A bill to outlaw discrimination against gays and lesbians by faith-based aged care providers is expected to pass parliament this afternoon, despite Coalition opposition on the grounds that the change infringes religious freedom.
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Religious organisations enjoy an exemption from many areas of discrimination law, but Labor wants to remove this exemption in relation to aged care services. The proposal is an amendment to a bill to more broadly outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Coalition legal affairs spokesman George Brandis has said while the Coalition supports a prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexuality, it opposes removing the exemption for religious organisations.

”The right of people to fair treatment, a precious value, must take its place alongside other precious values, and one of those precious values is freedom of religion,” Senator Brandis said last week.

”You cannot have freedom of religion if you also have legislation which . . . imposes by statutory obligation, an obligation upon a church or religious institution to conduct its affairs at variance with the tenets of its teaching.”

Retiring Liberal Senator Sue Boyce defied her party for the second time in a week on Monday night and crossed the floor to support the removal of the religious exemption. Last week Senator Boyce suported a Greens bill to recognise in Australia same-sex marriage conducted overseas, but that vote was not carried.

Speaking on the bill last week, Senator Boyce said it was not reasonable for federally-funded aged care providers to deny services to people because of their sexuality.

”I do not think that the religious organisations can have it both ways. They cannot say, ‘We don’t discriminate’ or ‘We respect the individual’ and at the same time say, ‘But we don’t want any legislation that affects the way we treat people,”’ she said.

Openly gay Liberal Senator Dean Smith abstained from the vote. The bill passed with the support of the Greens.

The bill will return to the house on Tuesday afternoon for approval, and is expected to pass with crossbench support.

Faith-based aged care providers Mission Australia and UnitingCare strongly support the removal of the exemption.

In a submission to a Senate inquiry, Mission Australia said: ”We do not consider such an exemption should apply to the provision of goods and services such as residential aged care.”

In its submission, UnitingCare strongly backed the change.

”Society expects the delivery of culturally appropriate aged care services to older Australians and should expect nothing less than appropriately responsive aged care services to older LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) Australians. Religious groups should be no exception to the delivery of non-discriminatory aged care services in the community.”

Anna Brown, a gay and lesbian rights advocate from the Human Rights Law Centre said the Coalition had failed gay, lesbian, transgender and intersex Australians, who needed assurance that they would be treated with dignity and respect at a time when they were vulnerable.

”The Coalition seems to prefer the views of a small conservative minority of religious leaders over the vast majority of faith-based agencies, who are working on the ground delivering quality care without discrimination,” she said.

”Nationally, 33 per cent of aged care providers are religiously run. In some geographical areas this can equate to between 70 to 100 per cent of available places in their area. It’s pure fiction to argue that people have a choice.”

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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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