The Victorian Government is proposing changes to the Equal Opportunity Act (2010). This law currently allows religious bodies and schools to discriminate against people based on sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status and gender identity. These qualities will be referred to as personal characteristics throughout this webpage.

Discrimination

Discrimination (External link) is when a person is treated unfairly because of a personal characteristic protected by the law.

The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (External link) makes discrimination and sexual harassment against the law when it happens in certain areas of public life, including at work, school or in shops. However, the Act recognises the need to balance everyone’s rights, including those who have religious beliefs. To accommodate this, there are exceptions that mean discrimination is not against the law in certain circumstances (External link).

Religious exceptions

The Equal Opportunity Act allows religious bodies and schools to discriminate against a person because of personal characteristics. This means religious bodies and schools can lawfully refuse entry to a prospective student, expel a student, refuse to employ someone, fire someone or otherwise treat someone differently based on these grounds.

Religious schools and bodies can only discriminate against people where the discrimination conforms to the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion or is reasonably necessary to avoid injuring other people’s beliefs.

For example, a religious school may be able to fire an administrative assistant who comes out as gay, or gets divorced, if the school thinks that it is necessary to avoid injuring the beliefs of other members of the religion. A religious organisation may be able to refuse to provide counselling services to a member of the public who is transgender if the discrimination conforms with the beliefs of their religion.

The Act also allows an individual to discriminate against another on the basis of religious beliefs and other personal characteristics if discrimination is necessary to allow the individual to follow their religion. However, this exception is very limited as most discrimination happens in the context of work or school.

Proposed changes

The government wants to change the law so when employing staff religious bodies and schools can only discriminate where conformity with religious beliefs is an inherent requirement of the job. In addition, when running a school or providing services funded by the Victorian Government religious bodies will only be able to discriminate on the basis of a person’s religious belief (not on other personal characteristics).

Individuals will not be able to discriminate in the circumstances covered by the Equal Opportunity Act in order to comply with religious beliefs.

These changes will ensure a fairer balance between the right to religious freedom and the right to be free from discrimination.

What will not change

The government is not changing the law that allows religious bodies and schools to discriminate in relation to:

  • ordaining or appointing priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order
  • training or educating people seeking ordination or appointment as priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order
  • selecting or appointing people to perform functions relating to, or participating in, any religious observance or practice.

Read the fact sheet for more information

Where to get help

In an emergency, always call Triple Zero (000):

If you want to make a complaint about discrimination or are seeking legal advice you can contact:

If you are LGBTIQ+ you can contact:

  • Rainbow Door
    A free specialist LGBTIQA+ helpline. It provides support and referral to all LGBTIQA+ Victorians, their family and friends. Call 1800 729 367, email support@rainbowdoor.org.au (External link) or SMS 0480 017 246
  • QLife
    Provides Australia-wide LGBTQIA+ peer support and referrals for people wanting to talk about a range of issues, including sexuality, identity, gender, bodies, feelings, or relationships. Call 1800 184 527 or visit qlife.org.au (External link)

If you are a young person you can contact:

If you are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person you can contact:

For other mental health support you can contact:

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