CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Religion Again Targeted

Apr 21, 1995

A federal Private Member’s Bill to be introduced soon by the Australian Democrats prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexuality is said to urge that all exemptions for church groups and religious schools be dropped.

With the easy passage of the Sexual Conduct Bill, the Democrats expect this Bill to go through easily as well. Few churches took a stand on the Sexual Conduct Bill, and only a handful of Coalition Parliamentarians actually opposed the Bill.

However, the Democrats prediction appears to be overly optimistic.

In Victoria, similar legislation is due to be decided on in Parliament soon, but only two churches have entered the debate: the Uniting Church in favour, and the Catholic Church against. However, there is a strong lobby in the Coalition parties against acceptance of the amendment. The result promises to be close.

Senator Sid Spindler of the Australian Democrats has issued a working paper entitled Prohibiting Discrimination on the Grounds of Sexuality: Issues Paper No. 1. The paper is “designed to collect the views of individuals and groups in the gay community” concerning the proposed Bill. The section dealing with the ambit of the Bill says this:

“One option here would be to design a Bill which aims at a modest advance only, i.e., one which included sufficient exemptions from the prohibition of discrimination to make it more palatable to a greater number of people and therefore more likely to pass. The preferred alternative was to develop a piece of legislation which comprehensively, decisively and as effectively as possible prohibits discrimination in all spheres of our communal life.”

Concerning same sex couple relationships, the document says that “legal equality with heterosexual de facto relationships is in my view achievable.”

Of most interest is the section on exemptions. It reads: “Exempting controversial areas, e.g., employment as teachers in religious institutions, was generally rejected despite superficial attraction as a strategy to reduce opposition to the Bill. The crucial role of teachers in perpetuating (or removing) stereotypical prejudices was emphasised.”

Similar comments were made by Tasmanian gay activist Rodney Croome at a Senate Committee hearing last November. He said he wanted access to all educational facilities. When asked if he would exempt religious schools, he clearly stated he would not do so. The homosexual lobby is determined to have access to church schools, knowing that they represent the last stronghold resisting the promotion of the homosexual lifestyle.

-In NSW there is an intense struggle underway to get rid of exemptions for religious schools. The NSW Law Reform Commission, the NSW Independent Teachers’ Association, the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board, and the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner are all hard at work trying to overturn the exemptions currently enjoyed by church schools.

-Also in NSW, a recommended reading list of fiction and non-fiction books providing positive images of homosexuals and lesbians is being distributed to NSW schools. The lists have been distributed by the Department of School Education as a response to perceived anti-homosexual attitudes. Titles include Heather Has Two Mommies, Jennie Lives With Eric and Martin, and Daddy’s Roommate.

The storyline of Daddy’s Roommate goes like this: “My Mommy and Daddy got a divorce last year. Now there’s somebody new at Daddy’s house. Daddy and his roommate Frank live together, Work together, Eat together, Sleep together, Shave together, And sometimes even fight together. But they always make up … Mother says Daddy and Frank are gay. At first I didn’t know what that meant. So she explained it. Being gay is just one more kind of love. And love is the best kind of happiness. Daddy and his roommate are very happy together, And I’m happy too!”

-One more story from NSW. The Labor Council has applied to the State Industrial Relations Commission to extend the Federal IRC’s decision to allow same-sex partners family leave. The Labor Council’s move was supported by the state government and a few employers’ organisations including the Retail Traders Association and the Motor Traders Association. However, it all bogged down when the time came to translate general principle into a detailed agreement.

-As another example, the Australian Education Union recently proposed that AIDS and sex education classes become compulsory, from primary school, and urged that “positive” information about homosexuality be included. It claimed that children’s rights are violated when parents, for reasons of conscience or religion, seek to withdraw their children from such classes, and therefore these parents should be prosecuted for violation of human rights legislation.

The message is clear: the homosexual lobby has been gaining ground at an alarming rate, but it is largely the failure of concerned citizens to become informed on the issues and to take a strong stand, that has allowed this to occur.

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