Shamefully, being gay in Victoria was a crime in Victoria before 1980. It will be no less shameful that in 2021, talking to people about your sexuality in Victoria could be a crime.
The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill, which comes before the Victorian upper house this week, is supposed to protect LGBTQI people from coercion by religious people – but all it will do is remove their rights and turn bureaucrats into bullies.
I have approached this legislation with an open mind – I am not a religious conservative – and sat through many meetings with stakeholders from all sides of the argument.
There is no doubt that historically there have been some awful coercive practices involving church leaders trying to “pray the gay away”, but this was reflected by societal norms of the time, not just the churches.
This idea that evil religious people are waiting in the shadows to deny people choices about their own sexuality is an offensive caricature, not just to faith leaders, but to millions of people quietly practising their religions.
What’s worse is that there are undertones of anti-religious bigotry. Anyone who thinks this particular brand of bigotry is better than any other kind is kidding themselves.
The many stakeholders I have spoken to, from a vast variety of religions have moved on with the times and as one of them told me, “It is legal to change your body to align with your mind, but they are making it illegal to change your mind to align with your body.”
Alarmingly, many stakeholders, including a group representing Muslims, have not been consulted at all. In their case, they were particularly alarmed to learn that the Bill criminalises a core Islamic command to provide direct advice known as Nasiha.
It seems to me there is a genuine possibility that this legislation contravenes sections relating to religious freedom in both the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights and Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights.
Multi-cultural groups, many of whom came to Australia to flee religious persecution, are now alarmed by what they see as an attack on their beliefs.
The government claims the legislation is the least restrictive of human rights, but how can they say that if they haven’t even talked to these people?
But what’s worse this legislation will allow the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) to force people to hand over documents, submit to investigations and comply with enforceable undertakings, amongst other coercive powers. This legislation will turn them into state-sanctioned bullies.
I used to think VEOHRC were useless. If only that were the case.
And although this legislation appears to be trying to protect the LGBTQI community, it will do harm to some segments. Fluidity of sexual orientation is a thing – I know this because I have met people who changed their sexual orientation.
Some are wondering if they will put people in their faith groups at risk of prosecution just by talking about their sexuality. Others don’t want religious counselling, but denying them the choice is hurtful and implies they are too stupid to make their own decisions.
Ultimately nobody who supports the legislation has been able to convince me why consenting adults should not be allowed to talk to people they want to talk to about the things they want to talk about.
And the fact that religious people could be investigated by bureaucrats under threat of eventually being sent to prison is appalling over-reach.
Consenting adults are allowed to choose their gender, their sexual orientation, and their behaviour -– so why can’t they choose who they talk to?
David Limbrick is the Liberal Democrats MP for Victoria’s South East Metropolitan region.
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