Even now, ten years later, I remember the words as though they were just uttered. There I was, sitting in the front row of the weekly Religious Education class, bewildered by what I had just heard. What did this mean? Was I going to hell? If God didn’t want me to be this way, why was I like this?
Fast-forward ten years, and in Australia we have some of the most progressive anti-discrimination legislation in the world. In 2013, the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013 (Cth) amended the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) to make it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the grounds of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status. This was a huge win for the LGBTI community. However, as is always the case, the details are in the fine print. There are a number of exceptions to these provisions. Except in the case of Commonwealth-funded aged care providers, the provisions do not apply to religious bodies. They also don’t apply to any act done in compliance with the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth).
What do these exceptions mean? Firstly, religious bodies are free to discriminate against people based on their sexuality in all but one very specific scenario. Secondly, the inequality in the Marriage Act is solidified by making it clear that denying same-sex couples the right to marry is not in fact discriminatory behaviour. If one truly desires to stop all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation or other grounds, the question then arises as to how we as a society achieve this.
In answering this question, I look to my own family. I remember my mother remarking on how disappointed she’d be if one of her children were gay. I remember my father stating his opposition to allowing same-sex couples the right to be married. These were all said before I came out to them. I look at them now, and how the reality of telling them who I was has changed them. I am still (hopefully) my mother’s favourite child. My father is baffled by those who oppose marriage equality. I used to question how this change came about. On reflection the answer is simple. It’s easy to see a group of people on the news demanding equality as just another noisy minority. It’s different when your son is one of them. Perspective is everything.
I then look to Parliament, which on several occasions has stood in the way of marriage equality and continues to support the wide exemptions for religious bodies. What is it about this body that makes it act in this way? In my view, aside from one high profile example, the majority in Parliament lack perspective. They don’t know what it is like to have their relatives express their disappointment that they might never be able to marry. They have never had to comfort a child in the midst of deep depression. They have never dealt with the fact that their teenager is far more likely to attempt suicide than others. They are blind to what they cannot see.
We have come a long way in the recognition of LGBTI rights. We have a long way to go. Aside from the legal considerations, the question remains: is it moral or just to tell a young and impressionable person that a fundamental and irreversible part of who they are is wrong? My answer to this question is a resounding ‘no’. I think yours should be too.
photo credit: Kate White www.said-jane.com/footprints/