Former Judge Michael Kirby Concerned By Delay Of Religious Freedom Report


Michael Kirby
Former High Court justice Michael Kirby. Photo: Supplied

Former High Court judge Michael Kirby has said Australia must not accept laws paving the way for discrimination against minority groups in the name of religious freedom, and he is concerned by the delayed release of the religious freedom review panel’s report.

Kirby addressed last year’s legalisation of same-sex marriage and the current debate about religious freedom in the lecture Where to now? The Future of LGBTIQ+ Human Rights at Curtin University’s Australian Ally Network Conference last weekend.

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Kirby, who is openly gay, called for leadership from Prime Minister Scott Morrison on LGBTIQ issues.

“Mr Morrison’s insistence in his first major address as Prime Minister of his love for all Australians is no doubt to be welcomed,” Kirby said.

“However, necessarily ‘all Australians’ includes LGBTIQ Australians. Many of them probably feel anxiety about the ambit of the expressed political ‘love’.

He said that anxiety is not eased by statements by Morrison that “a Victorian schools program about teen sexuality made his ‘skin curl’; that instruction on building ‘respectful relationships’ was simply ‘a fancy word for Safe Schools’; that public schools should be ‘focused on things like learning maths and science’; and inferentially they should not teach values of respecting diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity.”

“It has to be said quite bluntly to our new Prime Minister, that from national leaders, leadership is expected,” Kirby said.

“Such leadership must be based, eventually, on scientific truth and rational understanding. To be unaware of “gay conversion therapy” and the victims it has caused throughout the world, is not good enough. Certainly, it cannot last as an excuse for not thinking about the issue for very long.

“To forbid any reference in school to respecting sexual and other minorities may be acceptable in Baptist schools, although I doubt it. The essential message of all religions is love for one another.”

‘All persons are born free and equal’

The findings of the religious freedom review panel were handed to the government in May, and Kirby said the “lengthy delay” in the publication of the religious freedom review panel’s report is “of concern”.

“None of the members of the panel charged with reporting on the subject identified publicly as LGBTIQ. Most if not all of the members had known associations with Christian or Jewish religious traditions or beliefs. No committed rationalist, secularist or non-believer was involved,” he said.

“No laws on ‘religious freedom’ should be accepted in Australia which allow people, on the basis of their religion, to isolate, denigrate and humiliate minorities, whether those minorities are indigenous, racial, gender based, religious, disabled or gay Australians.

“If that means a bit of ‘skin curling’ for certain religious Australians who have not given enough thought to these issues, so be it. The thinking, although belated, will be good for them.”

The government said last month that the report was still under consideration by the federal cabinet and releasing it would “interfere with the proper consideration by and the deliberative process” of the government’s response.

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Citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “all persons are born free and equal in dignity and rights”, Kirby said “all persons” included those identifying as LGBTIQ, including children.

He said there were already “many” exemptions in place for religious bodies under current anti-discrimination laws, and civil celebrants who opposed same-sex ceremonies had an opportunity last year to opt-in to an exception allowing them to refuse to conduct ceremonies.

But he said many celebrants were in favour of same-sex marriage and “only too glad to gain the extra business” during “hard times” in the occupation.

“Many heterosexuals have not been bothered getting married,” he said.

“The influence of new enthusiastic gay couples has been an unexpected boost that most civil celebrants have been glad to welcome. Good for business, and good for society.”

‘Proper celebration’

Kirby said the recent decriminalisation of homosexuality by India’s Supreme Court was an example of the moments of “proper celebration” in global LGBTIQ rights that occur “every now and again.”

“In the end our blood will curl when we look back on these present times and times earlier and think of how we have treated LGBTIQ citizens and LGBTIQ human beings,” he said.

“And of how long it took us to realise how wrong the old ways were and how our blood was curling for so very long for the wrong reasons.”