Addresses and Statements

Opening statement by Most Rev. Anthony Fisher OP to the Committee on Community Services re the Equality Legislation Amendment (LGBTIQA+) Bill

01 May 2024

I’m grateful to be invited to appear before the Committee today on behalf of more than 20 Catholic and Orthodox Bishops of NSW, to express our concerns & those of our people in relation to this bill.

We sympathise with all efforts to discourage or forbid unjust discrimination against LGBT people but there is a troubling anti-religious undercurrent in the bill. For example, the bill proposes to remove the few existing protections for religious institutions from anti-discrimination lawfare, including schools, healthcare, aged care, welfare & pastoral services, while offering no protections at all for individuals of faith.

As the Committee would be aware, NSW and South Australia are the only two states where it remains perfectly legal to discriminate against a person on the basis of their religious belief or activity. In proposing to remove the only religious protections, the bill would only enlarge the scope for discrimination against believers.

Secondly, regarding prostitution: while prostitution has long been legal in NSW, there are certain restrictions in place to safeguard public decency. This bill would make it permissible for a person to engage in solicitation even outside a church or faith school.

A third example is regarding self-identification of sex on official documents such as birth certificates. This will not only put “women only” spaces at risk, but make it near-impossible for religious communities to retain customs regarding separation of sexes in prayer, wedding only those of opposite sex, ordaining only men, or schooling girls separately from boys. It is one thing to disagree with world religions on such matters, but quite another to deny them the right to practice their faith by making official documents deceptive regarding people’s biological or birth sex.

It is difficult to view all three proposals as not being inimical to religious freedom in this state.

The bill also places vulnerable groups at risk. Its proposals around commercial surrogacy risk exploitation of women, especially in poorer countries; while its proposals around medical consent allow children to undergo life-altering medical treatments without parental consent, exposing children to interventions they may well later regret. Just when several overseas jurisdictions and local experts are counselling caution regarding gender-affirmative treatment of minors and even an outright ban, this state would be giving it the green light.

The reality of this bill is that, in the name of equality gains for a few, it proposes reducing the rights of the great many with faith and puts at risk some of the most vulnerable.

I commend these considerations to the Committee.