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Monica Doumit: Greenwich ‘equality’ Bill could make religious teaching on gender a crime

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The broad remit of the bill means that, if activists wanted to see how far they could go with its provisions, they could use courts and tribunals to attempt to shut down any suggestion that there should be limits on sexual behaviours, says Monica Doumit. Photo: Freepik.com
The broad remit of the bill means that, if activists wanted to see how far they could go with its provisions, they could use courts and tribunals to attempt to shut down any suggestion that there should be limits on sexual behaviours, says Monica Doumit. Photo: Freepik.com

Should consistently refusing to use a person’s preferred name and pronouns in the hope that they will not persist with their transgender identity put you at risk of criminal prosecution? Could a parent who refuses to allow their 10-year-old son to wear dresses with the intention that he will grow out of his gender-dysphoric phase be put in prison?

Should a married man with children who begins experiencing same-sex attraction be unable to get any help in keeping his marital vow of fidelity because counsellors or clergy or even his friends might fall foul of the law if they tell him to not cheat on his wife, whether with a man or a woman?

If the bill tabled by the independent member for Sydney last week becomes law, the answer to each of the above questions would be yes.

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Sydney MP Alex Greenwich tabled two bills that form part of his long-anticipated “equality” package last week. The first of these, the Conversion Practices Prohibition Bill 2023, seeks to ban so-called conversion practices. I’ll take a look at this bill this week, and address the Equality Legislation Amendment (LGBTIQA+) Bill 2023 in next week’s column.

When the phrase “conversion practices” is mentioned, we tend to think of some of the horrible things that were done in previous decades to attempt to change a person from homosexual to heterosexual attraction. These practices included electroshock therapy, giving people nausea-inducing drugs while showing them homosexual pornography and attempting to change the way they spoke and walked.

Such practices are not in accord with the dignity of the human person and should be rejected by any serious Christian. I am not aware that any of this has been practiced for decades and I am fairly certain existing laws already prohibit such conduct. If these or similar practices are still occurring somewhere and permitted under some legal loophole, then of course I support a law being passed to ensure such things never happen again.

However, the proposed prohibition goes much further than harmful actions. The bill’s main focus is not about actions, but about policing what can be said about matters of gender and sexuality.

Importantly, the bill seeks to outlaw what are known as “suppression” practices, which are words or actions aimed at encouraging a person to refrain from acting on a sexual desire or attraction they may have. This applies equally to heterosexuality and homosexuality.

The broad remit of the bill means that, if activists wanted to see how far they could go with its provisions, they could use courts and tribunals to attempt to shut down any suggestion that there should be limits on sexual behaviours.

If the bill’s provisions are taken to their most extreme, something as simple as a youth minister encouraging one of their teen youth group members to save sex until marriage could fall foul of this law. So too, it seems, would a seminary formator who consistently told their seminarians that they should be celibate.

The bill could be used to ban religious teaching on gender and sexuality being expressed to a person in a way that sought to apply it to their personal situation. General or theoretical religious teaching would still be permitted, but a priest or minister (or parent or sibling or teacher or friend) would not be able to encourage a person to let that teaching influence how a person lived their life.

If this sounds a lot like the Victorian law, it should, because the vast majority of this bill is, word-for-word, the extreme law passed under the Dan Andrews regime. One of its most chilling aspects is the ability it gives to the president of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board to begin an investigation if they believe that there are “systemic or persisting” change or suppression practices occurring. Such an investigation could begin without anyone making a complaint, and without any harm being alleged, let alone proven.

Under the investigative powers, the president would be able to subpoena documents and other materials from a person and compel them to come to the president to answer questions. A confidentiality order could also be made, so that the whole process occurs in secret. At the end of the process, the president could make orders about how the individual or institution being investigated should behave.

Does anyone think that these investigative powers for systemic issues won’t primarily be directed at religious institutions? And of those religious institutions, does anyone think that the Catholics won’t be on top of the list?

The NSW Labor Government has also promised to outlaw so-called conversion practices and a confidential consultation process is currently underway. Given it is confidential, I am not currently in a position to share any detail about it.

Despite the secrecy currently shrouding the government process, the extreme proposals coming from Alex Greenwich mean you can still act today.

If you have a Labor MP in your electorate, let them know that you are concerned about the breadth of these proposed laws, and that any bill proposed by the NSW Labor Government should not mimic the plan put forward by Alex Greenwich.

Tell them that you do not want to see a law that would seek to criminalise conversations that parents can have with their children, nor restrict the ability of a minister of religion to teach their faith in a way that seeks to have an impact on a person’s life.

There’s no time to waste.

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