Stop the “religious freedom” bill: No right to discriminate!
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 126 No 7, 8 October 2021, page no.15
Since marriage equality was achieved in 2017, conservative right-wing politicians have been seeking to deny employment, healthcare and education to people under the guise of “freedom of religion”.
The re-drafted Religious Freedom Bill, which has now become known as the Religious Discrimination Bill, is due to come to a hearing in the federal parliament by the end of this year. The proposed laws have little to do with “freedom” – in fact, they include an amendment to the Marriage Act to assert the supremacy of “traditional” marriage, which Scott Morrison previously attempted to move in 2017. It states that “a man and a woman united in marriage with their children is a fundamental building block of human society”. As it stands, it would allow the right to discriminate on the grounds of religion (in ways which are currently illegal) and also override state and territory-based discrimination laws.
The QTU was proud to support the recent Brisbane-based rally organised by Equal Love. Deputy General Secretary Leah Mertens (pictured top right) joined speakers from the ASU, the ALP and the Greens to publicly denounce any move to alter the freedoms gained when the Marriage Equality Act was introduced in our nation.
We represent state school and TAFE teachers from across the state, and have a proud track record of advocating and campaigning for systemic supports and processes that make educational establishments safer for LGBTIQ+ students, their families, and teachers.
Along with other trade unions and community groups, we campaigned to achieve marriage equality for a modern Australia. The religious right and conservative voices do not reflect contemporary Australia when it comes to the issue of marriage equality. While the national plebiscite was horrid and unnecessary, what it did provide us with is a clear picture of the views held by Australians, and that is that the great majority of Australians strongly and overwhelmingly support marriage equality. Any move to water this down or provide people with the right to discriminate based on religion is a slap in the face to our democratic processes.
The QTU recognises the plethora of research and evidence that clearly demonstrates how important a safe, welcoming and supportive school environment is for our LGBTIQ+ students. LGBTIQ+ youth are the most at risk of self-harm and suicidal behaviours as a result of homophobia and transphobia. We know that a welcoming and safe environment improves school retention and, more importantly, the social and emotional wellbeing of students with diverse genders and sexualities. Schools need to employ a diverse range of people – we need young people to have positive role models from all walks of life, including the LGBTIQ+ community. All students and their families should feel welcomed and valued in our schools – they are not the place for bigotry and hate.
The right to individual faith and worship is not eroded by marriage equality or equal status in the community. What is being peddled as “freedom” for the few is actually oppression for the many. As educators, as unionists, as decent human beings, that is not something we will tolerate. We don’t want to mirror the worst of the American experience and give people and organisations the right to refuse services, access or employment on the basis of their gender identity or sexuality. Those seeking to erode others’ rights so they can espouse their own seek to do harm. They are being deliberately misleading when they claim that their religious “rights” have been curtailed by others exercising the freedom and liberty to access their genuine human rights.
We will stand with human rights groups, the wider union movement and community groups (including some faith-based organisations) to ensure that this proposed bill, when introduced, is overturned. As the campaign heats up on both sides, it is unfortunate but realistic to expect there will be further attacks on the LGBTIQ+ community, and our young people will be exposed to derogatory and harmful discourse as they were during the marriage equality campaign.
We will continue to support our LGBTIQ+ members and students and campaign to defeat this bill.