The state's highest court has found the Christian Brethren church discriminated against a suicide prevention group for young gays when one of the church's youth camps refused to take a booking from the group.
Court of Appeal president Justice Chris Maxwell and Justices Marcia Neave and Robert Redlich said Christian Youth Camps (CYC), owned by the Christian Brethren church, were opposed to homosexual sexual activity, as they considered it "contrary to God's teaching as set out in the Bible".
The Christian Brethren church is historically linked to the infamous Exclusive Brethren, but broke away in the mid-1800s.
In a majority decision handed down on Wednesday, Justices Maxwell and Neave dismissed CYC's appeal against a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal finding that a Phillip Island youth camp run by CYC had breached the Equal Opportunity Act by refusing to take a booking from members of Cobaw Community Health Service's Way Out project.
The Way Out project is a statewide youth suicide prevention project targeting same-sex-attracted young people in rural areas.
The two appeal judges said CYC was directly liable for the act of discrimination.
"This was so because when the manager refused Cobaw's request for accommodation, he was acting with the authority of CYC .... his actions were the actions of CYC," the judges said.
Outside court, Cobaw's chief executive Anne McLennan said the young people who felt discriminated against by CYC had been vindicated by the Court of Appeal's decision.
County Court judge Felicity Hampel, sitting as Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal vie-president, had fined CYC $5000 for discrimination in 2010, saying: "The conduct of the respondents (CYC) in refusing the booking was clearly based on their objection to homosexuality.
"They are entitled to their personal and religious beliefs.
"They are not entitled to impose their beliefs on others in a manner that denies them the enjoyment of their right to equality and freedom from discrimination in respect of a fundamental aspect of their being.
"Having done so, and in a manner that understandably caused hurt and offence, compensation is appropriate."
'The Equal Opportunity Act allows religious groups to discriminate against anyone as long as it is done because of "genuine religious beliefs or principles".
But Way Out argued that exemptions did not apply when a religious group operated as a commercial entity.
The Court of Appeal ruled on Wednesday that CYC was not a "body established for religious purposes" and was not entitled to any exemption.
"Even if the CYC had been a body of the requisite kind, the court held, the refusal of accommodation was not conduct to which the exemption would have applied," the appeal judges said.
Justice Redlich disagreed with the two other appeal judges, saying he would have allowed the CYC appeal.
He believed the religious exemption applied as the refusal of the accommodation was necessary for both the CYC and the manager to comply with their genuine religious beliefs.
Justice Redlich believed the exemption was intended to be available to individuals and corporations.
Way Out Project co-ordinator Sue Hackney had told VCAT that she called the Phillip Island Adventure Resort in June 2007 to book a weekend camp for 60 rural youth and 12 support workers.
The resort is popular for school camps, corporate camps and groups.
Ms Hackney said she told resort manager Mark Rowe that she wanted to use the camp to raise awareness about the needs of homosexual young people, the nature and effect of homophobia in rural communities and the effect of discrimination on young people.
She said Mr Rowe told her he wasn't sure how the board would feel about such a group using their facilities. Mr Rowe later told the tribunal that he believed homosexuality was a choice, and that young people should be dissuaded from making the choice to be homosexual.
He described homosexuality as abnormal and young people should not be encouraged to "follow that path" - that is to accept their homosexuality.