Julia Gillard and partner Tim Mathieson. Photo: Reuters
I hesitate to say this but the Prime Minister is living in sin. I don't give a damn. Nor do most Australians. But that sort of thing bothers religious leaders. So much that Labor's Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill will renew their authority to bar anyone in Julia Gillard's shoes from any job in any of their schools, hospitals and charities, even those they run with public money.
It's a curious spectacle, a prime minister legislating against herself.
Only school funding is as heavily defended by bishops, orthodox rabbis and imams as the "freedom" to punish these sinners in the workplace.
Should she wish to work some day as, say, a cleaner in an Anglican hostel, she could solve the problem by marrying. But the woman who will be shepherding the legislation through the Senate really hasn't a hope. The new law will back any faith-based organisation that refuses to hire Penny Wong if having a lesbian on the payroll injures "the religious sensitivities of adherents of that religion".
Legislating against herself ... Julia Gillard.
This is not a summer spoof. Nor is it a distant symbolic issue like gay marriage. This is here and now. The bill is before a Senate inquiry. At present it will leave unprotected a long list of ordinary Australians working or wanting to work with some of the biggest employers in the country.
Most conservative faiths have most of the following on their lists of the sackable: gays and lesbians, single mothers, adulterers - yes, even adulterers! - bisexuals, transsexuals, the intersex and couples like Gillard and Tim Mathieson.
Zealots call this a necessary exercise of their faith. Only school funding is as heavily defended by bishops, orthodox rabbis and imams as the "freedom" to punish these sinners in the workplace. Struggles over this are subterranean, largely unreported and almost always successful.
The issue spooks politicians. They know even the faithful don't enthusiastically back their leaders on this one. But grappling with bishops and rabbis complaining about threats to religious liberty is about the most unwanted contest that a government can imagine.
Plucky little Tasmania stripped religious bodies of the "freedom" to sack sinners from schools, hospitals and charities more than a decade ago and there are no reports from the far side of Bass Strait that their Christian mission has suffered.
Britain tried to do much the same in 2010 and was denounced by Pope Benedict - he claimed the Labour plan "violates natural law" - and wound back by Anglican bishops in the House of Lords. But under British law discrimination was already forbidden when religious bodies were spending public money. Secular function, secular rules.
Not here. Labor has given up on all this without a fight. Other countries and other Australian states have sweated over legal formulae to balance the demands of the faiths and the needs of the vulnerable. But Labor's Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill offers the religious open slather.
It's a bigots' charter.
Some faiths, denominations and dioceses want nothing to do with these privileges.
The Anglican Bishop of Gippsland, John McIntyre, remarked a few years ago when they were being debated in Victoria: "How bizarre that the followers of Jesus Christ would oppose, and ask for exemptions from, a legal instrument that has at its heart a declaration of the dignity and value of every human life and the basic rights of every person."
But that's not how Labor sees it in Canberra. As early as Kevin Rudd's time, religious leaders were reassured they would lose none of their privileges when the Commonwealth tidied up its old anti-discrimination regime and brought gender identity, sexual orientation and same-sex relationships for the first time under Canberra's protection.
Labor is insisting on one tiny concession: the faiths will have to accept same sex couples in retirement villages and nursing homes that have Commonwealth funding. But those same homes and villages will still be able to refuse to employ gays and lesbians to look after them.
It's absurd but it works. The faiths know they have thousands of lesbians, gays, single mothers and the rest on their payroll and they know can't do without them. Catholic and Anglican leaders know that any serious attempt to purge them from their hospitals, schools and charities would see the parishes rise up in revolt.
But services can be denied to them, applications rebuffed, promotions blocked and individuals picked off. And because these men and women can be sacked at any time simply for being who they are, they have little to nil job security.
So deals are done by the vulnerable that vary from faith to faith, diocese to diocese and employer to employer to stay on the payrolls of the faiths. They are expected to shut up, be discreet and hide who they are. The zealots of the faiths see this as God's work to be done, it seems, with the aid and blessing of the Gillard government.
David Marr is a former Fairfax journalist.