The religious discrimination bill being debated in the federal parliament would have serious adverse consequences for LGBTQI people across the country, especially LGBTQI Victorians.

The bill would override future Victorian laws, workers protect against discrimination based on their beliefs. Instead, it would allow religious hospitals, elderly care facilities, accommodation providers, disability service providers, and other workplaces to discriminate against workers who do not share their beliefs.

Religious charities may refuse to help people in need who are not of their religion. Religious camps and conference venues may deny accommodation to groups who do not share the same faith. Religious schools and universities may refuse to provide facilities for same-sex weddings.

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The bills also protect offensive and harmful creeds from action under anti-discrimination and anti-defamation laws, and protect the charitable status of anti-marriage equality groups.

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One of the most worrying aspects of the bill is that it overrides states that have strict anti-discrimination laws like Victoria and Tasmania.

Like Evie Potter, Co- Convenor of the Victorian Pride Lobby says the “Religious Discrimination Act specifically targets Victoria’s soon-to-be nationwide anti-discrimination laws and would override provisions protecting potential employees from discrimination.”

Laws currently on the Victoria Legislative Council debated would mean that religious schools and organizations could oppose the attitude of a person who does not hold their religious beliefs only if religious beliefs are an inherent requirement for the role. Any discrimination should also be appropriate and proportionate.

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The Religious Discrimination Act would override this common sense and reverse the Victorian changes. It would allow religious schools to discriminate on the basis of religion if done in good faith and in accordance with a public policy – a policy that they can set themselves. That would mean, for example, that a religious school that speaks out against marriage equality could fire a teacher who marries his same-sex partner.

The bill would prevent religious schools and organizations from allowing LGBTQ students to work and discriminate against people who rely on their services.

Be sure to write to your local MP asking them to support these important reforms.

Das may seem extreme, but it’s already happening. Rachel Colvin taught English at Ballarat Christian College for ten years. In 2018, she was forced to sign a statement from the school stating that the marriage must take place between a man and a woman, which went against her own religious beliefs. As a result of the refusal to sign the declaration, she lost her job and took action against the school.

In the wake of the Victorian reforms, schools like Ballarat Christian College had to show that religious beliefs about marriage were essential for the role of English teacher was essential and that it was sensible and proportionate for the school to enforce that belief. That seems unlikely. The Victorian reforms would almost certainly protect teachers like Mrs. Colvin.

However, those reforms would be overridden by the Religious Discrimination Act, which would not provide such protection. Teachers like Mrs. Colvin could be fired if there were even minor differences in religious views or interpretations, even if they had no bearing on their work and teaching.

As Potter says, “The law does nothing to LGBTQ students and – Protect teachers – it allows more discrimination by religious schools by removing protection under Victorian law. This opens up Victorian teachers and staff to more discrimination and does absolutely nothing to prevent religious schools from excluding LGBTQ students. ”It is Victorian reforms that will protect LGBTQ students and teachers. The Prime Minister promised to protect LGBTQ students from discrimination in schools more than three years ago, but it is the Victorian government that leads the way.

We cannot allow the Prime Minister to reverse Victoria’s anti-discrimination reforms. This will only serve to exacerbate discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

Dr. Sean Mulcahy is a research fellow at the Australian Research Center for Sex, Health and Society and a past co-convenor of the Victorian Pride Lobby.

Liam Elphick is an associate lecturer at the Monash University Faculty of Law and a committee member of the Victorian Pride Lobby.

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