LGBTI ‘Religious Freedom’ must be protected

Mormons for Marriage Equality: SF Pride 2013
pic: In Sappho We Trust

Religious LGBTI rights risk being ignored in the desperation to placate the zealots

The Ruddock “Religious Freedom” Report is still sitting in the Attorney General’s office, as the government has polite informal conversations with “religious” representatives – but with no-one, as far as the stirrer is aware – from the LGBTI community.

The “religious rights” issue has so far been framed as a clash between the right of LGBTI people to be treated equally in all walks of life, free from discrimination, and the rights of religious people to publicly act out their faith in everyday life.But what about, say, devout LGBTI Christians (or Hindu, or Moslems, etc.) who want both?

Legislation to ‘protect religious freedom’ risks stripping devout LGBTI of what little freedom of speech, employment and other fundamental human rights they currently have, which are already severely circumscribed by existing ‘religious exemptions’. As the Rainbow Catholics InterAgency for Ministry says:

Religious rights are also LGBTI rights, as LGBTI religious peoples and their families are part of our community. LGBTI Catholics and LGBTI-supportive Catholics have the right to worship and be free from discrimination and vilification


As matters currently stand, devout LGBTI are frequently severely discriminated against by religions. My own partner, for example, was denied communion by his Roman Catholic parish priest and asked to leave the congregation. He eventually found a place in a welcoming and affirming High Anglican parish.

Others have been told they may continue to attend their church or chapel, but may not hold any kind of office.

A close friend, now deceased, a much loved and respected music teacher in a Catholic school for may years, was warned by the headmaster that should his sexual orientation become known, he would be dismissed. He was instructed never to disclose his sexual orientation to any pupil, parent, or other staff member. There have been many similar cases. Rainbow Catholics InterAgency for Ministry again:

Mish is a Catholic who was told by their Catholic school employer, that Mish was discovered to have posted on their personal Facebook page their support for a ‘YES’ vote during the postal survey on civil marriage equality. The Catholic school employer felt that Mish’s position was in contradiction (in their interpretation) of the teachings of the Catholic faith. The person was then told by their Catholic school employer in no uncertain terms that their career pathway for advancement is now terminal, effectively ending the career of this Catholic in this school. Devastated and after seeking counsel, Mish found there was little recourse to justice after such an action by the Catholic school. Mish resigned soon after.


Other denominations can be just as bad. A teacher in WA was dropped by a Baptist school when he came out

LGBTI individuals are welcome to work for the Salvation Army, and even become members, but it isn’t clear if they can become officers, at least in the Australian church (in the US they can, even when married to a same sex partner). Their overall record is, to say the least, murky. They have a habit of saying anti-LGBTI stuff in private and pro-LGBTI in public. See what you make of this story

And occasionally the mask slips:

In some churches it can get a little sinister, especially in the evangelical fundamentalist style churches, such as Hillsong, or Crossways. For example, LGTBTI members at Margaret Court’s church have told of being pressured into attending “pray away the gay” courses, which have been proven to do significant mental damage. Religion-driven “conversion therapy” is not dead: it has merely gone underground, and online

Of course, there is a wide range of attitudes to LGTBTI in every religion and denomination. There are individual parishes that embrace and welcome LGBTI worshippers, and there are others that will have no truck with us, with perhaps most somewhere on the spectrum inbetween. But the rules of the organisation as a whole usually mean LGBTI cannot be full participants. The most glaring example is the refusal to marry same-sex couples.


The government must bear in mind, in drafting legislation to protect ‘religious freedom’, that it must protect the religious freedom of LGBTI people, too. I will leave the last word with Rainbow Catholics InterAgency for Ministry.

Religious Rights and LGBTI Rights go hand-in-hand Throughout the discussion on Marriage Equality and indeed discussions of the human rights and civil rights of LGBTI persons in our society, we have heard small groups of people who have continuously left out the rights and indeed the realities of LGBTI religious peoples within their communities. It is clear that such actions are often done deliberately to ‘edit’ and in fact ‘erase’ LGBTI people and their loved ones’ experience and stories from inconveniencing and indeed advancing their anti-LGBTI positions, knowing full well that LGBTI people are a part of their religious communities.

LGBTI people and their loved ones are lovingly and proudly a part of many Catholic communities. Religious rights are also LGBTI rights, as LGBTI religious peoples and their families are part of our community. LGBTI Catholics and LGBTI-supportive Catholics have the right to worship and be free from discrimination and vilification.

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)