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Friday, July 19, 2024
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Monica Doumit: Winter is coming for religious freedom in NSW

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The Legislative Council chamber of the Parliament of New South Wales. Photo: Coekon, CC BY-SA 4.0
The Legislative Council chamber of the Parliament of New South Wales. Photo: Coekon, CC BY-SA 4.0

The frigid start to winter in NSW has exacerbated our cost-of-living crisis. Rental prices are skyrocketing, as are power bills and the cost of groceries. $1.60 per litre for petrol now seems like a bargain. These everyday issues, which affect the vast majority of NSW residents, are naturally the priority for a new government within its first 100 days of office.

But elitist independent MPs with no budgetary responsibility can ignore bread-and-butter matters and use their position and parliamentary resources to push their own hobby horses. Enter the independent member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich, who this week announced that he would table not one, but three bills dealing with LGBTIQ+ issues, which will likely come before parliament after the winter break.

The first bill, the Equality Legislation Amendment (LGBTIQA+) Bill 2023, proposes two significant changes to the law. First, it would introduce what are known as gender self-identification laws, which would have the effect of allowing a person to change the sex on identification documents, such as a birth certificate and drivers’ license, simply on application. There will be no need for any type of hormonal or surgical treatment to support the change; it will just need the filling out of a form.

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As has been mentioned time and time again, such laws put women’s-only spaces at risk. Women’s prisons, domestic violence shelters, gyms and other places will no longer be able to deny entry to biological males who present as men but who have changed their sex on their identity documents. A recent debacle in a Victorian women’s prison, the Dame Phyllis Frost Correctional Centre, illustrates the danger of these laws.

A biological man who identified as a woman was placed in the women’s prison following a conviction for violent sexual assaults against women. The women in the prison petitioned for his removal, not because they were “transphobic,” but because they had concerns for their safety. Many of the women in prison had themselves been victims of sexual assault, and the presence of a man in their midst was re-traumatising. Corrections Victoria does not keep records of transgender prisoners, so there could be more such cases.

The independent member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich, this week announced that he would table not one, but three bills dealing with LGBTIQ+ issues, which will likely come before parliament after the winter break. Photo: Unsplash
The independent member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich, this week announced that he would table not one, but three bills dealing with LGBTIQ+ issues, which will likely come before parliament after the winter break. Photo: Unsplash

The second aim of this bill is the removal of religious protections in current anti-discrimination laws. Similar to the current Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry that proposes to require Catholic schools to hire those who do not abide by the beliefs of the school, this bill would take away those protections in law that allow religious institutions to maintain their religious ethos.

The next bill proposed by Mr Greenwich is the Conversion Practices Prohibition Bill 2023. As its name suggests, the bill aims to outlaw so-called “conversion practices” when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity. It will undoubtedly be marketed as trying to ban harmful, non-consensual practices, such as electroshock therapy, which try to change a person’s sexual orientation. All of us can agree that such things are wrong.

However, the real aim and effect of these types of laws—like the one currently in place in Victoria and the one proposed in Tasmania—is not only to ban these practices (that haven’t occurred for decades anyway), but to prohibit and punish any form of religious teaching that would say that homosexual activity is sinful and, if continued in full knowledge and without repentance, could result in eternal separation from God. It would also seek to ban ministries like Courage, which provide prayerful support and accompaniment to those experiencing same-sex attraction but who want to live in accordance with their religious beliefs.

On top of this, it would prevent anything except affirmation for children who experience gender dysphoria and who want to access puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones to change their outward appearance. This is an especially dangerous proposition now, given the UK has just done the exact opposite and prohibited puberty blockers for use on kids, and the first Australian medical insurer has announced that, as of this week, it will no longer insure gender-affirming care for kids given the unknown and unquantifiable long-term risks.

Finally, the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023 will mirror recent ACT legislation that bans surgery on minors who are born with intersex characteristics such as ambiguous genitalia. Up until now, parents have had the choice to allow surgery on their children to “regularize” their external features to assist them in growing up with either a male or female identity. This bill would remove that right from parents and wait until the child is old enough to consent to the surgery themselves before allowing it. While one can see the argument in favour of such a law, there is a risk that undergoing such surgery as an adult could be much more traumatic than as a child.

The details of the bills are yet to be released, so we have no further knowledge of their content. As soon as we know more, you’ll read about it here. Stay tuned.

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