Rodney Croome says there must be no deals on discrimination. The movement to roll back discrimination protections is a serious threat we must stand up to. Therefore the LGBTIQ community and its representatives must not make unnecessary compromises.
It must be blocked outright.
The LGBTIQ community campaign against the Religious Discrimination Bill is working. As more people become aware of the Bill’s true objective — allowing discrimination in the name of religion —it is becoming more controversial.
The Government doesn’t need more controversy right now, given its poor handling of the bushfire crisis. Nor does Labor want more controversy, given division in its own ranks and Labor’s own muted, mousey opposition to the Bill.
Expect Liberal and Labor members to come courting with compromises.
Indeed, that is already happening with reps from the major parties quietly approaching some of my colleagues. They want to know what concessions they must make in return for support of the Bill. Drop the Tasmanian override? Tone down the health practitioners’ conscientious exemption? More funding for LGBTIQ mental health services? I made that last one up, but you get the picture.
The LGBTIQ community campaign — NO deals on discrimination
Fortunately, more and more LGBTIQ advocates are saying ‘no’ to compromise and declaring outright opposition to the Bill.
Legal experts say the Bill is beyond redemption. The special privileges for faith punch too many holes in existing discrimination protections. If the Government genuinely wants to prevent religious discrimination it needs to start again with a new Bill.
Meanwhile, the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby opposes the Bill outright. After two failed attempts to get the Bill right, it no longer trusts Scott Morrison or Christian Porter to do the right thing.
Building on these concerns, PFLAG+ launched a new campaign calling for the scrapping of the Bill.
I also want the Bill to be blocked, but my concerns run deeper.
The Religious Discrimination Bill is just the latest manifestation of a broader movement for so-called ‘religious freedom’.
That movement has a very clear goal of rolling back discrimination protections for LGBTIQ people and others vulnerable to traditional religious prejudices.
Its strategy in the US and Australia is to whip up a public narrative about the ‘persecution’ of Christians. Then they import corresponding religious exemptions into existing laws under cover of uncontroversial trojan horse legislation. The exemptions usually begin small but are expanded in later legislation.
Australia’s marriage equality legislation is a good example. Marriage equality was strongly supported and well overdue. Those who want more ‘religious freedom’ hit the panic button about Christians in the wedding industry. They pushed an ambit claim for broad discrimination exemptions in the final marriage legislation. That ambit claim was whittled down to a few key exemptions for religious organisations and celebrants, but we were still left with the worst marriage equality legislation in the western world.
Now, the ‘religious freedom’ brigade is following the same template with the Religious Discrimination Bill. Whip up a controversy about free speech, and then import into what should have been a standard discrimination bill a set of corresponding exemptions allowing discrimination, as well as other new exemptions that ‘clarify’ (i.e. expand on) existing exemptions.
Until we stand up to this movement it will slice away at our rights until there is nothing left.
The United States
We only have to look to the United States to see where Australia will head if we don’t act more robustly.
Whereas, just a few years ago, Americans were debating the right of religious bakers and florists to turn away same-sex couples, LGBTIQ Americans are now looking down the barrel of religious discrimination exemptions in everything from health care to government services.
Only a few days ago Tennessee joined eight other states that allow same-sex couples to be turned away from adoption agencies if the agency has any kind of religious or moral objection to serving them.
The Australian LGBTIQ community must draw the line now. We must disrupt the false narratives. It is time to put forward a strong case for the benefits of discrimination protections.
We must not try to negotiate or do deals. The ‘religious freedom’ movement cannot be appeased.
That brings me to my second concern.
Attempts to compromise too common
Attempts by LGBTIQ advocates to compromise with the ‘religious freedom’ movement have been far too common in recent years.
I’ve already mentioned the ‘religious freedom’ compromise on marriage that failed to fend off more attacks.
Transgender reform is following a similar path with some LGBTIQ advocates retreating from issues like removing gender from birth certificates out of fear of a backlash.
So too, with proposals to ban conversion practices: some LGBTIQ advocates have pushed criminal sanctions to the side of the debate out of fear of a backlash from the religious freedom crowd (although they have covered their tracks with confected legal arguments).
The argument for compromise is that it is necessary to achieve reform, marriage being a prime example.
But that doesn’t hold water. Marriage equality bills prior to 2017 had Liberal co-signers without concessions to ‘religious freedom’. In 2017, we conceded on ‘religious freedom’ amendments ‘to achieve reform’, despite the already overwhelming support for marriage equality in the community and parliament.
The same goes for transgender reform. Tasmania passed laws allowing for the removal of gender from birth certificates, despite State Government resistance. There is no excuse for states with so-called ‘rainbow governments’ to balk at this reform, as Victoria did.
I accept that concessions can sometimes be required to get important LGBTIQ reforms through. But — only at the very end of the legislative process — if there is no other way forward — if rights aren’t violated. And if the LGBTIQ community agrees.
My problem is that in Australia now, LGBTIQ advocates make these concessions pre-emptively, quietly, unaccountably and unnecessarily, before legislation even reaches the floor of parliament.
We must bring pre-emptive compromise to an end by sticking to the most principled position and not anticipating what the major parties may prefer.
Push for compromise: response to the success of LGBTIQ community campaign
We must recognise that the push for compromise from the major parties is a response to the success of our campaigning and to divisions opening up in their own ranks.
It is not because of a lack of campaign momentum or electorate support for the LGBTIQ position.
It is not something we need to entertain when there are other ways forward (as there almost always are).
In the case of no other path forward and a proposed deal, all negotiations must remain transparent and accountable. This means asking the LGBTIQ community for its consent.
In the current context, this means opposing the Religious Discrimination Bill outright and refusing to do deals over discrimination.
If it seems like the only way to stop the worst is to accept something less than the best, the decision must be referred back to the LGBTIQ community.
Of course, some politicians and commentators will deliberately misconstrue a principled position as stubbornness, antagonism to religion, and hypocrisy (given the stated goal of the Religious Discrimination Bill to prevent discrimination).
LGBTIQ Community campaign: No one should face discrimination
LGBTIQ advocates can mitigate this by continuing to explain our guiding principle is that no-one should face discrimination.
We should hold up the twenty-two-year-old Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act as a national model. It demonstrates how strong protections against religious discrimination and LGBTIQ discrimination can co-exist.
We should continue to platform personal stories of how damaging discrimination can be.
But we should also not allow the threat of wedging to deter us.
We are not a political party. Our mission here is to do what’s right, not what’s popular.
We are here to coax into existence a world free of discrimination and full of acceptance.
If our aim is short of that, we should step back.
Veteran Australian LGBTIQ activist Rodney Croome who first advocated for marriage equality in 2004, says after the compromise on marriage equality, this time the LGBTIQ communities must do no deals on discrimination.
As co-founder of just.equal, Rodney Croome advocates for this particular LGBTIQ community campaign and many others. Check our just.equal here.
For the latest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.