In Western societies the issue of gay and lesbian discrimination involving faith-based organisations continues to be a controversial issue as exemplified by recent events in Australia. At present, religious institutions, eg, Christian schools and hospitals, can refuse to enrol or hire homosexuals because their lifestyles are contrary to Christian teaching - in other words they are considered sinners - making them unsuitable for employment regardless of qualifications or character etc. With the announcement by the Gillard Labor government that their new anti-discrimination rights bill won't impact on religious groups the status quo is guaranteed to remain in place, justified under the convenient heading: freedom of religion. Setting aside the ethical dilemma this decision raises it also exposes a blatant legal contradiction.
That contradiction is made clear by a simple fact: freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is a legislated human right in all states and territories. A modern State such as Australia, founded on the constitutional separation of Church and State, is governed by the maxim: 'the rule of law'. Ipso facto, no one is above the law and the law applies equally to all. While freedom of religion is an undoubted right in a democracy, that 'right' refers to freedom to practice religion, it does not permit religious institutions and their affiliates, nor its adherents to break or circumvent the law. If this wasn't true then Islamic Sharia law could be enforced by mullahs on all Muslim citizens including the practice of female circumcision even though it is prohibited by the Commonwealth.
Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is also prohibited by the Commonwealth - state and federal. Nowhere in any written Article does the Judiciary compromise the principle of 'justice for all', nor rule that justice is applicable in most but not all situations. And yet by exempting religious organisations from gay and lesbian anti-discrimation laws the government is doing just that: allowing select communities to continue with discriminatory recruitment policies. In simple terms they are making Commonwealth law subordinate to the doctrines of bronze age scribes written thousands of years ago somewhere in the Middle East.
Consider the following scenario. A religious sect - The Return to Eden White Brotherhood - under the protection of the Freedom of Religion Act and exempted from anti-discrimination laws, sets up office in a major Australian city. Its doctrinal edicts (as written in the book of REWB), include the following:
Article 13B: In accordance with our holy beliefs - praise be to Isaiah - no blacks, Asians, Jews, gays or lesbians may obtain gainful employment within this organisation. Only applicants of caucasian descent (preferably Aryan) are acceptable in keeping with the credo and policies of this church.
Absurd? Maybe, but no matter how unlikely the scenario, legally that sect would be within its rights to discriminate. Food for thought as the politicians hit the ground running in 2013, jockeying for poll position in an election year as they play poker with the nation's ideals.