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The Right to Discriminate: your choice, or is it mandatory?

By Terence Mills

It’s started: the religious communities are letting us know that if we do approve same-sex marriage in the government’s postal survey, there will be repercussions and penalties to be paid and they will not hold back.

Over the weekend Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne fired the first salvo and let it be known in no uncertain terms that the Catholic church will dismiss from church-owned institutions teachers, nurses and other employees who marry their same-sex partner.

Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart, warned the church’s 180,000 employees they were expected to uphold its teachings “totally”, and defiance would be treated “very seriously”.

Archbishop Hart, who also chairs the powerful Australian Catholic Bishops Conference was backed up by Archbishop Timothy Costelloe (not to be confused with Tim Costello AO is an Australian Baptist minister and the current Chief Advocate of World Vision Australia), chair of the Bishops Commission for Catholic Education, who cautioned teachers against “undermining” their schools’ values if same-sex marriage became law.

So here we have a situation where Catholic institutions, particularly schools who are funded largely by taxpayers, are calling the shots and not only will they not support marriage equality, they will actively discriminate in their employment practices against same-sex couples who marry.

Taking the state of Victoria where Archbishop Hart holds sway, the bulk of funding for the Catholic system comes from the public purse. For example, the Catholic Education Commission Victoria (CECV) reported that in 2015 it received:

  • $440 million recurrent and $9.2 million targeted state government funding
  • $1.6 billion recurrent and $7.5 million targeted federal government funding
  • $96 million in school levies and almost $11 million from bank deposit interest and other income streams.

The pattern is similar in other states. So, were it not for taxpayer funding, many of these institutions would probably not exist and yet they see themselves as having a role in not only influencing but dictating policy over a matter that has no direct religious implications: neither churches nor ministers or religious celebrants will be required to conduct wedding ceremonies or to sanctify same-sex marriages under the changes to the Marriage Act likely to be introduced. But that introduces yet another problem with this postal opinion poll – we have not yet seen the proposed legislative changes that will, should the in principle argument get up, form the amended legislation – but we are asking the people of Australia to vote on something that will be constituted in legislation but we cannot see the foreshadowed legislation, because it doesn’t exist!

The churches already enjoy considerable freedom to discriminate in a range of ways. This includes discrimination against a person on the basis of their sexuality in relation to the employment of teaching staff, and the provision of education and training. The main religious exemptions to anti-discrimination law are set out in Sections 37 and 38 of the Sex Discrimination Act. This is provided that the discrimination is in:

… good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion.

Religious organisations, the Catholic church in particular adhere to these legislative exemptions and cherish the ability to discriminate. They see the possibility of changes to the Marriage Act as being the thin edge of the wedge which may ultimately diminish their ability to discriminate.

This Abbott inspired plebiscite, which has now morphed into an expensive, non-binding, voluntary postal ballot, is being engineered to create division and promote misinformation within our society and if the High Court gives it the go-ahead you can expect that to be considered as an official sanction to what will become an ugly and hate filled campaign from the religious extreme right.

Let’s just hope that our High Court sees through this sham plebiscite and its funding manipulations and calls upon the parliament to do the job that it is paid to do.


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  1. stephengb2014

    Well Bishops and prIests and clerics of all genders and creeds, I don’t care what your organisations rules are they do NOT have any authority over State or Federal law.

    S G B

  2. John Richardson

    I’ve always thought that, as a secular society, Australia was a place where religion does not dictate law & all citizens have the right to practice their religion or not practice a religion, as they choose.
    Recently we’ve had the catholic bishops & their political spear-carriers, Abbott, Sheldon & Abetz, arguing that the sanctity of the confessional transcends any obligation to report crimes under the laws of the land; even when committed by princes of the church against children. This, to me, is a deliberate & unacceptable attempt by the church to make its laws superior to those of the state.
    Now we have the same people arguing that they should be able to impose sanctions on their servants where they breach church law, even though those servants may be acting in full compliance with the laws of the state.
    Given that religious organisations appear determined to undermine the secular basis of our society, perhaps it is time to consider removing the exemptions to state laws they currently enjoy, along with some of the over-generous public funding they receive, lest we lose the very freedoms that a secular society is supposed to guarantee.

  3. kerri

    It would appear that the church prefers it’s employees to restrict themselves to the crime of paedophilia.

  4. Carol Taylor

    Weird isn’t it, that the Catholic Church would rather that their same-sex attracted employees “live in sin” than marry.

    1 Corinthians 7:9 (GW) However, if you cannot control your desires, you should get married. It is better for you to marry than to burn.

  5. Philip Moore

    The Catholic Church trying to impose their own version of Sharia Law. Go figure…….

  6. Michael Taylor

    Rather hypocritical isn’t it, kerri?

  7. Chris Leyland

    I was brought up to respect Christian values, that being said, those that followed those values , but didn’t obey, were hypocrites. Based on these values, The Catholic church will spend Billions of dollars defending corrupt priests, who HAVE committed abhorrent offences, (and not admitted to fault as they morally should) not only by breaking the law, but by breaking church guidelines and becoming an “abomination” (their term) and ruining the lives of countless children, who are mentally scarred for life… Then, NOT allowing 2 individuates who love each other, the right to get married, based on “THEIR” values, not the individuals chosen values. and forcing The CHURCH’S VALUES … yet again … on others. When will it stop? Our country has a mix or religious beliefs, including atheism and any of these, is an individuals “RIGHT” The current marriage laws, are loosely based on “Christian” values . Is everyone in this country “Forced” to the confines of a religious belief that they may or may not follow? Besides, if what is “STRICTLY adhered to in the bible, was law, depending on interpretation, there would be foods that could not be consumed, ( shellfish, prawns, pork and animals considered unclean) work on the “Sabbath” or rest day of the week, or several other guidelines that as Christians, we , as a NATION, no longer “choose” to obey… So the outrageous stories , stating nonfactual statistics ,being floated by zealots defending their faith (and forcing their faith on others) is in fact a form of terrorism…forcing others to believe in something – outside their current belief structure, by force or emotional torture…very close IMHO to breaking the LAW! VERY Hypocritical Catholic Church…

  8. Leah

    The mad (psychotic) monk showed off his true dark colors and intentions when he made a speech at the USA outfit Alliance for Defending Freedom.

  9. Waste Lanz

    Sure sack ’em … your call.
    But don’t bleat when you lose you tax exemption and government funding.

    Christian values … what an empty phrase from an organisation that specializes in moving pedophiles from one district to another.

  10. diannaart

    Is the Catholic Church the least “Christian” of the Christian religion(s)?

    Where do the Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists etc, stand on the dictates of the Catholic Church?

  11. Zathras

    Until any Church makes a physical contribution toward the functioning of society (ie pays taxes) it should have no say in how that society chooses to operate.

    Members of those Churches may have chosen to surrender the responsibility for their own life choices to somebody else but in turn want others to surrender the same to them.

    Because they have been awarded the franchise to operate it, they consider marriage to be a “Church Institution” but so were witch burning, the torture of heathens and slavery until the last century or so. These were not anachronisms – they were long-held beliefs.

    People get their Church history from Hollywood epics and edited Sunday School stories but never discuss the true and complete blood-soaked history of all religion.

    It’s no wonder membership is in decline.

  12. wam

    the church has to be very careful in allowing change as it cannot risk answering questions that may shake the fear in faith. Whilst they fear gays they fear women more.
    It may be fake news but I think I read about a pope who said those talk about women in the church are worse than a pedophile priest.
    Perhaps the men are scared of women deciding that the god of man doesn’t forgive or reward men who kill women and children?

  13. Terry2

    If the same sex marriage changes to the Marriage Act are approved by the opinion poll and then by the parliament and if churches still insist on sacking employees in these circumstances, they are thumbing their noses at the law.

    So, it is absolutely critical that before we express our opinions that we know what is in the proposed legislated change but as there is no draft legislation (other than that prepared by Dean Smith) how can we possibly approve the changes?

  14. Harquebus

    More than being “engineered to create division and promote misinformation within our society”, the marriage equality crusade is just another deliberate distraction from more important matters and as such, it is working exceptionally well.

  15. diannaart

    H, please stop…. I agree OMG…

  16. chachiym

    Actually Jesus didn’t distinguish between men, women or anyone else for that matter. It was after all women, not men, who witnessed the good news on the morning of the 3rd day. As for marriage, gay people and all that kind of thing, He didn’t distinguish there either. When they asked Him about marriage and the afterlife He said there would be no marriage there. All those things will have passed away. The problem some Christians face with interpretation is that they read the Bible much like all atheists do. So they treat it like a big cake you can mix up and bake, and then serve up which ever little bits they like for their own particular purposes. It doesn’t work that way. If no attention was paid to what the author intended, and the culture and history and background behind it, then none of the original meaning will be extracted from it, and application becomes impossible. You may as well be quoting from the telephone book – your Biblical message is about as useful as that. For example, you can’t apply Paul’s writing regarding marriage etc to modern man directly. He was writing to an entirely different society 2000 years ago, where men purchased their wives, and those wives were only considered a little above the servants. Our society is very different so the application for us has to be different. In our society the men and women are supposed to be equal hence the teaching applies to both equally. That’s called equality funnily enough, which is as Jesus said it must be: “none are higher than any others except in humility and service”.

  17. diannaart

    @ chachiym

    When will Christians understand Jesus’ teaching? Any time soon would be good, after all its been over 2000 years and the money lenders are still in the temples…

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