Australia: LGBT and intersex anti-discrimination laws come into effect

Aaron Day August 2, 2013
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New Australian laws protecting LGBT and intersex people from religious discrimination by aged-care providers have come into effect, commencing August 1.

The Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013 passed its third reading in back June, showing overwhelming support in Parliament.

Australian Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus announced yesterday that the new laws have now come into effect.

For the first time, aged-care providers who are owned by religious groups will no longer be able to exclude people from aged-care services based on their LGBT or same-sex relationship status.

However, Religious groups will still be able to discriminate against people based on their LGBT status when it comes to healthcare, education and employment, although there has been no exemption for people of intersex status.

Mr Dreyfus said: “This Labor Government has a proud record of advancing the rights of all Australians.

“These laws will ensure greater protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians, particularly through barring discrimination in the provision of Commonwealth funded aged-care services.

“While the vast majority of aged care service providers are accepting and welcoming of all Australians, this new law will make sure such discrimination cannot occur”.

The regulations will temporarily exempt actions taken in order to comply with Commonwealth, State and Territory law.

The general exemption is set to end on 31 July 2014 and will be replaced by exemptions for specific laws thereafter.

Mr Dreyfus said: “The one year initial exemption period allows State and Territory governments time to review their laws”.

He added: “The Government will carefully consider any requests for ongoing exemptions. The Government will also be working with the States and Territories towards a nationally consistent approach to recognising sex and gender, including birth certificates.”

The new laws mean that Australians who have been discriminated against on the basis of their identity or relationship status may take their complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission and after that the Federal Courts.

Executive Director of the transgender, intersex, and genderqueer charity ‘A Gender Agenda’ Peter Hyndal said: “This Commonwealth discrimination protection will make a significant and positive impact on the daily experiences of many people.

“A Gender Agenda particularly welcomes the inclusive definition of gender identity and protection on the basis of intersex status”.

Organisation Intersex International (OII) Australia President Gina Wilson said: “We welcome the full, authentic inclusion of ‘intersex status,’ a biological attribute, in anti-discrimination law for the first time”.

She added: “We have not previously been recognised in law, and our inclusion is of huge practical benefit.

“We welcome the recognition that people born with intersex are not subject to religious exemptions, and we urge states and territories to add ‘intersex status’ to their legislation”.

Transgender Victoria spokesperson Sally Goldner said: “The new law will greatly assist systemic change to improve lives and make processes easier for trans and gender diverse individuals in the case of a complaint.

“We also urge state and territory governments to amend their definitions of gender identity in line with the new federal definition to ensure simplicity and effectiveness for all parties”.

The gay and lesbian rights lobbies representing the Australian states of New South Wales and Victoria also welcomed the new protections.

“These laws will have an immediate, practical benefit for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, including protection from discrimination for the first time for federal employees and ensuring access to services such as (welfare payments) and Medicare on an equal footing with all other Australians,” Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby convener Anna Brown said.

She added: “It is important to ensure that these laws provide a new national standard to protect LGBTI people from unfair treatment and harm, including using this 12 month period as an opportunity to audit outdated state and territory laws and remove the last remnants of unjustifiable discrimination from our statute books”.

New South Wales Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convener Justin Koonin said: “These laws represent the culmination of over 25 years of advocacy, and will provide much-needed protection at a federal level to LGBTI people.

“Particularly significant are the reforms around aged-care service provision, which will make discrimination unlawful in any Commonwealth-funded service in the country”.

In February, it was revealed that religious organisations which run schools and health care services would be given protection under the legislation, although an inquiry said that no group should be given “blanket exception” from anti-discrimination law.

Australian Catholics Bishop Conference general secretary, Brian Lucas, also said the recommendations could “undermine religious freedom”.

He said: “Anti-discrimination law has to strike a balance between competing values, and the exemptions as they are currently expressed by the commonwealth express that balance.”

“The fundamental value here of freedom of religion has to be recognised, not just as an exemption but as a significant part of the way we live in a pluralist society. I don’t think the Senate committee report has done justice to that.”

In July, the Australian parliamentary committee ruled that the country’s federal government does not have sole responsibility for marriage equality laws, paving the way for the state of New South Wales to introduce its own same-sex marriage bill.

More: Anna Brown, Australia, Australia, genderqueer, intersex, LGBTI, Transgender

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