A SENIOR Anglican bishop calls it "appalling" and a gay and lesbian rights group condemns it as "deeply offensive", but the Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, backs a NSW law that allows private schools to expel gay students simply for being gay.
Through a spokesman, Mr Hatzistergos, described the 30-year-old law as necessary "to maintain a sometimes delicate balance between protecting individuals from unlawful discrimination while allowing people to practise their own beliefs".
A relic of the Wran era when homosexuality was still a crime, the law exempts private schools from any obligation to enrol or deal fairly with students who are homosexual. An expulsion requires neither disruption, harassment nor even the flaunting of sexuality. Being homosexual is enough.
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Introducing the little-known law in the early 1980s, the then attorney-general Paul Landa told Parliament: "The facts of political life require acceptance of the claim of churches to conduct autonomous educational institutions with a special character and faith commitment."
But the churches are now divided. The Anglican bishop of South Sydney, Robert Forsyth, told the Herald: "I don't think our schools would want to use it."
The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney declined to distance itself from the legislation. A spokeswoman said: "The focus for our schools has always been on supporting our students regardless of the circumstances."
Political support may also be fracturing. "It is an unusual provision in this day and age," the shadow attorney-general, Greg Smith, told the Herald.
He cannot speak for his party, only himself. "I personally think it is something that should be reviewed, looked at with a view to perhaps changing it. Times have changed."
The chief executive of ACON, Nicolas Parkhill, condemned the law as "deeply offensive, patently unethical and damaging to our society on multiple levels. Recent research shows that young same-sex-attracted people are up to 14 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers and that 80 per cent of the verbal or physical abuse they experience occurs in schools.
"Allowing religious schools to reinforce this negative experience by giving them the right to expel the victims of homophobic attitudes is incomprehensible."
Although "not untroubled" by the legislation himself, the chief executive of Christian Schools Australia, Stephen O'Doherty, told the Herald the 130-plus low-fee schools in his association saw no reason to ditch the law. Many of the schools regard unrepentant gay students as "disruptive to the religious teaching of the school", he explained. "What we seek to do is to be able to take appropriate action which may include expulsion."
Brigadier Jim Wallace of the Australian Christian Lobby has no qualms about the law. The head of the influential Christian pressure group said a church school should have the right to expel any openly gay child.
"But I would expect any church that found itself in that situation to do that in the most loving way that it could for the child and to reduce absolutely any negative affects.
"I think that you explain: this is a Christian school, that unless the child is prepared to accept that it is chaste, that it is searching for alternatives as well, that the school may decide that it might be better for the child as well that he goes somewhere else. I think it's a loving response."
My heart bleeds.