Politics

This Whole Religious Freedom Thing Really Backfired For The Government, Hey?

Labor and the Coalition are now uniting to protect gay students from expulsion.

Rainbow flag.

It’s been less than a week since the public first got wind of the anti-gay contents of that religious freedom review the government’s been sitting on, and it’s safe to say the whole thing has really, really backfired for the government.

This review, you’ll remember, was meant to help appease conservatives who were upset by the outcome of the postal survey on marriage equality last year. But rather than help address said conservatives’ concerns about “threats” to religious freedom, all the review seems to have done so far is galvanise the public to support stronger protections for LGBTIQ Australians.

So far, we’ve seen both Labor and the Coalition commit to close existing loopholes that allow religious schools to expel LGBTIQ students on the basis of sexual orientation. This morning, Labor went a step further, announcing that it will take steps to prevent religious schools from discriminating against LGBTIQ teachers and staff as well. The Australian public is on board, too — polling this morning revealed that 74 per cent of voters are opposed to laws that allow discrimination against LGBTIQ kids and teachers.

Meanwhile, a number of MPs, including Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi and Derryn Hinch (of Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party) have suggested that private schools that insist on a right to discriminate should forfeit their right to any government funding, neatly flipping the debate to hit conservatives where it hurts: the wallet.

“We know that there should be no discrimination, full stop,” Faruqi said in the Senate this morning. “No discrimination against students, no discrimination against teachers, no discrimination against parents, and no discrimination against staff. But if any school or any organisation chooses to accept public funding, they must also accept the secular values of our society and what the community wants.”

Hinch actually tried to suspend standing orders (i.e. press pause on usual business) and force the Senate to discuss that funding point this morning, and only failed by a single vote. He’s already tweeted that he plans to try again tomorrow.

Of course, the fact that the religious freedom review is leading to some positive outcomes for LGBTIQ people doesn’t undo the hurt that the whole thing caused in the first place. The news that a report the government has been sitting on for months recommends increasing discrimination against queer people was scary, especially for LGBTIQ teens, who are vulnerable enough as is. As the report itself concluded, religious freedom in Australia is not under attack — we really didn’t need to further threaten queer people to demonstrate that.

Still, it’s encouraging to see that the vast majority of Australia has responded to the report’s recommendations with a decisive fuck no. Rather than doing anything to shore up religious freedom, all this report has done so far is help spotlight the ways the LGBTIQ community in Australia remains threatened in 2018, and it’s helping to close some of those loopholes once and for all. It’s definitely not the outcome conservatives intended, and thank god for that.