Coalition Senators: Let ‘Religious’ Businesses Discriminate Against LGBTI Seniors, Or Else


The Senate Report into Sex Discrimination Act is out, and for the most part it makes fine reading. If passed, the bill would see LGBTI people protected from discrimination for the first time. Well, most of the time. Religious owned businesses such as schools, hospitals, employment, housing and adoption services are exempt from obeying this law.

However, for the first time, the bill removes those special privileges – called ‘religious exemptions’ – from age care providers.

The majority on the inquiry committee agree: the Coalition senators, however, want religious business to be able to continue to discriminate.

Coalition senators cannot support the committee majority’s Recommendation 1 in the report.

Recommendation 1 proposes that religious organisations not be entitled to an exemption in respect of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status in connection with the provision of Commonwealth-funded aged care services.

In the opinion of Coalition senators, the removal of such an exemption could compromise the capacity of some religious organisations to operate aged care facilities in accordance with the principles which underpin and define their existence.

So the religious needs of a very small minority of aged care service providers should trump the rights of LGBTI seniors. And regardless of whether they want this exemption (and most don’t), all religious owned aged care businesses are to be set above the law, for the sake of these few delicate souls.

The Senators go on to say:

Coalition senators do not believe the committee majority has adequately addressed the operational concerns of some religious bodies operating faith-centred services. Further, it is hard to understand why such operational considerations would be taken into account and exempted under legislation in respect of the operation of educational or health facilities, but not in relation to aged care facilities, where nearly identical concerns arise.

Her we can agree: it doesn’t make sense to get rid of these special religious privileges in aged care, while leaving them in place everywhere else. This is not, as the Senators seem to think, an argument for maintaining them in aged care, but an argument for doing away with them altogether.

Finally, the Coalition Senators issue a threat. If they don’t get their way, they will cause trouble.

This legislation presents an opportunity for multipartisan reform of the laws as they affect discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. The inclusion of Recommendation 1 in the majority report, however, fails to acknowledge the strong differences of view presented to the committee on the question of aged care services, and thus undermines the opportunity for a multipartisan approach.

Or to put it plainly: ‘if you insist on removing these exemptions, the Coalition may well oppose the whole bill, and LGBTI folk get nothing.’

Please write to Tony Abbott, Shadow Attorney General George Brandis and Shadow Minister for Ageing Senator Fierravanti-Wells to express your opposition to this minority report.

I wrote to them as follows:

I write to express my extreme disquiet at the minority report of the Coalition representatives on the Senate Inquiry into the Sex Discrimination Act in respect of the treatment of LGBTI seniors.

I am a 63 year old gay man, and my life has been touched with prejudice and discrimination from the moment I first came out to the world in 1970.

You may say I would have had it easier had I stayed closeted and secret: I can tell you categorically I would not. There is nothing more corrosive than having to spend huge amounts of energy to maintain a false front, in constant fear that your secret will be discovered and your life turned upside down. I know. I tried. Far better to go out and meet the prejudice and discrimination head on and call it what it is.

Your minority recommendations, if accepted, would force many of us to go back to that horrible place in the final years of our lives. Because in some parts of the country,the only aged care is provided by religious run businesses. And you would allow them to turn us away.

You may say that it doesn’t matter, because most of the major providers do not avail themselves of these special religious privileges, and welcome all. That may be true, under current management, but as long as the option remains available, a change of mind by the management or the controlling organisation could put LGBTI
seniors once more at risk. A bad law should not remain on the books just because good people decline to avail themselves of it.

It is indeed a bleak irony that, while LGBTI people finally stand on the brink of full acceptance and equality, some of our most vulnerable must, according to your minority report, face the prospect of living their last years either in fear of discovery, or at risk of declining without the proper support they need and deserve.

In one respect I agree with your committee representatives: it makes no sense to remove these exemptions in respect of aged care if you are not also going to remove them in education and health – indeed, please do remove them altogether. An organisation providing services for the community as a whole, using taxpayers money to do so, has no business dictating who they deem to be worthy and deserving of their services.

Such arrogance! It is a fundamental democratic principle that no-one is above the law. The law must be applied equally to all, regardless.
Please do not support the minority report. Please remove the exemptions in respect of aged care for employees and clients.

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)