New Same-Sex Marriage Bill Looks to Protect Faith-Based Charities
13 November 2017 at 5:25 pm
The draft of a conservative marriage equality bill has been released, offering stronger religious freedom protections for faith-based charities – but critics say the bill, which would amend the Charities Act 2013, would allow religious charities to discriminate against LGBTI people.
Liberal Senator James Paterson released the draft bill on Monday, which would seek to alter the definition of a charity and revise rules around fringe benefits eligibility and deductible gift recipient (DGR) status.
Paterson said this bill would allow same-sex marriage to be legalised in Australia, while preserving the freedoms of all Australians.
“I’ve never believed that allowing same-sex couples to marry needs to come at the expense of the freedoms of other Australians. I have always argued that Parliament is capable of ensuring there are no negative consequences for anyone else from allowing gay Australians to marry,” Paterson said.
“Allowing same-sex couples to marry is not mutually exclusive with preserving our freedoms, with the right bill.”
— James Paterson (@SenPaterson) November 13, 2017
The bill would allow a faith-based organisation to keep its charity status, even if it “expresses or acts upon a [traditional] marriage belief” and “refuses, or omits, to do an act because the entity genuinely believes that the action, refusal or omission is consistent with the relevant marriage belief”.
Faith-based charities would also be allowed to keep their fringe benefits eligibility and DGR status if they spoke out against same-sex marriage.
Paterson said this ensured that charities and other organisations which hold a traditional view of marriage cannot be adversely treated by the government and its agencies.
“These protections are important because it should be possible for Australians with different values to live harmoniously alongside each other. All Australians should be able to live their lives according to their own values. No group should impose their values on another group,” he said.
But the bill has faced severe backlash, with fears raised that this would openly allow for the discrimination of the LGBTI community.
David Crosbie, the CEO of the Community Council for Australia (CCA), told Pro Bono News that this bill was “a clear case of over-reach”.
“Senator Paterson’s proposal to alter the definition of charity and revise both fringe benefits eligibility and tax deductibility seems to be an attempt to allow any charitable group with any kind of religious affiliation to discriminate against LGBTI people without penalty,” Crosbie said.
“While CCA strongly supports religious freedoms, and believes all churches and religious communities should be able to exercise their right to offer or not offer marriage services to different groups of people, this should not mean that any charity can legally discriminate against people on the basis of their sexuality.
“This extension of the marriage equality debate to allow for charities to discriminate on the basis of sexuality seems to be a clear case of over-reach. The real focus in this debate should be on ensuring respectful relationships, regardless of sexuality.”
The Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) have also spoken out against the proposed legislation, which they called a “Trojan horse to allow unprecedented discrimination”.
Anna Brown, the HRLC director of legal advocacy said: “If there is a Yes result on Wednesday, Australians will have voted for true equality for all Australians – not an unfettered right to discriminate for people who voted No.
“Australians are voting to make our country a fairer and more equal place, not to take us back to a time where people can be denied service at a shop. We call on Australian politicians to reject the Paterson bill and pass marriage equality without allowing new forms of discrimination.
“Allowing anyone to ‘conscientiously object’ to someone else because of their sexuality, race or disability is unacceptable in modern Australian society – it goes against the foundation of equal treatment enshrined in Australian law for decades.”
— Anna Brown (@AnnaHRLC) November 13, 2017
Pro Bono News contacted a number of faith-based charities which declined to comment on the proposed bill.
But the CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia, Father Frank Brennan, said while a same-sex marriage act needed to protect religious freedoms in the conduct of marriage ceremonies, other religious freedom issues should be dealt with by tweaking existing legislation such as the Fair Work Act.
“I think that protections for religious people who don’t want to involve themselves in a same-sex marriage ceremony should be included in the marriage act, but other protections [regarding religious freedom] should be included in other legislation,” Brennan told Pro Bono News.
He added that faith-based organisations should be able to keep their charity status as long as they respectfully expressed their views on marriage.
“The laws of charities should be formulated such that one would retain charitable status provided one was respectfully expressing one’s moral or religious views – while at the same time respecting the legal entitlements of others,” he said.