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The religious freedom of LGBTIQ Christians

  • 17 October 2018
So far, the national debate about religious freedom has been less about religion and more about what religion should do regarding homosexuality. Perhaps this was inevitable as it was shaped by last year's debate on same sex marriage.

In both discussions, being the topic of a national discussion in which LGBT people are implicitly the problem is deeply uncomfortable. But it is also an opportunity to have a more nuanced conversation than is allowed by the current polarity between secularists, who support LGBT rights, and religious, who purportedly do not.

A key problem derives from the way the discussion is framed, because it means that both sides implicitly endorse the premise that homosexuality and Christianity are incompatible. This indicates to LGBT Christians that they are anomalous, at best tolerated within their faith communities, and it renders them invisible to the broader community. It also signals to young people raised in faith traditions, who realise they are same sex attracted, that they must choose between their sexual orientation and their faith.

An example of how the secular side bolsters this is the argument that LGBT teachers should be employed for their teaching skills and that their sexual orientation is irrelevant: 'gay teachers don't teach gay maths', as Labor's Terri Butler put it. This professional/private distinction downplays the fact that teachers are mentors and role models aiding personal development, as much as they are instructors imparting information.

Despite being well intentioned, this argument offers support for the idea that LGBT teachers should compartmentalise aspects of themselves beyond the normal discretion exercised by heterosexual colleagues. One wonders where this leaves teachers who find it difficult to act straight at will.

Importantly, it also obscures the many Christian LGBT teachers working at religious schools who bring their whole selves to work in the service of Christian ethics. They don't see a trade-off between their faith and their sexuality. They bring a unique set of skills, experiences and sensibilities, as LGBT teachers.

The religious side, or at least the views put by the ACL and its supporters, explicitly positions homosexuality as antithetical to Christianity. They call for the othering of LGBT people by either excluding them from faith communities or demanding they repudiate their sexual identities as the price for remaining. Both responses are cruel and based on the misconception that sexual orientation is a choice.

"It is worth remembering another kind of religious freedom is at stake, that of LGBT Christians."