“The LGBTI war on religious freedom, where Christians are being dragged through the courts for wanting to live out their beliefs about marriage and gender, is now in hiatus,” Australian Christian Lobby managing director Lyle Shelton said of US President Donald Trump’s inauguration in a post to religious news website Eternity News on the weekend.

For the LGBTI community, the Australian Christian Lobby’s war against them has never ceased. But now emboldened by Trump’s victory in the United States, the lobby group has stepped up its campaign against LGBTI rights in murder cases, advocating in favour of damaging so-called “ex-gay therapy” or “conversion therapy”, and also arguing that anyone should be able to discriminate against same-sex couples for whatever reason they want, but people who want to discriminate against same-sex couples should not be discriminated against.

In addition to establishing their own legal fund to take on “religious freedom” court cases, the organisation is ramping up its activity on legislation designed to remove discrimination against LGBTI people. In two submissions to government inquiries published last week, the ACL revealed its agenda pushing back against what they see as limits on freedom of religion. Oddly, considering there is no religious impact whatsoever, the ACL made a submission to the Queensland Parliament’s examination of legislation designed to prevent people from using the so-called “gay panic defence” in murder cases. Essentially in Queensland law, someone can argue that the person they murdered made non-violent same-sex advances towards them as a defence for why they were provoked into murder. The Australian Christian Lobby appears to be alone in opposing this change in Queensland — and in New South Wales, even Fred Nile was supportive of removing the defence. In its submission, the ACL argued to keep the defence because you can’t assume the homosexual person is less dominant than the heterosexual person:

“For example, if the heterosexual man is much younger, drunk, vulnerable, emotionally unsettled, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, if he is in a position of obligation to the homosexual or if the homosexual is in a position of trust which is breached by the act of pressing unwanted sexual advances, these are all factors that might mitigate the assumed cultural dominance of the heterosexual and place him at a disadvantage to his homosexual admirer. Are heterosexual men to be denied a partial defence for violent responses that would be completely understandable if they were female? What about cases where homosexual men or women respond to unwanted sexual advances from same-sex ‘admirers’ with violence? In such cases, the violence could in no way be attributed to homophobia.”

The group is also due to speak before a Senate committee this week on the proposed same-sex marriage legislation released by the government late last year. In their submission to this inquiry, they have broadly argued against LGBTI rights in general, and have said that parents should have the right to send their children for “ex-gay treatments” designed to cure them of being gay. This therapy is deemed to cause psychological harm by the American Psychological Association, in seeking to cure something that is not a sickness.

But in their submission, the ACL stated they want parents to be able to “bring up their children in accordance with their moral and religious beliefs”. They took issue with Labor’s 2015 national platform for wanting to outlaw “certain discouragements of homosexual behaviour”. Digging up the section of the ALP national platform reveals this is specifically about the Labor party agreeing to ban ex-gay therapy.

On the one hand, the Australian Christian Lobby says they are for the rights of the child in being opposed to same-sex parents, but also want parents to be able to unleash — as Labor put it — false and harmful abuse on children to try and stop them being gay.

On exemptions around same-sex marriages, the ACL argued that employers and organisations should not be stopped from “adopting genuine conscientious or religiously held belief about marriage, family, sexuality and/or gender.”

This essentially means organisations shouldn’t be forced to get people to sign up or join (or should be able to fire people) if they don’t hold the same beliefs. In theory, it sounds like Christian groups not having to hire atheists, or the ALP not having to hire a Liberal, but in reality it tends to be LGBTI teachers in Catholic schools being afraid to come out in case they are fired. Churches already have exemptions to non-discrimination employment laws, which affect a range of religiously-affiliated services like education and health services.

But then on the other hand, the ACL also argues it should be unlawful to discriminate against someone “in employment, academic or trade or professional qualifications, engagement as a contractor, education, administration of government programs, membership of any group, provision of goods or services or facilities, or to subject to other disadvantage on the basis of a sincerely held conscientious or religious belief about marriage, family, sexuality and/or gender.”

These two seem to be in conflict. In the Australian Christian Lobby’s attempt to make their desire for people to be able to discriminate sound milder, they have inadvertently recommended a situation where they are arguing employers shouldn’t be able to fire someone for holding a belief, and simultaneously that employers should be able to fire someone for holding that same belief. The argument is that someone working in a Catholic School, for example, with sincerely held conscientious beliefs that same-sex marriage should be legal, gay sex is normal, and transgender people deserve to be treated equally should not be able to be fired and simultaneously saying that there should be no law to prevent the school from firing that person.

What the Australian Christian Lobby really wants, however, is the right for people opposed to same-sex marriage and everything else they’ve thrown in with it to discriminate as they like, with no consequences or responsibility for it while LGBTI people just have to accept it. But they can’t explicitly state that in their submission because in their attempt at a “respectful debate” their words have lost all meaning.

Peter Fray

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