LGBTI Representation ‘Vital’ On Turnbull’s Religious Freedom Review

Malcolm Turnbull Screenshot

Marriage equality advocates have called for LGBTI representation on the review of religious freedom in Australia announced by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

On Wednesday, Turnbull likely cleared the way for same-sex marriage legislation to be passed by Christmas with the separate review into “whether Australian law adequately protects the human right to religious freedom”.

The review will report by March 2018 and will be headed by former Howard Government minister Phillip Ruddock, who introduced the amendment that explicitly banned the recognition of same-sex marriages from the Marriage Act in 2004.

Turnbull said “a variety of proposals for legislative reform to protect freedom of religion” had emerged during the same-sex marriage postal survey.

He said many of the proposals went beyond the “immediate issue of marriage” and 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,” he said.

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

Ruddock will conduct the review with an expert panel consisting of Australian Human Rights Commission president Rosalind Croucher, retired federal court judge Annabelle Bennett and Jesuit priest Frank Brennan.

“There are broad human rights that we protect — and are very committed to — and one wouldn’t expect that endorsing freedom of religion would endorse a breach of other human rights,” Ruddock told the ABC.

Just.equal spokesperson Rodney Croome said religious freedom is “too often used as an excuse for discriminating against LGBTI people” and LGBTI representation on the review was “vital”.

“The panel members who were announced today include human rights experts, but they are not necessarily familiar with the concerns of LGBTI Australians when it comes to how ‘religious freedom’ is used to undermine our equal rights and dignity,” Mr Croome said.

“The context of this review is the myth that marriage equality is at odds with religious freedom, and the subsequent push to roll back laws protecting LGBTI people from discrimination, so it’s vital there is an LGBTI panel member to ensure our community’s concerns are heeded.

“Genuine religious freedom must be respected and protected but it must never become a weapon to be wielded against vulnerable minorities.”

Liberal senator Dean Smith, whose same-sex marriage bill will be debated in the Senate in the coming weeks, said he “fully endorsed” the review.

“It is a well-considered pathway to guaranteeing a comprehensive discussion about the proper place for religious freedom in our legal architecture,” he tweeted.

His same-sex marriage bill includes exemptions to allow religious organisations and existing civil celebrants to refuse same-sex marriages.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten told the ABC Labor would consider the detail of the review but the party is “not interested in delaying tactics or extending discrimination”.

“If there is a way that we can deal with legitimate concerns about religious freedom in the new year, Labor has already said we will be highly constructive and respectful,” he said.