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Monica Doumit: Can Tasmania tolerate clear Catholic teaching on marriage and sexuality?

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Archbishop Julian Porteous addresses media in Tasmania over the Don’t Mess With Marriage pamphlet in November 2015. Photo: Archdiocese of Hobart
Archbishop Julian Porteous addresses media in Tasmania over the Don’t Mess With Marriage pamphlet in November 2015. Photo: Archdiocese of Hobart

If you want to know the end-game of those pushing to remove exemptions for religious schools in anti-discrimination law, you only need to look at what has been happening in Tasmania. A new curriculum for Year 11 and Year 12 religion is planned to begin next year. According to reports, the draft Good News for Living curriculum includes clear Catholic teaching on marriage and sexuality and reads, in part:

“Teachers will lead students to discover how the human person, as male and female in its complementarity, is created in the image of God who, as ‘communion of persons’, is Trinity. This doctrinal foundation will assist students to appreciate the magnificence of the opportunity that Matrimony affords them not only for their personal happiness and the establishment of their own family, but in no less a task than to build a Civilisation of love…

“Teachers will be, on the one hand, unambiguous in the clarity of their articulation of Catholic teaching, and on the other, very sensitive in their pastoral support for students in the ongoing journey towards full personal integration through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

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The assignment for the senior school program will be a defence of church teaching on either pornography, contraception, cohabitation or abortion.

Nothing in the reports suggests that same-sex marriage or other LGBT-related issues will be addressed but, unsurprisingly, it is Equality Tasmania that is the loudest opponent of the program. Equality Tasmania spokesman Rodney Croome told media that the course is discriminatory because it teaches “that intimacy, love and sex should only occur within ‘sacramental marriage’, which currently excludes LGBTIQA+ people.”

Make no mistake, if a window is opened through the removal of exemptions by the federal, state or territory parliaments, activists will seek to use anti-discrimination law to remove Catholic teaching from all Catholic schools, says Monica Doumit.
Make no mistake, if a window is opened through the removal of exemptions by the federal, state or territory parliaments, activists will seek to use anti-discrimination law to remove Catholic teaching from all Catholic schools, says Monica Doumit.

Croome has warned that if Catholic Education Tasmania persists with teaching Catholic content in a Catholic school, then Equality Tasmania will lodge complaints with the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission. You might recall that in 2015, Croome issued a media release urging complaints to be made to the anti-discrimination commissioner over the Don’t Mess with Marriage booklet, which led to Archbishop Julian Porteous being hauled before the commission and involved in a process that took more than a year to finalise.

The reason that cases like these are tested in Tasmania is because the state’s anti-discrimination law has a low bar for what constitutes discrimination and has removed the ability of faith-based schools to “discriminate” against students on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The argument Croome and other activists will be making here will be that teaching a Catholic understanding of sexual activity amounts to LGBTIQA+ discrimination, even though the curriculum equally rejects other departures from appropriate sexual behaviour, such as the use of pornography or contraception, or cohabitation prior to marriage.

This is the end-game for LGBTIQA+ activists who are currently campaigning through the Australian Law Reform Commission, the NSW Law Reform Commission and in other places for a change to the law to remove existing exemptions for religious schools. They are not so much interested in seeking to prevent students who identify as same-sex attracted or who struggle with gender dysphoria from being treated poorly in faith-based schools (because by all accounts, students are treated with sensitivity and good pastoral care) as they are in trying to prevent the teaching of religious doctrine on sexual morality.

Make no mistake, if a window is opened through the removal of exemptions by the federal, state or territory parliaments, activists will seek to use anti-discrimination law to remove Catholic teaching from all Catholic schools and—in the name of equality and non-discrimination—enforce a religious education curriculum that says nothing about marriage or sexual morality.

The proposed curriculum in Tasmania is currently under review by Catholic Education Tasmania. Whatever the outcome of that, I am confident that—having been through this before—Archbishop Porteous will not let the threat of an anti-discrimination complaint prevent him or his schools from speaking the truth.

My sincere hope is that what happened in 2015 will happen again this time. Back in 2015, the anti-discrimination complaint against Archbishop Porteous was ultimately discontinued because the so-called “equality” activists realised they had overplayed their hand and demonstrated the risks to free speech that a change in law to allow same-sex marriage to become law. Hopefully, Mr Croome’s threats against a Catholic school system simply intending to teach Catholic teaching will offer clear caution to MPs and to all of us of what is at stake when we talk of removing exemptions.

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