Christian, Muslim schools should not discriminate against LGBTI+ staff, Richard Marles says

Australian religious schools should not retain the right to discriminate against teachers and staff based on their sexuality, the deputy prime minister has said.

Under pressure to answer if religious schools should be allowed to hire and fire a teacher based on whether they’re gay, Richard Marles described the issue as “sensitive” and elaborated that the government was looking at outlawing discrimination on the basis of faith.

His comments came days after federal Labor threatened to pull the plug on repealing laws that allow LGBTI+ students and staff to be expelled or fired based on their sexual orientation or gender identity unless it gained bipartisanship.

But after being pressed to confirm if he condoned employee discrimination by ABC presenter David Speers on Sunday, the defence minister conceded there was an obvious answer to the question.

“People should not be discriminated against in their employment based on their sexual identity. That is really clear,” Mr Marles said.

“What we want is to see amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act so there is not discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation or identity.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told a Labor caucus earlier this week he would not proceed with his election promise to reform anti-discrimination laws unless the Coalition guaranteed its support.

Under the current laws, religious educational institutions have broad exemptions that allow them to expel gay and transgender students or fire teachers for their sexuality and gender.

A long-awaited report from the Australian Law Reform Commission released on Thursday called to scrap the blanket exemptions, leading minor parties and LGBTI+ advocates to raise pressure on the government to legislate the law changes.

Conversely, religious groups and leaders have penned an open letter to the Prime Minister urging him to scrap the proposed overhaul on the basis that it opposes their rights to practice their faith.

Opposition housing spokesman Michael Sukkar raised doubts over the prospect of Labor reaching its goal of bipartisanship arguing the reforms have been “cloaked in secrecy”

“We see an open letter from a range of leaders, Christian, Muslim, Orthodox, a number of religious organisations who have educational facilities, expressing their deep concern with what the government’s proposed,” he told Sky News.

“So you’ve got the alarm bell being run by the organisations who run religious schools who educate millions of Australian children if they haven’t been brought to the table if they haven’t been convinced of these changes.

“How on earth does Anthony Albanese think he’s going to get bipartisanship?”

Mr Marles rejected assertions that the government was being “secretive” and called on the Coalition to make a decision after some ministers reportedly received copies of the legislation this week.

“We’re in the process of seeking to negotiate this through and what we want to do is try and achieve consensus and when you’re seeking to achieve consensus,” the defence minister told ABC.

“You want the greatest space possible in order for that to occur because we don’t want to see division or walk down a path of division in this country.”

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