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Petition urges Australia to rule out rollback of discrimination protections in ‘religious freedom’ review

Nick Duffy January 2, 2018

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 16: Same-sex couple Amy Laker and Lauren Price say their vows on December 16, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. Lauren and Amy are the first gay couple to be legally married in Australia, after same-sex marriage was legalised on 9 December 2017. The women - who have been engaged for two years - had originally planned on having a civil union, but were granted an exemption to the 30-day notice period to make their union legally binding under the new laws. (Photo by Caroline McCredie/Getty Images)

A petition has launched urging Australia to avoid undermining existing discrimination protections for LGBT people as part of a ‘religious freedom’ inquiry.

The country’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ordered a review of ‘religious freedom’ protections in the country as a concession to conservative hardliners within his party last year, as equal marriage passed through Parliament.

The review will be headed by former Liberal frontbencher Philip Ruddock, a strong opponent of LGBT rights who was key to a 2004 push to ban same-sex unions and outlaw adoption by same-sex couples.

The former Attorney General spent much of his time in office battling to undermine LGBT rights, heading to court to deny a veteran’s pension to a gay soldier’s partner.

In 2006 he also sought to block a gay Australian man from marrying in the Netherlands, refusing to grant a ‘Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage’.

Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (Photo by SEAN DAVEY/AFP/Getty Images)

Ruddock’s appointment is a major concession to anti-LGBT conservatives, and equality activists fear that the review will be used to undermine LGBT rights protections by introducing a religious ‘license to discriminate’ against gay couples.

Ahead of the review, national LGBTI advocacy group launched a new campaign to protect against the erosion of gains made in 2017.

The group has launched a petition to the Ruddock inquiry into religious freedom that strongly opposes any roll back of discrimination law and calls for an Australian Charter of Rights.

Just.equal spokesperson, Ivan Hinton-Teoh, said: “The current ‘religious freedom’ movement has nothing to do with genuine freedom and everything to do with punching holes in Australian laws that protect LGBTIQ people and other minorities from discrimination and disadvantage.

“The threat is too great to be left to lawyers and academics to argue over which is why we are giving everyday Australians the opportunity to have their voices heard through our petition.

“This is a matter of national values because it is unAustralian to allow discrimination.”

Mr Hinton-Teoh said the move to water down anti-discrimination laws in the name of “religious freedom” affects more than just LGBTIQ people.

“Granting legal privileges to discriminate on the grounds of religion potentially disadvantage minority faiths, women and interracial couples, as well as LGBTIQ people, so our petition is open to everyone to sign.

“We believe the best way to protect genuine religious freedom and LGBTIQ equality is for there to be an Australian Charter of Rights.”

The petition says: “Religious freedom is an important right, but it should not be used as an excuse for discriminating against and disadvantaging vulnerable members of the community.

“Religious freedom means no-one should be coerced into a religious belief or practice they do not hold, or disadvantaged because of a belief they do hold.

“But the idea of religious freedom has been twisted to mean “freedom” to treat other people unfairly if that treatment is compelled by religious beliefs.

“It has come to mean religious privilege.

“In particular, ‘religious freedom’ has become a way to euphemise and legitimise discrimination against LGBTIQ people.

“This includes discrimination in the provision of marriage services, as well as services to, and the employment of, married LGBTIQ partners.

“We believe LGBTIQ marriages pose no threat to freedom or faith, and that no discrimination should be allowed in response to these marriages.”

It adds: “Religious freedom is also abused to justify discrimination against religious minorities, women and people of colour.

“These groups do not pose a threat to freedom and faith and no discrimination should be allowed against them.

“Instead, we believe the legal exemptions that currently allow faith-based schools, hospitals and welfare agencies that are government funded to discriminate against LGBTIQ and other staff, students, patients and clients should be removed.”

It continues: “We believe religious freedom along with all other rights and freedoms should be enshrined in an Australian Charter of Rights.

“If freedom of religion is enshrined in Australian law it should be accompanied by the caveats that exist in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, namely that: Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.”

Launching the review previously, Turnbull said: “The impending legalisation of same-sex marriage has seen a variety of proposals for legislative reform to protect freedom of religion. Many of these proposals go beyond the immediate issue of marriage.

“Any reforms to protect religious freedom at large should be undertaken carefully. There is a high risk of unintended consequences when Parliament attempts to legislate protections for basic rights and freedoms, such as freedom of religion.

“The Government is particularly concerned to prevent uncertainties caused by generally worded Bill of Rights-style declarations.

“This will be a timely expert stocktake to inform consideration of any necessary legislative reforms.”

He added: “The Hon Philip Ruddock is the right person to conduct this review. Mr Ruddock has most recently served as Australia’s Special Envoy for Human Rights.

“In his many years in public life he has maintained a steadfast commitment to cultural and religious diversity in this country.”

Equality advocates have called for the LGBT community to be represented on a review of religious freedom because the issue disproportionately affects LGBT people.

The review will report back in March.

Related: Australian Prime Minister ‘blames Muslims’ for voting against equal marriage

More: Australia, Australia, Australian, Gay, LGBT

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