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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

In Wake of Ruling, Churches Down Under May Discriminate

By Kilian Melloy -

An Australian tribunal has ruled that under existing law, religious organizations may discriminate against gays, British newspaper the Daily Telegraph reported on Dec. 27.

The ruling prompted a civil liberties group to call for an end to exemptions from anti-discrimination laws for religious charities that are funded with taxpayer money. But churches rejoiced in the decision.

The New South Wales Administrative Decisions Tribunal (ADT) had originally found in favor of a gay couple who were denied as foster care parents because of their sexuality and family status, which a religious charity, Wesley Mission Australia, said ran counter to the group’s religious beliefs.

But the ADT was ordered by an appeals court to reconsider. The ADT then said that the standards of existing law were so "singularly undemanding" that they were compelled to rule against the same-sex family.

The clash between gay families wishing to provide safe homes for needy children and anti-gay religious charities charged with placing children into good homes has played out across nations ranging from the United States and England--where religiously run charities have stopped handling adoptions rather than abide by anti-discrimination laws--to Australia, where the new ruling has alarmed civil rights groups such as the Council of Civil Liberties, which expressed a fear that the ruling will mean fewer children are placed in homes and more children will be warehoused in orphanages.

"It’s outrageous," said Cameron Murphy, the head of the Council of Civil Liberties. "If a non-religious organization tried to do this they would be in breach of the law." Added Murphy, "If they want to run a foster care agency they ought to be looking after the best interests of the child, not trying to push their religion on the community."

Wesley Mission Australia is affiliated with Uniting Church, which reportedly faces internal divisions in the wake of the ruling, according to a Dec. 27 AAP article. "From the liberal point of view, there will be parts of the church that will be disappointed with this decision," a church spokesperson told the media. "Generally though, the more conservative side of the church will be happy with the decision."

Another group affiliated with Uniting Church, Uniting Care Burnside, has adopted a policy of non-discrimination, the article said. A similar policy is in place at the state-run Department of Community Services. For this reason, although the tribunal suggested that the law was overly broad and needed to be taken up by legislators, some politicians said that no such fine-tuning would be needed: gay families could simply work with non-religious charities or those who are open and affirming.

The case had been in the courts for seven years before the recent finding.
Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.

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