Australian law allows religious schools to reject gay students, PM says

(CNN) – Prime Minister Scott Morrison said religious schools in Australia are already legally allowed to deny students a place based on their sexual orientation, following criticism of a leaked report that proposes allowing schools to bar them.

Morrison was commenting on the contents of a leaked report on religious freedoms, reigniting debate about what constitutes unlawful discrimination against gay people just months after Australia’s Parliament voted to legalize same-sex marriage.

Fairfax Media reported Wednesday it had seen contents of the report, which recommended amendments to a federal law that allows religious schools to discriminate against students “on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status.”

When asked if he thought religious schools should be able to turn away students on the basis of sexual orientation, Morrison demurred twice, saying “that is the existing law.”

The Prime Minister’s office said he was referring to a section in the federal Sex Discrimination Act that exempts religious educational institutions from some discrimination requirements. However, some states have passed their own discrimination laws and do not allow religious schools to reject students on the basis of sexual orientation.

“We’re not proposing to change that law to take away that existing arrangement that exists,” Morrison said.

Morrison, who opposed the same-sex marriage bill and abstained from the final vote in December 2017, vowed to change the law to protect religious freedom in an interview last month, shortly after the sudden ouster of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. But Morrison said any new laws would take into account the religious freedom review, which Turnbull commissioned in order to assuage the concerns of marriage equality opponents who said the new law infringed on their religious rights.