Gay ban at campsite before tribunal

A Victorian tribunal will be asked to decide if a Christian group can discriminate against gay people for religious reasons.

The Christian Brethren will face the discrimination complaint tomorrow after it stopped a suicide prevention project for gay youths from using its facilities three years ago.

While some religious groups have exemptions under the state's equal opportunity act allowing for sexual discrimination, the group lodging the complaint will argue those exemptions end when it's involved in a commercial operation.

The complaint to be heard at Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal arose when the Christian Brethren's campsite on Phillip Island was booked in 2007.

Gay youth support group WayOut had hoped to use the Phillip Island Adventure Resort to host young homosexual men and women who've faced discrimination in rural Victoria.

"The idea was to bring these people together because, before that, they may have never met anybody else who was going through what they were," said Anne Mitchell, associate professor at the Australian Research Centre for Sex, Health and Society.

But Ms Mitchell says the Christian Brethren cancelled WayOut's campsite booking "once it became clear what the nature of the camp was going to be".

WayOut launched the discrimination suit to argue that church-run businesses should not be exempt from state laws banning discrimination.

The Christian Brethren says the booking was cancelled because WayOut promotes homosexual activity, which it says is against its understanding of the bible.

The church says the mission statement of its camps is "to create opportunities for all involved to personally experience Christian life and values".

"It was the aims of the WayOut group in promoting a lifestyle to youth as young as 12 contrary to those values that was in question," campsite resort manager Mark Rowe said in a statement.

Further comment was declined until the complaint is heard by VCAT.

But church leaders are defending their right to exclude unwanted guests from their facilities as they plan a meeting with human rights advocates later this month to discuss freedom of religion constraints under anti-discrimination laws.

"I don't think there's any desire to be aggressive or unloving to homosexuals," says Reverend David Palmer, convener of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria's church and nation committee.

"But just when it gets to the point of promoting the homosexual lifestyle ... that's really one step too far."

He said there was room for Christians and homosexuals to co-exist, however, and a church would only act in a defensive move to be faithful to its religious heritage.

"We don't seek to be aggressive," he said, "but our Christian faith matters to us. We want to be faithful to Christ and his teaching."

(Published by Herald Sun - July 6, 2010)

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