LGBTIQ advocacy group just.equal have called for a national bill of rights to protect the LGBTIQ community from discrimination.
The group have launched a petition, to be delivered to Phillip Ruddock’s review of religious freedom, that strongly opposes any weakening of Australian anti-discrimination laws and calls for an Australian Charter of Rights.
The Ruddock review was announced in November to examine whether Australian law adequately protects the human right to freedom of religion.
The petition argues “religious freedom” has become “a way to euphemise and legitimise discrimination against LGBTIQ people” including in the provision of marriage services and the employment of married LGBTIQ partners.
Just.equal spokesperson Ivan Hinton-Teoh said the best way to protect genuine religious freedom and LGBTIQ equality is for there to be an Australian Charter of Rights enshrining both into law.
“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,” he said.
Mr Hinton-Teoh said weakening anti-discrimination laws in the name of “religious freedom” doesn’t just affect LGBTIQ people.
“Granting legal privileges to discriminate on the grounds of religion potentially disadvantages minority faiths, women and interracial couples, as well as LGBTIQ people, so our petition is open to everyone to sign,” he said.
Just.equal will include their petition in its submission to the Ruddock review. To read the petition and to sign, visit the group’s website here.
Religious freedom was hotly debated during the parliamentary debate on the same-sex marriage bill in early December.
Liberal senator Dean Smith argued his bill, the result of a cross-party Senate inquiry, contained exemptions that adequately protected religious leaders from performing weddings conflicting with their faith.
But a variety of other amendments from conservative colleagues – all of which were defeated – sought to allow service providers to broadly refuse to cater to same-sex weddings.
Greens Senator Nick McKim told Fairfax Media his party would push for a bill of rights that could satisfy both equality advocates and religious conservatives.
“Religious rights are important rights but they need to be protected in a way that balances other rights,” said McKim.
“We are the only liberal democracy in the world that does not have a bill or charter of rights.”
Announcing the religious freedom review in November, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said any reforms to protect religious freedom “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.”
The Ruddock review is accepting submissions until January 31 through an online form on the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s website here.
Other panelists on the review include Human Rights Commissioner Rosalind Croucher, Federal Court Judge Annabelle Bennett, University of Queensland constitutional law professor Nicholas Aroney and Jesuit priest Father Frank Brennan.
The panel is expected to hand down its findings in March.