally will commence at 1 pm at Taylor Square on 3 August. Protesters will be marching down Oxford Street. And guest speakers will included Father Rod Bower and just.equal spokesperson Rodney Croome.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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