With 62 percent of the Australian public voting “yes” to extend same-sex marriage rights, Australia recently introduced a law legalizing marriage equality. This was a huge win for equal rights activists and the LGBTQ community.
Opponents of marriage equality, however, are working on proposals to allow businesses or government officials in Australia who are in disagreement with the law to refuse to serve or recognize any same-sex couples, despite the national law in place.
These proposals argue that religious or moral beliefs take precedence over equality or democratic laws, and turn a blind eye on the act of discrimination because of personal prejudices.
These “allowances to discriminate” undermine the win for marriage equality and puts the rights of the LGTBQ community in jeopardy.
While Australia is currently facing this concerning issue regarding equal treatment, the allowance of personal exemption from anti-discrimination laws is present in many other countries as well, including the U.S.
When the U.S. passed the law that states cannot discriminate against same-sex couples, the “love wins” movement reigned successful. However, since the June 2015 passing of the law, there have been many cases of businesses or government officials who would like to be exempted from following the law.
The most recent case in the U.S. of personal exemption from anti-discrimination laws takes place in a small Colorado cake shop. The shop owner said he believes cake making is an art form and that by having to follow anti-discrimination laws his first amendment rights were being violated and his artistic expression hindered. The Supreme Court will take a vote in December on whether or not the cake shop management should be allowed to discriminate against the LGBTQ community.
At first glance the case could seem like a frivolous issue, but the law about not discriminating against a customer because of their background or preferences dates back to the civil rights era.
The constitution does not protect the right to discriminate, according to Louise Melling, the deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. If the U.S. Supreme Court votes to allow this one cake shop in Colorado to explicitly discriminate against customers because of their sexual orientation, an entirely new standard could be set for businesses across the country.
If one minority group is allowed to be discriminated against, those who have personal prejudices can argue that any minority group can be discriminated against.
While this case is just the most recent in discussion, the personal exemption from anti-discrimination laws is not a new concept.
“This is just the latest in a decades-long attempt to undermine public accommodations law, it’s an old staircase in a new building,” Rebecca Cokley, of the Liberal Center for American Progress said, as reported by The Guardian.
There are currently over two dozen countries that have marriage equality laws in place, according to the Pew Research Center, but if these proposals are allowed, it seems as though none of these laws are relevant.
The personal prejudices against people simply because of who they are have no place in a world that is filled with such diversity. The laws that protect minority groups should be mandatory if we want both our communities and economies to thrive.
Samantha Moffett is a sophomore majoring in mass communications.