Church group fighting gay discrimination ruling
A Christian church would have to argue that homosexuality conforms with its beliefs to prove it did not discriminate against a group of gay teens, a court has heard.
Christian Youth Camps Ltd is appealing a decision from the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, which found that its refusal of members of a suicide prevention retreat for gay and lesbian youth at a campsite was discrimination against the young people based on their sexual orientation.
VCAT awarded the Way Out Project $5000 in damages three years ago.
CYC argued in the Court of Appeal on Wednesday that VCAT Judge Felicity Hampel had erred in deciding that it was not a religious organisation on the basis its purpose involved providing camping accommodation for both religious and secular groups.
Joseph Santamaria, QC, for CYC, said that it was a religious organisation that was exempt from the Equal Opportunity Act on religious grounds.
Mr Santamaria argued that even if the court did not agree that CYC was a religious organisation, it had not refused entry to the young people because of their sexual orientation – which would be considered discrimination under law – but because they believed the group's "syllabus" would involve promoting sex before marriage.
Court of Appeal President Justice Chris Maxwell told Mr Santamaria that the church would not need to argue it was exempt from anti-discrimination law if homosexuality conformed with its belief system.
The judge asked if the church believed "that same sex orientation is wrong evil or to be discouraged?"
Mr Santamaria replied: "No ... the doctrine is that sex should be confined to marriage."
Justice Maxwell pressed: "You ask yourself what is the thing that has been done ... which is refuse accommodation because they were homosexual. You [then] have to say it can't [be discrimination] because it conforms with the doctrine."
Mr Santamaria said CYC would need to take instructions over lunch to answer Justice Maxwell's question.
CYC was founded by the Christian Brethren Trust with a constitution connected to the Christian Brethren religion.
About 14 barristers were in court on Wednesday morning with the state solicitor general, Stephen McLeish, and the Human Rights Commission also expected to appear.
The hearing continues.