Monday, 14 October 2013

Changes to Equal Rights Legislation

Right, about these recent changes to the EqualRights legislation here in Victoria, I’m not happy and I have concerns. Let me say straight up that I don’t think there should be any exemptions to the law.  It defeats the whole purpose of the law and effectively implies that there exist second class humans unworthy of legal protection. Allowing religious organisations to discriminate against gays, lesbians (and the whole queer spectrum), as well as single mothers, people living in ‘sin’ and whatever else offends their mediaeval morality is a giant step backwards for human rights in general. As a lesbian myself, I find the privileging of religious bigotry in our legal code deeply offensive.

Some of you may be thinking, ‘Goodness, what’s all the fuss about? Surely no gay person would want to work for a church that doesn’t approve of them?’ The trouble is, we’re not just talking about churches and schools anymore. Ever since John Bloody Howard turned over some of the functions of the welfare system to private enterprise in the late 90s, religious organisations have got their fingers in more pies than ever before. Now we’re talking about hospitals, universities, nursing homes, respite care, disability services, charities, camping grounds and employment agencies, among others. That’s suddenly a whole lot of jobs in a whole lot of sectors where gays, lesbians, single mothers and de facto lovers are no longer welcome. Whatever pathetic, specific cases were made in the past, such as that having a gay teacher in school was potentially hazardous (presumably we were able to waft invisible gay germs at the students), they don’t add up as a justification for a blanket ban across so many different sectors. If these groups receive government funding they should obey federal laws but instead they’re allowed to thumb their nose at us and go back to discriminating against whomever they wish. It sucks.

The truly disgusting irony in all of this is that the people now being allowed to indulge their bigotry are precisely the same people who historically tortured, hanged, burnt at the stake, imprisoned and locked us up in asylums. The Christian church has been a powerful bully, used to getting its own way for more than fourteen centuries. During that time it fought every democratic, educational and tolerant initiative. It only lost its coercive power over ‘heretics’ and unbelievers in the last couple of centuries and like so many other bullies that have been stripped of power, they have the immense gall to turn around and squeal that now they are being discriminated against! ‘Oooo-er, stop oppressing me! Stop restricting my right to exercise my deeply held religious beliefs! Respect my God-given bigotry!’

Homophobia is not the only prejudice deeply embedded in the Bible. You can make a similar case, with loads of scriptural justification, for slavery and racism. With this new government respect for religious views are you going to allow churches to be racist again? I thought not. That would be a step too far in the twenty-first century. So it’s just the queers and the fornicators on the bottom of the heap…again. Gee, thanks. Speaking of the queers, it might be time to reflect that historically we are the last minority to be picked up by the tolerance bandwagon and the first to be pushed off when times change. The only people who fight for our rights, are us. I’ll be turning 50 soon and I’ve seen the pendulum on tolerance for queers swing three times in my life, from increasing tolerance in the late 70s to the homophobic backlash when AIDS was discovered in the 80s to the increasing tolerance again in the 90s. With a new conservative government in power in Canberra, I wouldn’t bet against that pendulum swinging again. Maybe it’s time to forget the trivial side issue of gay marriage and concentrate on the ongoing fight for full, equal, human rights. Sixteen centuries and still waiting.