A recent survey by an Australian LGBTQ equality group has found that a large majority of people in that nation oppose religious institutions firing people because of LGBTQ identity or religious schools expelling students because they identify as LGBTQ.
The Guardian reported that the results of the survey conducted by Just Equal, showed that 82% of Australians oppose current exemptions that allow religious groups to expel gay and lesbian students, and 79% opposed a school’s right to fire a teacher for the same reason. Additionally, more than three-quarters of respondents (78%), believed that schools should not have the right to expel or fire transgender students and staff.
79% also agreed that religious institutions should lose government funding if they discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity./
While Australia legalized same-sex marriage in December, Catholic leaders opposed the development ,and some believe it is still acceptable to fire someone on the basis of sexual orientation or marital status. Under current Australian law, people are protected from being fired because of sexual orientation or marital status, unless they work for a religiously funded institution, including Catholic schools and hospitals. Australian government leaders are currently reviewing whether or not the religious exemptions should be allowed to stand.
Several bishops had been outspoken during the marriage equality debate that same-sex marriages would not be tolerated within the Catholic context, and that repercussions for LGBTQ staff members would be severe. Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart said back in August that:
“I would be very emphatic that our schools, our parishes exist to teach a Catholic view of marriage. Any words or actions which work contrary to that would be viewed very seriously. Our teachers, our parish employees are expected totally to uphold the Catholic faith and what we believe about marriage. People have to see in words and in example that our teaching of marriage is underlined.”
In the Sydney Morning Herald, the chair of the Bishops Commission for Catholic Education, Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, supported Archbishop Hart in the ability of Catholic schools to fire LGBTQ staff, arguing that staff understood where they were accepting a job:
“In accepting a role in a Catholic school, staff will recognise their responsibility to conduct themselves in such a way as not to undermine the fundamental ethos of the school. Like all other employers, the Catholic Church should be able to ensure its values are upheld by those who choose to work for the organisation.”
Australian Catholic hospitals are more likely than other church institutions to be accepting of LGBTQ staff. Suzanne Greenwood the CEO of Catholic Health Australia, writes that for many Catholic hospitals and clinics, sexual orientation and gender identity are not factors that are considered in hiring practices. She stated to the Sydney Morning Herald:
“We’re not converting people to Catholicism. It’s not really relevant to the jobs people are performing within the care environment at a hospital or an aged care facility. It’s not like people are currently screened [for sexuality or marital status]. I would see absolutely no reason why that would change.”
Church officials argue that because people in the community understand the organizational opposition to LGBTQ folks working in their schools and hospitals, it is enough to detract from LGBTQ people seeking jobs at these organizations.
However, while Catholic figures continue to fight against the full inclusion of LGBTQ folks in public spaces, many in Australia point to the survey results as a way to end harmful exemptions in Catholic spaces. Rodney Croome, the spokesperson for Just Equal, the LGBTQ rights group that funded the survey said:
“Australians emphatically reject discrimination against LGBTQ people in the name of religion, even more emphatically than they supported marriage equality. The message to the government and the Labor party is that Australians want less discrimination against LGBTQ people in the name of religion, not more. Armed with these figures, we will begin lobbying politicians to tighten up exemptions allowing discrimination against LGBTQ people, not extend them.”
Although the survey did not report respondents’ answers by their religious identification, it’s clear that the majority of Australians are following the basic Catholic principles of freedom of conscience, respect for workers, and honoring the equality and human dignity of all.
—Kaitlin Brown, New Ways Ministry, May 24, 2018