That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide equality for employees of education, medical and other services under the direction of religious organisations.
It is just over two weeks since the resounding "Yes" vote in the marriage equality referendum, a referendum which mobilised thousands of people who had not previously been engaged in politics, including young people and LGBTQ people, to demand equality and an end to discrimination and homophobia. It was a powerful demand and the fact that gay couples will shortly be able to marry is an important progressive step and a signal to many other parts of the world. It was more than just about marriage. It was about an end to all discrimination and LGBTQ people being fully accepted and not discriminated against in any aspect of our society and there is now a responsibility on the Dáil to eliminate all legal inequalities that still exist.
As part of that process the Anti-Austerity Alliance Deputies are introducing the Employment Equality (Amendment) Bill 2015, which would end the exemption in section 37 of the Employment Equality Act which permits discrimination against workers for the purposes of preserving a religious ethos. Our Bill extends the protections of the Employment Equality Act to all people employed in services run by religious organisations or under their direction. There are thousands of people employed in our education system, our health service, in charities and elsewhere who can be discriminated against because their lives do not match the outlook of a religious organisation as a result of being gay, transgender, divorced, separated or an atheist.
Section 37 currently has a major impact on workers employed in services run by religious organisations. We will shortly have a situation where LGBTQ teachers will be able to marry but will be held back from talking about that marriage in their staff room for fear of negative consequences for their employment or their promotion prospects or where they may not feel comfortable inviting their colleagues to their wedding. There is a chilling effect on LGBTQ issues in our schools where teachers are inhibited as a result of an ethos which describes LGBTQ people as "disordered". How can a teacher seriously tackle homophobic or transphobic bullying and raise awareness and support for LGBTQ students within a school when this could be used against him of her in future promotion opportunities? It also has a chilling effect on sex and relationship education where teachers may feel unable to give full and comprehensive sex education due to religious control but are further inhibited by their employment prospects being put potentially at risk.
We know LGBTQ young people are seven times more likely to self harm or commit suicide. We need our teachers, our health workers and others in services currently run by religious organisations to be fully engaged and committed and not inhibited by religious ethos. The result of section 37 as it exists is horrific in terms of how gay people feel, particularly in the education services, in a supposedly modern democratic progressive society. Last year a number of testimonies were published by the TheJournal.ie telling of how a school principal became aware a teacher was gay and invited the teacher for what they described as "the chat" where the teacher was told they are not asking about his or her sexuality but want to make clear the school would not tolerate any promotion, discussion or open displays of a lifestyle not fully in keeping with its religious ethos.
That was followed by the shunning of this teacher in a variety of ways. There are other stories in which people were turned down for promotion, were asked not to be in public with their partner as it might upset the children, or were told in a "nice" way that their lifestyle was not in keeping and that they could technically be fired.
This should not be happening to LGBTQ people working in schools, hospitals or elsewhere in this day and age. Our Bill acknowledges the right of religious organisations to run their own affairs, and under this Bill religious organisations could have allowed religion as a requirement for the employment of clergy or others with religious duties. However, any discrimination against teachers, health professionals or others should not be allowed. This is a modest step, which should be accepted by the Government. It is a step towards the complete separation of church and State, with all of our services being run democratically and open to all, regardless of religious background or ethos.