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Babette Francis

In 1980  when Mr. Ellicott, Australia's Attorney General during the Fraser government, signed the "Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women" (CEDAW)  at the United Nations Mid-Decade for Women Conference in Copenhagen, I and afew members of Endeavour Forum  were the only Australians to protest  against our  countryadopting this Treaty.

While we support the principle of equal rights for men and women, the Treaty is written in such vague and ambiguous  terms e.g. calling on governments . "To modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women" (Article 5)  and "The elimination of any stereotyped concept of the roles of men and women" (Article l0),  that we could see inherent dangers in a legal document  whose objective was to ignore all differences between men  and
women and to belittle the role of mothers as a "stereotype".

We were criticised by the local media, the ABC in particular  said we were   "behaving like vegetarians at a butcher's picnic".   CEDAW was implemented  in Australia through the Federal SexDiscrimination Act  1984,    and we continued to express our concerns.  Though we  pointed out that there could be  long-term implications   for marriage and abortion laws,   we received little support from church leaders.

Catholic bishops received assurances from the  Hawke government that the Church  would beexempted from having to ordain women, and thereafter their concerns appeared muted.  The bishops  apparently did not realise that giving a government the "power" to exempt from what is a theological principle, not an employment issue, also hands governments power to withdrawthat exemption.

Our forebodings have been only too well realised.  Years later, the Catholic Church fought  arear-guard action, represented by Mr. Ellicott QC  no less, in the High Court, to stop single women and lesbians having access to IVF treatment.  A Federal court had found that single women and lesbians could not  be discriminated against on the basis of marital status, and the High Court decided that the Catholic Church had no standing.  The Federal Attorney General,
Mr. Ruddock, promised, but has yet to implement,  an Amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act  to stop single women and lesbians access to IVF.

One wonders why the Catholic bishops briefed - and paid - Mr. Ellicott to represent them inthe High Court action when he had signed the Treaty  - despite our objections -  which was now causing the Church so much angst.

Our CEDAW battle is   now echoing in the  US where  Democrats who  currently control  both Houses of Congress, are attempting to have  their  Senate ratify CEDAW.  Austin Ruse, President of the Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute has  highlighted  some of the dangers:

*    CEDAW condemns prostitution but the  UN's  CEDAW committee has directed governments to legalize prostitution.
*    The CEDAW committee has directed 37 pro-life governments to change their laws on abortion, even though the Treaty  does not specifically mention       abortion..
*    The CEDAW committee has criticized Ireland for allowing the Church to have too strong avoice on public policy.
*    The CEDAW Committee has berated Poland on the issue of abortion.
*  The CEDAW Committee criticised Belarus for celebrating Mothers' Day.

In Australian states there have been further "enhancements" of  equal opportunity legislation in the form of "vilification" laws, which deal not merely with discrimination in employment  but also  with what is said, written, taught  or preached about certain groups, e.g. Muslims or homosexuals.   Under Victoria's "Racial & Religious Tolerance  Act" the on-going  saga of the vilification case  [Islamic Council of Victoria v Catch the FireMinistries]  brought against the two Dannys, Christian pastors, who analysed statements in theKoran for a Christian audience,  is an example.

South Australia's  the Attorney General  has proposed an Amendment to the state's Equal Opportunity Act  to prevent "victimisation" of  any person on the basis, inter alia, of marital status, pregnancy choices or homosexual behaviour.  One wonders why the Churches, in particular the Catholic Church whose teaching on these issues is quite unequivocal, have not opposed this legislation more vigorously.  If this Amendment is passed, anyone, including a
pastor, who publicly stated that adultery was wrong and sinful, that sexual intercourse outside marriage, as for example in a de facto relationship,  was wrong and sinful, or that homosexual acts are wrong and sinful,  could be vulnerable to the charge of "victimisation".

Church representatives who think they are protected  by "exemptions" or "exclusions"  may be too optimistic.  Unmeritorious proceedings can involve an innocent person in long, costly andstressful litigation before a Commissioner whose  views are  entirely different from traditionalChristian principles, and a victory, even if achievable, might be at enormous cost.  Just ask thetwo Danny's.

The South Australian Amendment also has significant implications for Anglicans  relevant tothe recently concluded meeting  in Tanzania of  the Primates of the Anglican  Church.  The Communique issued by this  meeting stated:  "We commend the Primates for calling the
Episcopal Church [of the USA]  to an unequivocal, wholehearted repentance marked by an end to both all authorizations of same-sex blessings and all consents to the consecration ofbishops in a same-sex relationship".

The Communique was a response to the controversy raging in the Anglican Church followingthe consecration by  the  US  Episcopal Church  of   homosexual bishop Gene Robinson in2003,  and the on-going  practice in some US dioceses of  blessing same-sex  unions.  Anypublic "repentance" for these acts  (the Communique called for a public apology) may well beregarded as "victimisation"  by homosexual individuals or groups.

In Britain where the Blair government has refused to exempt the Catholic Church from the requirement to arrange adoptions of children by homosexuals,  Catholic bishops supported by Anglicans, Muslims and even the Orange Lodge, say Britain is poised to overturn centuries of legal development in human rights.

In comments preceding the upcoming international congress, "Conscience in Support of the Right to Life,"  Bishop Elio Sgreccia,   president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said  the provisions of the Equality Act that claim to defend human rights, are a “violation of liberty.” The Equality Act’s Sexual Orientation Regulations will make it illegal to deny goods or services based on sexual orientation, including adoption of children.

“I think that conscientious objection is fully justified and I would be surprised if a nation, suchas Great Britain, usually considered as the homeland of fundamental liberties, would deny atleast on one occasion recognition of this objection,” Bishop Sgreccia said.

Zenit Catholic news agency quoted the bishop saying, “I hope this won't take place or that, in any case, it will trigger an appeal before the Court of Human Rights.”

Responding to the same legislation, the bishop of the Scottish diocese of Paisley wrote in a pastoral letter that there is “something sinister” happening in Britain. “For the first time in the modern era in this country, the Catholic Church is facing the prospect of being forced to act against her faith and against her convictions, or else face legal challenge and possible prosecution.”

In a four-point manifesto, Bishop Tartaglia said the Church has no desire to unjustly discriminate against homosexual persons, but  “no one has the right to be an adoptive parent,” and that Catholic adoption agencies base their decisions on the belief that children are best served by being adopted by “a mother and father who are married.”

The bishop urged his flock to be prepared spiritually for persecution. “We are so much at homein contemporary society that we have probably not seen this coming.”

“Affluence, prosperity, aspiration and a pervasive spirit of relativism may tempt some to set aside the principles and values of the Catholic faith and life.” He warned Catholics, however, not to allow the Christian voice to be pushed “to the margins of society.”

It is not just  conservatives or church leaders at risk.   In February 2007  former mayor of Cambridge,  John Hipkin, is demanding an apology and a retraction after being accused publicly of “heterosexism” for suggesting that more homes need to be built to accommodate families.

Hipkin wondered aloud at a planning meeting  whether the preference of housing developers for one and two bedroom homes was not “putting huge pressure of a contraceptive nature on this city.”  Hipkin said  “People presumably start off single or young marrieds and have children,don't they? Where are they going to go?”

The Daily Telegraph reported that a complaint was lodged by a homosexual activist group who said that his remarks betrayed heterosexism, defined as “unintentional discrimination towards or against non-heterosexuals due to cultural bias.”

Hipkin, a Liberal Democrat councillor for the university town reacted with outrage and said his comments  were not “a plan to deny gays a home.”  Calling the complaint a “slur on his character,” Hipkin said, “Such an allegation runs contrary to all the things I think I am. I have spent my life opposing homophobia, sexism, racism - all forms of discrimination.” Hipkin has learnt the hard way that the  victimisation  does not even have to be intentional

In Scotland,  according to a new directive published by Scotland's National Health srvice, nurses and other health care professionals   should avoid using the terms ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ to refer to family relationships since the terms could be offensive to homosexual couples with children.

Issued in conjunction with the country’s leading homosexual activist organization,  StonewallScotland, the publication is entitled "Fair For All - The Wider Challenge: Good Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Practice in the NHS".

As Bishop Tartaglia said "we have probably not seen this coming".  Let us pray Australian bishops will se it coming.   We are protected to some extent by the conservatism of the Howard government which does not recognise   same-sex unions or  overseas same-sex adoptions, butall that could end if a Federal Labor government  was elected later this year.

Babette Francis
National & Overseas Co-ordinator,
Endeavour Forum Inc.
NGO with  special consultative status with  the Economic & Social Council   of the UN.
Ph: 9822 5218



Member Organisation, World Council for Life and Family

NGO in Special Consultative Status with ECOSOC of the UN